Jay Jay PistoletEdit this event
Is it just me or has the London folk circuit seen more heartbreak than a fat person's cardiologist? There’s poor Johnny Flynn lamenting his 'Brown Trout Blues', while Mumford & Sons’ 'White Blank Page' is as touchingly pathetic as a kicked puppy dog, and Jay Jay Pistolet’s achingly beautiful Happy Birthday You E.P. is four tracks of pure unrequited love.
Tonight proves that Laura Marling is the most delicate bloom in this bruised bouquet by far. She makes a point of her vulnerability, opening alone with 'Shine', a gently reproachful song from her Mercury Award nominated album Alas, I Cannot Swim. And shine she does, dazzlingly, for almost two hours.
First though, lip service must be paid to the stunning support set from the afore-mentioned Jay Jay Pistolet, a crooner so chronically lovesick he probably pukes up sonnets. With a backing band featuring the great Jeremy Warmsley on guitar, his crackly, muffled vocals are capable of transporting you back to some nostalgic 1950s autumn afternoon that never was. That is, until somebody raises their mobile phone for a photo and brings you right back to the winter recession of 2008.
A true disciple of the hopelessly romantic tradition, the girl he’s destined never to have is "the Tuscan sun… the only one... Blonde on Blonde but better." With his full sound and tender lyrics he is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with.
By the time Marling takes to the stage fans of all ages have squeezed into the venue tighter than battery hens in a smaller-than-EU-regulation sized coop. Joined by a vastly improved backing band for 'Ghosts' she almost - almost - breaks a smile. Has Laura Marling finally cheered up? 'Crawled Out of the Sea' is certainly more sing-a-long than suicide watch and 'Alas I Cannot Swim' is a downright (crowded) barn dance but many of her new songs continue what seems to be an obsession with death.
An as-yet-untitled new track reveals a sad acceptance of mortality rather than fear; "Life is a candle and I am the wick" she sings, accompanying herself on banjo. That she has managed to compose such a sheer volume of new material of this quality alongside a tour of Europe and America that would normally be enough to burn anyone out is frankly astounding. Although some of the new songs lack structure, there are flickers of brilliance aplenty, making you think that tricky second album syndrome simply isn’t going to apply to Marling.
During 'Rambling Man' she really opens up to her influences; close your eyes and it could be Joni Mitchell. Since she has consistently made her debt to Americana clear in interviews from the beginning of her career such obvious channelling feels more like honesty than theft. Weirdly, later on in the evening, she name-checks Fleet Foxes in exactly the same way Joni once did for Crosby, Stills and Nash. Proof perhaps that music really does move in cycles.
Marling’s melancholy finally returns in force for the last song, 'Night Terror'. Her dead-eyed 'I’m about to garrotte myself with my own guitar strings' act combines with squalling guitar and a discordant string arrangement to make a concoction so exquisitely sinister it feels as if the temperature has plummeted below freezing. Not such a delicate snowdrop after all then.
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