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Rufus Wainwright, York Barbican, November 21
9:50am Friday 4th May 2012 in Music news and reviews
INTRODUCING… Rufus Wainwright’s new studio album and York Barbican debut.
FLAMBOYANT Canadian-American singer, songwriter, piano player and aesthete Rufus Wainwright has just released Out Of The Game, his seventh album.
More significantly, it is the first he has recorded with his friend Mark Ronson, the fashionable English producer.
Rufus was smitten. “We liked looking at each other when making this album,” he says with a twinkle. “Most of what I did was mainly to make those big doe eyes of his happy.”
While Wainwright and the dance-orientated Ronson may initially seem an unlikely pairing, Out Of The Game is Rufus’s most focused work, leaner than usual and stripped of his more eccentric flourishes.
“I think you could put this record on at a party and no one would leave the room,” says Rufus. “It’s lighter, upbeat and less ponderous, but by the same token a lot of those intense, dark parts of my personality are still in there.
“I especially love Montauk, which is an idyllic ballad about fatherhood. Above all, this album is about fun.”
Not least, the album feeds off the early 1970s, especially the sun-kissed songs of Carole King’s Tapestry, Hunky Dory-era David Bowie, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Rufus’s friend Elton John and Queen in less bombastic mode.
Much of this retro element has come from Ronson’s ‘fanaticism’ for those albums, and he tops it all off by going back to earlier musical times to incorporate bagpipes on the closing track, Candles, without them sounding over the top.
“I normally hate the bagpipes,” says Rufus. “But Sting had a 60th birthday party where I played with Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder, and the army regiment The Black Watch came out – you know, the pipers?
“I fell in love with the sound. It’s amazing what they can do, and I decided I wanted them on my album.”
When looking for a producer, Rufus wanted someone who brought creative continuity. Step forward Mark Ronson. “We really accomplished that, more on this album than any other I think,” he says.
“It was something of a departure for Mark, too. There’s no trumpet, which he’s known for. That was his decision. I was there to write, sing and have ideas, but I really wanted to let him do what he wanted.”
Although Wainwright’s early albums had producers at the helm, he took charge on 2007’s Release The Stars and 2010’s All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu, so handing over the reins once more required him to readjust. “You could say it took a bit of time, yes,” he says. “This was not an overnight process, for sure, but I’m OK now.”
Rufus already has added a daughter to the Wainwright family dynasty of father Loudon Wainwright III, mother Kate McGarrigle, aunt Anna McGarrigle, younger sister Martha and half-sister Lucy Wainwright Roche, musicians all.
Viva Katherine Wainwright Cohen has just turned one. Her mother is Lorna Cohen, daughter of the legendary Leonard, so complementing what Rufus calls the “family chess game”.
“I’ve written three songs about her already, although there’s only one on the album. I don’t want to be overbearing. I love being a dad. I see so much of her, but I’m really looking forward to when her own personality starts coming through,” he says.
The happiness of fatherhood at 38 has been countered by the devastating sense of loss after Rufus’ mother passed away in 2010 from a rare form of cancer.
Tributes to Kate McGarrigle flooded in, giving comfort to Rufus. “I read all the tributes and emails that came in, especially from you guys here in the UK where she got an astounding send-off. I was definitely bolstered by them,” he says.
“They virtually commanded me to continue her legacy, and there is a lot of that on this album. It’s been a great, creative time, and a happy one with Viva here now, but there were counter-experiences that were ready to come out, and I needed to reflect on a sad couple of years.
“That emotion perforates the sunlight, but mainly it’s about focusing on enjoying yourself, and looking for the positives.”
Wainwright devotees can enjoy those positives when he plays an autumn tour, whose ten dates include York Barbican on November 21, his only Yorkshire show.
Touring with a band for the first time since 2008, he will be joined by Teddy Thompson on guitar and Krystle Warren on vocals in an eight-piece line-up. Tickets for Rufus’s return to York – he last played here in May 2005 at the Grand Opera House – can be booked on 0844 854 2757.
• Rufus McGarrigle Wainwright was born in Rhinebeck, New York, on July 22 1973.
• His parents divorced when he was three, and afterwards he lived with his mother in Montreal, Canada.
• He began playing the piano when he was six and toured as part of his mother and aunt’s band from the age of 13.
• As well as seven studio albums, he has released two live albums, one of them a recreation of Judy Garland’s concert at Carnegie Hall, and an opera, Prima Donna.
• He appeared in the films The Aviator and Heights.
• His last North Yorkshire concert was at Harrogate International Centre in October 2007.