Martha Wainwright on the concert for her mother that turned into a wake
As the concert for her mother that turned into a wake that turned into a film gets its Irish premiere, Canadian folk-rock marvel Martha Wainwright tells Tara Brady about her mum Kate McGarrigle, her brother Rufus – and performing through a veil of tears
A bit of a blur?
“Exactly. Yes. The concert was in May shortly after she died at the Festival Hall. It was incredibly well received. It got five-star reviews. But it was as haze of otherworldliness. It was almost a wake. And once we reintroduced ourselves to our songs – those songs are astonishing – we felt we have to keep going with this. We’ll go to New York.”
She’s calm and collected now, though the Wainwright collective we see in the film, are constantly battling to keep back tears and sing around lumps in their throats. We can see that cathartic value of the exercise. But it does look bruising.
“Oh yeah. We were crying constantly. But I would rather feel those emotions and feel close to her than shut it down. We shared a willingness to reconnect. Against that, obviously you hold back as much as you can. We are not just jumping on stage and trying to show emotion. It’s the opposite of acting. It is something we had to go through. At the end of the three concerts we put up a tombstone. And there is this square named after her in Montreal. That helped us to accept living without her. We will keep doing concerts. But now it is more celebratory.”
Martha Wainwright once noted that her father hated being asked about his family and says that: “We’re not fucking special. We’re like everybody else!” Rufus, conversely, says: “We’re not like anybody else. We’re amazing!” Who does she side with, I wonder?
“I don’t know. I like what Rufus says. But what my father says demonstrates the difference in their songwriting. I am maybe somewhere in the middle. My father talks about daily things and the relationships between a family. He is describing his own life and thus describing other people’s. I thought these songs were just about my life and our life. Then I’d see people crying and I knew they were about more. Rufus doesn’t really do that. He creates a more spectacular world. They are different in that way.”
Would she be happy for Arcangelo to follow them all into the family guild?
“It’s funny. I always thought that I didn’t want my children to be musicians. It’s a difficult life. If you are not successful it’s very hard. And if you are successful it’s a charmed and sometimes difficult life. But we did this concert recently called Kate’s Kids. And I was backstage and I was tuning up. And I look up and all the family were there. It was so cool. It was like being part of a circus. And then I thought, ‘if he doesn’t do this, it will be the end’. And that would be so sad.”