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Cover Story: (61) Underneath the Stars. Kate Rusby, Voces8 or Western Illinois University Singers

July 2022 update; reposted because the clip of Kate Rusby's own singing of her charming song was leading to a dead end. It has now been replaced and is the last video shown in this article ...

Choirs can work wonders with songs created for other settings.

In St Bride's, just off Fleet Street in London and commonly known as the journalists' church, I have attended several moving memorial services for former colleagues. And I remember in particular the St Bride's choir presenting its beautiful arrangement of With or Without You as part of the commemoration of my friend David Graves, who was almost as much a fan of U2 as he was of Wolverhampton Wanderers.

The British composer, arranger, orchestrator, and singer Jim Clements has turned one of Kate Rusby's most popular songs, Underneath the Stars, into an exquisite choral piece.

His sublime arrangement has become widely known, adopted by choirs around the world, and it inspires the latest edition of our Cover Story series.


Voces8 by - Kaupo Kikkas 


There is no strict need to compare any of the choral versions with Rusby's original as the differing approach essentially makes them two distinct songs.

But it is worth noting that the UK ensemble Voces8, which does indeed feature eight voices, has attracted 1.1 million views for a YouTube clip of a performance recorded at the Gresham Centre in London (a burst of mental arithmetic suggests Rusby's own versions add up to to about the same).

Because they are so different, I will simply invite you to enjoy both Rusby singing her song at the Cambridge Folk festival in 2005 and two choral treatments, Voces8 and one from the Western Illinois University Singers.

It is an easy job to locate others; I recall coming across choirs from South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK when I looked up the song and I know there are more.




The song has also given its name to a festival run each summer by the cottage industry that supports Rusby's musical exploits.

Tickets for the 2021 event, at Cinderhill Farm, Cawthorne, bang in Rusby family territory near Barnsley, are on sale and the festival will go ahead from July 30 to Aug 1 subject to where we are then with the pandemic.



In the meantime, you can have a look at Rusby's plans for a quite different kind of performance, a streamed edition of her Hand Me Down album featuring outstanding covers of pop songs that will be online from April 10 to May 22. I wrote about it here.


 My postings at Facebook about this song have prompted a good deal of discussion (at the English Folk Music group, which you must join to see, and my own pages, which you don't). Some of this is reproduced in Comments below.

Once you've explored choral versions of Underneath the Stars  - or before, indeed instead, if you prefer - see what Kate Rusby does with her own song.



Bill Taylor

Maybe I'm just not the choral-music type but for me the choirs here, flawless though their voices are, take all the feeling out of the song and turn it into something fault-free but also emotion-free - an insipid watercolour, if you will, rather than a deeply hued oil painting. Rusby, on the other hand, digs deep into the song and brings it to life. And I loved the muted brass behind her. This one's a work of art.

Enid Buhler

Totally agree with Bill here. The choir versions are undoubtedly very good - flawlessly nice so to speak - but they leave me cold. Kate Rusby's own version, on the other hand, gives me goosebumps.

Joan Dawson

I think the choral versions are lovely too, they drew me in and create a feeling of stillness rather than the emotion you'd get from Kate's singing. I agree that they can't be compared as they're completely different genres, it just happens to be the same sobg, but if I'd not made out the words 'underneath the stars' I might not have realised that's what it was. Itdefinitely loses something in being sung in received pronunciation! Folk choirs manage to keep the folky feel of songs for multiple voices so it can be done. I'd very happily listen to both but treat them as entirely different things. I have to say the King's Singers' version Dance to thy Daddy is a bit odd, as the dialect is integral to the whole song and the link to the lives of the people singing it. Has to be Bob Fox; Nancy Kerr does a fine version. But because the lyrics to Kate's song are universal I think adapting it works. Hadn't realised all that before I started writing this!

Colin Randall

I cannot my resist repeating my old David Swarbrick anecdote. I was in Robin’s Hood Bay at the home of Martin Carthy, interviewing him. He told me of the time he was trying out something new on guitar and fearing it wouldn’t work. “You can do anything you want with music’” Swarb reassured him. “It won’t mind.”

I’d just add that I do prefer Rusby singing her own song but the choral arrangement creates something else, also valid

Mark Williams

Via Facebook

I have immense respect for the talent of Voces8, though I'm not always a fan of their repertoire choice. This is exquisite though.

Juliet Youngren

Western Illinois University is just a stone's throw from where I grew up! I remember going there for French club competitions in high school.

Gervase Webb

I liked the choral arrangement, but Rusby's original is still head and shoulders above it. Choral arrangements only seem to work well well there's either an epic tune or some extraodinary texture in the music. Where the lyrics carry the song, the solo singer has it every time.

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