Martha Wainwright Sings Piaf | Pop review

The Sage, Gateshead

If you close your eyes, you could almost be in 1940s Paris, listening to the young Edith Piaf as she captivates audiences with her songs of love and life. Open them, and you're confronted with Montreal-born bilingual singer Wainwright, and rows of empty seats.

Still, Wainwright Sings Piaf wasn't conceived as a commercial blockbuster: it's a labour of love for Kate McGarrigle's daughter, who has been captivated by the French chanteuse since the age of eight. She doesn't sing Piaf's songs so much as inhabit them, bringing the likes of Une Enfant – "the story of a young girl who takes up with a rough type and ends up dead on the street – there's a lot of that in these songs" – to vivid life. Wainwright's explanations are as entertaining as the songs – such as the one about the woman who had to choose between two lovers, before one made the decision for her: "He shot himself. There's a lot of that, too."

The singer, however, has steered clear of Piaf's famous tunes – there's no Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien – because they're "too iconic", but eventually you yearn for something recognisable among the swathe of lesser-known songs. Wainwright's voice soars for her own Tower Song and her mother's Tell My Sister. Bidding everyone "bon soir", a startling Stormy Weather seems enough to have the smallish but enthusiastic crowd regretting nothing.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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