NEXT weekend sees one of my favourite folk singers, Kate Rusby, return to play at Salisbury City Hall.

I’ve been a fan of hers for almost two decades, ever since I heard one of her early albums, Little Lights. In all, Kate has released thirteen albums, has been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and hailed by the Guardian as ‘a superstar of the British acoustic scene’.

In recent years, Kate’s December gigs have become something of an institution. Nestled among her output are four Christmas albums – The Frost is Almost Over, Sweet Bells, While Mortals Sleep and last year’s Angels and Men – and these end of year shows draw strongly on these records. They’re a somewhat festive affair: complete with fairy lights, tinsel and brass accompaniment, they are the perfect way to get you in the yuletide mood.

Kate’s interest in Christmas music is one that is built on local tradition. Born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, she grew up in a musical family and was quick to soak up the local folk traditions of the area. One of the musical calling cards of the region are the South Yorkshire carols – Kate describes these as ‘rooted in the soil of our hills’ and are a set of songs she first came across as a child.

These Christmas songs are ones that were originally sung in church but fell out of favour in Victorian times. That was thanks partly to the Hymns Ancient and Modern, a collection of 270-odd hymns that was first published in 1861 and quickly became the set text of church music. In came the organ as accompaniment; out went the local musicians and west gallery singers.

Out, too, went these Christmas songs. As Kate puts it, ‘they were thrown out of the churches by the Victorians for being too happy’. But in South Yorkshire, the songs survived: no longer used in church services, they effectively went underground and became sung in a small number of local pubs instead. It’s a tradition that has continued ever since, starting each year straight after Armistice Day and going all the way through to Christmas. Kate was taken along to these singalongs from a young age, ‘drinking pop and eating crisps … all the while soaking up the songs.’

It’s a musical tradition that is particular to certain parts of the country: South Yorkshire aside, Cornwall is the only place where these Christmas songs were saved in this way. But Kate’s own shows and albums have kept the tradition alive, continuing to introduce new audiences to songs that might otherwise have melted away like the Christmas snow.

Kate Rusby at Christmas is at Salisbury City Hall on Sunday, December 16, 7.30pm.