Laura Marling: Live From Union Chapel

Stars: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Opening her solo concert, broadcast live from the Union Chapel in London, Laura Marling sings, “I will not be a victim of romance, I will not be a victim of circumstance”. These words, from Once I Was An Eagle’s song ‘Take The Night Off’ have never been more true.

Marling is certainly taking control of the current situation. It is June 2020 and while lockdown restrictions are easing around the world it will still be many more months until Marling can hold a concert in a venue like the Union Chapel. So she’s live streaming to a limited number of fans from the UK and Europe on the platform DICE. Tickets were £12 for an hour-long set. Tickets for her tour in 2010, around the time she released her second album I Speak Because I Can, sold for between £15-20. It’s likely a ticket outside of lockdown would be considerably more.

Both the video and sound quality of the live stream are fantastic. Marling stands alone on stage, white-blonde hair falling around her face, wearing a comfortable looking grey jumper and pale blue jeans. She performs with only an acoustic guitar and sings from her critically-acclaimed back catalogue and her new album Song For Our Daughter. It’s still a pleasure to hear tracks from her (rather perfect) debut album Alas I Cannot Swim, which was nominated for a Mercury Prize in 2008.

Musically, Marling’s songs are sparse. There’s a heavy Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez influence.  Their deceptive simplicity allows her soft, clear voice to ring out. You can always hear the lyrics of a Laura Marling song, and it’s as a songwriter that she really shines.

In ‘Fortune’, one of the singles from Song For Our Daughter, she sings:

You spent all that money
That your Momma had saved
Told me she kept it
For running away

Never quite found the right way to say
I’m sorry my darling
My mind it has been changed
Release me
From this unbearable pain

And so ends the story 
I had hoped to change
I had to release us 
From this unbearable pain
And promise 
We won’t come here again

The song was inspired by Marling’s mother, who squirreled away money throughout her life for a never used ‘running away fund’. In ‘Fortune’ and in the title track ‘Song For Our Daughter’ you can see Marling trying to come to terms with inter-generational trauma and the desperate desire that things will be different for our daughters.

‘Song For Our Daughter’ contains one of the strongest verses in the album:

With your clothes on the floor
Taking advice from some old balding bore
You’ll ask yourself
Did I want this at all
Do you remember what I said
The book I left by your bed
The words that some survivor read

Song For Our Daughter as an album is not just for her own daughter, but also the young women listening to this album. While in earlier albums Marling was ‘one of us’ – enduring heartbreak, sleeping on park benches, dating unsuitable and unstable men – now she takes on a maternal role. In ’Strange Girl’ she sings, “You woke late for a job you hate / Which never fit the plan / Stay low, keep brave.”

There’s still a lot to empathise with though. “And I’m clearing all the stuff out of my room / Trying desperately to figure out what it is that makes me blue,” from Goodbye England (Covered In Snow) is certainly a mood.

Of course, a live stream is subject to all the freezes you can expect. We sit here, my love and I, watching Marling on stage alone – aware that almost 1000 other people are doing the same. Of course it’s not just us, a stream of this quality will be being recorded somewhere, to be watched in the nebulous future by others. Will they feel the sense of profound loneliness that seems to be emanating off Marling? Or be yearning to sit in one of the hundreds of empty seats in the Union Chapel?

On Twitter the voices of other audience members can be heard. One writes, “Laura Marling playing to an empty church is my corona jam,” another, “This Laura Marling gig should be prescribed by doctors.” The venue Tweets, “Keep clapping, we can almost hear you.”

In terms of accessibility, the song titles appear at the bottom of the screen for a few seconds, but an attempt could have been made at live closed captioning. Considering that each song is followed directly by another without any stage patter, it wouldn’t have been too strenuous a task for a good stenographer. If Songs of Praise can do it…

But it must be acknowledged that these live streamed gigs are incredibly accessible in terms of the inherent equalising of the internet. How many of those 1000 people could easily attend a concert at the Union Chapel in London in normal circumstances? Even if ticket prices were fairly reasonable for an artist of Marling’s stature – say £30 to £40 – the travel and accommodation costs can be a huge barrier. Live streaming lets those geographic limitations melt away.

All in all, Laura Marling: Live From Union Chapel was a beautiful concert, born from a beautiful concept. Song For Our Daughter is just a lovely, moving album and the live stream more than did it justice.

Words: Ana Hine
Images: Genevieve Bertagnolli

Laura Marling Live From Union Chapel

Alt-text: Image is Greyscale. Laura Marling sits alone on a hardwood floor, white-blonde hair falling around her face and partly stuffed into a comfortable looking grey jumper. She is wearing jeans. Her expression is half-way between a smile and a breath. Text on white has the event details and reads, Laura Marling. A solo concert broadcast live from the iconic Union Chapel venue in London. Limited number of exclusive pay-per-view tickets available to fans in the UK and Europe only. Tickets Link: Dice.fm/Laura-Marling-Europe.

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