This was the first time I’ve felt old at a gig. Plenty where I’ve felt young but never previously old. Laura Marling has a lot of young fans. Who like to ‘woooo’ at their favourite songs. Mainly the girls, to be absolutely fair, although there were many ludicrously complex hairstyles from the lads, so as not to let the side down. Pleasant bunch, nonetheless. Just very young. Did I mention that?
Furnishing the assembled throng in Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre with not one but two high quality support acts was rather generous and the first of these, Boy And Bear, might be best described as a cross between Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons with additional ‘wooos’. Which is not to say they’re made up of young, female Laura Marling fans. It’s more to convey their fondness for rather lovely harmonies. Decent stage banter and a splendidly warm sound too, topped off by a bloody wonderful rendition of Bon Iver‘s ‘Flume‘. They did point out that you can get some free music from their Myspace, so it seems only polite to do so
Next up was Alessi’s Ark, and Alessi’s initial, fluttery, kooky utterances make me worry that I might be about to witness a low budget Bjork impression, but she soon gets into her flow. She passes on wisdom learnt from one of Marling’s band too: "Did you know that the supermarket Iceland is run by a company from Iceland?" Such irreverent banter is entirely at odds with her bewitching songs and I look forward to getting to know her better when she releases an album on Bella Union in the second half of the year. Her thoroughly splendid EP, ‘Soul Proprietor‘ is already available and you can sample it on Spotify.
The night, perhaps unsurprisingly, still very much belonged to Laura Marling, however, and her set demonstrated exactly how far she has come since the relatively tentative steps of ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’. The peroxide hair colour now transformed to autumnal browns (something she appeared to have at least partly reversed by the time she appeared on Later) and stage banter something which has been thankfully added to the repertoire, this performance had little in common with the last time I saw her, towards the end of 2008, in a small venue in Nottingham. Equally spellbinding, I’ll concede, but on this evidence, Marling will be a musical force for decades to come because there is something genuinely distinctive about her style, her performance and her music.
The set was heavily weighted in favour of the new album which suited me just fine, only serving to further clarify just how strong the new material is. She’s a captivating presence from the off and when her band melt into the shadows leaving the entire middle section of the show as a solo performance, it’s hard not to sit there slack-jawed in conspicuous awe. Unassuming, pathologically straight-forward and simply magnificent, Marling’s recent surge in popularity is both heartening and just. With a third album on the way before the end of the year, there will surely be another tour. I will consider you something of a fool if you don’t possess yourself of a ticket.