Sweet Bells by Kate Rusby


My Mum used to ask me why I bought more records when I already had so many. It seemed laughable at the time but there’s an element of sense there. This year I have bought fifty CDs, of which twenty eight were released this year. When Peter and I met on House Party this morning, we swapped our top ten albums of the year. I had found this a very difficult list to compile because when I looked at the list of CDs, I found I didn’t know any album in it’s entirety. I have been able to compile a Spotify playlist with one excellent track from each of the 28 albums but if you were ask me whether the Garcia Peoples album was better than the Rolling Coastal Blackout Fever album, I couldn’t really give an opinion because I don’t know the albums well enough. When I only had a few albums, I played them all over and over again. I could sing every track off “Help!”, “Astral Weeks” or “On The Threshold Of A Dream” but I couldn’t name, let alone sing, any track from the album by Arbouretum. Okay, I couldn’t sing those songs because, apparently, I can’t sing in tune, or so Roo tells me but it seems that picking one or two songs from an album and ignoring the rest has become more common for me which is disappointing. Maybe next year, I should only buy one album a month and just play it and play it until I know every song really well. That’s unlikely, I guess.

Here’s another example from twelve years ago. “Sweet Bells” by Kate Rusby is the first of five Christmas albums that she has released in the last twelve years. Listening to it now, I can see that it’s really rather good. A version of “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night” which is called “Sweet Bells” is lovely as is “Hark The Herald” and “The Holly And The Ivy”. Although the words are familiar, the melodies are not. The playing is sublime and Andy Cutting and Ian Carr are particularly impressive on accordion and guitar; they are the remnants from the outstanding band that John McCusker had put together; once Kate Rusby married Damien O’Kane in 2010 she has performed with a completely different lineup.

I haven’t listened to this album for a number of years apart from three songs. By not focusing on the whole album, I believe I’ve missed out. Listening to these three songs again gives me great pleasure. The other songs are also good although some of the diddly-dee songs (e.g. “Here We Come A-Wassailing”) are a little annoying. Picking and choosing which songs to listen to is now common, with the advent of streaming. When I first bought “Help!” in 1965, it was quite difficult to simply listen to the songs that immediately appealed so I listened to everything and even grew to love “The Night Before”. Now, it’s easier to dismiss a song after one listen. This is not a good thing.

“Candlemas Eve” is listed as a traditional poem with music by Kate Rusby but the words appears to have been written by a 17th century poet called Robert Herrick. It’s interesting that the three songs on this album that I particularly like don’t seem to have anything to do with Christmas. Candlemas is celebrated on February 2nd and is a Christian Holy Day commemorating the induction of Jesus into Judaism, forty days after his birth.

“Serving Girl’s Holiday” was twice recorded by Maddy Prior. Firstly on an album she made with Tim Hart in 1971 called “Summer Solstice” and again on “3 For Joy” when she was joined by Hannah James and Giles Lewin. Maddy Prior felt that it was a translation from Middle English of “The Serving Maid’s Holiday” by Rossell Hope Robbins and is included in a compilation of Medieval English verse that was published in 1964. The words describe the feelings of a servant as she prepares for a holiday which may or may not be Christmas. The song has everything I would hope for from a Kate Rusby song – a beautiful arrangement and her pure, sweet voice. It’s completely lovely. It’s very interesting to compare her version with Maddy Prior’s version. Kate Rusby’s version doesn’t sound like a traditional authentic folk song at all.

Maddy Prior
Kate Rusby

Even better is “The Miner’s Dream Of Home” which, again, isn’t really a Christmas song at all. A miner, who has left England, dreams of returning to his home on New Year’s Eve to be reunited with his family. It was recorded by an Australian singer called Peter Dawson although I can’t ascertain whether or not Peter Dawson wrote it. There’s a website that lists the Top Forty songs from 1900 and it states that Peter Dawson’s version was Number 32 in the charts in that year. I have no idea what that means – quite possibly it refers to sheet music or it could all be made up. Nevertheless, Kate Rusby’s sanitised version of this song is lovely.

Peter Dawson
Kate Rusby

The fifth best Christmas album of all time is very good.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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