Laura Marling’s new band/project, the unappealingly-named Lump, showcased their recently released, self-titled album in the main hall of the Millennium Centre as part of Cardiff’s Festival of Voice. It was fitting that a singer of her extraordinary power and range should feature in the Festival, but it was clear from the start that this is Marling taking her place as part of a band, rather than her show.
So anyone who turned up hoping to hear Laura Marling sing her self-written songs from her Mercury Prize-nominated albums was going to be disappointed. A bit like when David Bowie chose, in the early nineties, to front Tin Machine, there’s clearly a wish on Marling’s part to be seen as a band member, in this case a co-collaborator with producer/instrumentalist Mike Lindsay, rather than the star she is. This was never more apparent than when the three Lump members who aren’t her took to the stage and started playing for a few minutes before Marling ambled on, strapped on a bass guitar and began to jam for a while, before she began singing one of the six songs from the album. When she swapped the bass for a guitar – and she’s a really good guitarist – she spent parts of the set slumped over the instrument in a style reminiscent of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood. As is her prerogative, she let the music do the talking.
I only really discovered Laura Marling’s music when I heard her last album, Semper Femina, which I loved. I’d heard the Lump album too in advance of this performance and it’s clearly very different. Gone are the folky, bluesy acoustic touches of the previous album, and in come repetitive riffs, loops and synths that give the Lump sound a quality that is reminiscent, to me, of eighties bands like the Durrutti Column, the Cure and the Cocteau Twins, and the later ‘shoegazer’ movement they inspired. The difference of course is Marling’s soaring, startling, wonderful voice. I like Lump’s music, but It’s the vocals that make it remarkable and, with a lesser singer (i.e virtually any other singer working in contemporary music), I doubt it would be considered anything beyond the ordinary.
Another thing. If you’re expecting onstage engagement with Marling or her Lump companions, don’t. They took to, and then left the stage, with a wave, and that was it. I don’t have a problem with that, but I know some people expect performers to chat or thank their audience. There wasn’t any of that. There also wasn’t anything more than the six songs before the auditorium lights came back on. No encore then, so the show was over and done with well within the hour. Again, this might disappoint some who came along expecting a long night out, and perhaps calls into question the value you’re getting for your £26.50 ticket. As it became clear they weren’t returning to the stage the calls for more soon dissipated. I think the audience was too polite to be miffed, even if they might have felt shortchanged.
So, in summary, I enjoyed the show. Laura Marling is a fantastic musician doing something different currently to the work she’s built her reputation on, which personally I admire her for. I wasn’t disappointed, but could understand if some of the audience were.