Sometimes, it feels as though Laura Marling can do no wrong. This performance, surrounded by flowers adorning the stage in Manchester Albert Hall, did little to dispute that claim.
Support came in the form of Ethan Johns, who played a mix of his own material and well-chosen covers (including a brilliant version of Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue). Johns’ laid back slot set an appropriate tone for the Sunday evening entertainment and assured the crowd they were in safe hands.
However, unsurprisingly, it was Marling who gave the more impressive performance. Choosing to play her latest album, Semper Femina, in order and in its entirety (with only Nouel coming out of order) was a bold move given that the record was only released two days before the gig, but it was one that paid off spectacularly. Marling and her band were flawless from the off, with her cut-glass vocals powerful and perfect, reciting her latest offering in case anyone hadn’t had a chance to listen yet.
When a mistake did come, with Marling missing the beat for her vocals on Always This Way, it was waved away with such self-effacing charm and grace that it only served to improve the performance. Similarly, a hilarious and mistakenly placed burst of guitar in the intro to a later song was dealt with smoothly by Marling, as she jovially admonished guitarist Simon, the perpetrator, before smoothly slipping back into the track.
This is a group that are clearly enjoying themselves and Marling’s easy charm appears to be shared throughout the band, with each offering a fun fact as part of their introduction at the end of the performance (although some “facts” seemed more reliable than others).
However, the absolute highlight of the evening was the now customary mid-set solo section. This is Marling at her best; just her and a guitar, engrossing and absorbing with each choice of song showcasing her incredible vocal talent and musical skill. Interspersed with naturally charming audience banter (“the only thing I can see lit-up from here is an advert for Prosecco cans, Manchester knows what’s up”), the eloquent and erudite songwriter cherry picked from an ever-increasingly impressive back catalogue, treating the audience to unaccompanied versions of What He Wrote, Nouel, I Speak Because I Can and a spell-binding Daisy.
Re-joined by her band, now visibly loosened and enjoying themselves, Marling wrapped up an impressive performance by re-enforcing her refreshing stance on encores explaining: “we don’t do them, nor do we expect them”. That may well be the case, but last night she thoroughly deserved one.