Mary Gauthier, Foundling Museum, London
Tuesday 03 May 2011
The Foundling Museum, by Coram Fields in Bloomsbury, is a hidden gem, preserving the story of the Foundling Hospital that was established in 1739 by Thomas Coram, the artist Hogarth and the composer Handel. It made a compelling setting for a stark live performance of the American country singer Mary Gauthier's latest album.
The Foundling was released last year, receiving great acclaim for its unstinting and deeply personal account of the trauma of adoption and the hunger to search for origins. This charity concert for the Foundling Museum was the first of a month-long tour, with the singer joined by the Canadian violinist Tania Elizabeth. They performed the album in sequence, Elizabeth 's rich five-string violin and harmony vocals adding colour and depth to Gauthier's lean acoustic guitar and half-spoken, half-sung delivery.
The album is drawn from life. Gauthier was born in the St Vincent Women and Infants Asylum in New Orleans in 1962, to an unwed mother. Forty-five years on, she traced her mother and called her. It would be her only call home. Her mother "couldn't afford to reopen the wound she'd carried her whole life, the wound of surrendering a baby".
Telling that story in a brilliantly crafted suite of 13 songs, Gauthier cut a striking figure amidst the rococo splendour of the Museum's picture gallery, surrounded by paintings by Hogarth and Gainsborough. Her songs of infant abandonment and adult experience are delivered with a voice that cracks with knowledge and breaks and soars with feeling. At times it is like hearing a cry in the dark, never more so than on the powerful "Mama Here, Mama Gone", "Blood is Blood" and the spoken-word "March 11 1962", a record of that one telephone call. "The Orphan King" offers a sense of hope, with a mantra of "I still believe in love"; "Sideshow" brings touches of dry, salty humour.
Extrapolation is unnecessary; the songs are the real thing, hand-packed with knowledge and feeling that cannot be faked. Gauthier says sorry at the end, for "bumming us all out", but the audience cannot hear because they are giving her a standing ovation. The Foundling is a cathartic experience, a penetrating testament and evocation of the adoptee experience which speaks of human experience itself.
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