I can’t recall ever having been to a solo gig before. No opening act or backing band, just Laura Marling with the Lemon Grove stage to herself and three guitars. The wait is long (an hour and half from doors opening), the PA playing Leonard Cohen and the room temperature unusually hot for late March.
It takes a lot of self confidence to perform in such a way, but Marling treats it for what it is; a room full of friends yet to be met, but launches into her first song without pleasantries, only stopping towards the end when the smoke machine splutters to its death, explaining that she was trying to play along to it, but it was in 5/4.
This is the second time Marling has played Exeter, although she initially told us it was the first, before being reminded of her Cathedral performance.
As she started to get ready for her third song, the first of the faintings happened. Marling assured us they were getting help, with security rushing about, before continuing with the song.
The second fainting wasn’t long after, which led to Marling asking the audience to make sure they were hydrated and that if they weren’t, the next one would be a long one so it might be a good idea to go get a drink. Cue more chuckles from the audience. One audience member mentioned the air conditioning being turned on.
When the air conditioning finally came on, Marling stopped the song to comment on it and how it felt better. Maybe a minute passed before the next fainting, with someone at the back of the audience clearly exasperated by it, which caused the audience to laugh at the outburst.
On stage, Marling was performing superbly, whilst the situation off stage things seemed to be a farce. This led Marling to interrupt her next song to ask what was going on near the site of the first fainting, before realising it was a ‘good thing’, as fire escapes had been opened to allow plastic cups of water to be passed out to that side of the audience, with bottles of water being passed along from the opposite side.
With the drama over, Marling asked between songs if anyone knew the Latin motto for Exeter. At first no one responded and Marling reacted with mocking surprise, before one person quietly said ‘Semper fidelis’, which is the correct answer (I know because I Wikipedia’d it after the gig). She then asked the audience, with the exception of the person who knew the answer, what it meant. More puzzled expressions, silence and random guesses from the audience, before someone correctly guessed ‘always faithful’.
Having played covers of Dolly Parton’s ‘Do I ever Cross Your Mind’ and Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Kathy’s Song’, Marling introduced Short Movie b-side ‘Daisy’ by telling us it is about her friend Amazing Daisy, who is even listed in her phone contacts as such.
Daisy made a documentary film called Half Way about being made homeless and what it is like to live between homes. The song is about her, but specifically her great-grandmother, who was a prostitute who lived in Kent and met a Sicilian man who fathered her grandmother, who had Daisy’s mother, who had Daisy. Marling is glad that the Sicilian met Daisy’s great-grandmother, as without him there wouldn’t be an Amazing Daisy.
Finishing the set with ‘Rambling Man’, Marling pointed out it was her last song. She said that those who saw her at the cathedral might remember that she doesn’t do encores and doesn’t want to be seen as being rude if we were to decide to call her back. Nobody puts up an argument, as we’re grateful and respectful of such a performance. The end is the end and the usual ‘will they, won’t they?’ query is best answered, rather than guessed at.
If you get the opportunity to see Marling live, I recommend you do. You won’t forget it.