Marnie performs ethereal and enthralling electro-pop that connects at her intimate Glasgow show.

When the programme for the 25th anniversary of Celtic Connections festival was announced there were a few shows that instantly jumped out at me. Marnie playing the snug surrounds of Glasgow’s west end gig-goers institution – The Hug and Pint – was the first of these.

Since being the lead vocalist, keyboard player and songwriter in pioneering band Ladytron, Helen Marnie has released two solo albums – her 2013 debut ‘Crystal World’ and last year’s stunning follow-up ‘Strange Words And Weird Wars’. Tonight she thankfully delves into both releases, providing the tightly-packed crowd with plenty of opportunities to dance…if they can find enough room.

Marnie opens her set with the new wave echo of ‘The Hunter’ before shifting into the throbbing anxiety of ‘Lost Maps’. Backed with vocals, guitar and keys from HQFU – the electro alias of local artist Sarah J Stanley, who also remixed ‘Lost Maps’ and designed the ‘Strange Words And Weird Wars’ album cover – the cosmic sound seems to require a bigger stage. However, Marnie makes it work – using and owning every inch of the stage while filling the rest of the sold-out venue with sparkling pop.

The swaying synths of ‘We Are The Sea’ take us into the punchy ‘Alphabet Block’ with its soaring chorus. ‘Summer Boys’ slows things down with dreamy pop waves that rise and crash with the beats. Noting the change of focus “from boys to girls”, ‘G.I.R.L.S.’ is a real thrill with its staccato string samples complementing her crystalline, but warm, vocals. ‘Sugarland’ then strikes a darker chord before the ridiculously catchy ‘Bloom’ gets the audience dancing as best they can in the space available.

Whether striding across the small stage or barely moving behind her Korg while her fingers do the work, Marnie captivates. However, it’s a pity that her beguiling voice is sometimes overpowered by the music – as someone indicates by shouting out at one point in the set. During the gothic intensity of ‘Heartbreak Kid’, the ebb and flow of her voice devours the music despite the sound issues. This is wistful pop but with a sinister edge – a unique sound influenced by her vocal dexterity.

Her self-confessed “most 80s sounding song” – ‘Electric Youth’ – is a simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting 80s power-pop anthem and feels more befitting of a prom night dance floor than a slightly sweaty basement. The epic and haunting ‘Submariner’ closes the set in a shimmering soundscape that sparkles in the room along with the light from the glitter ball. The whole performance has been dazzling.

This was a fairly short set at just over 50 minutes, but I’m not complaining. This was a rare opportunity to see someone with such a vast sound – and presence – enthral from such a small stage.

Photos © Rhiannon Law

Set List

The Hunter
Lost Maps
We Are The Sea
Alphabet Block
Summer Boys
G.I.R.L.S.
Sugarland
Bloom
Heartbreak Kid
Electric Youth
Submariner