It’s been too long since I saw some live music. I have been keeping an eye out for upcoming gigs but all the interesting ones were mid-week or Sunday nights which are just too difficult for me to get to. I saw Laura Marling listed, it was on a Friday, but by the time I thought about it, it was sold out. I’ve been aware of Marling’s work for years, and have heard her frequently on the radio, more recently on BBC 6 Music but I don’t think I have ever purposefully listened to her albums and have certainly never bought any of her records. However I had a passing familiarity with her work, and she was one of those artists I always felt I should check out more. So the gig wasn’t one I was desperate to go to, but once I found it was sold out I kinda regretted not going for it. Then I saw a message saying she endorsed Twickets as an official ticket re-sale site, to help fans pass on unwanted tickets without going through touts. I signed up and having missed out on a few that came up, I saw an alert for one just as I was leaving work on Friday. Luckily it was going for face value, so I snapped it up and was pleased to have unexpected plans for a Friday night and to be heading back out among the Glasgow live music scene.
I got to the ABC just as the support was coming on, and thankfully early enough to grab a space on the raised platform in front of the bar. Support came in the form of Ethan Johns, who, it turns out, is a big-shot record producer, but who came across as every bit the kind of musician whose guitar is as much a part of him as his beard. He was accompanied by a fiddle player and had apparently “borrowed” Marling’s bassist and drummer. They played solid folk tunes, at one point I thought he had a distinctly Bob Dylan-esque quality but then it occurred to me perhaps it was a Dylan cover. Yeah, i know, I call myself a music fan but I couldn’t recognise a Dylan song if it bit me in the backside. I’m not a Dylan fan, alright? Moving on…. They were good – relaxed, confident and engaged with the growing audience well.
The ABC can be a bit soulless, so I was glad it was a sell-out show because the crowd filled the space with energy and anticipation. Soon Marling and her band came on stage, which was bedecked with floral arrangements. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Marling was dressed in a full-sleeved white dress, akin to a 1970s wedding dress. She had the appearance of a blonde Barbara Jean and I half expected her to succumb to some ailment and have to be wheeled off. On the contrary, once she started singing she exuded an inner strength that allayed all my movie-influenced fears.
She opened with the sparse but beautiful Soothing, the first track on her new album, Semper Femina, which was just released that very day. In fact, we heard several songs from the new album, which may have disappointed fans hoping to hear their old favourites, but it suited me just fine.
Marling was accompanied by aforementioned bassist and drummer, as well as a guitarist and 2 backing singers. However, it was all about Laura. She took centre stage, barely straying from her mic stand, guitar in hand. I hadn’t realised what an accomplished guitar player she is, absolutely phenomenal. Her vocals and acoustic guitar were the focal points of the whole concert, her band providing subtle layers of depth and body to the songs, but never overpowering or upstaging her. The backing singers are sisters, we were told, and had that unique ability to harmonise sublimely that people who are genetically linked do. I was most impressed with her drummer, who provided percussive accompaniment which was perfectly fitting – understated, restrained yet skilful, intricate and varied.
In the middle of the set, Marling performed a few songs solo, before being rejoined by her band. She spoke a little to the hall, but only very briefly each time and mostly saying thanks and asking if we had heard the new album yet. Although she sang from the heart and was expressive in her vocals and guitar performance, there was little outward sign of the emotions and sentiments she was conveying. Apart from the odd wistful upwards gaze, she was almost motionless. Even on the more upbeat songs, neither she nor her band really let loose. I got the impression that the audience would have been up for a bit of a party, but it never really got to that level. They did play for almost 90 minutes, before reminding us that The Laura Marling Band (she/they did refer to themselves in the 3rd person several times…) didn’t do encores, and that was that. Off they went.
Despite those little idiosyncrasies, it was a thoroughly enjoyable show. My lack of intimate knowledge of her back-catalogue didn’t hamper my ability to immerse myself in the songs and having grown somewhat tired of indie-rock music it was good to reconnect with a simpler, purer, form of music. Laura Marling in an incredible songwriter, singer, musician and performer and in this week that saw the world mark International Women’s Day, it is important to recognise and celebrate an artist like this.
So thanks to the fellow who couldn’t make it and passed on his ticket and hooray for spontaneous decisions to go out to gigs. Never a bad thing.