Union Chapel, London
Saturday 6th June 2020
Andy Brown visits Union Chapel in London from the comfort of his own sofa to watch singer-songwriter Laura Marling play a unique and atmospheric set. The performance includes material from Marling’s recently released new LP, Song For Our Daughter. The chapel, save for Marling and a few members of her team, is completely empty.
It’s a small concern when held next to so many things that are going on right now but I really miss going to gigs. If you’re reading this then you’re no doubt pining for a little live music too. It is amazing, however, how music finds a way. A streamed gig was never going to be a full replacement for the sweaty, communal euphoria of a live performance but it’s as close as we’re going to get at the moment. I last saw folk icon Laura Marling perform at the intimate Trades Club in Hebden Bridge. How would a streamed performance measure up? I make a cup of tea, turn the lights down and click the link to join Marling at the iconic Union Chapel in London. Despite the barrier of a laptop screen and a couple hundred miles, this was still an event. Sure, I could put on a live DVD or watch an old YouTube clip but this was happening right now.
A message declaring ‘the livestream is about to start’ disappears and I’m transported to the impressive surroundings of Union Chapel. Marling stands under the lights and centre stage, looking out on to rows of empty pews. The silence and stillness amplifying the subtle beauty of tonight’s first few songs. The Suite comes from Marling’s fourth album Once I Was An Eagle and consists of Take The Night Off, I Was An Eagle, You Know and Breathe. A breath-taking collection of songs that ebbs and flows through 15 mesmerising minutes. Marling focussed and keeping her eyes fixed on some uncertain point at the back of the room.
“I think your mama’s kinda sad” sings Marling on the gently weaved melody of Wild Fire, “and your papa’s kinda mean”. There’s a timeless quality to Marling’s songcraft, an artist very much following her muse. Her guitar playing immaculate and her vocals assured, immensely tender without being fragile. The impossibly lovely Tap At My Window from her debut LP a reminder, if one were needed, that Marling has been a considerable talent for over a decade. Going on to establish herself as one of the country’s finest and most beloved singer-songwriters. She’s silent between songs and it becomes apparent that this is a very deliberate choice. When I saw Marling at the Trades Club, she happily told anecdotes and tales between songs yet that was while playing for an audience or, more accurately, playing for an audience she could actually see. While initially disappointing, the silence and stillness become an important and powerful aspect of tonight’s performance. “We speak when spoken to/ that suits me well” from the achingly melancholic What He Wrote takes on a new significance under these admittedly strange circumstances.
Songs from Marling’s latest record, Song For Our Daughter, sound like established classics already. The upbeat, witty encouragement of Strange Girl finds Marling exploring the more playful aspects of her muse while The End Of The Affair and Fortune could be the work of Joan Baez herself. The message at the centre of Fortune’s gently hypnotic melody carrying a particularly relevant emotional weight, “oh my, your fortune can change”. Marling is a great storyteller and her latest album only serves to solidify that fact. “Lately I’ve been thinking/ About our daughter growing old” she swoons on the albums superb title track, “All of the bullshit that she might be told”. Marling’s work has continually explored what it means to be female and with this latest batch of songs she looks to the future and offers advice to an imagined daughter. Marling’s words of wisdom for the next generation.
By putting any attempt at one-sided, mid-song conversation aside Marling has let her music do the talking. The whole performance emphasising not only the strength of her songs but the unique, undeniable strangeness of the circumstances we’ve all found ourselves in. The hour long set comes to a close with the beautiful Once. “Oh, I was a child once/ Oh, I was happy young/ When all I didn’t know needed doing/ Had been done” sings Marling before walking silently away. The camera pans back, a lingering shot of the empty and silent chapel a suitably haunting image to end tonight’s set on. No applause or cheers for an encore, just silence. With a streamed gig there’s always going to be the worry that it won’t feel special yet in Marling’s case that couldn’t be further from the truth. A startling, quietly captivating and memorable performance.
Listen to Song For Our Daughter here.
Live photo by Joel Ryan.
All words by Andy Brown, you can view his author profile here.