Live: Daniel Johnston, Laura Marling, The Wave Pictures @ Union Chapel, London

We arrived at Union Chapel to catch the end of The Wave Pictures‘ earlier-than-advertised slot. The Leicestershire band delivered an assured performance and have certainly come along way since FFS last saw them at End of the Road 2008. Closing with the brilliant Strange Fruit For David, it becomes clear why The Wave Pictures are so well-loved by established alt-folkers like Jeffrey Lewis and Darren Hayman.

Unassuming in jeans and with scraped back hair, Laura Marling kicked off her set with old favourites Ghosts and My Manic & I.  During the latter summoning up more venom for the line “I find you wrapped up in all manner of sins” than anyone watching the lone figure — tiny on the vast stage — would imagine her capable of. Now-established live tracks Rambling Man, Hope in the Air, Made by Maid and Mama and How Far I’ve Come were all served up with confidence and sensibility, making FFS yet more impatient to hear her second album, apparently due this year.

For the first six songs Daniel Johnston is alone on stage accompanying himself, and it’s not until his backing guitarist appears that his songs take on a more conventional form and he is shown irrefutably to be a fantastic writer of pop music.  We are treated to Hey Joe, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Your Grieviance and True Love Will Find You In The End.

After a backing appearance by The Guillemots, Daniel is joined by The Wave Pictures for the final part of his set, lending him a fuller, rockier sound. Daniel is an unlikely frontman for an indie band, but like everything else he does, the combination works incredibly well.

In comedian Josie Long’s DVD Trying Is Good she says: “Daniel Johnston isn’t trying to be eccentric, he’s trying to be The Beatles. And what results isn’t The Beatles, but it’s amazing and beautiful in its own way.” Tonight Daniel plays three Beatles tracks: Talkin’ Bout A Revolution, Come Together and You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away. And it’s during these that he comes the most to life, when his voice is strongest and he seems the most comfortable.

His 21-song set, however, is no poorer for the vulnerability exposed during the rest of his performance. Daniel is frail and shaky — at one point stopping a song midway through — saying ‘maybe that one was too long for me’ before going off for a break and, although we fear for him and at times feel like we shouldn’t be watching, we are also mesmerized. At times on stage, he embodies the desperation of his own lyrics perfectly. There is none of the sheen or bravado of Ryan Adams, for example, who seems so insincere in comparison. Every single emotion is laid bare for all to see. It’s a troubled but brilliant performance from a troubled but brilliant artist.

Words: Lynn Roberts