Live Music + Gig Reviews

A Celebration Of Kate McGarrigle @ Royal Festival Hall, London

12 June 2010

“It’s a great consolation having children because when your sister’s not there they can sing with you.”

Anna McGarrigle could have been lost without her much-loved sister and long-term musical partner Kate who passed away at the start of this year. But stood next to her children Lily and Sylvan Lanken she managed to navigate her way through a difficult but never to be forgotten evening of songs celebrating Kate’s life.

There could have been no more appropriate venue than the Royal Festival Hall. It’s played host many times to the triumvirate families of the McGarrigles, the Wainwrights and the Thompsons. So with Richard Thompson taking over the curating reins for this year’s Meltdown Festival, it made a lot of sense for it to take place here and now.

A cast of 25 diversified the players from those three central families to bring in other guests who wanted to contribute. Produced perfectly by Joe Boyd , every song in the show seemed to bring with it a new performer, each one of them superb. Nick Cave and Neil Tennant both featured as high profile names, while the author Michael Ondaatje, a long-term friend of Kate’s, spoke of how indebted he was to her lyrics.

There were stirring takes on Saratoga Summer Song by Teddy Thompson and I Am A Diamond by Kate’s daughter Martha Wainwright and an astonishing performance of an astonishing song with Lisa Hannigan singing Kate’s ode to London, Tell My Sister.

As the setlist progressed it seemed to get more and more charged. With Heart Like A Wheel and its lyrics “they say death is a tragedy, it comes once and it’s over” the interval arrived leaving many on the verge of tears.

That fate couldn’t be avoided later on when Martha broke down while singing the “Come home to mama” refrain during Proserpina. Surrounded by her family, the tightness and support was there to catch her, but around one of the most marvellous of London venues, people were following suit.

The beauty of Kate McGarrigle’s work lay in the combination of her strong, intricate songwriting and poetic storytelling that has so clearly influenced her children’s work. But the selection of songs either written or sung by her also showcased a range of musical styles that more than easily kept the attention for over 3 hours. Blues came courtesy of Nick Cave and Jenni Muldaur‘s Blues In, and the gospel of Travellin’ Home For Jesus from Chaim Tannenbaum, a collaborator from the outset of her career, worked well around the supreme songwriting of the likes of I Eat Dinner tonight sung by Kate’s son Rufus Wainwright and Emmylou Harris.

Rufus described the concert as being “very difficult on one hand but uplifting on the other”. Today was a huge part of the letting-go process for everyone involved and was without any doubt what Kate would have wanted. She was so loved and will be so missed. The word “celebration” was presumably chosen carefully so as not to focus on her death but on her life, but it wasn’t just her achievements that were celebrated, but also her ability to inspire and create love and admiration in the people around her.

First Half: 1. Kiss And Say Goodbye – Anna McGarrigle, Lily Lanken, Rufus Wainwright, Martha Wainwright, Richard Thompson, Janie McGarrigle, 2. Blues In – Jenni Muldaur, Nick Cave, 3. Entre La Jeunesse Et La Sagesse – Anna, Lily, Sylvan Lanken, Lisa Hannigan, Emmylou Harris, Southern Boys, Rufus, Jenni, Anna, Janie, 4. Southern Boys – Rufus, Jenni, Anna, 5. Swimming Song – Richard Thompson, 6. Saratoga Summer Song – Teddy Thompson, 7. I Am A Diamond – Martha, Janie, 8. Leave Me Be – Anna, Lily, Sylvan, 9. Tell My Sister – Lisa, 10. Come A Long Way – Krystle Warren, Rufus, 11. Go Leave – Linda Thompson, Richard, 12. Work Song – Jenni, Anna, Lily, Sylvan, Jane, Emmylou, Teddy, 13. Heart Like A Wheel – Rufus, Martha, Anna, Lily, Sylvan, Jane.
Second Half: 1. Cheminant A La Ville – Martha, Anna, Lily, 2. Lying Song – Jenni, 3. Mother Mother – Nick, 4. I Cried For Us – Neil Tennant, 5. I Eat Dinner – Rufus, Emmylou, 6. Proserpina – Martha, Janie, 7. As Easy As My Feet Can Carry Me – Richard, Linda, Teddy, Kami Thompson, Jack Thompson, Zak Hobbs, Muna Mascolo, 8. I Don’t Know – Krystle, 9. Travellin’ On For Jesus – Chaim Tannenbaum, Martha, Rufus, Anna, Sylvan, Lily, Janie, 10. Talk To Me Of Mendocino – Emmylou, Anna, 11. Matapedia – Martha, Lily, Anna, Janie, 12. Walking Song – Rufus.
Encore: 1. Dinks’ Song – Martha, Rufus, Anna, Lily, Chaim, 2. Love Over And Over – All

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A Celebration Of Kate McGarrigle @ Royal Festival Hall, London