A Celebration of Kate McGarrigle, Royal Festival Hall

5.00

Memories of a mother loved and lost

This is very much a family affair. Which is only fitting for a celebration of Kate McGarrigle, somewhat of a mother to the Canadian folk scene, and literally mother to two extremely talented singer-songwriters, Martha and Rufus Wainwright. McGarrigle died in January, aged 63, and the concert was organised by her old friend Richard Thompson, currently curating the Meltdown festival at the Southbank Centre.

There are McGarrigle's sisters, Jane and Anna, as well as the latter's husband and children here. Both Wainwrights are in attendance. Thompson's former wife, Linda, and their kids Teddy and Kami, lend their voices to a chorus that seems to sing of talent running in families. Add to this self-proclaimed "clan" such musical mates as Nick Cave, Lisa Hannigan, Emmylou Harris, Jenni Muldaur... I could go on, but suffice it to say, it's a pretty magical melting pot.

The scale of the three-hour event and its collaborative nature means things are a little shambolic, with a fair amount of stop-and-start. It's mostly McGarrigle's music, and Rufus says, of playing his dead mother's songs: "It's very difficult, on the one hand; but extremely uplifting on another – so let's continue the ride". He does so, his theatrical rendition of "Southern Boys" backed with cooing vocals from Anna McGarrigle and Muldaur.

Teddy Thompson's pared-down performance of "Saratoga Summer Song" provides one of the first breathtaking vocal displays of the night. It's a beautiful and heartfelt, but terribly fragile, performance and it makes me nostalgic for a summer I never even experienced.

The second half opens with a home video of McGarrigle jokingly lip-synching along to one of her songs on the radio. It's innocently intimate footage, and sets the scene for a far more emotionally raw second half.

"Mother Mother" is an electric number, with Cave's voice creating a sense of menace, complemented by Martha's whispering vocals, and crashing drums from Martyn Barker. Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys sings "I Cried For Us", but with sweeping strings and his falsetto voice, this love-lorn lament becomes a little too syrupy. "I Eat Dinner", by contrast, manages to stay on just the right side of weepy – Rufus and Harris's voices complement each other as they sing of eating leftovers at the kitchen table, and the loss of candlelit romance.

"Proserpina" – the last song McGarrigle wrote – is led by Martha. But singing her mum's song about motherhood becomes too much; she chokes, can't sing. But her yearning gestures speak volumes, and there are few dry eyes offstage either.

"Life is short and sweet/ This much I know," sings Krystle Warren, aptly; another revelation, her Nina Simone-esque voice is astonishingly powerful. And McGarrigle's fans weren't just fellow folkies; the novelist Michael Ondaatje gives a reading from a novel in which he quoted McGarrigle's "Mendocino": "Never had the blues from whence I came/But in New York state I caught 'em".

Rufus performs his own number about her, "The Walking Song". Despite saying "Let's consider this as a chill-out moment; it's been so emotional," he ends with a "thanks mom" and an audible sniff. He – and the rest of the clan – are met with a standing ovation. Emotional stuff indeed.

Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape