LIVE: Laura Marling @ Union Chapel, London
On a Saturday evening in early June, the sky over London blackens and bruises, eating its way across the city until inevitably the weather breaks and falls with downpour and angry crashes of thunder and lightning. As it settles and the storm’s electricity subsides from the air, Laura Marling takes to the stage of Islington’s Union Chapel, and with the lilting warmth of acoustic guitar like an emulation of petrichor lifted from the earth sings, “You should be gone beast, be gone from me”.
Aside from her (and a scattering of camera-folk) the room is empty. This is a new kind of gig. One where 1000+ punters all over the UK watch from various devices at home. A natural progression from the homemade Instagram variety that artists have been cooking up since lockdown, and one that mightn’t have worked for many, but Laura Marling was made for this moment.
As she leans into the opening suite from Once I Was An Eagle the camera deftly pans around her, keeping close then swapping to wider angles, revealing the majestic brick and stone interior of the chapel, dimly lit, an array of candles framed by brilliant stained glass. This back and forth dynamic works well and is maintained throughout. The quality of the sound is so crisp you can hear the cool acoustic reverberations around the empty space when she kicks her voice up. Between songs there is a strange silence where applause should be, and along with the gothic architecture and her English pallor, there is at times a somewhat spooky quality, yet it only adds to the ethereal beauty of her performance. She says not a word between songs.
The majority of the set is comprised of tracks from sterling new album Song For Our Daughter, which sound as elegant and well placed as the tracks from throughout her (rather extensive for a 30 year old) back catalogue, including a rare outing for ‘Tap At My Window’ from debut LP Alas I Cannot Swim. She is a measured and confident performer, not one to surprise perhaps, though any lack of spontaneity is made up for with astute technical ability and earnest emotional power.
Much can be said about her voice, but she is seldom given the credit she deserves for her prowess on guitar (a gift that rarely goes unattributed to her male counterparts). Laura Marling is an excellent guitarist. At times urgent and nimble, others gentle and languid, always conveying perfectly the emotion of the lyrics, which hold weight yet are elusive enough for various interpretations. It is a keen skill, which perhaps accounts for why so many feel such a personal relationship to her music. Her songs are also deeply rooted in the female experience, none so more apparent than in B-side now perennial live favourite, ‘Daisy’ with its proud refrain, “Woman alone is not a woman undone”.
It’s strange to think of all the bedrooms and kitchens invisibly attached to this empty chapel. As we are separate it’s impossible to gauge how the gig has gone over with the ‘crowd’, but as the setting sun cracks the clouds through our collective windows and the final lines of ‘Once’ settle over us, “when all I didn’t know needed doing, had been done”, into silence once more, you can’t help but feel the experience was universal and substantial.