Martha Wainwright – Cheese and Grain, Frome (23 September, 2021)

The title track of Martha Wainwright’s fifth studio ‘Love Will Be Reborn’ was written four years ago following her divorce.

The question I have is why would anyone ever mess with Martha Wainwright?

She’s music royalty. She writes a killer lyric. And shit-above everything else-she’s so damned CLASSY.

We’d all be ugly crying, snot running down our faces by a breakup. But she gives off every vibe of ‘I’m gonna let you do your shit, I’m gonna watch you go, and then I’m gonna eviscerate you in song.’

So it’s a joy then to see Wainwright on stage with her band (Bernice, led by Robin Dann, who also support this evening). They seem to have so much fun.

This is the first time we have reviewed her live since 2013, during her fantastic acoustic Glastonbury set.

She starts with an understated version of the title track of the album, which was released this year and is her first release in five years. It’s played with grace and punctuated with an anecdote about her ex-husband that suggests she’s reached a good place.

Then follows a further three songs from the new album, including a stunning version of Justice.

But we’re not getting a misery-fest this evening. Martha is too much of a consummate entertainer for that. She’s naturally engaging, and her between-song repartee hints at an alternative career in either stand-up comedy or, at the very least, t-shirt designing.

There’s an inspired cover of Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel #2, where Wainwright returns to chanteuse mode.But she can’t stay serious for long. She starts Far Away three times, the bum notes punctuated by giggles. In less experienced hands it could be twee. However, it’s far too engaging to be anything other than charming.

We get a brilliant, still-fresh Factory To Factory. Then the main set finishes with a trio of songs from the new album: Rainbow, Being Right and Body and Soul.

She returns to the stage, with Thom Gill, Philip Melansen and Morgan Moore, who stand to one side, reminiscent of a renaissance street gang.

They end with a beautiful version of Proserpina. Spines are tingled and the odd tear is shed.

It’s clear that Martha Wainwright is figuring out her own story, with an unabashed candour. Luckily, it’s one that she tells well, and is worth hearing.

Words and pictures by Sam Gray


Sam Gray

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