Razz writer, Rosie Greening tells us what she thought of Laura Marling’s recent gig…
“It’s great to be here with such beautiful surroundings… er… well that’s that!” These are Laura Marling’s characteristically awkward words as she appears on the stage at Exeter Cathedral, the first stop of her ‘When The Bell Tolls’ tour. Yet somehow her quiet performance style seems apt in such a setting: indeed at one point she pauses and whispers into the microphone, “I’m very conscious of the fact that I can’t swear in here – but I’ve got growing excitement at the thought of slipping up…”
She opens her set with an energetic rendition of the “The Muse,” the first track on her recent album entitled A Creature I Don’t Know, the first of several songs played with her band. The audience (which is surprisingly middle aged) is responsive, but Marling’s voice is somewhat lost beneath the band and the impressive acoustics of the cathedral. It is only later, when she is alone on the stage with just her guitar (“She’s called Mildred… and I can’t stand people who personify inanimate objects so I hate myself a little bit for what I just said”) that the true transcendent quality of her talent sours.
There is undeniably a new darkness to her style, which becomes evident as she performs songs from her most recent album. The haunting, waltz-like “Night After Night,” for example, is hypnotic both musically and lyrically:“Night after night, day after day, would you watch my body weaken and my mind drift away?”
Similarly her rendition of “The Muse,” begins with just her and ‘Mildred,’ building to an almost terrifying climax as the band joins in “…hold my head high, just by the tip of my toes, and he lies, he lies so sweet that I choke. Tonight I choose the beast.”
But at the same time, her music has moments of pure joy. “Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)”, ripples around the cathedral in beautiful waves, a winter ballad that perfectly resonates with the audience on a chilly October night. She introduces the next song with a nervous smile: “I wrote this with my dad… so I like playing it. But I don’t think it sounds like a song I’d write.” And oddly, it doesn’t. The love song to ‘Giovanna’ hasn’t the grounded wit and elegance of her writing, but the audience greets it warmly as it does with her new song (“I go to gigs… I know how annoying it is when people play new songs. I think that’s why I enjoy it”).
And it is this quiet humour that makes Laura Marling so fascinating as a performer. Her songs are folk-influenced spectrums of darkness and light, as musically intelligent as they are beautiful. Tonight, as at every other performance, Marling seems completely disconnected from the audience until the song ends when, almost startled to find herself not alone, she whispers into the microphone, ‘Oh and… I hope you’re ok out there.” And because of her, we are.
Words & Illustrations by Rosie Greening