Live Review

Laura Marling, St James’ Church, London

We’ve just witnessed a very special service, and the sermon was enthralling.

St James’ Church, tucked away only a five minute walk from Piccadilly Circus is not where you’d usually expect to find a rising star of the British music scene to be playing. And, even waiting in the queue, it’s clear that this will not be a usual gig. The inevitable flock of teenage fans is nicely tempered by the fact that there are a lot of older folk seemingly just as excited at the prospect of the coming event. Walking into the aisle of the church, the vaulted ceiling, pews and stained glass windows seem to have an immediate effect on the crowd – a hush spreads over the whole building and only whispers seem to be appropriate.

Arriving first are Mumford and Sons, some of whom are members of Miss Marling’s backing band and who, apparently, were only asked to play their support slot two hours before the gig. Seemingly unbowed, they launch into their own brand of simultaneously heart-wrenching and gloriously uplifting folk. Powered along by the keening vocals of Marcus Mumford, ever-building harmonies and pipe organ keyboard effects, they provide arguably the best use of the acoustics of this building at the very start.

Next up are The Wave Pictures who, led by the seemingly uninterested Dave Tattersall, don’t quite match the intensity of the previous act. Their particular brand of shambling indie is by no means bad, but it certainly doesn’t seem to fit with the feeling of the gig, especially with the singer’s propensity to launch into lengthy acoustic guitar solos in every other song. When he eventually decides to stop using the microphone altogether and simply use the acoustic of the church itself to carry his voice it does drum up some interest, but it just isn’t quite right.

And so we come to the main event. Laura Marling walks onto the altar dressed in an oversized shirt, small boy’s haircut and looking mildly embarrassed, she looks positively dwarfed by the venue she’s chosen to perform in. But as she launches into her set, she proves that she can certainly disprove expectations. When she plays by herself such as with ‘Tap At My Window’ or new song ‘Rebecca’, her deep tones silence the already quiet audience, and when she brings her full band in for upbeat numbers such as previous single ‘Ghosts’, the atmosphere positively shivers with the natural echoes offered by the hall.

The song she’s touring to promote, the wonderful two-part ‘Cross Your Fingers/Crawled Out Of The Sea’ is a highlight, bringing smiles to the face of every fan, and as the ‘50s-esque shimmy of the second half builds, we start to wonder why more gigs aren’t held in churches. After an embarrassedly self-imposed encore (there isn’t really a backstage area to speak of) comes to an end with the nursery-rhyme beauty of ‘Dora’, the church atmosphere still doesn’t seem to wear off, and as the crowd files out slowly, still whispering, it does seem as though we’ve just witnessed a very special service, and the sermon was enthralling.

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