The Waterfront is hot and stuffy. The sold out crowd is packed together tightly, elbows poking into each other’s backs, edging slowly towards the front. The room then falls silent as Laura Marling slowly walks on stage. A burst of applause and cheers erupt from the eager audience and a small smile crosses Marling’s soft face.
With no band behind her, Marling takes up only several square feet of the stage – with her three acoustic guitars, each prepped for tonally juxtaposed songs, taking up most of this. Although she is physically small, the moment Marling’s thumb first strikes her guitar, she consumes the entire room with her voice, her smile, and her ethereal presence.
She begins with ‘Wild Fire’, the opening track from her newly-released album, Semper Femina, and the once booming crowd fall silent. The silence resembled that found in young children as they watch a magician, analysing every hand movement and consuming every sound.
The setlist then moved through Marling’s catalogue, with her excellently covering Paul Simon’s ‘Kathy’s Song’. Personal favourites were: ‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’, which felt impossibly personal and poetic; and ‘Daisy’, whose writing process Marling explained – it was based on a fascinating true story about a friend called Daisy, a Sicilian man, prostitution, and more.
One may make the mistake, however, of thinking that each song would blend into the next, lacking distinct properties – after all it is just one voice and a guitar. But, Marling’s style offers huge range within the folk genre: in one song, she will simply strum an open guitar, with her left hand free; in another, she will work both hands, Travis Picking at lightening speed. Between songs, Marling’s voice also differs: in a sultry and sullen tone, she speaks her lyrics in a Lou Reed-esque manner, then quickly changes her voice to release long and beautiful high notes, which appear as though they could go on forever.
The Waterfront’s sound quality was clear and excellent, meaning this contrast between simplicity and mastery was received perfectly.
In between songs, Marling spoke about her love of Norwich and asked for any interesting facts about it. One man shouted across the crowd that it is the atheist capital of Europe. “How do you measure that?” replied Marling. “They question us before we are allowed in!” retorted another man. Both Marling and the audience shared a warm laugh.
The set lasted approximately an hour and ten minutes – everyone left with a smile. Before her final song, Marling asked the audience who had been to one of her gigs before. A roar of “Yes!” lept up, Marling smiled and replied: “Well, you know then that I don’t do encores – if you wanted an encore then the last song was the second to last one and if you didn’t, then this is the last song. You get what I mean.”
Her constant sense of humour, shown also after fluffling a line previously, elevated the performance, making it intensely personal and informal. The audience and the performer appeared to be friends, having fun together on a Tuesday night.
On the way out, I heard one fan say: “Laura just radiates light, doesn’t she?” In reply her friend explained this phenomenon: “She’s an actual angel. That’s why she glows.”
I think he is right.