Martha Wainwright – review

Scala, London

In an interview for this paper last year, Rufus Wainwright told me that songwriters were born not made. As evidence he cited his little sister Martha – how as a child she would come out with profound lyrics in the back seat of the car and how their mother, Kate McGarrigle, (though presumably driving) would 'clap her hands with glee'.

Martha is now 29 and her solo London debut has been a long time coming. It's a triumph – not least over the wild odds of landing four feted songwriters as immediate family: mum Kate, Kate's sister, Anna McGarrigle, brother Rufus, and their father, Loudon Wainwright III. The opening torrent of 'Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole' – a masterpiece about Loudon, who ran away – sluices the decks for a stash of carefully honed numbers you wish would last a hook or two longer; moody, lovely tunes laced with longing and defiance.

Backed by a rough-edged three-piece band, Wainwright is unhurried mistress of her stage space: sleeves up, vintage dress swirling; left leg stamping or appearing to knee some invisible victim; peep-toes swivelling in the spaghetti mess of her own guitar lead. Her voice is an arresting mix of hard and vulnerable – shades of everyone from Siouxsie Sioux to Emmylou. Her delivery is dramatic, head tipped to one side, shaking out the long notes. For an encore there's a smouldering cover of French chanson legend Barbara's 'Dis, quand reviendras-tu?'

The audience loves Martha: she takes questions ('Where d'you get your shoes?'; 'Will you marry me?'), drinks their lager, and says her background is like 'a Greek tragedy... at the same time, a very, very normal family'.


Carol McDaid

The GuardianTramp

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