Laura Marling: O2 Academy, Leeds

Leeds O2 Academy celebrates International Women’s Day with Laura Marling, one of the UK’s leading and most respected female artists. She opens with back to back new tracks from sixth album “Semper Femina” all intricately beautiful and more accessible than 2015’s “Short Movie”. An eagerly anticipated album about femininity and female relationships it includes songs such as ‘Soothing’ and ‘Wild Fire’ played on the web and BBC Radio 6 for weeks. ‘Nothing, Not Nearly’ effects sporadic guitar chords and unique melodic phrases moulding to lyrics such as ‘The only thing I’ve learnt in a year where I didn’t smile once’ referring perhaps to her time spent in LA where she ‘had no identity’.

A white floral and green leaf display is flaunted around the mic stands and amps as Marling is centre stage in a floating cream dress blending with her pale skin and white hair. Solemn faced she sings staring to the upper balcony, a spotlight shining angelically down on her. Delighted drummer Ingram adds the perfect level of percussion from the kit right of the stage opposite two diva sisters whose harmonies tingle the spine. After also accompanying support act Ethan Johns, Pini alternates from upright to electric bass often using a bow. Marling is brought various acoustic guitars for different songs and Ribchester embellishes on electric guitar at left back stage. The band are invited to tell their experiences of Leeds as Marling dryly recalls having her first panic attack here aged seventeen.

‘The King Charles Spaniel at The Brudenell is cool’ Marling comments which is where I first saw her in 2008 with a much smaller set up. Always writing with a maturity beyond her age, at 27 she has gracefully collated an impressive and sophisticated back catalogue. She has a certain air about her with grace and a stance which captivates her audience.

Wishing the audience a ’happy women day’ Marling aptly plays ‘Naomi’, ‘Daisy’ and ‘Sophia’ solo with acoustic guitar. In ‘Daisy’ the sisters add inspirational backing vocals on the topical lyrics ‘Woman alone is not a woman undone’. By the end of ‘Sophia’ the whole band is in full throttle as Marling comments ‘the boys are back’. They continue with songs from “A Creature I Don’t Know” flowing from ‘Don’t Ask Me Why’ into ‘Salinas’ as per the record. Marling’s vocals dance from effortless utterances alike to speech into pure elongated notes. Each word is thoughtfully delivered and unfailingly heard.

‘Once’ from “Once I Was An Eagle” is played live more fervently than recorded as the band turn it into a 1950’s ballad. Marling’s acoustic guitar style is early Cohen and her lyrics a less masculine form of Dylan. She tells stories with a unique and individual voice. Her intimate songs build special lifts with small embellishments from each member of the band. Her subject matters are rarely positive delivering an alternative persona to the woman who leads the performance with her witty, confident and amusing commentary in between a precise and prepared set list.

I’m sure I am not the only one present to be taken back to my own memories with Marling’s soundtrack of the past 8 or so years, while watching the blissful wash of mood lighting projected on the backdrop of the new album artwork symbols.

Announcing they don’t do encores, their finale is ‘Rambling Man’ from “I Speak Because I Can”. ‘It’s hard to accept yourself as someone you don’t desire’ echoes around the O2. Everyone jigs and sings along to the vamping Country chorus. Marling is a strong independent female, chief of a brilliantly balanced band delivering a gentle performance of an inspiring collection of songs. Who better to see performing on 2017’s International Women’s Day?