“HEAVEN forbid I should ever offend anyone,” joked neo-folk singer Laura Marling towards the end of her set as she explained away her decision to never play encores, yet there was about as much venom in her voice as you’d imagine ever intrudes upon her honeyed tones.
Now on to her fourth album – and with a fifth due shortly –Marling has become in certain perceptions the epitome of the middle-class, middle-of-the-road singer-songwriter whose objective remains never to offend.
It isn’t a view that survives sustained contact with her songs in the live environment, certainly not the more recent ones. Pretty but unaffected in leggings and white blouse, her blonde hair tied back so as not to distract her from the task, Marling stood alone on a very bare stage with only a second guitar for company. She doesn’t even have a guitar tech these days, she said, and her show is now “15 per cent tuning”. The sense of isolation was absolute, but not unpleasant, as her vocals filled the hall while skipping through the reflective Ghosts or evoking the chill of a clear winter’s night during Goodbye England (Covered in Snow).
For those who weren’t there, it’s hard to describe just how sharp and transporting Marling’s voice is in person, a timeless, rootsy sigh which illustrates her evocative lyrics personally, from the bittersweetness of Love Be Brave and Alpha Shallows to the upbeat self-reflection of I Speak Because I Can and the raw, angered power of Master Hunter. To hear it is to know you’re in the presence of fast-emerging greatness.