Laura Marling’s Semper Femina is a confident and detailed expression of femininity, owing much of its success to Blake Mills’ meticulous production and unusual instrumentation. Wednesday 8th March saw Marling grace Leeds’ O2 Academy, offering a stripped back but ultimately satisfying rendition of the album before its release and some old favourites.
Proceedings were kicked off with album opener ‘Soothing’, a scathing dismissal of an old flame. Nick Pini’s decidedly crunchy six string bass gives the live version the gritty sleaze and movement it needs, in lieu of the soaring string arrangement found on the LP. Likewise, the ineffably beautiful strings of ‘The Valley’ are also noticeably missing, though if anything their absence only serve to isolate Marling’s flawless voice and delicate guitar arpeggios. Live, ‘Next Time’ manages to somehow transcend the recording; impressive Judee Sill-esque counterpoint from backing singers Emma and Tamsin Topolski appear even more dramatic than the orchestration found on record.
Marling certainly does not hide her influences: ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ is very much reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s take on Joan Baez’ ‘Babe I’m Gonna Leave You’, though interspersed with Cuban flourishes, undoubtedly a suggestion of Mills’. Continuing on in order through the album, the delicate ‘Always This Way’ and ‘Next Time’ hark back to some of her earlier work, following her experimentation with more country and western sounds on 2015’s album, Short Movie. This result she credits to Semper Femina being an album “based in thought”, where Short Movie was an album “based on a landscape”.
The day of the gig coincided with International Women’s Day, something I’m sure Marling is a strong advocate of. In respect of this, she played three songs about women, and perhaps my three favourite tracks of hers throughout the years: ‘Nouel’ (Semper Femina), ‘Daisy’ (Short Movie) and ‘Sophia’ (A Creature I Don’t Know), all as intricate and elegant as each other. Much of the remainder of the set came from A Creature I Don’t Know and Alas I Cannot Swim interspersed with jovial anecdotes about Leeds. The evening overall was simply divine, Marling going from strength to strength with her guitar-playing skills, professionalism in performance and exquisite vocals.
Semper Femina is out now on More Alarming Records.
Flora Tiley and Harry Byford