Marianne Faithfull played a triumphant sold-out show at the Southbank Centre yesterday, and I savoured every moment of it. I’ve long held a huge amount of respect for her. She’s one of the few female performers around who deserves to be seen as an inspiration to her many fans. An incredibly intelligent, original thinker, she is also an immensely prolific and talented songwriter.
She has never lost her charisma or zest for life, despite having lived through some terrible circumstances – as is widely known, she was destitute and homeless for much of the 70s, addicted to heroin.
In late 1979, she reappeared with a new album Broken English, and a rough, harsh voice of experience startlingly different from the angelic one she used to have, but all the more powerful and emotive a singer for it.
At this show, part of her 50th anniversary tour, she was truly on form. Crackling with enthusiasm and unbridled energy, despite suffering from a broken hip, she was more than willing to make jokes on her own account. In fact, she actually came on stage with an exaggerated hunchback, and proceeded to quote Shakespeare’s Richard III.
She then blasted into a rousing rendition of the bluegrass-sounding Give my Love to London, the title track from her latest album (this album has, incidentally, received great critical acclaim, hailed by some as her masterpiece). Give my Love to London the song bristles with irony and cutting sarcasm, with such lines as ‘I’ll take you all the places I used to know so well…from paradise to hell’ and ‘Chelsea looks very pretty in the sacrificial light’.
The show was a perfect mix of new songs largely from Give my Love to London (such as The Price of Love, originally by the Everly Brothers, the hopeful, Roger Waters-penned Sparrows Will Sing, the haunting Falling Back and Mother Wolf, in all its surging fury) alongside older hits – Sister Morphine, The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, Broken English and Come and Stay with me, among others.
Marianne made clear, however, that this would not merely be a ‘greatest hits’ sort of show, but that she would perform some rarities. She sang a great vaudeville-esque number which she had not only never before performed live, but had not actually been recorded, called Who Will Take my Dreams Away? A rare treat, this made the night even more memorable.
Fittingly, Marianne ended with Last Song, which she co-wrote with Blur’s Damon Albarn.
The experience of seeing her so electrifyingly alive despite her years and the struggles she’s experienced (and, of course, the more prosaic pain that comes with having a broken hip) was incredibly moving.
Marianne projected a lot of love and joy out to the audience. The response was rapturous applause and a standing ovation – the very least she deserves.