BREVIEW: Laura Marling @ O2 Institute 14.03.17

BREVIEW: Laura Marling @ O2 Institute 14.03.17 / Rachel Mason - Birmingham Review




 Words by Damien Russell  Pics by Rachel Mason

Hot on the heels of her album release, Laura Marling embarked on a 32 date international tour  – playing to a sold out show at the O2 Institute on 14th of March.

It’s a gig I’ve been looking forward to. I like the album, Semper Femina (although it’s not perfect), but my friend is a long-term fan of Laura Marling and is mad keen for the show. I’ve not seen Marling before but hear good things, so I ignore the fact it’s been a long and stressful day and commute up from Basingstoke to be there just as the support band are starting.

Said support are a four piece country/soft rock group who are melodic but slow. The singer’s quite quiet and in-between songs I have no idea what he’s saying, so I must confess I never got their name. They unfortunately fail to get my enthusiasm, and I see pockets of people chatting who seem equally disengaged.

The band are clearly competent but just a bit too slow and a bit too laid back. Their last song, before clearing the stage for Laura Marling, is an up-tempo number and exactly what they should have been doing the whole time. It’s a shame as you can see they recognise that song is the best received, but just don’t seem to have made the connection.

BREVIEW: Ethan Jones – supporting Laura Marling @ O2 Institute 14.03.17 / Rachel Mason - Birmingham ReviewI notice there doesn’t seem to be much activity preparing the stage. It seems odd but I don’t have to wait long to find out why; out with Laura Marling come the bass player and drummer from the support group, as part of her backing band. A nice touch and something that must make the tour more efficient. Additionally Marling has two backing singers and an electric guitarist.

The first song of Laura Marling’s set is ‘Soothing’, the opening track from the album. In fact the first five tracks tonight are the first five off Semper Femina, played in tracklist order. ‘Soothing’ is my favourite song off Semper Femina and while I feel it’s only right that it has such a prominent place in tonight’s set, I am disappointed that the double bass I’m certain must have been used on the record to get that fantastic deep sound is nowhere to be seen. The double bass does feature on later songs in Laura Marling’s set tonight, but not on the one I feel it really needed (to read Damien Russell’s Birmingham Review of Semper Femina, click here).

BREVIEW: Laura Marling @ O2 Institute 14.03.17 / Rachel Mason - Birmingham ReviewThe five track Semper Femina section is followed by a tri-song treat of Laura Marling on her own, performing tracks #7 and #8 (‘Next Time’ and ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’) again from her latest LP, alongside ‘What He Wrote’ from the 2010 album I Speak Because I Can. The final new track, ‘Nouel’, finishes off this section of the set with the full band again. I like the split and the way all of the new tracks are performed together, it has a touch of the dramatic about it and is something I rarely see done.

The tracks themselves are lovingly reproduced from the album to the stage, and although I pick up a couple of small arrangement changes for the live setting each track is easily connected to the studio version. But when Laura Marling takes the stage alone, it’s a real highlight of the set; her stripped down version of ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’ is, in my opinion, much better than the album version. Her solo performance of ‘What He Wrote’ is the best song in the set by far.

BREVIEW: Laura Marling @ O2 Institute 14.03.17 / Rachel Mason - Birmingham ReviewFollowing the new material, Laura Marling and her band run through some of her best known other songs – including ‘Daisy’, ‘Don’t Ask Me Why’ and ‘Darkness Descends’ – before ending the set with ‘Rambling Man’ and her trademark announcement that she doesn’t do encores.

Musically, the group were solid and the songs are obviously good, but there’s something missing in the band’s performance tonight that makes me wonder if they’re as well rehearsed as they could be. There have been a few minor slip-ups tonight; nothing major, but coming from either inexperience in the musicians (hard to believe) or a lack of preparation time.

Laura Marling herself is excellent musically but spends the gig gazing into the middle distance, leaving me feeling a she’s not entirely with us tonight. We get a couple of “how are you?” but little in the way of other banter or engagement.BREVIEW: Laura Marling @ O2 Institute 14.03.17 / Rachel Mason - Birmingham Review

On the whole, it was a good night but it was far from a great one; even the reactions from the other crowd members seemed muted. I think next time I see Laura Marling (and yes, I think there will be a next time) I’ll make sure it’s at one of her solo shows. Otherwise I’ll stick to the albums.

For more on Laura Marling, visit

For more from O2 Institute, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit

For more from SJM Concerts/Gigs and Tours, visit



ALBUM: Semper Femina – Laura Marling



Words by Damien Russell

Laura Marling performs at the O2 Institute on Tuesday 14th March, as presented by SJM Concerts/Gigs and Tours. For direct gig info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

Laura Marling, having lived in both the UK and the US, has a breadth of experience to draw on and has undoubtedly been exposed to a wide variety of musical genres, styles and eras. I say ‘undoubtedly’ because it’s all here for the listening in her new album, Semper Femina.

Over the course of Semper Femina we are treated to the jazz and blues undertones of opening track and first single ‘Soothing’, British folk stylings on ‘The Valley’, ‘Always This Way’ and ‘Wild Once’, Southern rock and blues on ‘Wildfire’ and ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ and a definite country twang to ‘Next Time’ and ‘Nouel’.

A wide and varied mix – one that would be easy to make jarring, but Marling flows from track to track without difficulty. Not seamlessly and certainly not in any kind of concept album style, but making the nine tracks feel like an album, not just a collection of songs.

One of the things that helps with that is the well crafted instrumentation; the string section, double bass, harmonies and guitar take turns in the limelight, rising and falling between tracks and making way for the next ‘lead’ in turn. This means that while the styles move quickly, the instrumentation moves more slowly creating a sense of harmony between the tracks. If deliberate (and I see no reason why it wouldn’t be) it’s masterful and great to see real thought put in to making an album in a world of single track downloads.

Of course nothing’s perfect, and while I absolutely appreciate (and support) the artistry and craftsmanship of Semper Femina I couldn’t help but feel that some of the tracks were too long. I hate to be the guy who complains about track length, and I will sit and listen to 7/8 minute songs when the content is there, but some songs felt more like a set sequence of sections repeated just one too many times for me. If we could have lost thirty seconds off a few of the longer tracks and got one more song on the album; that would have been preferred.

When it comes to individual songs, in so many ways, the album opener is the most important and ‘Soothing’ is a fantastic choice for Semper Femina. One of the strongest tracks on the album, it channels a funky vibe that I could only describe as being what I imagine a Morcheeba/Gotye collaboration might be like. A total winner for me.

Contrastingly, the last track on the album, ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’, is jarring and not to my taste. It comes so close to working itself out but still, unfortunately, so far. I found myself ending Semper Femina and playing ‘Soothing’ again just to keep that positive vibe in my mind. And while each track has its own merits the other outstanding song on Semper Femina for me is ‘Wildfire’, which gave me a real Janis Joplin vibe underneath the definite Laura Marling vibe.

Overall Semper Femina a cracking album; in no way do the few bad points outweigh the good. It’s a fantastic demonstration of Laura Marling‘s talent and feels like considerable effort and thought have gone into the bigger picture, as well as each individual song. Semper Femina is certainly a record that will stay in my playlist and I can’t wait to see some of these tracks brought to life on the O2 Institute stage.

‘Soothing’ – Laura Marling (directed by Laura Marling)


Laura Marling performs at the O2 Institute on Tuesday 14th March, as presented by SJM Concerts/Gigs and Tours. For direct gig info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

Semper Femina by Laura Marling was released on 10th March 2017 by More Alarming Records via Kobalt Music Recordings. For more on Laura Marling, visit