The Craufurd Arms in Milton Keynes looks pretty inconspicuous as you draw up, but upon entering (slightly late due to car problems) I’m greeted with the second support act of the night. Those who have managed to arrive early-ish are treated to the haunting tones of singer-songwriter Sophie Jamieson. Armed with just an electric guitar on this tour and not her usual band, Sophie’s set is stripped back and soulful. Her unique voice soars above the small venue. She mumbles some humble thank-yous after each song and apologises for spilling her wine earlier with a sheepish smile, but she largely keeps audience interaction to a minimum – which is fair. Her music speaks for her – dark and shimmering. Those who have stayed rather than filling up at the bar pay rapt attention. Jamieson plays material from her two EPs, highlights including ‘Take’ and ‘Waterloo’, which showcase Sophie’s stunning voice well and the electrical ambience that infects all her tracks.
Marika Hackman takes to the stage very quietly to a smattering of applause from those who notice. From her music you might expect her to come on stage in something floaty and ethereal, but her jeans are ripped and her hair is loose. She cringes at the applause a little – “I always feel like a fake when I get applause before I’ve started – like I should have done something, like jump through a hoop or-“ she looks down at herself and then at the audience, smirking “or maybe worn a dress!” It appears Hackman is well aware of her reputation for looking scruffy, then. It does nothing to deter her or the audience. She opens with a song from a 2013 EP, ‘Retina Television’; just her and an acoustic guitar, which sets the tone for the rest of the gig – peaceful, beautiful and enchanting, with an undercurrent of darkness and melancholy. Hackman switches out her acoustic for an electric after a few songs, giving an edge to another EP song ‘Cannibal’. Hackman has quite a catalogue to choose from, having released her debut album this year with twelve completely original songs.
Hackman’s speciality is sombre storytelling and her performance is understated to suit this style but she seems willing to show she has a sense of humour too. Before introducing ‘Monday Afternoon’ she giggles. “This one’s a real banger” she tells the audience with a smile “A real happy-clappy story” before explaining that it’s about a girl who wastes away in a wood whilst waiting for her love. It’s a mournful ballad, a twisted fairy-tale that puts the audience in a trance. They understand they have not come to dance.
‘Animal Fear’ does however inject a little more pace into the gig, with more focus on the electric guitar and well placed reverb. Hackman brings some intimacy to the gig with an anecdote about ‘Claude’s Girl’, explaining that it is a lullaby to herself, inspired by her brother playing Debussy’s ‘Girl With The Flaxen Hair’ to send her to sleep when she was younger. It’s a touching story and makes the acoustic song she plays next tug on your heart. She follows it up with more material from both her album and EPs like single ‘Ophelia’ and ‘You Come Down’ and she covers Joanna Newsom’s ‘81’ with an elegance and an assurance that makes you well believe it was her own track. The duet ‘Skin’ is delivered as a solo, but lyrics like ‘I’m jealous of your neck / that narrow porcelain plinth of flesh’ sound just as eerie sung by Hackman alone, echoing around the small venue.
Hackman closes with ‘Cinnamon’ off her Sugar Blind EP which is just as in-keeping with her solid but yet delicate set. As the last guitar chord hangs in the air Hackman smiles at the modest audience as they clap heartily, and then she ducks off stage, in a manner suited to her minimalistic style. The audience is left dreamy – stumbling to their cars and home.
Hackman is set to continue her UK tour with further dates:
We Slept At Last is available now on iTunes, vinyl & CD.
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