Sunday, 30 October 2011
Under a grey October sky we joined a queue stretching the length of Birmingham Cathedral and across the churchyard green.
Everyone in the line had snapped up tickets for the last day of Laura Marling’s For Whom the Bell Tolls tour (you had to be quick because they sold out in a trice) and the sense of excitement was palpable.
The tour has seen the singer play a series of gigs at cathedrals up and down the country. Whoever came up with the idea should be applauded because if the Birmingham concert was anything to go by, England’s cavernous cathedrals offer the perfect acoustics for Marling’s amazing voice and storytelling lyrics.
She played two Birmingham events, one at lunchtime and a second in the evening. We had seats near the back but it didn’t matter because Marling, a slight blonde figure playing acoustic guitar, commanded the entire place from start to finish. From the moment she arrived at the front and quietly said “I’m Laura,” we sat spellbound. There were no gimmicks, no accompanying musicians and barely any chat. Apart from a couple of anecdotes about her former days touring in a five-piece band stuffed (drum-kit and all) into a Ford KA, she kept everything simple – and just sang her heart out.
With three albums and the 2011 Brit award for best female solo artist to her name, it’s hard to believe that Marling is only 21. Just hearing her play some of my favourites, Night Terror, Goodbye England (Covered in Snow) and Sophia, made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Every number she played was her own apart from a haunting cover of Jackson C Frank’s Blues Run the Game, which, she recalled, she used to listen to on a mix-tape driving home from concerts in the early days because she couldn’t afford to stay in a hotel.
I didn’t realise at the time but Marling never plays encores. It could be that the hundreds in the audience didn’t know either, or maybe they just couldn’t bear to accept it. As the final chords of Marling’s guitar faded away, the claps, cheers and foot-stamping sounded loud enough to raise the cathedral roof from its rafters. But with a quick shy smile and the lights catching the top of her blonde head, she was gone.
PS: Today’s Mail on Sunday reports that Pippa Middleton is close to signing a book deal on how to be the perfect party hostess. The Duchess of Cambridge’s sister already writes a blog on children’s parties for her parents’ mail-order business, Party Pieces, and apparently the book will have a tone similar to the blog. In a recent blog entry, says the MoS, Pippa advised: “The key to creating a wonderful party lies not in spending vast amounts but in planning – from choice of venue, entertainer and party theme to the selection of food, decorations and the birthday cake.” Talk about stating the blooming obvious. I’m sorry, Pippa, but you’re going to have to do a lot better than that...