LAURA MARLING – ” Live At The Union Chapel ” London

Posted: January 29, 2021 in MUSIC
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Laura Marling’s gorgeous performance at the beginning of the global lockdown, “Live From Union Chapel”, became a defining moment of this year’s new normal. Pressed to vinyl exclusively for to celebrate her seventh studio album Song For Our Daughter being named Album of the Year.

Laura Marling’s exquisite seventh album ‘Song For Our Daughter’ arrives almost without preamble or warning in the midst of uncharted global chaos, and yet instantly and tenderly offers a sense of purpose, clarity and calm. As a balm for the soul, this full-blooded new collection could be posited as Laura’s richest to date, but in truth it’s another incredibly fine record by a British artist who rarely strays from delivering incredibly fine records.

Taking much of the production reins herself, alongside long-time collaborators Ethan Johns and Dom Monks, Laura has layered up lush string arrangements and a broad sense of scale to these songs without losing any of the intimacy or reverence we’ve come to anticipate and almost take for granted from her throughout the past decade.

Music, as the sociologist Simon Frith long ago pointed out, is “an experience of placing: in responding to a song we are drawn, haphazardly, into affective emotional alliances with the performer and with the performer’s other fans”. Music makes you feel things, it’s about shared emotional experiences. And while, since the invention of the Walkman, those experiences are possible in the isolation of one’s own headphones, nothing can begin to touch the communal concert experience.

Performing alone onstage in a concert space, the audience unseen and unheard, can’t be easy, which is perhaps why Laura Marling’s live stream from the Union Chapel in Islington, North London, was bloodless and, frankly, rather boring. A dozen songs were left to speak entirely for themselves over the course of 80 minutes, the only other form of communication non-verbal glances and facial expressions exchanged with her guitar tech. No word of greeting. Not even much of a smile.

The Chapel looked beautiful, light pouring in – not “like butterscotch”, for it was the wrong time of day – through the stained glass windows. Candles and a rug adorned the stage, Marling alone on it with just her Martin and Guild guitars for company, clad in boots and jeans and a pale polo-neck. The occasion was a ticket-only benefit for The Trussell Trust and Refuge, two vital charities, so good on Marling for stepping up and stepping out. But perhaps the show might have worked better if she’d taken a leaf from Mary Chapin Carpenter’s book and engaged with the audience via less sophisticated technology – anyone who’s dipped into Carpenter’s series of Songs from Home, 23 so far, Angus the golden retriever an elegant companion, will know what I mean. It’s chatty and intimate; she smiles, takes us into her confidence, a guest in her home. The intimacy draws you in.

Marling looked up and out into an audience that wasn’t physically there, yet with no attempt to communicate directly with those at home, as “live” TV tries to do. She drew mostly on songs from Once I Was An Eagle (2013), including the “suite” which comprises the first four songs, and Song for Our Daughter, released in April and with which she would in normal circumstances be touring. There was also a dip back into her 2008 debut, Alas, I Cannot Swim, for “Tap at My Window” and her second album, I Speak Because I Can, with “Rambling Man”. She closed with “Once” from Eagle.

All credit to Marling for doing the gig – and particularly for bringing forward her latest album by four months because of the crisis: most artists have been postponing releases. She’s a skilled guitar player, mixing elements of Travis-style picking with some nifty riffs and runs, often in open tunings – which she’s been discussing in an engaging series of lockdown tutorials. She has compared playing live to having toothache, which can’t be fun, and you feel she’s better with a band. Marling’s young still, just 30, with seven much-garlanded albums under her belt, her writing revered by many as being up there with Joni Mitchell. Perhaps you need to be her age and younger to fully appreciate it but it always seems to me simply derivative, uneven, and unfinished. Take this, from “Alexandra”, which opens her latest album:

You had to say
You feel too bad
You could not bear
Be understood
I had to try
A fuck to give
Why should I die
So you can live
What did Alexandra know?

What, indeed. And I have to say I don’t much care.

She opens with ‘The Suite‘ otherwise known as the four song medley that begins her fourth album Once I Was An Eagle, consisting of ‘Take The Night Off’, ‘I Was An Eagle’, ‘You Know’ and ‘Breathe’.

Naturally she leans heavily on her new record, so it’s fortunate that it is destined to be regarded as possibly the 2020 Lockdown classic album. Few artists have owned the situation we have all found ourselves quite like Laura Marling has. She was quick off the mark by beginning guitar tutorials twice a week, bringing a regular, intimate experience that very few have been able to match. She surprises the world with the LP months early and now breaks the mould by staging the first proper gig of this era, in a real venue and making an event out of an empty room.

‘Fortune’ is exquisite and heart-breaking, almost as much as ‘End of the Affair‘ but ‘Goodbye, England‘ is given an added weight and poignancy by the state of the country. The disease arrived and the sun came out and now the white cover of winter seems like another time, a Narnia like world that didn’t require distance or face covers or quarantine in your home for months on end.

The solitary offering from her debut record, Alas, I Cannot Swim, is the stunning ‘Tap at my Window‘ that holds a personal significance and is seldom given a live outing so is particularly welcome.

Reportedly two thousand people tuned in and it is hard to imagine anyone leaving having not felt uplifted, emotionally improved and even feeling they’d been in the room with her all along.

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