Laura Marling, Gloucester Cathedral, Gloucester
Glen Campbell, BBC Radio Theatre, London
Laura Marling's cathedral gig delivers great acoustics, but her dreamy songs are not as uplifting as Glen Campbell's final tour
Sunday 23 October 2011
Gloucester Cathedral has played host to some decidedly unchristian events in recent years, notably the filming of scenes for Harry Potter and Doctor Who.
It nevertheless feels strange to walk in through the main arch and hear its vertiginous Cotswold limestone pillars and fan-vaulted arches echo to the sound of Bowie's "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" and Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood's thinly veiled sex-and-drugs duet "Some Velvet Morning", while glasses of mulled wine and Tyrell's crisps, are sipped and nibbled by an audience whose choice of neck warmer – keffiyeh for the studenty girls, pashmina for their mums – is the only indication of a generation gap.
The fact that Laura Marling is able to perform a tour of English cathedrals without a peep of consternation from the clergy is in some way a sign of failure: if an artist is considered safe enough to perform in front of an Anglican altar, they are surely doing something wrong.
Marling is not one to frighten the horses. The precociously prolific indie-folk star – three albums by the age of 21 – trades on the twee. It's somehow fitting that in order to enter the cathedral via St Michael's Gate, you walk past the shop where Beatrix Potter's sewing mice from The Tailor of Gloucester "lived".
Hers are songs that acknowledge Styrofoam but otherwise belong in a Thomas Hardy world, her shimmering guitars suggesting a world of sailing boats and apple carts. Her voice, pure and clear with a touch of vibrato at the end of each line, is in the tradition of Judy Collins or Mary Hopkin. She does what she does, and it's all very lovely. The acoustics, obviously, are amazing.
Marling's diffidence and studied shyness is a running joke, and her timorous speaking voice is clearly an affectation we're meant to find adorable. She tells us about the nearby Marling School being founded by her great-great-great-great grandfather, and her band- mates fill us in on the fact that the delicate stained-glass win- dows contain the first known depiction of golf.
"Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)" causes the closest thing to uproar, by which I mean a few whoops and camera flashes. The nearest thing to chaos comes when she fumbles the end of "The Muse". "I wrote that song", she blushes.
Laura Marling: a talent, yes, but not one to grab your sleepy soul by the lapels and shake it awake.
"I've been around since Hitler was alive,"says Glen Campbell, fully aware that given his past, and his present, nobody knows where this harmless statement of fact may be taking us.
Campbell is one of the paradoxical figures in American culture. The arch-conservative traditionalist and friend to Nixon and Reagan whose most fruitful collaborations were with long-haired anti-war stoner Jimmy Webb. The God-fearing Christian whose legendary alcoholic and cocaine-fuelled excesses once resulted in him being found playing golf at dawn in his underpants.
And now he faces the cruellest contradiction of all: a heritage act who's losing his memory. The 75-year-old was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and is bowing out with one last album – Ghost on the Canvas – and one last tour. Everyone knows this, and everyone is braced for an awkward evening. It's a relief, then, that for the most part, you'd never know there was anything wrong.
The leather-jacketed septuagenarian bounds out and, backed by a band containing his daughter Ashley on banjo and keys and his sons Shannon and Nicholas on guitar and drums, gives a note-perfect rendition of "Gentle on my Mind".
The Jimmy Webb songs, in particular, retain their power to destroy you. He affects to forget that Webb wrote "Where's the Playground Susie?", one of the all-time great end-of-relationship heartbreakers, but he doesn't need reminding how to sing it. "Galveston", with its soldier's confession "I am so afraid of dying", has gained extra poignancy. And "Wichita Lineman", the inner monologue of a lovelorn telephone engineer, is transcendent.
It's unclear how much of his forgetfulness is real and how much is put on. Frankly, you see men a third his age looking more bewildered on a stage. I may have come expecting tragedy, but I leave uplifted.
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