On a night when a much celebrated international artist would be top of the bill, you couldn’t help but wish Husky all the best.  These wishes however, were never needed.  Quietly sneaking back into the country after time in the ‘States, local lads Husky warmed a well versed Forum crowd with their brand of brooding, Orwellian folk.  Lead by the bearded Husky Gawenda, the simple but crafted set including the rasping “History’s Door” proved not only a welcome opening but food for thought at the bar later.  Touring strongly on the back of their debut album Forever So, we’ll surely be hearing more from this band of dream-folk troubadours.

Enter the fray from stage left, Laura Marling with band in tow. Twice nominated for the Mercury Music Prize (her 2008 debut Alas, I Cannot Swim and 2010’s I Speak Because I Can) before the age of 21.  And gorgeous.  Some people just have it all.  You could be forgiven bitterly dismissing her out of unbridled jealousy… but you can’t.  And you won’t.

Slinking onto the stage with her assembled band, flanked by Graham “Grazzly” Brown on double-bass and Pete Roe on piano duties, Marling quickly put the room at ease as by floating “I Was Just A Card” from last year’s acclaimed third album A Creature I Don’t Know.  Following quickly was “The Muse,” opener from the same album and we’re given early insight into something of a transformation.  As multi-instrumentalist Marcus Hamblett shifts from trumpet to banjo, the clear and unapologetic stylistic differences between Marling’s latest album and the opening brace.  While there would appear to be no reason at all to some to go ahead and fiddle with such a successful formula, the conscious effort to appear ‘less quintessentially English’ was made.

With a few tunes out of the way, the guarded and often pained lyrics had begun to bring the jammed room nearer – suddenly, we could have been in someone’s lounge room, but that’s the draw.  Doll-like under her blonde bob, Marling sheepishly engaged the crowd, self deprecating and sweet to the point of reeling off awkwardly inane anecdotes to which she was all too aware.  Again, the room moved closer.  “Fact based stage banter.  That’s me,” she quipped, glancing about the stage for support before gliding through a medley of “Don’t Ask Me Why/Salinas” to cheers from the crowd.  Marling’s withdrawn and often sullen tuneful presence is so contrasted by her well honed skills as a guitarist that you couldn’t imagine what some of the leather clad stage heroes might think.

Following a room-silencing solo version of “Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)”, Marling let slip that it was her birthday earlier in the week – she’s now the grand old age of 22.  Personally, that made me feel a little better and I wasn’t alone grinning through another dose of doe-eyed fact-based banter.  Her parents, she told, would like her to smile more and not appear “quite so severe…”  Problem posing to the extreme, as the reverse effect of nonsensical smiling leads to the issue of becoming the “unstoppable Wally.”  Stories aside, we were treated to more facts, this time from the band.  Space facts from Pete Roe, pummelling any thought from Marling that she may be the biggest Wally in the room.

A doting, faithful version of Ryan Adams’ “My Winding Wheel” amid the warm harmonies and intelligent arrangements only drew us all further, hovering about the front of the stage while the earthy sweetness of her voice rang around the room.  But, there was something telling.  Approaching the ideal time to round things out, Marling told of her frustration of bands leaving the stage only to goad the crowd into cheering them back – so she wouldn’t be doing so, but something was missing.  For all the tender sounds and worldly lyrics, we hadn’t yet seen enough.

One of Marling’s great songwriting skills is the sullen, heart aching Cohen-esque winding tale.  Here, we received little of it, including some notable absentees such as “The Beast” and “What He Wrote” so leaning all toward the cheery side before skipping through a no nonsense set-end. Rounding out were the star gazing “Alas, I Cannot Swim” and the ever-tender “Rambling Man” leaving gaping dribblers like myself to ponder what might have been.  The fact that the set was upbeat left it no-less strong, but it’s the subtle, ever-so-English moods that could have brought on so much more with their very inclusion.  Maybe next time as for now her star shines brighter with every show.

– Ciarán Wilcox