Laura Marling clearly has a wide-ranging appeal with as varied a queue as you’re ever likely to see at a Bristol gig snaking its way around the balconies and stairs of the Colston Hall’s still-fresh foyer area before doors time. As we filtered in to stalls level, the crowd then divided with the fit young things (and me) heading forward for the rail and the more “Radio 2″ part of the audience making their way to the seated area at the rear but all with the excitement that comes with an internationally-acclaimed artist stopping off in Bristol.
First up in support was Pete Roe, who would later take the stage again as part of Marling’s band but for now quickly got the audience on his side with a combination of excellent folk acoustic guitar skills, lyrical story songs and a friendly stage presence. It helped, of course, that Roe lived in Bristol for some years. In fact, he tells us, he used to live at Bristol Jazz pub The Old Duke and work the bar there, so this is a man who gets Bristolians and the Bristol music scene. Though the Colston Hall was probably still only half full by the end of his set those that had come early were captivated and it’d be well worth hunting out on YouTube. Pete Roe’s EP The Merry-Go-Round and album Propeller are available from iTunes.
Next up was another “one-man-and-his-guitar”, Canadian Timber Timbre. To be honest, the work that Pete Roe had done in warming up the crowd and getting their attention was very quickly undone by a series of miserable and inaccessible folk/blues songs with such cheery lyrics as “I’m coming to Paris to kill you” and “You dug me out of a shallow grave”. Timber Timbre is usually a three-piece and it did feel that perhaps the songs would have benefited from the depth of a few more instruments. Fans of Tom Waits might have found something to like here but judging by the chatter from the previously attentive crowd and the number of people who were fiddling with their phones, I think it was a bit much for the cheery folk of Bristol.
On to Laura Marling then and what is there to say about her that hasn’t already been said? Combining effortless vocals with catchy but thoughtful lyrics and here supported by a skilled band, it was bound to be a good set and it certainly delivered. Music like Marling’s should be heard live with all the beautiful imperfections that that brings and certainly through the Colston Hall’s soundsystem Marling and band sounded great, almost always exceeding the studio versions of the songs from her albums and with many a goosebump moment such as when the quiet verse of Ghosts launched into full band harmonies for the chorus – stunning.
After foxing her guitar tech by dropping in an unplanned new song during the solo part of her set, she realised she was in the perfect tuning to treat us to a beautiful cover of Ryan Adams’s Winding Wheel. With the band rejoining her on stage, she introduced us to each of them with some fact-based banter, each bringing a Bristol-themed fact (mostly from Wikipedia) except the double bass player who hadn’t done his homework, evoking pantomime boos from the crowd! From the quieter folk of the start of the set, things then built to a more rock crescendo as they played through to the end, announcing before the last song that they don’t do encores or that they do and this is it. Yes, the whole charade of going off and coming back on again for an encore is a bit ridiculous but without it there was a bit of a flat feeling after the final song.
Of course, the crowd will always want more of Laura Marling and I’d have happily listened to her talk and play long into the night. We can only hope that Bristol remains as a stop on future tour schedules.