March 2020. Coronavirus fever is gripping the nation. The shelves are bare of thermometers, anti-bac liquids and lavatory paper. Images have begun circulating on social media of commuters on the bus wearing buckets over their heads. There is talk restrictions may be placed on mass gatherings and public events. For the moment however, this remains but a dystopian prediction. This is just as well, because tonight I’m at the O2 Forum Kentish Town for Hampshire-born singer/songwriter Marika Hackman and her biggest ever London headline show. I’m pleased to say there’s a refreshing lack of face masks. It’s a young crowd.
To the accompaniment of the X Files soundtrack, the band emerge – all four members dressed in natty black boilersuits, which, allied to a complete absence of spot lighting during opening song the one, means they’re quite hard to actually see. Fortunately, with the passage of time, things brighten up.
Marika is promoting her third album Any Human Friend. Released in the latter half of 2019, it was one of RockShot’s albums of the year and marks the end of a transition for Hackman from an alt. folk artist to a master of gritty melancholic rock. Uncompromising lyrics abound.
The up-tempo numbers from the new record such as i’m not where you are and conventional ride are banged out by the four-piece with conviction and on the floor, Marika’s fuzz box takes a good stomping; but this turns out to be a gig of two halves.
Following conventional ride, the rest of the band depart the stage and Hackman performs solo. Wanderlust, Claude’s Girl and Cigarette (the latter two from previous albums We Slept At Last and I’m Not Your Man respectively) are delivered with just her beautiful, willowy voice and the twang of a Fender Mustang.
This was the last night of the tour and The Forum is a much bigger venue than others in the run. In truth, it was probably a little too big and as a result, the upstairs was closed. You’d think intimacy would be lost in a top half-empty, cavernous venue, but the crowd downstairs were transfixed during the solo songs and there was a refreshing complete absence of catching up on the days’ events at the bar. This meant a wonderful silence in the auditorium whilst Hackman played and it resulted in a very special atmosphere. If only all crowds could be this respectful.
The band return and are introduced to the crowd. Shortly before closing out the main set, they play hand solo, another one from the new record. Marika declares: “This next song is about masturbating!”, and a massive cheer from the crowd is forthcoming. No explanation is required though because the lyrics need little imagination: “When I’m alone, it’s automatic, oh. I dig for life in the isle of my thighs…”. You get the drift. There’s a brief solo vocal part and the words get screamed back to the stage.
There is a short break before a couple of encores, the first of which is a cover of Elliot Smith’s starkly bleak Between The Bars. Hackman plays it solo again. There is completely respectful silence in the crowd again.
The show closes with the title track from Any Human Friend. I’m struck by how few mobile phones have sparkled tonight in an otherwise dark auditorium. This crowd actually want to experience the music in the moment and it’s a joy to be a part of it. I conclude Hackman has just about the classiest fans around. Kudos to them. Perhaps even more importantly, a complete absence of coughs and sneezes punctured the silences. Phew.
Marika Hackman live at O2 Forum Kentish Town review and photography by Simon Reed. Simon has his own photography website at: www.musicalpictures.co.uk