Kate Rusby Biography
Yet here we are, 15 years into a career that has given English folk music its freshest tonic since the Watersons.
Kate is 33. And as she releases her latest solo album, Awkward Annie, young musicians up and down the country are looking at her as just the kind of role model she has always seen in Nic Jones and Dave Burland.
Kate Rusby has come of age in another sense, too. For the first time, she has produced the album herself, though brother Joe's technical wizardry earned a slice of the credit, too.
As ever, Kate is nervous and uncertain about her own mighty achievements. But the result is another outstanding CD that bears renewed witness to that infallible eye for the great storyline and a strongly developing songwriting talent of her own.
To each of her songs, she brings the quality of constancy. Some have only just been written, but sound as if they might have been handed down through generation after generation for a couple of centuries or more.
Born on Dec 4, 1973 in Jessops Hospital, Sheffield, Kate grew up in her beloved South Yorkshire and toyed with acting, or some more technical kind of career in drama, before embarking on her well-documented rise to the nearest folk gets to superstar status.
Music became embedded in her soul as she and her siblings, Joe and Emma, were carted around the folk festivals where mum and dad, Steve and Ann, would be playing in their ceilidh band or dad would be looking after sound systems
The three young Rusbys would use their voices to while away long car journeys. 'Mum and dad would sing songs and us kids would sing along, making up harmonies before we even knew what the word meant. There's just something lovely about voices singing together, even more so when it's family, and I'm so chuffed that Joe is singing on this record. Siblings have the same vibrato so the sound they make together is almost inseparable.'
Kate has never been allowed to forget that she spoke in an early interview (with me!) of being proud to be a folk singer and to know that it was not a genre for everyone. 'It's like a rare diamond,' she said when we spoke again years later. 'I like it that people have to look that bit harder for it."
She hasn't changed, but how does this fit in with her own writing? 'I have always said 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. 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. I have no plan, just drift along and decide on the way.'
Collaborations with other artists ' Eddi Reader, Roddy Woomble and Martin Simpson to name a few - are typical of the way Kate's career has digressed.
But Ronan Keating?
'Why not?' is the instinctive, utterly unapologetic response. 'He's such a lovely lovely fella! Clued up, hard working, polite, funny,
(with a cute little bum!). What is there not to like.
'I was dubious at first 'cos they said I would have to do the video and lots of telly, and not having made a video before I didn't really want to start down that route at 33. That's for the youngsters, eh, dancing about pretending to sing.
'But they talked me round and promised I didn't have to dance! So I thought why not? It'll be my only chance to have a look into that crazy world of pop music, and it was really good fun. And I got to be on Top Of The Pops!! Thought that was quite cool really, something to tell the grandchildren.
'As for the couple of criticisms I heard, I don't care. I don't take direction from people I haven't even met. I even got to meet the Royals, my Nanan Connie would have liked that.'
Kate has had a tough old time over the first part of the year in many ways. Her Nanan and a close uncle - both on her mother's side - died as the new album was being made. The ramifications of her split from John McCusker two years ago have put an inevitable strain on their working relationship and this 'sadly meant it wasn't the right time for us to make a record together. So the best thing was to produce this record myself''it's been a long and at times lonely road, but with help from Joe we got there in the end.'
And there are rays of light, among which her nephews ' Emma's boys, Joshua and Jacob, aged 11 and seven - shine most brightly.
'Aw they are my sunshine! I absolutely adore them. I just took them down to Cornwall and we had a whale of a time. We played on the beach, a friend took us fishing on the sea, Josh caught a rock so we thought best to not cook that. We body boarded, we sang (their fave of mine at the mo is Ray Davies's The Village Green Preservation Society, they nearly know all the words!). We ate ice cream and seafood platters, and fish and chips at the harbour. Very lovely, in fact the happiest I have been in a long time.'
Early signs are that the response to Awkward Annie will make Kate happier still.
Helen Brown wrote in the Daily Telegraph: 'Listening to Kate Rusby's lovely new album, it occurred to me that she's England's answer to Dolly Parton. Not in terms of the wigs and the sequins, but in her quaveringly sincere ability to tell a simple, downhome story in a song and make your heart ache for it.'
That's a comment Kate will treasure, probably for ever. Helen Brown will not have known it, and few of us might have guessed. But when you look at the bonus track "Potted Kate" you will see that Dolly Parton is one of her greatest musical influences.