Thursday, 4 September 2008

Laura Marling bewitches in Bethnal Green

I should probably start this with a disclaimer: I love Laura Marling. I think she's incredibly talented, has a beautiful voice, and if it wasn't for the obvious biological incompatibility I'd want to have her babies. OK, maybe that's a step to far, but you get the idea.

So when I heard that she was playing a secret Bestival warm-up gig in Bethnal Green I leapt on my bike, set my compass to east and peddled as fast as my little legs would carry me. Thankfully said speed was hasty enough and I was able to join the queue growing outside the Star of Bethnal Green in plenty of time to get into the tiny gig.

This is a solo show in every sense of the word - just Laura Marling and her guitar - and as intimate as you can ever hope to get with such a rapidly ascending star. The hit album, the Glastonbury performance and the Mercury Prize nomination mean it's unlikely she'll be playing many venues of this size any time soon.

A couple of hours and a few beers later I spotted Laura Marling wending her way from the back of the pub through the crowd and onto the stage. The crowd falls into a hushed silence as she strikes the first few chords of 'Ghosts', the inconsiderate bottle clinking of the barman the the only distraction. As a self-confessed fan of small gigs, Marling seems to be quite comfortable in this minuscule venue and totally unperturbed by her isolation on stage, effortlessly holding her fans rapt as she picks her way through B-side 'Blackberry Stone'.

Marling's evocative voice is as clear and sharp as glass as she enunciates perfectly every word of her plaintive poetry, which, combined with her melancholic melodies, envelops the room and spirits us away to a dark and soulful land of trees, rivers and heartbreak.

Single 'Cross Your Fingers' sounds somewhat twee and contrived on record, but in this stripped down setting the folksy charm of the melody shines through. As the song segues into 'Crawled Out of the Sea' a few voices rise out of the crowd and in seconds everyone is singing along like we're at a twilight campfire - real goosebumps stuff. Marling rounds the gig off with the 'Alas I Cannot Swim' ditty that closes the album of the same name and, having thanked her fans, disappears off stage in defiance of calls for an encore.

This up close and personal evening with Marling was as short and sweet as Laura herself, but the atmosphere was magic and the undeniable talent of this tiny 18 year old was all that was needed to generate it.

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