For the last few years Loudon Wainwright III has arranged his visits to Scotland without consulting me. Now I’m not a big one for turning up to most gigs – I’m quoted on wanting to see David Bowie (who I like very much) play in my local park if there was something good on the telly. I would, however, make an exception for Loudon as he is very good indeed. The trouble is each time he’s been anywhere near me I’ve been on air or doing a gig myself.
The last time I saw Loudon was 15 or so years ago in Edinburgh and it was a great night. What I love about the Loudon show is that there’s no need to have done any homework before you go. Often – especially with artists of a certain vintage and heritage – you feel a need to skim a couple of albums to remind you why you bought/asked for/bid-a-fortune-for-on-ebay the tickets in the first place. Maybe we should all be breathalised before we submit credit cards. (Towards the end of Neil Young’s show last week I was wondering why I’d made such a heart stopping effort to get there at all when I’d forsaken some excellent home baking at the school parents night…but that’s another story)
On Friday I am going to present a pretty special two hours in the company of Loudon, his daughters Martha Wainwright, Lucy Wainwright-Roche and occasional musical interludes from his son Rufus Wainwright and Martha and Rufus’s late mother Kate McGarrigle. It’s not an overstatement to suggest – as I will on Friday – that, outside the Carter-Cashes, this is the most significant musical family in folk/roots music over the last forty years. At the start of it all and still right in the middle of things too is the formidable Loudon. I first met him when he hosted a TV show years ago called Loudon and Co. Deacon Blue played that show and I asked Loudon about a song he’d performed. He said he’d send me the album and, as good as his word, the album popped through the postbox a few days later. It’s called History and it’s still one of my favourites of his or anyone else’s output.
What makes Loudon such a special artist is his candid story-telling about himself, his friends and – most of all – the other members of his family. Sometimes they respond. We’ll hear two particular responses from Martha and Rufus. We’ll also hear them sing together – Loudon and Lucy sang a beautiful duet for us – and we’ll hear why music has been the glue that has kept them all together – even when they’re falling apart. As Loudon sort of says, ‘We’re the same as every other family and that’s why people dig the songs.’ I think that’s dead right.
Painfully honest, achingly funny, poignant and at times appropriately sentimental, Loudon, for me, is literally the daddy of them all. A magnificent song writer, beautiful player and singer and an artist who has been true to everything he set out to do. Join me if you can on Friday for The Wainwright Family Special.
It all starts on Friday evening at five past eight on BBC Radio Scotland.