For a singer-songwriter whose latest album is permeated with lust and rage, and has at its heart the pulsating presence of a character called “the Beast”, a tour of England’s cathedrals may not have seemed like an obvious choice of venues. But as the congregation in Norwich Cathedral were settled and silenced by a single bell ringing out, and Laura Marling, pale and petite, emerged on stage, the audience knew they were in for a unique and magical service.
In a few short years, Marling has developed from a shy teenage performer into a confident young woman, who is prepared to fill huge spaces with her sound. The When the Bell Tolls tour was announced in the wake of the release of Marling’s third studio album. A Creature I Don’t Know is a bold and blistering masterpiece which shows a new level of maturity and complexity in her song-writing ability.
Marling opens with a taste of the new album (I Was Just a Card, The Muse) and an old favourite (Ghosts). Marling effortlessly moves between the sun-drenched dystopia of Salinas, into the eerie and foreboding darkness of The Beast, a song that builds into a powerful and heavy crescendo of sound that rises to fill every crease and crevice in the vaulted ceiling. Although her voice has matured and developed a new strength, it can still become overwhelmed by the almighty sound produced by the accompaniment of electric guitars and crashing drums. However, when the band leave halfway through, Marling acknowledges that “it’s just you and me now” and begins an intimate acoustic set which allows her tremendous talent to stand alone. She includes deeply personal and emotional songs such as Goodbye Old England and Night After Night, as well as a stunning newly written song, which is imbibed with a sense of mystery.
Some feel that Marling’s onstage presence, although endearingly modest, leaves something to be desired. However, part of Marling’s charm is her ability to let the music speak for itself; as she struggled to communicate her hopes for the show, she simply let the sentence hang on “I hope… just that, I hope”. She ended the set with the same old spiel about her disbelief in encores, before playing us out with Rambling Man and the last track of her latest album, All My Rage, a joyous burst of song that leaves the cathedral ringing with an altogether different and thoroughly human call to the heavens.
Photo: Lottie Allen.