The wafts of myrrh in Gloucester Cathedral were like an olfactory invitation to another world. As a music venue it’s both intimate and grand: the softest noises go soaring through the rich acoustics of the vaults, bouncing around the stone. Clever you, whoever devised Laura Marling’s ‘When the Bell Tolls Tour’, performed entirely in cathedrals.
It was probably Marling’s own idea. She is after all, audaciously talented. With three albums, two Mercury nominations, Brit and NME awards, billings at Glastonbury, plus a whole record written about her (Noah and the Whale’s ‘The First Days of Spring’ chronicles her split with lead-singer, Charlie Fink), Marling is the kind of 21 year old that makes you wonder what on earth you’ve been doing with your life. But there’s nothing polished or Italia-Conti about her. In fact, she turned out to be adorably socially inept.
Marling’s support act, The Leisure Society, should be the soundtrack to a Disney documentary of the nu-folk movement, although the poor lambs were visibly terrified at playing this big old house of God. Guitars, keys, flute and violin plaited together in tight harmonies, with lyrics about leaves and clouds drifting away on hanging unfinished chord sequences. Spin around in a field stuff.
Then after the interval, in which I found an actual Hogwarts corridor, a bell chimed, naturally, and an arctic nymph appeared with her band. She picked at a guitar, not much smaller than her. Suddenly her bird-like top register took off, and swells of strings and horns filled the air. “Ahhm, hello. My name’s Laura,” said the nymph, awkwardly, once ‘I Was Just a Card’ had died away. After the fluency of her music, this inarticulacy was charming.
The contrast between Legolas’s little sister Laura and the musician Marling couldn’t be more striking. She was at her most ethereal when alone on stage, no less intense for the slight musical texture in ‘Flicker and Fail’ or ‘Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)’. Yet she can creates real darkness, harnessing the menace of rumbling bass drums, referencing “the beast”. Put these songs in a cathedral, and Marling seems to be negotiating the fine line between heaven and hell.