Marika Hackman – The Bullingdon, Oxford

There’s a palpable energy in the room as the final sound check for Our Girl take place in The Bullingdon. I overhear discussions of main act Marika Hackman’s setlist, her current touring band, and her evolution from her first album to this year’s I’m Not Your Man. It’s certainly promising that the audience is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic for an £11 gig on a Wednesday midway through term time for the local universities.

The audience is not impatient, though, and that’s just as well, as Our Girl take the stage to deliver a fun and intriguing set of tight indie rock full of rhythm changes and guitar solos behind frank lyrical musings, none of which would let the crowd get bored on their own, let alone when brought together into a buzzing whole. Led by Soph Nathan of The Big Moon, charmingly backed by bassist Josh Taylor and drummer Lauren Wilson, the band’s rapport is jokey if a little nervous. Who can blame them, having to prepare the room for the act to follow? They are definitely still having a lot of fun, though, grinning at each other and revelling in their respective roles, and it’s rubbing off.

When Marika then walks on stage to a whimsical tropical tune, whoops and shouts from audience members welcome her and her three backing musicians – all of which can be seen in the wonderfully retro video for “Time’s Been Reckless”. Enthusiasm and some direct compliments fly their way, and they return just as much joyful energy back to the room. You’d have to try pretty hard not to get caught up in the punchy riffs, lively drums and playful harmonies. The setlist is geared towards their more upbeat songs, and it fits the Bullingdon perfectly, getting everyone moving and the more enthusiastic of us singing along. Time flies as they play what feels like hit after hit – a testament to Hackman’s impressively strong catalogue of songs.

Suddenly, though, Marika announces they will be playing their last song, though she quickly undercuts this by quipping “I’m a terrible liar”. But there is still a pleasant surprise, in that she returns on her own to give a haunting performance of “Cigarette”. If there was any doubt about her adeptness at finger picking or musical versatility in my mind, it vanished within seconds, as she chills the upbeat room to the atmospheric silence of a whole room hanging on her every word and pluck of a string.

Then, as the song ends and the tone settles, the rest of the band are brought back on and they round off the night with a few songs to return the mood to its previous high and leave everyone there wanting more.

TL;DR: see Marika Hackman live. Seek out her upbeat concerts and understated acoustic sets. Her music won’t be forgotten anytime soon, and with any luck she’ll continue adding to an already strong repertoire of catchy hooks and poignant lyrics.

-- Max Bastow, December 5, 2017