On a cloudy Sunday afternoon last month at Worthy Farm, Laura Marling and her five-piece band took to the Pyramid Stage for Glastonbury 2017. With an enchanting 53-minute set that combined tracks from across five of her six albums, the Laura Marling show offered the perfect antidote to our Sunday-at-Glastonbury aches and pains.
Of course, this year’s Glastonbury was not Laura’s first. The success of her debut album Alas I Cannot Swim won her a spot on the Pyramid Stage at the festival in 2011, and more ardent fans may remember catching a very young Laura on the Greenpeace Stage in 2009.
As someone who, before this year’s festival, had only heard the singer perform live to smaller, more intimate audiences, I’d always had the impression that it was that sort of audience she preferred. I wondered how her performance might be affected by the inevitable throngs of festivalgoers that frequent the Pyramid Stage.
But, as ever, the songstress gave a performance so classy and self-assured that it had no trouble holding the larger audience transfixed.
The show began with Laura gliding onto the stage in a floor-length silk dress. Ever faithful to her original ethereal aesthetic, her band members stationed themselves amongst equipment adorned with ivy garlands and wreaths.
Dispensing with formalities, they launched straight into a rendition of the captivating “Soothing“, the first track on her most recent album Semper Femina. As on the record, it was an anticipatory drumbeat that opened proceedings. Said beat was then joined by an eerie bass hook, before Laura’s voice emerged crooning over the top.
The next two songs played were also members of the Semper Femina family. The mellow “Wild Fire” offered comfort to those audience members disarmed by the edgy tone of “Soothing”. Then, listening to “The Valley“, we were reminded of Laura’s poetical prowess as she sang, “We love beauty ‘cause it needs us to; it needs our brittle glaze. And innocence reminds us to cover our drooling gaze.”
As an album, Laura’s most recent album is very different from what has gone before. Her attempt to move away from her folky-roots is clear, with her latest work sounding less Joni Mitchell than Karen Carpenter.
After two more songs from the latest album, “Nothing, Not Nearly” and “Don’t Pass Me By“, we were transported back a few years by a performance of “Sophia“, a track that appeared on the 2012 album A Creature I Don’t Know.
This charming song was particularly well received, as the audience appeared to relax into a more retro-sounding Laura performance. The same rang true for the next song, “Once“, during which the exposed backing vocals, provided by sisters Emma and Tamsin Topolski, revealed plainly the huge talent of Laura’s musicians.
A particular highlight from the remainder of the set was a performance of the mesmerizing “Daisy“, a lesser-known ditty that Laura wrote about a much-loved friend. After a dedication to Daisy herself, during which Laura said more words than she had throughout the whole of the rest of the set, her vocals on “Daisy” were beautifully exposed, her diction so clear you’d think her a friend telling you a story over coffee.
The lyrics of “Daisy” are particularly poignant, and as Laura protests, “I think that you look at us all wrong – a woman alone is not a woman undone”, we are reminded that the theme of femininity and the way it’s perceived has long since been present in Laura’s music.
If I arrived at the Pyramid Stage for Laura Marling’s set not knowing quite what to expect, I left reminded of why she is one of my very favorite musicians. Her performance was honest, unapologetic and, as always, soothing. Keep up with Laura Marling on Facebook, Twitter and her website.
Words by Katherine Holmes