It’s sort of difficult to put into coherent words and phrases just what it was like watching the recently nominated Mercury Prize artist Laura Marling perform in Usher Hall last night, the first of eight dates on her return to the UK.
This was a unique musical experience. I’ve seen artists play solo acoustic shows before; I’ve seen them do it well. But this was different, this was breathless in its beauty. Laura Marling stood in the centre of the stage, a position she barely flinched from for 90 minutes, unassuming in her black leggins and white blouse, her blonde hair tied back. The stage lights shone down on her as though she was heaven sent, and when she opened with the first trio of songs from Once I Was An Eagle that’s exactly how she sounded, too.
Everything about this gig was understated, and yet it didn’t feel like it. For all the isolation of Laura on the stage – it was literally her and two guitars: no fancy strobe lighting, no video wall, no guitar techs (“my show is now 15 per cent tuning”) no bass guitar or string section – the sounds she produced with that guitar could have been played out by four people.
Every note plucked from her guitar was like a heartbeat reverborating around Usher Hall, so clear and full of life. Her rootsy voice elegantly transports you right into the midst of her lyrics and in that bittersweet moment you live her songs. Be it the relatively up-tempo Rambling Man or the raw anger of Master Hunter, Marling’s honeyed voice is crystal clear and crackling with emotion.
There was just the right amount of humoured interaction with the audience to provide some relief from the heavy nature of things as she told us of the charming email she had received from an author asking permission to use the line “alas I cannot swim” in a book, only for Laura to confess that she had borrowed the line from someone else.
Even now, twenty-four hours removed from the gig, I am feeling goosebumps bristle on my arms just thinking about it. There was many a point last night where all you could do was just sit back (five rows from the stage, perfect positioning), look up at this mesmerisingly angelic figure, listen to her voice and her guitar playing and just swoon and sigh. Her talent is remarkable.