I love listening to the stories of my parents’ pasts. Each tale is intriguing – rubbing another smudge off the time before they were ‘my’ parents and I was ‘their’ child. Their adventures, losses and previous relationships all existed before my brother or I were even whispers.
With my mum the memories ring with eclectic characters and a rapid succession of different homes. My dad talks of climbing trees in London parks and sneaking out to gigs on school nights. He saw The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Buzzcocks, The Human League and many other bands that I classify as great ‘late seventies and early eighties music’ – whereas he merely sees them as the artists of his teenage years. What is personal memory to him is intangible history to me. And yet it is history that I listen to regularly.
I’m afraid that my own recollections will prove to be woefully short on live music (although amply replaced with LFW-attending and book reading), for several reasons. My rural location, and lack of transport, is one of the most problematic. Another is a general love for singers who are either dead or who no longer tour, which rather limits my chances of recounting thrilling experiences of live performance. Perhaps I'm slightly over-exaggerating, as I have been to the Big Chill twice, but I'm still something of a recluse in comparison to my peers when it comes to seeking out and travelling to see favourite bands.
A rare exception to the rule happened recently. I went to see Laura Marling at Birmingham Symphony Hall with my friend Ellen. The journey there was supposedly straightforward: train - walk - arrive at destination. But it was a plan that was skewed not only by a late train and an unreliable map, but also by leaving through the wrong exit! My usual instinct for direction was lost (as were we) as we wandered through the shopping centre, out onto the street and declared our disorientation. When we finally arrived at the Hall, the lights outside glittered like something from a Fitzgerald novel, and we had just enough time to climb the stairs and stealthily eat cookies before the lights dimmed and the support acts tuned up.
The first was Pete Roe. He had a low key, Nick Drake-y kind of feeling. The second, Timber Timbre, was (as described by Ellen): “The kind of bluesy music I’d listen to while lying on my bedroom floor on a rainy afternoon”.
Then, of course Laura Marling herself. Her music is articulate, moving and exhilarating. Each of her three albums has a different signature – almost a taste, or something to be visualised. That distinctive feel made itself known throughout the evening’s numbers. She was by turns rousing, and thoughtful – accompanied for two thirds of her set by an equally talented five-piece band. There was a particular moment of magic when she harmonized with her co-performers, and flecks of light were scattered like dust. ‘Magic’ is an over-used word, but completely apt here. I felt engrossed in every note that she sang, mirroring the lyrics in my head and crossing my fingers that each song wouldn’t be the last. Favourites – Alpha Shallows, Salinas, Sophia – echoed out through the rows and rows of red seating like scalloped hems. Live music is special precisely because it catches the audience in a net, keeping them enthralled. Marling’s voice was the silver thread that meshed us together.
Like many of my favourite singers, there is a strangely wild quality to some of Marling’s songs. You can take a girl out of the countryside and sit her down in Birmingham, but you can’t stop her from bringing the rural with her to the city. The outfit pictured is (aside from the heels) a recreation of what I wore there, with the focal point being the very delicious Nadinoo Bird shirt - which you may remember having seen me wear for the 'Sound of the Woods' Nadinoo video. Each winged illustration is labeled and carefully coloured, so that I feel like I’m wearing the ‘Observer Book of Birds’ whenever I put it on – which is often. The patchwork shorts were from a charity shop, and the jacket was also sourced second hand. Many thanks to Nadia for the shirt, and to Laura Marling for a night of music that will always remain memorable.