"This intense bombardment of the emotions has been brought about by one person with an acoustic guitar."
The opportunity to experience a live performance by Laura Marling is rare indeed. Until this current UK outing, she hadn’t trodden the boards as a solo artist for four and a half years. And for this city, it’s an even more rare event. “This is my first time in Leicester,” she reveals to the audience. “Of course, I visited the Richard III exhibition – the best £9 I’ve spent all tour…”
This ice-breaker is only delivered after an extraordinary opening to the set. Marling strides onstage and goes straight into a seamless medley of the opening four tracks from her 2013 album Once I was an Eagle – what initially seems like a cold kick-off soon develops into a jaw-dropping 15-minutes of unremitting open-heart surgery, wheeling through cyclical themes and pinning the audience to their seats. Take The Night Off is followed by I Was An Eagle, You Know and Breathe, with Marling’s mastery of acoustic guitar dynamics and her heartstring-tugging vocals twisting your gut and making your spirit soar by turns. It’s almost a relief when she finally pauses, to an eruption of audience applause.
That this intense bombardment of the emotions has been brought about by one person with an acoustic guitar is hard to believe, but there she is – sharing the stage with just a simple lamp and, intriguingly, a mannequin placed in front of a plain backdrop that enjoys varying degrees of illumination throughout the show.
After that mindbending intro, the setlist takes us on a mesmerising roam through Marling’s extensive and impressive back catalogue as well as her latest album, 2020’s Song For Our Daughter. It includes What He Wrote and Hope In The Air from the album I Speak Because I Can.
She’s not one for long-winded inter-song banter, just squeezing in a self-deprecating quip before the second half of the 90-minute set – “It’s a bit more fun from here on…” to courteous chuckles from the adoring audience. A little later, she informs us: “You’re so polite” – the fact is, everyone in the packed house is entranced to the point of reverence.
The stories flow on, song by song – the gorgeous Daisy from Director’s Cut, Wild Fire from Semper Femina and Once I Was An Eagle’s captivatingly lovelorn Once. With tracks cherry-picked from all her studio albums, there’s something for fans of each one, and Marling’s seasoned stagecraft and delivery is only interrupted by a split thumbnail, something for which she apologises “if there are any strange rhythms going on tonight”… throwing in a little life vignette for good measure: “An old guitar tutor of mine tried to encourage me to grow the nails on my right hand, but then he showed me his… yeuuch!” She has to pause, exasperated, when it once more catches a string unintentionally later on – but in a split second she’s back on track, firing on all cylinders once more.
Fortune and Song For Our Daughter from the current album are just as evocative as the older material when played live, with Marling’s virtuoso picking and fretting perfectly complimenting the fluctuations in her voice – from mellifluous to terse and all stations in between. After experiencing an evening of such lyrical intensity and unflinching honesty, tempered by magical music and the pure expression of an exceptional human voice, it’s impossible not to feel that your soul has been nourished. It’s not just a rare thing to experience a live Laura Marling performance – it’s a beautiful one, too.
Thank you to De Montfort Hall and Sonic PR.
Written by Mark Holmes
Mark is production editor at Bauer Media working on Classic Bike magazine and is a proofreader for Niche Magazine. Previously, he worked on Top Gear magazine for BBC Worldwide.