Johnny Flynn and Laura Marling drew in a full house at the Glee Club, all waiting with an excited anticipation of both acts drawing a visual backdrop to the sounds that have been heard from the artists recently released single and album, respectively.
Flynn and backing band, typical of his alt-folk genre, had banjo, mandolin and steel guitar running throughout all of the songs. The surrounding carnival of instruments began almost instantly and as Flynn points out himself “don’t let me but the breaks on”. Throughout the first song ‘The Box’ you have a few band members playing an instrument or two and you think “that’s quite a selection they’ve got going there”. That’s until the second song; ’Cold Bread’, when the band moves, adds members, switches from percussion to guitar, keyboard to accordion and Flynn himself switches to violin. It seemed the only constant was Adam Beach on bass. There were some unbelievably talented musicians on stage all night. Not just one, but also every member of every group played an incalculable number of instruments. It wasn’t even that band members kept their variety of musical contraptions to themselves; they all popped up and added their touch to anybody who happened to be on stage. The only thing that remained consistent was the vocals and both had their own sound.
Flynn’s vocals are explosive when needed, but not over used. Though there were moments that they didn’t always go off with a bang, some sounding a little strained but that’s not the epicentre of what you are listening to. The same cartwheels continue throughout the set, which you would presume to provide quite a variety in their sound. But not for the last time that evening, it ends up coming across a little unfulfilled and indistinct.
Laura Marling’s music revolves very much around her voice and lyrics on debut album Alas I Cannot Swim. Questionably it was the backing that stole my gaze for most of the evening, with only the opening solo-acoustic tracks of ‘Shine’ and ‘Failure’ allowing her to be prominent. Though being able to hold a venue while performing with simply yourself and a guitar means the petite lady has something, but it just didn’t remain consistently on display. That’s not to say it was a bad performance; title track ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ partnered with a ukulele was great listening, with her words being somewhere around a childhood sweetheart and never quite making the step to true love. Marling does have a way with words and she sails through their supporting notes beautifully. The support of the band does produce a great sound, though it overpowered the words at times and you are left split between the two, not sure of which to concentrate on as it wasn’t quite cohesive enough to enjoy both.
The middle of the set wandered and the songs didn’t seem to provide a variety. Vocal persuasion wasn’t present and when live, lyrics tend not to have the impact that they might when sitting in your living room. By the end of the set there was an uncertainty of whether she had sold herself to the audience or not. Leaving out her best-known track ‘New Romance’ couldn’t have helped her to stick in the mind of her current fans.
Leaving the venue I was dizzy from looking around the stage at the ever changing instruments and musicians. I was also a little dazed as to whether I had been taken in by either artist, when with gifts by the bagful, they should have had me on the bandwagon for good. It’s not to write them off, but both need to add a certain something to stick.