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As Laura Marling’s three-show solo tour of Australia, in March next year, inches closer, it’s a good time to go back, right back, to her first performances in this country.

This review, from August 2008 – when she played three gigs in three days and probably left Australia not certain she’d even been here - features the English singer/songwriter backed by a drummer/singer whose other band did a few things soon after too.

It also shows how even in a semi-addled state, the raw Marling was captivating.



The Factory, August 5

This is not an analogy likely to be appreciated by Laura Marling, a seriously talented 18-year-old Englishwoman with a 35-year-old’s perspective on life, who cares not one whit about football of any stripe.

Nonetheless, one of the arguments for reducing the number of interchanges in league is that fatigued athletes allow the game to open up so everyone can "express their talents" rather than being pummelled by power.

On a night where just up the road in Enmore the louder and trendier Englishmen the Wombats were drawing a big crowd, the slight figure of Laura Marling provided the evidence for the interchange theory.

Marling told us that she was exhausted, had fallen asleep at soundcheck and was likely to make little sense during her show. Far from an excuse for a lacklustre set however, the exhaustion loosened up a woman normally uncomfortable on stage, who now laughed often, bantered with the crowd and even acceded to a request to play a simple and moving excerpt from Neil Young's The Needle And The Damage Done.

This time she did not have to rely on the bon mots of her already taxed sideman Marcus Mumford, a genuine one-man band who played drums, mandolin, ukulele, xylophone, and accordion and sang.

Instead the pair made it very clear just how deeply rooted in folk music are Marling's songs, from the regular un-pop harmonies and the troubadour-like Rebecca to the sway of Alas I Cannot Swim and the horny-handed ambience of Blackberry Stone, which was more 18th century than 21st.

Some of Marling’s songs, such as My Manic And I, can feel like the work of very smart teenager "knowing" life more from books than experience, but others such as Your Only Doll, with its tale of sexual awakening, and the stalker-rich Shine have depth and insight to match their melodic qualities.

And promisingly, a new song possibly called Rambling Man was easily the most Joni Mitchell moment in her career so far, not just for its splashes of soprano but its mix of observation from afar and blunt openness up close.

Clearly sleep (like Sonny Bill Williams) may be over-rated but Laura Marling is not.

In 2020 Laura Marling plays: The Studio, Sydney Opera House, March 7; The Outpost, Brisbane, March 10; Meat Market, Melbourne, March 12.

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