Maer / Iamthemorning / Cellar Darling

Drill Hall, Chepstow

6 October 2023

A year ago, Anna Murphy (Cellar Darling, based in Switzerland) and Marjana Semkina (Iamthemorning, based in the UK) started working together as Maer, releasing one single, with hints that there would eventually be an album.

It's the kind of project you know that you will never see performed live. Because, how are they ever going to manage the logistics of getting together to tour, and finding a set of musicians to form a touring band? It's imposs—


Maer open the show. Anna and Marjana sit on stools to sing. Anna plays hurdy gurdy and Marjana plays guitar. Behind them, most of the rest of Iamthemorning and Cellar Darling form their five-piece backing band.

They start with their first single, Sister. A drawn-out instrumental opening slowly builds, and Marjana sings the first line.

And it's the most beautiful sound you can imagine.

Their voices blend perfectly, the backing band play tastefully, complementing the singers without ever overshadowing them, and the song is beautiful.

They then play their second single, Poisoned Waters—literally finished just a week ago—and then that's it, they leave the stage. Two songs is all they have. But I am satisfied. I have seen something I never thought I could see, and it surpassed all my imaginings. This was just beautiful.

There is a short delay while things get reorganised, and then Iamthemorning come on. And while Maer was an extremely welcome icing on the cake, Iamthemorning is of course why I am here.

It's the same line-up as their Prognosis appearance: Gleb (piano) and Marjana (voice and occasional guitar) are joined by long-standing collaborator Evan Carsen (drums) and new collaborator Liam (guitar). I'm right at the front, accepting that the sound isn't always optimised for the front row, but everything sounds clear and powerful and properly balanced. I think it's a better sound than at Prognosis, and I also feel that the band is gelling better now than they did then. Liam in particular brings a lot to the song arrangements, complementing Gleb's piano lines to bring a fresh edge to these old favourites, and rolling out some shredding solos where there's room for them. He's not just an amazing technical player, he really gets what Gleb and Marjana's music is all about, never losing the delicacy these songs need. He is a great addition to the live line-up.

“This is our only cheerful song. It's about death.” Marjana has a unique rapport with her audience. She jokes about the the darkness of the subject matter she's naturally drawn to, but at the same time she knows that it's this subject matter that draws us to the band. We're here for her stories of death, despair, and mental asylums.

Tonight, she tells us she's nervous because this is their first tour for years, and I actually think she might genuinely be, because her usually assured stage patter feels unsure and unfocussed. But there's not the tiniest hint of nervousness when she sings. And depite all her negativity on social media leading to the gig ("I'm sick, I'm tired, I don't think my voice will hold out"), her voice is still the perfect instrument it has always been. The Maer songs didn't give her scope to stretch her voice very far, I thought, but she more than makes up for that in the Iamthemorning songs. The way she controls her voice is remarkable. She shouts, and whispers, and wails, and rages, and utterly convinces you she means every word. There's a whole world of vocal dynamics in every song, all focused on conveying the emotion of her powerful lyrics. And again I marvel, as I do every time I see this band, at how songs so dark can be presented with such beauty. It's miraculous. And it's why I keep coming back again and again to see them do it.

I'm not allowed to tell you this was the best concert I've ever seen, because it makes Marjana cross. So I'll just say, I love this band. And that's all.