Laura Marling - Trade's Club, Hebden Bridge

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:2013-03-18

“Oh, I have been wondering/ where I have been pondering/ where I’ve been lately is no concern of yours”

Having recorded her debut album, Alas, I Cannot Swim, at the age of 17, Laura Marling was clearly an artist of considerable talent from the start. Effortlessly recalling the likes of Joni Mitchell, Marling is a modern day wondering troubadour with a guitar permanently strapped to her back and a notepad brim-full of lyrics.

Tonight’s gig at Hebden Bridge Trades Club came about when Marling contacted the venue after the recent floods and asked to play to help raise some money for the towns flood-fund. It’s the kind of act that goes well with the relaxed, modest and likable performer that takes to the stage later in the evening.

First up we get a set from Lee Southall. I didn’t realise until the next day yet Southall was the rhythm guitarist in Scouse oddballs The Coral, only recently taking a break from the group to try out his own material. Southall’s meditative style manages to recall the likes of John Martyn and James Taylor with ‘Iron in the Fire’ and ‘Misty May’ revealing a clear knack for folk-tinged songwriting.

Southall’s guitar playing is exemplary, adding tender and intricate flourishes to his stripped back acoustic odes to love. The highlight arguably comes with the honest simplicity of ‘Hard to Find’, a song that walks a well-worn path yet makes its point extremely well. Bill Ryder-Jones may be receiving more attention for his post-Coral work, yet Southall’s songs definitely deserve a wider audience.  

“Today I will feel something other than regret”

Laura Marling takes to the stage soon after, a gentle and unassuming presence that makes her set all the more hypnotic. Tonight she’s playing solo and it’s an undeniable treat to see such a natural performer delivering her songs raw and unembellished.

She opens with the four song suite from Once I was An Eagle, the sparse beauty of ‘Take the Night Off’ leading straight into the defiant ‘I was an Eagle’ as she sings, “I will not be a victim of romance”. Marling’s guitar playing switches between tender folk and heart-racing urgency over the opening suites 15 minutes and it’s an impressive and committed way to get things started.

Marling jokes and laughs with the audience in-between songs, and at times it’s perhaps second only to having her perform in your front room. The crowd respond to her onstage banter like old friends, with a respectful silence falling whenever she starts to play. The confessional nature of the songs works particularly well in such intimate surroundings and it’s impossible not to get caught up in Marling’s storytelling.

“I will come back here/bring me back when I’m old….and I’ll never love England more than when covered in snow”

Before playing the nigh-on perfect ‘Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)’ Marling explains how the song came about through a conversation with her dad while they were walking around St Mary’s church back home. It’s these little pieces of context that that make these already gorgeous compositions even more personal and touching. Plus, it feels a little like Christmas every time I hear ‘Goodbye England’. It’s a genuinely beautiful moment.

“Let it always be known that I was who I am”

There are numerous highlights throughout the set with covers by both Townes Van Zandt (‘Waiting Around to Die’) and Dolly Parton sitting comfortably alongside the likes of ‘Rambling Man’, ‘Made by Maid’ and the ever-wonderful ‘Sophia’. The songs play with light and shade, revelation, love and heartbreak.

Gentle, beautiful and delivered with conviction these heart-on-sleeve compositions are bright, confident and assured. Marling looks happy to be doing what she loves and particularly comfortable in the Trade Halls classic and cosy surroundings.  

Over the course of the set you realise just how many great songs Marling has produced while still only 26. Everyone’s completely enthralled throughout and you know you’ve got an audience on side when even a song that comes to an abrupt end mid-way through gets a huge round of applause. In that great folk tradition it doesn’t feel like there’s any barrier between performer and audience.  A fantastic evening and a truly special performance, here’s hoping she comes back soon. 

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