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The International Writers Magazine: Music

Laura Marling
Aby Davis Review

Remember, remember the 5th of November? This year, my rain and firework splattered night was spent inside the Wedgewood rooms, Portsmouth. Amidst the company of young girls with un-straightened hair and charity shop scarves, and some mums wearing embroidered jeans I anticipated excellent live music from 18 year old new folk-ist, Laura Marling.

The Wedgewood rooms are arguably Portsmouth’s top spot for live music and alternative club nights, small but perfectly formed and with the space for a couple of hundred locals. Marling, after touring with the likes of London rapper, Jamie T, was a member of Noah and the Whale and her velvety vocals can be heard on their summer hit, 5 Years Time.

Having caught her briefly at last year’s tiny Field Day Festival in London and being a massive fan of Alas I cannot Swim, her beautifully crafted album of this year, I was in no doubt of her skill of a live performer, and the evening did not disappoint.

Music does funny things to those who love it, and not being simply a passive fan of the stuff, it was difficult to contain my excitement when the first support artist hit the stage. Marling’s own keyboardist, Pete Roe was in front of me hiding behind a beard and a guitar, a granddad hat shading his eyes from the bright lights.

‘Laura asked me to play a few first,’ he tells us sheepishly, and I want to hit the people around me who chat happily through his one-man-and-his-guitar set.

The second act is equally lovely and just as humble.
‘Thanks for having me, I’m J.J,’ he blinks at someone beyond our heads, ’can you turn the microphone up a little bit?’ Launching into his repertoire, his lyrics honest and his voice on the beautiful side of close to breaking, his whole act says ‘Ok, I’m not Laura but maybe you might like me anyway.’

Marling’s eventual arrival on stage is without ceremony or circumstance. She’s just there behind a microphone tuning her guitar, her short blonde boy-cut and bare face beautiful in harsh lighting that doesn’t suit her .She plays the first two songs alone, like her acts before her,her voice sounding like a thousand years of stories hummed by your best friend. Brief glimpses of unreleased power hint at her ability to sing like an old fashioned diva, but her style is far subtler and closer to home. Starting with Shine, a melancholy tune which meets the expectant hush suitably, her voice sings of years beyond her age, yet as the band assemble and she introduces them all as ‘my lads’, I want to follow them out into a different, less rainy day and watch them play their songs in a meadow at sunset. They are young and they are fun, one of them plays a fiddle whilst another has a glittery drum kit. My personal favourite, Ghosts riles up the little bits in your body that believe you are made of melody and limbs are obsolete but for dancing. Ghosts, in which the lover describes his previous loves as ‘the ghosts that broke my heart before I met you’ offers exactly the kind of perceptive life story you learn to love about Marling. Backed perfectly by four male harmonies and old fashioned instrumental rhythm, there is none of the miserable pretension of popular indie artists, nor any of the ‘love me love me love me!’ behaviour of C- list pop stars.

"How are you?" she asks us between songs. We reply in an affirmative group murmur, very well thank you how about you? She smiles wryly at our new best friendship.
A room full of strangers, casual friends now because of her shared secrets.
"I’m rubbish at stage banter, its best for everyone if I just stay quiet, or it gets awkward." She shrugs apologetically.

Gentle laughter and heart skipping melodies shape the way this gig is going. A few hecklers want New Romantic, a song which didn’t quite make the album; Marling is too busy tuning her guitar to notice. Released single Cross Your Fingers melts perfectly into Crawled out Of The Sea (interlude). Effortless delivery and an obvious rapport with her band can at times direct the listener away from the painful truths and self doubt of her most personal songs, My Manic and I follows a relationship, ‘I can’t control you, I don’t know you well, these are the reasons I think that you’re ill,’ whilst songs like Your Only Doll (Dora) mask insecurity with the beauty of gentle chords and double bass. My fellow gig goers are quite enraptured with her,
"We love you Laura!" one bloke in the crowd shouts, "You’re lovely."

Amazing to think this fairy girl is only 18, songs from an old heart shared with everyone who’s ever had feelings, her songs are mature and well structured throughout, but the last song which she with some embarrassment, informs us is her encore, (‘we’re gonna stay here because if we go off we’ll just be standing right there waiting to see if you like us, and that’s just embarrassing for everyone...’) provides an uplifting climax. Alas I cannot Swim, the secret, title track of her album tells a fairy story about ‘a house across the river and a garden with such beauty the flowers seem to grin’, but alas, she cannot swim. It starts with the familiar strum of Marling’s right hand, when suddenly the rest of her ‘lads’ pitch in with manly vocals and enthusiastic drumming, keyboarding and furious fiddle-ing. Far more exuberant than the album version, this is a brilliant song to end the gig on.

‘There is gold across the river but I don’t want none, gold is fickle, gold is fleeting, gold is fun. Saying work more, earn more, live more...have more fun’. A rousing repeated line, tapped out by able feet and fingers, earning this 5th of November a definite fixed memory...away from the spitting fireworks and the dead bloke on the bonfire.

© Aby Davis November 2008

The Laura marling Link: 

Patrick Ness Profile
Aby Davis
The world that Ness has created is incredibly imaginative and full of subtext to disturb and provoke challenging young minds

Aby is in her Senior year on the Creative Writing Degree at the University of Portsmouth and helps run the Writers Open Mic Night and is one of last years editors of Borderlines Vol 2- The Literary Anthology

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