A rare treat then to go to a gig with Mrs Mackerel, and also Movie Mate and the Mother of Kittens too.
Also a rare treat to not be the oldest swingers in town, judging by the clientele as we entered Oxford’s gloomy Carling Academy. Laura Marling has that rare capacity to attract those from all ages – from the intent young girl on my left silently mouthing along to virtually every song to the middle-aged, too-loud blokey blokes behind me (“when I’m walking the dog in the morning with a hangover you need a bit of mellow“) and the suited, slightly creepy silver haired older gentleman in front of us intently watching Ms Marling through a pair of binoculars.
It is all too easy to remark on Laura Marling’s incredible maturity for one still so tender of years, or to fall into the wise head on young shoulders cliche, or comment on her innate ability to absorb, adapt and possess the influences of so much of what has gone before and restlessly turn it into something fresh and unique – yet it is hard not to re-tread these well trodden paths because it so damn striking each and every time she does something.
With a stage presence and quiet confidence that I hadn’t witnessed before, her performance was one that contrasted sharply with the narrow, oppressiveness of the venue and the often shocking sound – the regular drop outs akin to randomly jumping from rich stereo to weedy mono (or listening with only one ear-bud for younger readers).
Despite their regular efforts, the amateur acoustics could not detract from the songs. As expected, many came from outstanding new release Semper Femina, in fact, the opening five mirrored exactly the album track list – the faintly tropical, sinuous Soothing, the calm, nylon-string acoustics of The Valley, and the rich crackle of Wild Fire set a tone, and a standard that was effortlessly sustained on the wry Don’t Pass Me By and the gorgeous Always This Way.
With six albums in nine years, she now has a wealth of material to draw on. As well as Semper Femina, we were treated to much from 2011’s A Creature I Don’t Know (Salinas, Night After Night, Don’t Ask Me Why and a particularly powerful version of Sophia) and finished with a trio of tracks from I Speak Because I Can, the title track sandwiched between a rapturously received Darkness Descends and a triumphantly challenging Rambling Man.
Laura Marling has a way with words that can make others in the same game seem clumsy and cack-handed. She takes the classic singer-songwriter ingredients of melancholy introspection and self-reflection and balances them exquisitely against wit and candor without being obvious or blatant. Here in Oxford, we had further evidence, if it were needed, of her ability to question and ponder on heartfelt subject matters with a rare lightness of touch and deftness that in turn separates songs from the merely good to something much more special.
And yes, she is old beyond her years.