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Get Out More.........................Gig Review

LAURA MARLING (Glee Club, 9/11/08)


Laura Marling

18-year old Mercury Music Prize nominee Laura Marling attracted another full house to the Glee Club’s excellent Sunday session. Steve Beauchampe sees the teenage dream.

Outside the night is wild and wet, but inside all is calm as Laura Marling, whose debut album, Alas I Cannot Swim, is sure to feature in many reviewers’ ‘Best of 2008’ lists, takes to the Glee Club stage for the second time in under 10 months (her visits augmented by a June show aingt St. Paul’s Church in Hockley).

Where many shout, Marling is hushed, her vocal delivery soft and gentle. It’s as though she wants to have a quiet conversation with us, encouraging us gather round while she relates her stories.

It’s a youthful audience she addresses, not a typical Glee Club gathering. Perhaps news of Marling’s slow-burning folk-hued debut hasn’t reached older ears, despite her Mercury Music Prize nomination and appearance on BBC 2’s Culture Show.

Live versions of the album’s tracks are what the audience most anticipates, but the hour-long set features almost as many other songs, a couple available on singles and an EP, but most as yet unreleased.

Starting with Shine and Rebecca, Marling is then joined on stage for the beautifully structured album opener Ghosts by a four-piece band comprised of Phil the fiddle player (sorry, I didn’t catch his surname), Pete Rowe (keyboards), Graham Ross (double bass and bass guitar) and Ben Sanderson (drums - and plenty more besides).

The excellent Blackberry Stone (a mere B-side on a limited release single), You’re No God, Cross Your Fingers and Crawled Out Of The Sea follow, the band adding colour and texture, Sanderson’s brushed drumming emphasising how subtlety beats bombast in Laura Marling’s acoustic architecture.

In truth, the band’s visual impact is important. While Marling is no mere wistful strummer, her stage presence is a little static. OK, how many of us could manage to sing a few thousand words, in order, while playing a guitar faultlessly to several hundred people - and at the age of 18? But the band come and go several times during the set, and things are less coherent as a result, the show never quite sustaining the momentum Marling’s songs deserve.

Not that she’s shy, her on stage chatter is confident, her singing voice pleasingly rustic in the tradition of crossover English folk music and comparisons with Beth Orton are obvious, though some have cited Joni Mitchell as a musical antecedent.

The new songs, in particular Devil Spoke, Made By Made and a very recent one still known only as Banjo Song, bode well for the second album but, like most of Laura Marling’s work, may take several joyous listens to reveal the true extent of their depth and scope.

But while Laura Marling happily acknowledges to us that playing this new material (much of it solo) gives her a buzz, three more songs culled from Alas - My Manic and I (with Sanderson on accordion), Your Only Doll (Dora) and Old Stone - show that there’s plenty more mileage in the older material – and after all, it’s likely to be the first time many in the capacity audience will have experienced them live.

After a further solo segment, the band return for three final songs; new number Goodbye England, the corking Night Terror and the album’s title track (featuring Phil the fiddle player on banjo and Sanderson on ukele), Laura and “her boys” reprising the final two verses and sounding more free-spirited than at any time during the whole evening.

Inhibitions shed, the audience, until now attentive and respectful, cheer thunderously, leaving me to wonder why such an atmosphere couldn’t have been generated 30 minutes earlier, Laura Marling’s often understated presence in a turbulent world is most welcome, but sometimes uproarious carousing can be most convivial.

(See also Beauchampe’s review of Laura Marling’s Alas I Can Not Swim see link here)


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