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Martha Wainwright on musical icons: ‘Leonard Cohen really changed the way I looked at music’

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Martha Wainwright. Picture: Gaëlle_Leroyer

Martha Wainwright. Picture: Gaëlle_Leroyer

Performer Martha Wainwright CREDIT: Gaëlle_Leroyer

Performer Martha Wainwright CREDIT: Gaëlle_Leroyer

Performer Martha Wainwright CREDIT: Gaëlle_Leroyer

Performer Martha Wainwright CREDIT: Gaëlle_Leroyer

Martha Wainwright

Martha Wainwright

Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen

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Martha Wainwright. Picture: Gaëlle_Leroyer

In her new album Love Will Be Reborn, Martha Wainwright, daughter of folk royalty, the late Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III, adheres to family tradition by using the personal sphere as a source of inspiration.

The 11 tracks, a poetic mix of haunting ballads, soaring melodies, punchy acoustics and some beautiful piano work, manage to encapsulate the pain of loss as well as the unexpected joys of new beginnings.

Not content with a musical odyssey, Martha has also taken on the role of author, sharing her experiences in a witty but searingly honest memoir, Stories I Might Regret Telling You.

Now ahead of her UK tour, and her performance in Bangor’s Walled Garden on August 11 as part of the Open House Festival, the 45 year-old reflects on some of the events that have helped shape her both as a woman and as an artist.

“Growing up I was surrounded by music,” she begins.

“So, naturally, in those early years my parents were a major influence. One of my mother’s songs, Go Leave, made an enormous impact.

“Even as a child I could sense the emotion, it was so heart breaking it could reduce me to tears. In my teens I discovered the edgier sound of artists like Cyndi Lauper, Marianne Faithfull and Tina Turner, all strong women.

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“But I’d have to say it was Leonard Cohen, especially his album I’m your Man, that really changed the way I looked at music.”

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Martha Wainwright

Martha Wainwright

Martha Wainwright

Her father’s rather acrimonious song I’d Rather Be Lonely also made an impact, but instead of a beautiful impression, it left a painful memory.

In her book Martha refers to an incident, explaining how at the time she’d accompanied her father on tour, acting as a back-up singer and performing father/daughter duets.

The young woman was off stage when she heard Loudon introduce the song, and initially assumed it was inspired by a former girlfriend.

She was deeply hurt when her father told the audience that it was about the time his 14-year-old daughter had come to live with him in New York.

“A part of me wanted to jump to my death from my tiny seat,” she wrote.

“But the show must go on, so I dried my tears and went down the stairs and on to the stage.”

In 2005 the teenage angst finally found an outlet when, at 28, Martha launched her five tract EP entitled Bloody Mother F******g A******.

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Performer Martha Wainwright CREDIT: Gaëlle_Leroyer

Performer Martha Wainwright CREDIT: Gaëlle_Leroyer

Performer Martha Wainwright CREDIT: Gaëlle_Leroyer

The strong language may have provided the shock factor that catapulted her away from the family’s shadow and into the spotlight, but it is her unique voice and immense talent that keeps her there.

Over the years there have been many twists and turns in Wainwright’s journey to success.

However, the birth of her sons Arcangelo and Francis, as well as the loss of her mother, have taken her to both ends of the emotional spectrum.

“Becoming a mother is an incredible experience.

“It really makes you stop and think about things.

“Motherhood brings out the deepest emotions. After all, children are the windows into our hopes.”

Her introduction to motherhood got off to a terrifying start when Arcangelo decided to put in an early appearance.

“The baby wasn’t due for another nine weeks,” she explains. “So, at the time I wasn’t concerned about flying to London to do the gig.

“We were planning on returning home the following day.

“But just hours after the performance my waters broke and suddenly, to my shock, the baby was on his way. I was terrified as they rushed me to University College Hospital, but the staff were wonderful. Arcangelo was delivered by Caesarean section on November 16, 2009, weighing just 3lbs 5oz. I’ll always be grateful for the hospital’s care and I think it’s great that Arcangelo has this special link with London and the UK.”

While new-born Arcangelo struggled to hold onto life, three thousand miles away in Montreal Martha’s mother was terminally ill.

Diagnosed with cancer in 2005, Kate McGarrigle was nearing the end of her life, yet despite the pain she flew to London to meet her grandson and to take part in the Royal Albert Hall’s Christmas concert.

“My mother loved the Christmas Carol concert but we knew this one would be her last performance.”

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Performer Martha Wainwright CREDIT: Gaëlle_Leroyer

Performer Martha Wainwright CREDIT: Gaëlle_Leroyer

Performer Martha Wainwright CREDIT: Gaëlle_Leroyer

On January 18, 2010, the date her grandson was due to enter the world, McGarrigle passed away. It’s a sad irony that had Martha carried her baby to full term, Kate would never have met the little boy.

Profoundly affected by her mother’s death, Martha’s grief eventually found expression in the hauntingly beautiful song Proserpina, featured in her album Come Home To Mama.

The song, which borrows imagery from Roman mythology, was written by her mother and sang at her last performance in the Royal Albert Hall.

Martha shares the work done by her mother’s charity, The Kate McGarrigle Foundation.

“My mother had been battling sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. She was such a strong woman and I admired her so much. Time has lessened the shock but there’s still a deep sadness and I miss her every day.

“Before she passed away she, along with family and some friends, decided to set up the charity. She wanted to help others by raising awareness of the cancer as well as provide funds for research.”

In the passing of time it seems that much of the family conflict has been resolved. But for Martha life hasn’t been completely pain-free.

The 2018 divorce from husband of 10 years Brad Albetta and a custody battle over their two children have left their mark.

“Some of the songs on the album were difficult to write,” she admits.

“I would come up with a melody or a couple of lines and then have to leave it because it was too painful. I’d go back to them over a couple of years and finish them.”

In 2019 Martha embarked on a new venture when she opened her Café Ursa in Montreal, which she says is a “huge part of her life”.

“This idea was in my mind for a long time, kind of like a nightmare/fantasy!”

Martha takes a hands-on approach and is fully involved, serving drinks, hosting shows or, as she describes it, “stirring the pot in every way possible, singing songs but also behind the counter stirring the soup pot”.

Like all businesses, Café Ursa didn’t escape the repercussions of a global pandemic.

Martha says: “It’s been a challenge to keep going. Although we have been able, within safety parameters, to do a few cool things to help keep the community together.”

Now, as the world opens up, the singer is looking forward to her forthcoming tour of the UK and Ireland.

“I love coming to Ireland, the fans are amazing.

“I’m really looking forward to performing in Co Down; it’ll be wonderful to share that unique connection that is part of a live performance.”

Events on the personal front are equally exciting, especially as the singer has a new man in her life.

“I never would have expected anything as romantic or as powerful.

“We’re so used to hearing about the journey of a youthful type of love, but there’s other kinds that can happen later on in life, a different kind of relationship where you’re bringing more to the table with children and divorce and all sorts of things.”

She’s come a long way since those early days when, as part of family of talented and successful singers, she struggled to find her voice.

Now, in her ‘coming of age’ album, Martha Wainwright proves she is, and always has been, a talent to be reckoned with.

For more information on tickets, see www.ticketmaster.co.uk. For information on Open House Festival, see openhousefestival.com


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