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A few days before the arrival of Laura Marling’s sixth album – review right here - Wind Back Wednesday returns to the beginning of this career, in February 2008, as her debut, Alas I Cannot Swim was released. She was 18 and already bloody impressive.


It is tempting to say that Laura Marling leaves a trail of destruction behind her.

After all, when your music is a blend of folk and acoustic pop, when Beth Orton and Joni Mitchell are more likely to be mentioned than Liam Gallagher, and when your singing voice is intimate rather than shouty there's nothing better for your rep than wild behaviour.

And it should be noted that it is undoubtedly true that 24 hours after we speak in a tiny corner pub in north London, the famous Camden markets across the road from that pub will go up in flames. Cause? Unknown. Marling's location at the time? Unknown.

Sadly for the freshly minted 18 years-and-one-week-old, whose pale face and pale blonde hair almost glow incandescently above a trench coat buttoned to the neck, the worst you could say about her today is that the dark nail polish on her fingers is chipped and uneven.

For heaven's sake, not only is she well spoken, articulate and willing to laugh at the visiting journalist's jokes, she covers her mouth when she swears, saying "excuse my French".

Instead of coarsening her, the 10 months she's spent in the city after bolting from her home town just out of London ("I wanted to get the hell out of Reading as soon as possible.") have merely confirmed for her the wisdom of the long-awaited move.

"I really did want to do music and I spent all my time at school doing music and for the last two years of school I spent all my time going up to London to do music," Marling says.

Ah, is that an explanation for why she failed English? Her eyebrows shoot up immediately, both amused and ready for combat.

"I failed English, but can I explain why? Because I was coming up to London to three times a week to do gigs," she laughs.

She must have been paying attention in class at some point. As much can be told from her lyrics, which have a playfulness that can only come from a frequent reader, and the fact that her song Tap At My Window is based on a poem by that most decidedly non-popular music man, Philip Larkin.

But there was something singleminded about her musical pursuit and not just the fact that she learnt to play four instruments and was performing in nondescript venues and dodgy rooms from the time she was 15.

Although her father was a songwriter in his youth, ran a studio (he now works "in the city") and introduced her to Joni Mitchell, the expectation for her and her two sisters was university, careers and "being sensible".

You might think then that that point when Marling realised that she was and could be a musician happened a long time back. But no.

"I've been gigging for like three years but that moment, I think everyone has that moment, only came about a year and a half ago," Marling reveals. "Previously I had released an EP which I wasn't happy with. It's not good. I have it on good authority that it's not good.

"I wasn't happy about that and I started listening to [American underground singer/songwriters] Bonnie Prince Billy, Nina Nastasia, very serious songwriters, and I thought I'd better up my game because I do love doing this. Then I wrote the My Manic EP and I thought this is at the very least a progression and I was excited that you could train yourself to do something."

The easiest move for her might have been to go from being a fan of Bonnie Prince Billy and Nina Nastasia to being an imitator of their bare, dark (or some might say glum) minimalism. She didn't go there. Her debut album, Alas I Cannot Swim, has swelling strings, flashes of humour, many hummable tunes and roots in English folk as much as American Gothic country.

It has brought her a thick clipping file of laudatory reviews, appearances on programs such as Later … With Jools Holland (watch it online and you won't fail to be impressed by the quality and simultaneously amused by her eyes fixed on the floor in terror performance) and what's looking suspiciously like a career.

"At the end of the day this is a job but I chose the job I love to do. And most of it is incredibly fun and incredibly exciting, and sometimes a little bit terrifying," Marling says. "But it's my career and I've got to be focused."

Next, the business plan!

"God, you sound like my dad," she rolls her eyes comically.

(And if you'd like to dig deeper with the younger Marling, especially if Semper Femina is your introduction, here's a story from 2011 where she brooked no frippery.

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