Laura Marling & Nick Mulvey Review

RIVKAH BROWN reports back from The Corn Exchange, where a confident Mulvey and a nervous Marling teamed up to deliver a satisfactory evening.

ben howard Cambridge Fever To The Form Junction Laura Marling Love Be Brave Mercury Prized Nick Mulvey Once I Was An Eagle Portico Quartet The Corn Exchange Where Can I Go?

Wo/man plus guitar. It’s a simple formula that’s stood folk music in good stead for years, and certainly didn’t let either Laura Marling or her warm-up Nick Mulvey down last night. What did, for Laura at least, was chemistry.

Nothing is better than a gig whose warm-up act is headline material in itself. In fact, Nick Mulvey will indeed be headline-material when he returns to Cambridge on his UK tour in November. The founding member of the Mercury-Prized band Portico Quartet, whose eponymous third album was released last year, Mulvey has (temporarily) ditched the band to breakaway on a solo venture. Turns out he’s better off without them.

Mulvey is perhaps best described as a less whiney Ben-Howard-a-like with more technical skill and a propensity for humming. The humming, which became something of a joke towards the end of the gig, nevertheless stopped his songs from floating off into the warbly ether, giving them depth and an almost hypnotic hold on their audience. A noticeable pattern was that his covers were less confidently delivered than his own material, which he reeled off with an easy energy that seemed to emanate from him like light.

The sort of bloke you’d bring home to meet your nan

Mulvey wrapped up his set with the truly beautiful ‘Fever To The Form’, whose rhythmic strumming gave structure to its mellifluous vocals, which might otherwise have dissolved into insubstantiality. Perhaps Mulvey’s most impressive trait, and one essential to a one-man-band, was his snake-charmer’s ability to judge the audience desire for fast or slow, to adapt his pace in order to carry them with him. This he did with effortless skill; hundreds of spellbound eyes fixed on him like glue until the very end.

Strangely, this made Mulvey something of a hard act to follow. However, this was not Marling’s first time at the rodeo, and the minute she stepped in front of the microphone, she came roaring to life with a stormy rendition of the title track from her latest record, ‘Once I Was An Eagle’. Like Mulvey, she seemed a conduit for the energy that ran through her as she sang, hanging limp from the microphone (which I’d noticed she’d adjusted a few inches too high for the purpose) as the words flowed from her.

Microphone level and looking confident – but it was a different story last night

Problems arose, however, when singing gave way to talking, and the maelstrom Marling had whipped was deflated by softly-spoken shyness. The audience, panicking at Marling’s inability to confidently hold the stage, began whooping and shouting ‘we love you Laura’, which at most other gigs would have been funny/part-and-parcel, but this was just plain awkward, with Marling ignoring heckles and powering on with her set.

But if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em: in the silence preceding ‘Love Be Brave’, Marling decided to fess up about her ineptitude at stage chat, detouring into a sweet anecdote about her Dad telling her to come out of her shell on stage. And lo and behold, she did. It didn’t take much for Laura to win back her audience, and after a self-deprecating comment or two and a confession of semi-plagiarism (‘Don’t cheat and lie,’ she advised), the awkwardness had evaporated, leaving only the bittersweet taste of ‘Where Can I Go?’

Once she’s mastered the art of pairing a mesmeric voice with a magnetic stage presence, quite far I reckon.