Wednesday night at The Phoenix in Exeter marks the third night of a UK tour that Benjamin Francis Leftwich is headlining. But the act I’m here to see is Marika Hackman, and even without her usual band she shines through in an evening where it must feel easy to feel subordinate. I say this not because the support acts are less exciting than the headliner (rather the opposite, in fact: I prefer Joe Janiak and Marika Hackman’s sets), but because the room is jostling with a young (primarily female) crowd, who are without a doubt impatient for Benjamin Francis Leftwich to make an appearance. This is understandable to a point, but at a folk gig there is little to drown out this excitable chatter.
Firstly, some background on Hackman. Hailing originally from Hampshire, she moved down to Brighton for a while. Her family is now based in Devon, but she’s living as the only girl on a tour bus for the next five weeks. Straight after tonight’s show, they’re heading down to Falmouth. She released a double A-side single at the beginning of September, which was mentored and produced by a certain Johnny Flynn.
Hackman looks nervous before the gig. When she comes appears onstage, her uncombed hair lit like a halo by simple orange spotlights, this doesn’t entirely disappear. There’s no complacency about her, she’s here to get her name out, and she introduces each song with a slightly wavering voice. There’s a vulnerability and honesty to her set that Leftwich has to banish his band in order to achieve later on. It’s just her and her guitar in this small room. Her gig peaks with debut single ‘You Come Down’, its A-side ‘Mountain Spines’ chilling the room. It’s important to see her whilst she’s still performing in these smaller settings, because there’s a fragile intimacy, particularly in ‘Here I Lie’, that you can imagine might get lost in the space of a bigger venue.
Later on, after the show, I manage to chat to Hackman. She receives plenty of compliments and chatter from Leftwich’s fans who are streaming past to get their photograph taken with the headliner, but she deserves everyone’s full attention, and hopefully she’ll get it when it’s her name at the top of the bill. She says she’s constantly being compared to Lucy Rose at the moment: a resemblance she herself doesn’t particularly assent to. I find myself uncovering more similarities with Laura Marling – this, she says, is a comparison that she’s happy with. When I ask her why, she says that she identifies more with Marling’s slightly darker sound and her more earnest, story-telling lyrics. Having missed out on seeing Laura Marling at more intimate venues, I’d urge you to go and see Hackman when she embarks on her first solo tour next month. Best of luck to her – I have a friend who is avidly in love with Laura Marling and is getting very excited about Marika Hackman Already.