I have to say, I was a little unprepared for Marika Hackman’s visit to The Sugarmill in Stoke. Her debut album was released a month ago, but I only became aware of the record following a welcome recommendation a few days prior to the show. Ever since this purchase, I’ve been succumbing to it’s tractor-beam-esque ability to embrace, caress and hypnotise the listener. Indeed, if the record is listened to in the right conditions, it can provide moments of meditative magic and contemplative wonder that few records manage to achieve these days. I was therefore bowled over upon discovering that she was playing at a local venue, only fifteen minutes drive from home. As I drive to the venue tonight, I am most eager to find if the seductive qualities on record translate in the live environment.
The Sugarmill was the venue for the Johnny Marr show a week before. Famous for it’s sticky floors, they quickly lost their adhesive qualities that night as the heaving crowd generated an electric heat that contributed to a most memorable evening. Tonight is a very different affair. There is a small crowd milling around the room, but most of the floor is taken up by some large leather sofas accommodating some discerning music fans that, it is fair to say, were probably not at the Johnny Marr show last week.
Arriving too late to see the first support act, there were still some pleasing solo female artists to come. First up was an acoustic set by Maddy Storm. Possessing an easy-going charm on stage, her short set allows her to demonstrate impressive vocal abilities, along with an engaging appreciation of different styles informing her output. All this makes for a pleasing twenty minutes, making it a hard act for Charlotte Carpenter to follow. Another solo guitarist, her songs possess a darker flavour, ensuring that the experience is notably different to Maddy’s. Reminding me of Eliza Shaddad at times, she was able to weave intricate musical moments, portentous at times, that were punctuated with some unexpected aggression musically. It was a nice set and one that helped established the required mood for the rest of the evening.
Marika Hackman arrives shortly after. It is worth noting that the venue is incredibly cold tonight and this may explain an unexpectedly nervy start during the first few songs. It is only the second night of the tour and it may possibly be the first time many of these new songs have been performed in front of an audience before. This results in a few false starts and an irritating fly exacerbates these issues, persistently bothering the singer from the south coast at the most inopportune moments.
Hackman is surrounded by a variety of acoustic and electric guitars and she dips into this impressive collection as her set develops. The sound that is generated from these different instruments is incredible. It is worth remembering that the album is a gorgeously produced work, full of subtle percussive elements and funereal synths accompanying Marika’s guitar. It was fascinating to hear how these songs would function, disrobed, and completely exposed. In the hands of a talent like Marika Hackman, it is probably no surprise that the evening becomes something rather special indeed. Key to this is that voice. Marika is in possession of something truly special and in the intimate surroundings of The Sugarmill, you have no option but to concentrate completely on this wonderfully evocative instrument, enhanced by some ethereal delay which creates the most magical of atmospheres during highlights of the album like Open Wide and Before I Sleep. These moments are truly mesmerising, placing a previously unknown artist into a realm currently occupied by some established musicians of real quality. Angel Olsen appears to be a particular influence at times, Sharon Van Etten at others and it was not a surprise when 81 by Joanna Newsom was performed; vocally there is a definite appreciation of this artist’s distinctive delivery, along with her whimsical themes. It ultimately transpires to be an absolute privilege to be present here tonight. Being in the presence of a heavenly voice like Marika’s proves to be a rewarding, unexpected delight that I had no idea would be occurring only a week before.
For our interview with Marika Hackman, click here.
Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto