It was somehow appropriate that Bill Oddie should be in attendance to witness the final display of England's finest young songbird on the eve of her maiden migration to the winter warmth of Texas and California. Laura Marling closed her brief national tour on Sunday night playing to an audience entirely composed of purchasers of the lavish Songbox version of her debut album, "Alas, I Cannot Swim" in a performance at the Union Chapel that showcased the remarkable alchemy of her spellbinding voice and her quicksilver songwriting.
In concert she is disarmingly direct in the folk tradition of the likes of Joni Mitchell, Diane Cluck and Bonnie Prince Billy to which she aspires, stepping purposefully onto the stage alone for a solo acoustic opening with "Shine" which then flows with little ceremony straight into current single "Ghosts" notwithstanding the brisk arrival of a retinue of eight supporting musicians. Her audience hangs reverently on every note and eschews joining in, though it erupts into adulation between numbers. The performer herself holds them with an intensity that suggests she fears communion with her faithful could be snatched from her at any moment.
The upbeat Nashville confidence of "You're No God" arrives mid-set and kicks off a trio of songs that see Marling's vocals adding depth and power to the beauty they are renowned for. "Cross Your Fingers", which echoes the fledgling Cranberries, would make a formidable second single, but a watertight rendition of long-time fan favourite "My Manic and I" takes the highlight honours on this occasion. The sophistication of both material and delivery constantly belies the fact that only months ago Marling was refused entry to her own Soho club gig for being underage. She's even got the "difficult second album" issue out of the way early on as new musical discoveries recently prompted her to discard early live gold such as "New Romantic" in favour of what she considers more challenging material.
As the venue curfew approaches she pauses to explain coyly that she hates waiting in the wings for a time-honoured encore, so they'll just be going straight into it instead. The audience responds with a stamping ovation that we hope will convince her that the fervour her magical talent is attracting will not be dissipating any time soon.
Photo by Garrick Twinney.