ON A WEEKEND in which some of her fellow folk revivalists were busy dividing opinion at Worthy Farm, Laura Marling was finishing a run of unique, ‘immersive’ nights in a world far removed from the easy, egalitarian vibes of Glastonbury.
Marling, now LA-resident, is ploughing a furrow very much independent of the likes of the Mumfords, and this extraordinary event – the details of which were kept typically cryptic to the last by organisers Secret Cinema – has added an enthralling, intriguing new dimension to her output. We were simply told to wear vintage black tie, and bring a series of ‘props’, including flowers, old books and photographs of ex-lovers.
By the time she joined LA artist Eddie Berman on a first floor balcony for a rendition of Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’, Marling’s audience was already willingly captive. This beautiful Victorian venue provided a smorgasbord of delights, each room beguiling its visitors with disarming surprises.
Not that the punters were passive – where one room rustled with paper and card as guests created self-portraits, another echoed with the rattle of ancient typewriters installed for their spontaneous entertainment. As if wanting to show closure, the self-portraits of nights gone by blanketed the high walls in the former, while old, well-loved novels added to the musty smell of paper and ink in the other. Further down the corridor, a room wallpapered with old love letters and photographs, memories exorcised by guests to claustrophobic but fascinating effect. The sound of ice tinkling glass tumbled down the grand staircase, a curious percussion to the support acts playing in the chapel and the games room.
The evening began with a warm welcome to a fictional hotel, the year, 1927; the event, The Eagle Ball. This, like the rest of the evening, was a reference to Marling’s new album, Once I Was An Eagle. The welcome came from Master and Lady Undine, The Grand Eagle’s ‘proprietors’ and a reference to Undine, which begins the album’s second half. The song is Marling’s take on a German folktale in which the eponymous water nymph curses her husband to stop breathing the next time he falls asleep. The album’s Interlude played, ghostly and ethereal, in most of the rooms, perpetuating an atmosphere of mystery and memories jaded by time.
And so, to the ball itself. Marling and her band rattled through the opening four-song suite from the new album before she brought the rest of the album to life solo. Marling’s growth as an artist is clear to see – besides her undoubted talent as a guitarist, to witness her perform is to see the injustice of tired comparisons with Joni Mitchell, Marling has many more dimensions than almost any artist her age, and while some influences are plain and sometimes explicit – Marling often channels the sprechgesang of Dylan, and his stamp appears deliberately on Master Hunter – her palette is subtly complex, her musical genealogy marvellously tangled, echoing across time, genre and continent through this extraordinarily talented young woman.
As a mythical evening came to a close, stepping into the London night felt rather like stumbling out of the Narnia wardrobe. Indeed, there is something rather mythical and mysterious about Marling herself – beautiful, unreachable, impenetrable, almost abstract, like an undine, or a high society grand ball of 1927: a world we can never truly know. This was never more evident than during stunning set closer, Saved These Words: “Should you choose/should I choose/to love anyone/anytime soon/then I save these words for you.”