Being born into a musically gifted family, Martha Wainwright has never been short of inspiration or influence. She clearly carried those influences across the Atlantic for this stripped-back acoustic gig at the Celtic Connections festival in the handsomely attended Royal Concert Hall.
The Canadian made it clear early in the night that she would not be competing with her brother Rufus, who stripped completely naked at his Academy concert last month, despite their frequent attempts to out-do each other. “I think he’s got me there,” she laughed.
The spirit of her late mother – the legendary Kate McGarrigle – was very much in attendance, particularly with Wainwright’s latest album, Come Home To Mama, being written and recorded in the months following her passing. The pain of that loss is still fresh in her voice and bleeds out over Can You Belive It and Proserpina, which was the last song McGarrigle wrote.
Her father, Loudon Wainwright III, is also present, although perhaps not afforded the same adulation in song as Kate, with Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole a stinging criticism of the man. The audience was rapturous in its appreciation.
This was a beautiful gig. The Royal Concert Hall crowd can sometimes be a little difficult to please (some might say stuffy), but there was almost universal acceptance on the way out that Martha Wainwright was a success. Her voice carried magnificently through the sprawling venue, the guitar was played with great poise and delicacy and the set list was excellent, with just the right balance between covers of her mothers work (and one Leonard Cohen song) and a showcase of her own talent.
As though to accentuate the point, Martha abandoned the guitar for the final song of the encore, perching herself on the edge of the stage without the assistance of a microphone as she performed a quite exquisite Piaf number. It takes a fair talent to sing in French before a Scottish audience, completely unassisted by a guitar or a microphone or any form of equipment, and Martha handled it sublimely.
Of course, it was all to prove to Rufus that she can handle “these traditional, classic things.” It was the theme of the evening.