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Laura Marling is all smiles at her last London show “for a while”

08 September 2015, 09:00 | Written by Chris Shipman

“For those of you who don't know these songs, bear in mind that I was 17 and a lot more angry than I am now”, smiles Laura Marling halfway through her set, cradling her acoustic guitar half in embarrassment as she launches into debut album favourite “My Manic and I”. In return, the capacity Forum audience whoop their approval.

Tonight's one-off show (5th September) has the sense of both homecoming and closure - a reflection from Marling on a career of nine years, five albums and countless awards. Now verging on veteran status, she is still only 25 years of age.

Rewind forty minutes or so and Marling opened the set with a slew of beefy rock numbers, including the panoramic ”False Hope” – “I hear you banging through the wall”, she wails, her vocals bathed in reverb, head tilted back and eyes closed. For those that thought who'd written off Laura Marling as a whimsical folk act, it's quite the wakeup call.

Tonight's set is comprised of two parts - six or so meaty rock numbers, before segueing into softer realms a third of the way in. “That's all of the bangers out of the way”, Marling exclaims drily, as she brings the curtain down on a searing arrangement of “Salinas”, a track so banjo-heavy on record, but now amped up with the weight of a rollicking rhythm section.

There's a confidence, calmness and self-assurance from the singer tonight that she openly admits was lacking in her younger days when she could be seen at far smaller venues on the toilet circuit, hiding behind guitars that seemed to dwarf her tiny frame. No longer. For an artist unfairly labelled by detractors as a miserablist, she seems to be enjoying herself too, firing grins at regular intervals in the direction of her trio of bandmates. There's even a Dolly Parton cover - the gospel-tinged “Do I Ever Cross Your Mind”. Marling wonderfully anglicizes the prairie-tinged vocal inflections of the original, smoothing any jarring edges and making it her own. But for her introduction in which she reveals picking setlists based on Spotify ‘most played' lists, you'd have trouble identifying it as someone else's song.

Special audience reverence is reserved for “Alas I Cannot Swim”, the title track from her debut album which is sung back by her devoted following. Perhaps the set highlight however is a haunting rendition of “What He Wrote” which sees Marling accompanied only by bowed double bass, its mournful tones quaking below delicately picked guitar and whispered vocals.

Commendably an artist who always marches to the beat of her own drum, refusing to be held hostage to trends or expected convention, Marling gives the crowd a friendly warning prior to set closer “Sophia” that she doesn't do encores and that this will be their last London show “for a while”. Fortunately, with a career this prolific, it shouldn’t be too long until she's back.

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