Thursday 22 February 2018

Why Rufus Wainright must connect with WB

Wainwright is not familiar with the work of Yeats, he tells Liam Collins, but he vows to find the 'mystical island' of Innisfree in Sligo

Rufus Wainwright
Rufus Wainwright
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Just as Rufus Wainwright picks up the phone on the other side of the Atlantic, my dogs begin to bark. I apologise for the noise, but eight o'clock is walkies time and they don't know I've just hooked up with one of the great singer-songwriters of his generation.

"No worries" he drawls, "you are speaking to someone with a dog's name, so you're surrounded by them."

Rufus is playing at the Knocknarea Arena as part of Sligo Live on Friday October 23, so straight away I introduce the subject of William Butler Yeats, whose 150th birthday has been celebrated this year.

Ironically the day after we speak he's going into the studio to record an album of William Shakespeare's sonnets, but the US-born Canadian is kind of embarrassed to admit that Yeats "is a connection I haven't made." When I tell him that the venue for his performance at Knocknarea is in Yeats's 'land of heart's desire'," he replied: "Yeats on the double. That will be a very important meeting for us."

Yeats who is buried in nearby Drumcliffe would surely be pleased with Rufus - because the poet believed that poems should be sung. In one recording he chants The Lake Isle of Innisfree in a sing-song voice. "I'll have to find that mystical island," says Wainwright.

Wainwright is, of course, the son of the renowned folk singer Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwrigh III and grew up steeped in music of all sorts.

"My mother was constantly involved in artistic inspiration. We woke up to the Goldberg Variations - other kids went to bed with them, but we woke up to them," he says.

Before performing in Sligo he will speak to a selected audience in The Model on the subject of 'Creative Minds.' He can't remember when he wasn't being creative.

"I was on a plane yesterday and someone in front of me was playing Solitaire on their phone, I don't know how to play Solitaire, I am talking and singing to myself and everybody thinks I am crazy. I dial my own phone and leave messages with bits of things which will hopefully burn and ignite at some point. It's unusual in the arts to sit down and say: 'I am going to write a great song'. It can happen, but it's really unusual."

It is that kind of creativity that has led to beautiful lyrics and music like Going to a Town, Me and Liza and Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk with a voice that does complete justice to The Beatles' Across the Universe and Cohen's Hallelujah (which has had over 10 million hits on the internet).

He's also just released an opera called Prima Donna, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. "I always wanted to write an opera, and there was never one written about the life of an opera singer. My mother was quite ill and approaching the end of her career and I felt the music needed to be written," he explains about the massive undertaking.

He lives with his "wonderful husband" and he has a daughter who lives with her mother in LA. Did he hear about the marriage equality referendum in Ireland?

"It was amazing, especially for someone of my generation who remembers Ireland in the 1980s." he says. He doesn't remember Sligo, but that will change on October 23 and maybe he'll even throw in a verse of WB's, now that we've all been harping on to him about it.

Sunday Independent

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