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Rufus is ready to charm Latitude
RUFUS Wainwright is anything but predictable.
As comfortable singing showtunes in sheer stockings as he is at the business end of a piano in a lounge suit, he is a creative, challenging and startlingly-talented artist whose shows are often beautiful and emotionally-wrought spectacle - crossing the line between old fashioned music hall show performer, vaudeville artist, classical concert pianist and gentle singer-songwriter.
The Montreal-raised musician, is hard to pin down.
The son of the towering Loudon Wainwright III and the late Kate McGarrigle, and brother of singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright, he is a hugely talented, multi-award winning artist, yet, refuses to do anything by the book.
Indeed, as festival-goers at this week’s Latitude Festival will discover, he seems to have gone out of his way to court controversy.
Openly gay, he admits he once went temporarily blind after being hooked on crystal meth, and has had a tormented relationship with his largely absent father.
Musically, he followed up successful albums of his own songs by indulging his love for all things theatrical – performing a tribute to his heroine Judy Garland – and has written his own opera, Prima Donna, telling the story of a fading opera singer, Régine Saint Laurent, which was performed at Sadler’s Wells.
Yet his biggest impact probably came with his bittersweet album of love and loss - All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu - which saw the man, described by Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet”, playing a fragile and heartfelt set of 12 songs - just him and his piano.
The title was both a reference to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43 and Rufus’s own concept of ‘Lulu’, which refers not to the veteran pop star, but to dancer, model, showgirl and silent film actress Louise Brooks, who found fame in the 1920s and 30s.
More than a dead movie star, he described the image of Lulu as a “dark, brooding, dangerous woman that lives within all of us.”
And performing those intimate songs are harder, he says.
“Hiding behind a 70-piece orchestra with my opera you can blame everything on the tuba player. With that album, when the curtain is raised, it’s me on my own,” he says.
The Latitude set follows a roller coaster ride for Rufus - which have seen him reach new heights critically and musically, His new, seventh, album Out of the Game - put together with producer Mark Ronson saw him move in a lighter and more dancey direction. But it follows a period of personal sadness.
Just a month after playing a show alongside his mother at the Royal Albert Hall, she died from a rare form of cancer.
The death of his mother and a reconciliation with his estranged father – who left his mother when Rufus was just three – has affected him profoundly.
“I lost the most important person in my life,” he sighs. “On many fronts I’ve experienced tumultuous shifts – with the opera, my mother’s death and the birth of a nephew (to Martha) – and I can’t help but translate that into music.
“Me and dad are now very close. We’ve worked hard to rectify our relationship and it has paid off. It was rough in the beginning but my mother’s death was instrumental in bringing us together.”
Describing his love of all things retro and glamorous, he professes to being “conservative”. I suggest his unconventional life is at odds with most people’s idea of conservatism, which he considers – and laughs.
“I’m really a libertarian,” he declares. “In my world there’d be no national borders and laws, and a more jungle mentality.
“I think a lot of people are out of kilter with the world we are in,” he sighs.
“I know I’m all over the place.”
* Rufus Wainwright plays the Latitude Festival, which runs from this Thursday to Sunday at Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk.
Other names to grace its stages include Lana Del Rey, Laura Marling, Bon Iver, Elbow and Paul Weller.
Tickets are £175 for the weekend (£5 for kids aged five-12). Day tickets are also available.
Call 0871 231 0821 or go to latititdefestival.co.uk for tickets and full line-up