It is no big statement to say that we are living in strange and trying times. In America, 2020 has gone from an unprecedented presidential campaign (remember Mike Bloomberg?) to the worldwide coronavirus & lockdown to massive anti-police brutality protests. A few months have felt like a few centuries – a few centuries without, among many things, going to live music. Festivals from South-by-Southwest to Oktoberfest have cancelled, and every musician’s tour has been called off, from your favorite indie artist to Mötley Crüe’s reunion. Thus, it was wonderful to take a pause from it all and watch Laura Marling play a private show online at London’s Union Chapel on Saturday, June 7th.
Having released Song For Our Daughter (QRO review) two months ago, Marling would have likely been out on tour behind it right now, were things anywhere close to normal. Instead, she and ATC set up two livestream shows in her native London on the 7th: one at 8:00 PM Greenwich Mean Time, and one 7:00 PM Eastern Standard – which was 5:00 AM on the 8th to her. Yet the songstress showed no sign of the wee hour, alone on stage without any backing band (a few furtive glimpses of a cameraman & a guitar-providing tech were the only times anyone else was seen throughout the show).
A particular treat for North American fans was getting to see the beautiful Union Chapel, before maybe only noted on someone’s tour itinerary. An actual working church in the neighborhood of Islington, the performances raise money for it, and if this night there was no audience, that let the camera work capture the nineteenth century Gothic Revival, stained glass windows included. Indeed, for much of the set Marling performed near the center of the space, with the camera slowly circling her to take the whole place in.
Perhaps knowing that there were probably many fans watching her then that had never seen her live before, Marling didn’t start with the new record, but rather with 2013’s Mercury Prize-nominated Once I Was an Eagle (to be fair, the two before that, 2008 debut Alas, I Cannot Swim and 2010’s I Speak Because I Can were also up for the Mercury, and 2017’s Semper Femina for a Grammy), with songs like “Take the Night Off” – an obviously great pick for an opener – “You Know”, and “Breathe”. Alone on stage, Marling let the songs speak for themselves, with no stage banter; she obviously couldn’t interact with the crowd, but we all could use even some one-way human interaction these days.
The middle of the set was dedicated to Daughter, with “Fortune”, “The End of the Affair”, “Song For Our Daughter”, and “Strange Girl” all done in a row (perhaps to limit the number of instrument switches). The back end drew from further back, such as Speak’s “Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)” (which works even if you were in America in the summer) and evening closer “Once” from Once.
Yes, it was hard to shift one’s mindset from everything that’s going on in the world, everything that’s going on in your life, to watch a livestream. And it’s very easy to get distracted watching from home (drink prices are better, though…). But making it a ticketed live event pushed one to push everything else away, make it true event, and appreciate beautiful music in a beautiful place during these not-so-beautiful times.
-photos by Joel Ryan