Interviewing Kate Rusby is always a pleasure. I have met her at home, in a Canary Wharf wine bar, at a Soho luvvies' joint - the Groucho Club - and in or around assorted gigs. On this occasion, there was a truly rare touch: we spoke by telephone.
To say that Kate finds phone interviews uncomfortable would be an understatement. But she rose to the occasion to such an extent that - mindful of a long feature I had been commissioned to write that afternoon for a national newspaper - I ended up having to beg her to continue the interview by e-mail.
Our exchanges started as a project marking the release of Kate's new album Awkward Annie - buy it here - updating a biography/interview I had previously written for her website. That is now done, and you will eventually see the results here. But I thought it would be interesting to run the interview in all its questions-and-answers glory at Salut! Live.
And since the article I broke off to write for the Independent concerned kidnapping, religious cults and witchcraft, maybe Kate could do worse than explore it for songwriting inspiration......
Salut! Live Congratulations on your excellent new album. How pleased are you with it? Is recording a pleasure or a chore, or a mixture of both, and is there a moment during the process when you think "that's it!......it's coming right"?
Kate: I am not entirely sure. It is always weird making a record and this time I was producing. You're much, much closer to it than usual, in there for every single minute so that you know by heart every note, every line. I am still at the itchy stage: should I have taken that out?.....oh, that works.....not sure about that. But people assure me that's quite normal, and I'm like that anyway. But it'll be different in a couple of weeks and yes, I think we've done all right!
But there was a lot of stress and unhappiness going on; my mum's mother died in the middle of recording, and then an uncle - her brother, to whom she was very close. It really wrecked us. There were lots of times when I thought, 'can I do this?', when I didn't have the heart for it. but Joe (Kate's brother) kept saying every day 'let's come back tomorrow and have another look' and we got through it. Despite the personal stress, the musical side was still a pleasure. There were times when making the album where I heard something really special in there. Four times, I thought, 'blooming hell, we started with a blank screen - it's all computers these days - and look what we've done'.
I'm told Dave Burland loves it. Knowing how much you respect Dave - I think you once told me you think of him as an uncle - that must mean a lot to you.
It does. He'd be honest if he didn't like it. He'd have said something next time we met. So it's lovely to know he likes it. He's a good person to ask because he listens to such a wide range of music.Please explain the Ray Davies song The Village Green Preservation Society...how it came to your notice, why you included it, the Jennifer Saunders connection. Is it something you do live, and if so how does it go down?
I didn't know the song but Jennifer asked me to do it for her TV programme Jam and Jerusalem. I'd hardly listened to any Kinks before, but I went and bought a Best of album and now I'm a big fan. And the song is just brilliant. We haven't done it live yet - no drumkit.
And tell me about the title track. How and why you chose it......
I set aside a month to sit down and write. It's a lovely way of working. The story came from something I'd read in my ballad books, then my own words that didn't make sense at first started coming out. I'm not the kind of person who will get up in the middle of the night if a thought comes to me, but I will sometimes stay up as late as three or four o'clock to work on something if I'm excited about it. If I have an idea and still remember it in the morning, I carry on with it.
Describe your present life, your view of the way your career is going. What have been the ups and downs of the year? What was Cambridge like?
I am getting old...I don't get called young any more. On the other hand, I was even asked for my ID in the Co-op when I was buying wine. I couldn't believe it - I'm 33! There have been downs, like the deaths in the family, times when I've felt really stressed out, a couple of really terrible flights (readers familair with Kate will know of her struggles to overcome a fear of flying), getting into an argument with an airport taxi driver or having to put up with a terrible hotel or shambolic arrangements. Once I ended up thinking, 'I just want to go home', I was so totally drained. But there have been highs, too; getting the new record completed on time to be pressed for the Cambridge Folk Festival was a real achievement because I was so keen to stick to our deadline. Cambridge was lovely; I did my gig, signed records for people, did interviews and then just walked around like anyone else listening to amazing music. And there have been some great gigs - Trowbridge and Harrogate stick out.
Your own writing again features prominently on the new album. Is this something you feel increasingly confident about? Will there always be a mix on your albums or do you envisage one of exclusively self-composed work?
I have always said that my albums will be a mixture and for now, I still feel that way. My first love is traditional song, and there are so many left that I haven’t got through, so when all my old ballad books and mum and dad’s brains have been emptied of them, then I might do a record of just my own songs. But I never say never, I have no plan, just drift along and decide on the way.
As a song writer, I never have been super confident, and I can’t see that ever changing. That comes with the shyness in me. Of course, when I have to, I pretend I’m not shy, but in real life I am very shy, so recording songs I have written knowing that they will be judged and analysed is a very strange thing. It only dawns on me at the end of the record making process that people are actually guna hear this music we’ve been holed up creating, and without sounding all arty farty it’s a really personal thing making a record. A strange inner battle goes on, feeling compelled to create and record music but at the same time not wanting it to be heard and judged, perhaps I need to make secret CDs! That might suit.
.....to be continued. The second instalment will appear on Thursday, when you hear of Kate Rusby's collaborations with Eddi Reader, Roddy Woomble and Ronan Keating, and a third at the weekend