Marika Hackman playing a gig in a disused swimming pool on the day that her latest album come out: it feels like a silly release party of old. In any other year, she would be joined by crowds of fans ready to celebrate with her. Around the edges of the pool basin as she and her perform, though, there is nothing – just lights and technical equipment, and some mirrors on the ceiling reflecting the stark scene.
Although it’s far from ideal, it’s fitting that ‘Covers’, the London-based singer-songwriters new collection of, yes you guessed it, cover songs, should be marked like this. Hackman worked on it when the UK first went into lockdown, returning back to her parents’ house in Hampshire and using the time to dive into some of her favourite songs. Now the country is back in Government-imposed exile, her reworkings can provide a distraction for everyone else too.
Tonight (November 13), she mixes a setlist of some of those covers with “a few golden oldies”, as she puts it, from her own back catalogue. After a serene version of The Shins’ ‘Phantom Limb’ reverberates gently around the pool, she switches gears. ‘I’m Not Where You Are’, from her 2019 album ‘Any Human Friend’, is spiky and bright. It’s a pattern that extends through most of the rest of the evening – a soft, stark cover followed by a dynamic shift into a more upbeat original.
It’s hard to discern which tracks are Hackman’s own and which are the ones she’s chosen to put her own spin on is, a testament to her distinctive style. Grimes’ ‘Realiti’ – one of the most changed songs on ‘Covers’, shifted from an electro banger to needling guitar and wintry atmosphere – sits neatly next to ‘Apple Tree’ from 2017’s ‘I’m Not Your Man’. Sharon Van Etten’s ‘Jupiter 4’, meanwhile, is as darkly lush as ‘Gina’s World’. “It really does make me 10 times more awkward not having an audience and I’m already awkward,” she jokes after the latter.
After foreshadowing things with ‘Send My Love’ and ‘Hand Solo’ – both songs that talk about being alone – Hackman’s band leave the pool and a bunch of the lights cut out, leaving the singer marooned in the spotlight. Things were hardly crowded before, but all of a sudden it feels way more intimate. A gorgeous rendition of Elliott Smith’s ‘Between The Bars’ follows, stripped back from the ‘Covers’ version to just guitar and her forlorn voice.
“It’s quite strange playing to an empty room – or an empty pool – but hopefully we’ll meet again soon, when we’re allowed to do so and it’s safe,” Hackman says afterwards. “I miss playing live music and I miss playing in front of actual people.”
It’s a sentiment that we’ve heard a lot this year but it only grows more frustratingly true as the pandemic continues. When Hackman closes her set with a skeletal ‘I’d Rather Be With Them’, one line jumps out: “I just hate this room.” Marika Hackman’s empty swimming pool livestream might remind us of better times, but it’s also a temporary escape from the four walls we’re stuck in, if only for an hour.