In Defence of Laura Marling

Posted on July 20, 2012

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written by Robert Pollard- photograph Sam Ellis

It may seem odd that someone feels the need to write a piece defending Laura Marling given the unblemished nature of her career. Three albums in and she is riding high; selling out large gigs, making albums the Guardian fawn over, and taking her pick of festival dates. She has complete creative control over her career and two mercury nominations and a Brit Award for Best Female under her belt. She’s only 22.

Despite this there are still some dissenting voices. I am regularly quizzed as to exactly why I like her, often by the very people whose musical opinion I respect the most. This pattern unnerves me and makes me question my love for her music (which is no bad thing I don’t think). Their complaint is either that she is bland and uninspiring, or pretentious and unlikable. Or a combination of them all. These question marks have had me thinking a lot lately, particularly after her performance at Latitude Festival, where her credentials were once again placed under the microscope by friends whose musical opinion would normally correlate with my own. Here is my response.

Firstly, it’s important to state that Laura Marling does not sit snugly in my usual musical listening. This week, for example, it’s been a cocktail of bands with a punk ethos: Deerhunter, Joy Division, The Fall and Buzzcocks. These bands are linked by their obvious rejection of musical perfection; their dislike for polished musicianship and production a defining feature of their sound. I love that about these bands. Not only is it cool music that inspires me, I get off on the fact that they seem like DIY bands, with a sound attainable by any aspiring set of musicians. They’re rough around the edges and we all like a bit of that, right?

Laura, on the other hand, goes for musical finesse; note-perfect vocals, traditional, poetic lyrics, and clean tones and production. Her construction of songs is also more complex than the bands stated above; with middles eights, breakdowns, time signature changes, and layered vocal harmonies threaded throughout her catalogue of work. This appears to offend some people, but for me it’s exactly why I like her. She unashamedly thinks big where song-writing is concerned, attempting to be as well oiled as possible. As much as I love the garage band approach of certain outfits, I also like it when an artist is capable of producing sounds that nod to the more traditional music. Laura does this brilliantly. Her love of the finest folk means she reproduces many of its best qualities: Joni’s personable lyrics and ability to lay her heart on the line; Bob Dylan and Neil Young’s chord progressions; and Fairport’s sense of drama and dynamic.

Folk does have a tendency to sound slightly up its own arse but when it’s done well it can be captivating. Laura fuses the best bits and adds her own twist, bringing it in line with modern music, something I think is her greatest achievement. Folk seemed down and out. She has almost single-handedly made it modern again, and for that she deserves great praise. Unlike flabby fakes Mumford & Sons, and the other so-called ‘saviours’ of folk, Laura has class, imagination and ability. Blind followers of nu-folk will disagree, but she stands almost unchallenged as a British folk act who actually understands the genre.

Another regular complaint from the Laura naysayers is directed at her privileged background. Having been privately educated at a school in Reading, she displays the look of someone who has fine dined and been well looked after. Her father was a music teacher who passed on the best of American and British folk to his youngest daughter, from Neil Young to Joni Mitchell via Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Basically, she was given all the tools she needed to be an articulate, intelligent writer and musician. This air of privilege winds some people up but I don’t see her as a cliché goody-two-shoes rich girl at all. She has attitude. I can almost imagine her backstage, cigarette in hand, lamenting the fact that she has to go out and play to her fucking audience again. The thousand yard stare that has become a defining feature of her stage presence also warms my cockles. She is an atheist despite her private school being of a Quaker disposition, which again makes her cool in my eyes. Far from being a far-right Christian do-gooder, Marling is actually a just a likeable folk expert with brilliant song-writing skills. For me, she is the finest British song-writer of her generation and she will be remembered long after she’s gone. Let’s embrace her rather than be sniffy about her overt folk credentials or her posh background.

So, there you have it. A defence of Laura Marling. Not the most groundbreaking piece of music literature but music literature nonetheless.

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Posted in: Music