LIVE: Laura Marling @ Roundhouse, London
It may have been repeated so often to the point of being trite, but reflecting on the spring of 2020 brings with it memories of fear and uncertainty unlike, for most, anything experienced before. For some that fear has never gone, but for a moment in time it was new to us all, a collective experience which has shaped the lives of a generation.
Within two weeks of the UK’s first lockdown being imposed, Laura Marling made the decision to bring forward the release date of her long-awaited seventh album Song For Our Daughter, stating that she “saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain and, at its best, provide some sense of union”.
While others delayed schedules and postponed releases, one of her generation’s finest songwriters was on hand to provide an artistic escape, a focal point in a time of turbulence, to borrow from T.S. Eliot, “a still point in the turning world”.
For many, as for me, it is one of the pieces of art most evocatively linked with that period. And so, with the pandemic still very much an ongoing concern, albeit much less restrictively so, the chance finally presented itself for Laura Marling to share her work with an audience once more, only this time in the flesh.
Emerging on stage like a semi-celestial being for the final show of her UK tour, an additional sold out London date in response to demand for the first, Marling began proceedings with the natural, uninterrupted run of songs which opens her fourth (and perhaps most widely revered) album Once I Was An Eagle from 2013, her third of four Mercury Prize nominated projects, the latest being Song For Our Daughter.
Commenting on the delayed start time, Marling self-deprecatingly quipped that the last thing the audience wants after waiting longer than expected is a 16-minute opening song. In truth, the fact that the 1700-strong, Friday night crowd was rapt and reverent throughout is testament to both the captivating presence of Laura Marling, and the love that every attendee clearly has for her art.
Across the night the staging and production was minimal yet effective, sporadic lighting changes and silhouetted statue the only real accompaniment for Marling’s intricate and virtuosic guitar playing; a feat made all the more impressive by an apparently broken thumbnail patched up with sellotape and nail varnish which Marling made reference to several times in characteristically humble fashion.
She also shrugged as she explained how none of the past four years had been spent working on stage banter, but in truth the slight diffidence was endearing, humanising a performer who otherwise feels almost unobtainable and other-worldly in terms of musicianship, lyricism, and sheer vocal talent.
It is a voice that permeated every inch of the Roundhouse, the iconic architecture of which felt more striking by having been absent from the space for so long. A voice which contains such fragility and yet such strength, vulnerability and power, echoing the themes of much of Marling’s work.
Only on certain tracks did it feel like there could have been more in the way of accompaniment; the beautiful string arrangements that shone so brightly on the newest record not given a chance to elevate the songs in a live setting, and in particular the wail of the pedal-steel and the shuffling percussion of ‘Hope We Meet Again’ noticeable in their absence. But in truth, these moments were outweighed by the intimacy and emotional impact afforded to the evening by virtue of this being, as billed, a solo show.
‘The End Of The Affair’ and ‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’ were, on a personal level, moments of almost overwhelming emotion, while the earlier one-two punch of ‘Hope In The Air’ and ‘What He Wrote’ had seen others nearby wiping tears from cheeks.
Sometimes when an artist tours their latest project, audiences have not yet had the chance to fully engross themselves within the new record, or develop the sort of relationship with the songs that only comes with time. But by virtue of the atypical circumstances of the last 18 months, newer songs stood tall among their older peers, and it felt entirely right that the show should be brought to a close not by older classics, but by three highlights from the record that has already proven itself to be up there with its creator’s finest work.
The heartbreaking ‘Fortune’ and immensely moving title track ‘Song For Our Daughter’ felt every bit as powerful as on record, the sometimes painful imagery contained within both all the more intense in person, before an electric guitar was wielded for the first time for a triumphant performance of ‘For You’, closing the show as it does the album.
As she explained herself, Laura Marling doesn’t do encores. But as the lights went up, there’s little doubt that the crowd would have happily spent much more time in her company.