Laura Marling and 12 Ensemble at the BBC Proms Online
There has always been an ethereal quality to Laura Marling, with her luminous face, silver-blonde hair and almost hypnotic style. She doesn’t offer up big emotions, preferring to let the melodies and lyrics speak for themselves. And, as one who forgoes audience banter, creating instead a dreamy musical hinterland, she is well-suited to a performance to an empty Royal Albert Hall. The first part of the set is delivered with the chamber orchestra 12 Ensemble, Rob Moose’s arrangements adding gravitas to her already grand and ambitious material.
Since breaking onto the folk scene at 16, Marling has consistently produced award-winning records. 2020’s Song for Our Daughter is her seventh studio album and the artist is still only 30. She has more than enough material, therefore, to rise to the daunting prospect of filling an hour-and-a-half prom with her own work (aside from one Paul Simon cover). The first part is performed with the whole 12 Ensemble, then with dwindling string accompanists, before the final three songs which feature just the singer, her guitar and one accompanist.
This structure allows Marling’s complex, wandering melodies and rich lyrics to shine. Standard favourites like I Was an Eagle and Tap at My Window sound impressive accompanied by so many strings. Fortune, from her latest album, could be a ballad hundreds of years old. Blow by Blow and The End of the Affair, again from her most recent record, show her maturity as an artist and her growing confidence. In The Valley, the mystical element to the artist’s work comes to the fore. She sings “we love beauty because it needs us to”; the sentiments in her lyrics are oblique but captivating. She borrows from the rich folk tradition and puts her own feminist spin on it, most notably in Salinas: “My mother was a saviour of six foot of bad behaviour”. Her mysterious lyrics always charm; the trees are a “peculiar green” and the sky “hangs heavily”. Closer Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) is a particular highlight, beautiful and light, dextrous and accomplished like all of her material.
However, you couldn’t help but feel Marling’s voice has other registers that were left unexplored in this show. Musically, it was one-note, albeit a very beautiful note. The sophistication of her tunes and her uncompromising lyrics mean that she is not the warmest performer. Accomplished but aloof, the well-deserved assuredness she shows ultimately prevent her from being a truly accessible presence.
Photo: Mark Allan/BBC
For further information and future events visit Laura Marling’s website here.
Watch the video for Song for Our Daughter here: