“I’m sorry you have to listen in the gutter next to two sex shops”.
The most significant thing about Laura Marling is not her age. It is remarkable, astonishing even, but it’s not the most important or even noteworthy thing about her.
Hers is an extraordinary talent – voice, lyrics, music, presence. No wannabe celeb, aspirant popstar-babe. Rather a determined woman with an overwhelming desire to communicate through word and music.
Last night, though, her age got in the way.
It wasn’t clear why no one was being allowed into the Soho Review Bar even after the support acts were supposed to have been on stage. A long line of people, held behind a roped-off area, snaked along the alley alongside the building and round the corner into the larger road. The gig had sold out in advance and many had queued for returns. Members of her band stood on the cobbles chatting and smoking.
Suddenly a diminutive figure appeared from inside the venue. Bleached blond hair shining under the many-coloured lights of Soho’s sex trade. Wrapped in a black duffle coat, frayed gold canvas pumps on her feet, no makeup.
“They won’t let me play because I’m not over 18” she announced, after asking if anyone had come to see Laura Marling. So she and her three band members lined up against the metal-shuttered window of a shop and played their set, right there in the narrow space between high walls.
It was an extraordinary event and performance. The fire and passion of the woman were clear, her determination (and, I thought, bravery) obvious too. “We’ll just keep going til we’re moved on” she said. Fortunately nobody came to interrupt the six songs (Hg counted them). The drummer, presumably usually behind a full kit, knelt on the stones in front of one small drum which he caressed with his brushes. Another band member carried an accordion which he didn’t, in the end, ever play, presumably because its sound in the space would have drowned out all else.
We had, for twenty minutes or so, an utterly unplugged, bare-bones bravura performance. Even the unsteady, heavily tattooed bottle-toting passers-by waited until she was between songs to stagger past, voicing their appreciation as they went. It was a thrilling, unique and highly memorable occasion.
At the end of the last song I found myself standing next to Laura Marling’s mother, who had been pointed out to us (God knows that I love her). “Congratulations” I found myself saying in that utterly absurd fashion that one does on such occasions to complete strangers. Possibly because I’m easily old enough to be Laura Marling’s mother myself. She was, needless to say, proud of her daughter. But couldn’t understand why she’d been prevented from playing. “She’s done gigs all over the country. They know she’s 17. She’s never been stopped from playing before.”
Ultimately, selfishly, I’m glad it happened. Because I was part of something special, something that I’m sure won’t happen again and I was there at the beginning of a career which I believe is going to go a long way and produce some very beautiful music.
(Hg filmed the first song on his mobile, but after that gave up the distraction preferring to give his full attention to the music. His review is here. Thank you so much for suggesting we go! I took pictures, trapped behind a lens too long for the confined space.)