I first saw Laura Marling play in 2007 in The Adelphi Hotel in Leeds as a student, ahead of the release of her first album Alas, I Cannot Swim in 2008. She seemed timid, with an understated, girl next door look about her. But even then, as she began to sing, she instantly exuded an unquestionable power to make the room stand still. Here was a girl five years my junior – she was just 17 at the time – from the same town as me (Reading, Berkshire) holding her space, owning her guitar and singing lyrics with a quality, confidence and profundity far beyond her years. I was in utter awe.
Ten years on, I’m in the upstairs live venue at HMV on Oxford Street with just a few hundred people watching the singer-songwriter perform her sixth album, Semper Femina, out this Friday 10th March, kicking off a UK tour. Slipping silently onto stage in a flowered white dress and black clogs, it wasn’t until halfway through she announced: “We’re playing the new record by the way”. and then later introduced her band, adding, “Oh, and my name’s Laura”. Equally understated (no pictures, no interviews), equally timid-seeming, yet equally able to make the room stand still, this performance showed she has only gone from strength to strength. Characteristically folky, there’s a refreshing illusion of simplicity and grace in her music that is yet able to play with rhythms, sounds and lyrics to convey a nuanced complexity of meaning and emotion. Her latest tracks form an outward and inward look at femininity, sexuality and identity, hooked around her own malleable voice and nimble, acoustic guitar fingering.
Showcasing the majority of the tracks from the new album, whose Latin title translates roughly as “Always a Woman”, Marling exuded an ethereal yet quietly determined sensuality, her soft, husky, exacting vocals finding potency in each and every lyric, complemented perfectly by the Topolski sisters, Emma and Tamsin. She opened with Soothing, which holds an eerie foreboding in its lolloping rhythm and harmonised vocals. The Valley conjures a sun rising over bubbling brooks with guitar strings and double bass. On Don’t Pass Me By and standout country-vibe track Wild Fire, Marling turned up the sass, her voice chatting and singing out edgily: “You always say you love me most / When I don’t know I’m being seen / Maybe someday when God takes me away / I’ll understand what the fuck that means”. Always This Way was a return to a softer Nora Jones-esque quality then interluding with 2015 album Short Movie bonus track Daisy. Her band left Marling solo for Nouel, which draws on the record’s title in lyrics “fickle and changeable, Semper Femina”. Nothing, Not Nearly closed the performance with a climactic energy – “once it’s gone it’s gone, love waits for no-one”.
On the eve of International Women’s Day, Laura Marling’s performance to showcase her new album was nothing short of sublime. A staunch repost to the image-obsessed and over-produced artists dominating her generation, this woman embodies an ability to be uniquely oneself. A towering British female talent.
By Sarah Bradbury. First published on The Upcoming on 8th March 2017.
Photos: James McCauley
Semper Femina is released on 10th March 2017, for further information or to order the album visit here.
Watch the video for Soothing here: