LAURA MARLING AT THE ALBERT HALL, March 12th: Picture the stage of Manchester’s Albert Hall dressed as an enchanted garden, adorned in ivy garlands and white flowers, which are entwined around the instruments, microphones and speakers, and you have yourself the backdrop to Laura Marling’s set as part of her Semper Femina tour. Laura herself floats on stage in an angelic white dress paired with leopard print ankle boots holding her beloved acoustic guitar. The scene is completed when the blue hue of the stage lights glows across the secret garden and a five piece band follow Laura in tow
Being a huge Laura Marling fan, I am part of the 2,500 people in the room who cheer as she begins the evening. She starts with her latest single Soothing, to which a ripple of excitement expands across the audience, welcoming this powerful folk song, lead heavily by the bass. It’s the perfect opener for the set, introducing the crowd to her newest music with arguably the strongest song from the album. It is also the song I am most familiar with from her new collection and immediately I am hooked for the night. The latest album is an exploration of people’s thoughts and understanding of women, hence the album title Semper Femina translating to ‘Always Woman’. It turns out that Marling has had this phrase tattooed on her leg for a long while now, so this album may have been a long time coming.
Following a strong start, she glides into her next single The Valleys, before she finally addresses the audience. It is well-known that Laura is a woman of few words on stage and lets her songs do the talking and I’m impressed to find that everyone is right, there are no need for words. Her stage presence and the delivery of her music is bewitching and to speak would only break the magic in the room.
Although Laura Marling is the centre-piece, sisters and backing vocalists, Emma and Tamsin Topolski, verge on stealing the spotlight with their mesmerisingly beautiful harmonies that soar throughout the hall complimenting and filling out the sound around Laura. This isn’t to diminish the band at all, the skills of the bassist (who swaps between electric and the acoustic double bass) guitarist and drummer are admirable as they enhance Laura’s songs (which I think must be a hard thing to do!). However, the highlight for me, and possibly every other Laura Marling fan in the room, is the solo section of her set. Stripped back to just Laura and her guitar, which is how she began her career as a 16 year old, she proves to captivate and entrance the entire room. I’m delighted when she plays on her own, especially two of my favourites; What He Wrote and I Speak Because I Can, alongside new song Nouel and Daisy from her previous album Short Movie. On occasion there are a couple of blips that are actually endearing and comical rather than unprofessional, especially when she turns to guitarist Simon who accidently slips up and jokes ‘Behave yourself, Simon!’ to which the audience burst into a fit of laughter.
Another magical moment for me occurs when the band re-join on stage to play Sophia, especially in the second half of the song where the band and harmonies kick in and a feel good atmosphere roams the room and the foot tapping begins. This happens also with older song Darkness Descends, as contrary to the title, the upbeat melody and quicker pace of this track, emphasised by the band, encourages a roar from the admiring audience.
Towards the end of the set Laura explains her encore rules; ‘we don’t do them nor do we expect them’ which could all be doom and gloom for an enthusiastic audience who could un-doubtly stay and listen to her bewitching vocals and impressive guitar playing all night. However, as the guitar strums the opening riff to firm favourite Rambling Man the crowd (myself included) explode into applause and cheers and we all know we’ll go home happy having Laura Marling end her extraordinary show with a song as beautiful as this. I hope it’s not too long before I can return to see this magical woman again.