I should admit straight away that I’m a bit of a Laura Marling fanboy, so critical appreciation of her work isn’t easy for me at the best of times. Factor in that this was a performance to a small group of people on the 2nd floor of the Ikon gallery and, realistically, things would have had to have gone horrendously wrong for me not to start heaping on the praise (which they didn’t). I’ll try for some objectivity though.
Laura Marling has just finished a tour in support of Daniel Johnston and this date was part of a short schlep around England with Pete Rowe – the pair of them packed into a car with just their PA for company.
Unusual venues aren’t a novelty for Laura Marling – although she confessed to feeling guilty that she wasn’t at the Glee Club as per usual, last time she performed in the city it was at St Paul’s church. That time the surroundings just about made up for the acoustics, which I’ll go so far as to describe as ‘not great’.
There were no such problems at the Ikon. As I arrived, a couple of songs from the end of Pete Rowe’s set, the sound was clear as a bell. I recognised a few songs from his recent support slot with Mumford & Sons – good stuff and I wouldn’t mind a few more listens.
After a short break Laura Marling stepped up to the stage. She started with a few oldies – Ghosts, Rebecca and My Manic & I, as well as b-side Blackberry Stone. What struck me was the clarity of her voice and guitar playing – there was something a little more precise about her performance than previously.
It’s a couple of years since her debut album was released and, with a new album due in March we were played a succession of new tracks. Of course, I’ve no idea of their titles, save for No Hope In The Air and a forthcoming Christmas single called Goodbye England. The new songs seem to show more of a lean towards melancholic Americana, with perhaps a willingness to let lyrics reign over the music to a greater extent, but this was a solo, acoustic gig so it’s hard to tell just how these will translate into an album.
As well as airing some new songs, Laura announced she was practising her stage banter. The shyness was still there but it was nice to see her making an effort – the story of the Leeds transvestite bar went down well but near the end her newfound chattiness almost proved to be her downfall.
With the set drawing to a close, she asked the crowd for requests (as long as it wasn’t New Romantic) only to receive the names of songs she’d forgotten how to play. A stop-start version of Shine finally crashed and burned, with a kind soul in the audience suggesting she instead play something she loved. A good request, and in return we got a version of Neil Young’s Damage Done followed by a short and sweet Alas I Cannot Swim to bring the evening to a close.