Review + Photos: Laura Marling and Ethan Johns @ Albert Hall – Manchester

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Laura Marling

What do you get when you combine the glorious surroundings of one of the UK’s premiere music venues with the stirring output of an artist of such majestic distinction as Laura Marling? Describing the evening as a good one certainly does not seem appropriate, failing to address the trifle-esque multitude of levels of enjoyment and satisfaction that this evening’s sold-out audience will have experienced. Although Albert Hall is probably regarded as a mid-level venue in terms of size, it’s horseshoe balcony, festooned with twinkling fairy lights, curves inwards towards the large stage and this results in a particularly intimate vibe that is perfect for the new tracks from Marling’s sixth album Semper Femina, which has only just been released a few short hours ago. These factors appear to have contributed to a delicious sense of anticipation as we edge closer to stage time.

This intense expectation possibly has an impact on Ethan Johns in the support slot. Primarily known as a producer, he has worked with some of the biggest artists in the business. He is also an artist in his own right as well, but the tangible emotion and excitement in the old Wesleyan chapel this evening is perhaps a touch overwhelming for the Londoner and it takes him a few songs to really get in to a groove. His cover of Tangled up in Blue is a case in point. The song has two false starts before Johns decides to go it solo, ultimately delivering an impassioned rendition of this classic track. Although it has taken a while for Johns and co to get into this evening’s performance, it is clear from the genuine response to the brisk energy of the final song in particular that Johns’ efforts have paid off and he departs to rousing applause.

Laura Marling’s stage is a leafy affair; mic stands and monitors are entwined by verdant vines and this mise-en-scene creates an organic ambience that enhances the performance to come from the Hampshire born artist. Semper Femina is clearly the reason for these visual metaphors and although the record has only been in the public domain for a few hours, the gushing response from the audience as we are treated to renditions of almost every track in the order they appear on record appears to endorse the gentler, more feminine approach she has taken. The album is indeed a distinct departure from previous record Short Movie and the cut and thrust of this release has been replaced by a tender composition of songs that Laura Marling performs with a laid-back charm several steps removed from the more severe headline show at the Green Man festival I witnessed the previous summer.

The focus on Semper Femina means that many favourites from the brilliant Short Movie in particular are ignored. Although possibly disappointing to some (I will always lament the lack of Gurdjieff’s Daughter on any Laura Marling setlist), in retrospect this is probably a wise move. The atmosphere is relaxed and the sharp angles of the previous album would perhaps appear out of place. Following the Semper Femina section of the concert, there is a more retrospective exploration of earlier material, but the lighthearted, earthy nature of the evening is maintained by Laura Marling’s amusing response to misfiring percussive moments along with the guitarist blowing his intro to one particular track. She takes it all in her stride and the crowd don’t seem to mind this less than clinical approach she has adopted on this tour. Her band also provide amusing interludes during instrument changes and re-tunes, offering random information about Manchester during these moments including the fact that Winston Churchill had also delivered a speech on the same stage that Laura was performing on tonight! We can be pretty certain that his message that day in 1950 was distinctly different in tone to the warm, gentle disposition of an artist at the peak of her powers this evening.

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Laura Marling

Ethan Johns

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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto

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