This show marks Laura Marling’s second performance in Birmingham’s picturesque Symphony Hall, but first since the release of her Mercury Prize nominated fourth album Once I Was An Eagle. As a support act for the tour, Laura brought along Nick Mulvey, who is still early into his solo career after parting ways with Portico Quartet in 2011. These are some of his biggest crowds to date with over 2,000 people spilling into the Symphony Hall.
‘April’ perfectly encapsulates the ground that Mulvey is trying to find with his music. With complex rhythms that show off his intricate picking techniques on guitar. Despite performing a short set, Mulvey still manages to show off his diverse library by referencing melodies and lyrics of Olive’s Ibiza hit ‘You’re Not Alone’ during sections of his latest single, ‘Nitrous’.
In ‘Juramidam’, Mulvey shows off interesting afro-pop rhythms that wouldn’t feel out of place on Paul Simon’s Graceland, using the fret board to its full potential and experimenting with harmonics. His playing style is complimented by an infectious chorus and haunting, drone-like hums which reverberate throughout the perfect open space of the hall. Introducing the sparse, emotionally driven ‘Fever To The Form’, Mulvey announces that this will be his last song of the set and from the audience’s response, it’s clear that Mulvey has made a lot of fans from this show.
This particular tour sees Laura Marling stripping back the lineup for the first official full-length tour since she began her career. It’s refreshing to hear Marling’s songs as they were initially written, with just her euphoric voice and a guitar. Introducing her set with the opening suite from her latest album Once I Was An Eagle, Marling seamlessly transitions between each of the songs with drawing any hiccups. Clocking in at roughly 15 minutes, Marling later acknowledges that “maybe the opening song was a bit too long”.
Contrasting this entirely, Marling shows her teeth with the cutthroat ‘Master Hunter’, where she even manages to break a string. Laced with a lot of bitter Bob Dylan references (including similarities to ‘Tangled Up In Blue’), she truly provides a different take in the song’s revealing imagery. Marling provided a diverse offering from her back catalogue, dusting off the hidden title track ‘Alas, I Cannot Swim’ from her debut of the same name to the delight of one overly enthusiastic audience member, who took it upon himself to awkwardly clap during the first few bars or each song, much to the annoyance of both Marling and the crowd.
The lack of a band behind her really draws more attention to Marling’s unique, husky vocals and adds a lot more emotional depth to the delivery of each lyric. At only 23, it’s strange to think of how young she is and how old she acts, with Marling refusing to play along with the theatrical ‘encore’ idea and instead brushing it off and saying “this is my last song”. Finishing on a much lighter note with ‘Where Can I Go?’, it was interesting in retrospect to see how these songs were shaped with different textures at the helm of Ethan Johns. It would definitely be something to see a tour like this but without such a heavy focus on one album and instead, drawing more from her prior material.
Nick Mulvey photo by Dan Hess