I knew that the Church were supporting Rufus Wainwright (or was it the other way around??) and that Rufus had to cancel because a family member was 'critically ill'. I was wondering who that may have been, but I didn't give it too much thought.
It turned out to be Kate McGarrigle, the mother of Rufus, who died of a rare form of cancer. Kate had the folk duo 'Kate and Anna McGarrigle' along with her older sister Anna, and they released award-winning albums spanning over two decades, from the eponymously titled award-winning debut album of 1975, right through to Matapedia and the McGarrigle family album of the late '90s. They released a Christmas album in 2005, though I never listened to that.
I feel terribly saddened for this loss. Of the duo it was Kate who particularly piqued my interest. I preferred her voice, I loved her musicality - her touch on piano and guitar - and I definitely felt her to be the better, more gifted, songwriter in the duo. To most musos though this aspersion may seem unfair, like comparing Mount Fuji to Mount Kilimanjaro. Both songwriters are excellent to say the least. But while Anna is a most fine and able songwriter - she did write the superb 'My town' - Kate McGarrigle somehow possessed that radiant, eye-twinkling quality of real genius. There's always just something exceedingly clever about Kate's compositions. Maybe it's because she studied chemistry at university in a previous life. Like Don Walker of Cold Chisel you find that 'mathematics'-trained songwriters seem to have this superior sense of craftsmanship and musicality.
Kate was a sterling, peerless, composer. From the first album onward her writer's touch is marked by the glistening touch of genius. 'Talk to me of Mendocino', 'Go leave', 'Tell my sister', 'Jacques et Gilles', 'I don't know', 'Southern boys', 'On my way to town'. The list goes on. I could rave for hours, but to say her sophisticated, radiant songs sparkled with natural intelligence, life and humour, and were matched with a perfectly sensual touch of vocal, piano, guitar, and banjo.
I'll be writing an article about for my mate's songwriting zine soon.
Kate was always spunk on a stick. I always thought she was gorgeous, with her long black hair framing a Franco-Irish face. I met Kate and Anna outside the backdoor of the Enmore Theatre when they last played here. I told them how much I loved their music and how good it was. They beamed at me. It was a beautiful moment of true connection. Kate McGarrigle...beautiful beautiful woman.
I tried doing the same when Paul Weller played the Enmore, hanging out and hoping for a chat, but the place was surrounded by bodyguards...hmph!
My sister put me onto the McGarrigles. She's a lot older than me so she always put me onto the good stuff. In 1998 she showed me a glowing review by Bruce Elder in the Sydney Morning Herald of the remastered version of the McGarrigles first album of 1975. I bought it, and loved it, and immediately went about obtaining their back-catalogue. A close friend of mine at the time, Chris, loved them as much as I did, and still does as far as I know. (He met the McGarrigles with me outside the Enmore that Feb night in 2006). I've performed some of her songs live, including the trademark 'Talk to me of Mendocino', and 'Come a long way'. With the latter, I perform the Louden Wainwright version of that song that appears on his album Attempted Moustache of 1973. Louden was married to Kate and hence were spawned two wonderful musicians, Rufus & Martha.
My sister and brother-in-law saw the McGarrigles the first time they came to Australia, in 1985. They performed at the Sydney Town Hall. My siblings told me that the audience was packed with musos, and that the concert was great. I wouldn't have been overly interested in the McGarrigles in 1985.
The McGarrigles have always been labelled primarily as "folk" but their music encompasses so much more than that. The multi-instrumentalist sisters were blessed with the best of all influences. From their Montreal base they absorbed the best the USA had to offer with genuine blues, country, and Tin Pan Alley & musicals, matched with their Franco-Canadian roots that had the sisters exposed to classic French and English balladry. All of these influences washed through into their extraordinary songwriting and musicality, with a sound that remains fresh, invigorating and true, and is of the very highest standard.
I can't say I'm "mourning", but I am very stricken and saddened. Kate's passing is another reminder of the sacredness and transience of living life. I haven't been happy recently. It may just be a phase I'm passing through, or needing to pass through. But events such as these keep me focussed on the "real" stuff. I'd love to spend my days wafting through maple leaves and cool sunshine, but the modern world isn't like that. I just need to stay reminded of truth more constantly.
Kate I'll miss you, but your astonishing music will live on in me forever. God bless.