The Glee Club was humming when I arrived, most likely caused by a reportedly excellent set by Jay Jay Pistolet which I’d just missed. The merchandise table was certainly doing a brisk trade with his stack of 7″ promos disappearing quickly. “Very like Bright Eyes” was one approving verdict so I’d urge you to check his MySpace, as will I.
Johnny Flynn was very well received too. A charming but shy guy, his take on the country-indie-folk sound quietly sweeping the land leans more towards the country end of the spectrum. There were hints of bluegrass blowing through many of the tracks, and that was before the banjo and violin came out on ‘Eyeless In Holloway’.
His first few tunes had a storyteller’s air to them – almost a minstrel-ish style – and as the set progressed the country influence grew. It was hard to get a handle on where he was coming from lyrically though. Whether there’s anything more to songs like ‘Leftovers’ or ‘The Box’ that I’m missing or whether they’re just nice ditties written from the point of view of characters I’m not quite sure yet.
I’m seeing Johnny’s name cropping up a lot at the moment and it’s starting to look like he’s going to have a hellishly busy festival season. Add to that exposure the free 10″ records that were given away in exchange for an email address and it’s clear someone’s putting some serious cash behind him. I’m not quite sure how he’d fit into the mainstream but I’m kinda hoping he does.
And so for the main event. I must admit to being more excited about this gig than I can remember having been for a while. I’m fully aware that the extent of my Laura Marling cheerleading risks becoming worthy of ridicule and in the back of my mind was the thought that I could be setting myself up for disappointment.
The same slight figure I’d seen flopping down behind the merch table to catch Johnny Flynn’s set took up her guitar alone as the crowd watched silently. As the background music faded she adjusted her guitar’s strings and performed ‘Shine’ before being joined by her band for an almost album-perfect version of ‘Ghosts’.
Laura’s face is a mask when performing but this slipped a few bars in to ‘Old Stone’ when she realised that she was playing in the wrong key and had to start over, her band poking gentle fun at her. ‘Tap At My Window’ and ‘You’re No God’ followed without mishap.
The jaunty ‘Cross Your Fingers’ segued into a brisk ‘Crawl Out Of The Sea’ which finished on an abrupt full stop, drawing a line under the foregoing and setting up the set highlights of ‘My Manic & I’ and ‘Night Terror’. In interviews Laura has repeatedly disowned the poppier songs she first wrote, preferring to strike out in a more meaningful direction. These two tracks, the only ones featured on her MySpace, are her most thematically and emotionally complex and seem to be the songs she is most proud of. It was only after each of these that she allowed herself a shy smile and acknowledged the crowd’s applause.
I’m trying to think of a way to qualify this review in the interests of balanced reporting. All I can think is that Laura isn’t a very visual performer, in the sense that she doesn’t seem relaxed and has a hard time addressing the crowd. Fortunately, while she grows accustomed to the live arena she has her drummer, Marcus, to lean on. Blessed with a talent for conversational dead ends, his adlibbing while Laura took her time tuning her guitars was so lame it earned him a round of applause.
As if she’d not done enough to earn a good review she took a step closer to my heart by announcing that she has no truck with encores and would rather squeeze in an extra song than ‘arrogantly’ leave the stage to go and stand behind a door. So it was that we were presented with the two songs that close her debut album; ‘Your Only Doll (Dora)’ and ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’. The former a slow, stripped back song of the evening that gave her voice centre-stage; the latter performed once as per the album and then again as a rousing, hoedown-style finale.
So no room for ‘New Romantic’ and no ‘Captain & The Hourglass’. No ‘Failure’ or ‘Typical’ either but it would be churlish to have demanded more. I went in with high hopes and I left with them fulfilled.