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British Invasion: Laura Marling's Fearless Folk

Of all the young British female singers to sell millions of records in recent years (Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen being the prime examples), Laura Marling stands out for her unwillingness to reach for image-based, mainstream success. "I just think of everything I do and how happy it will make me to do it," she says. "I don't like having my photograph taken, for instance, so I don't do that often."

The 18-year-old Marling is instead becoming known for a silvery, strong voice, a cleareyed comprehension of the world, and the kind of bravery that led her to play on a London street when she was refused entry to her own gig for being underage.

She says her songs, particularly "Alas, I Cannot Swim", lay bare her fantasies about a normal way of life — what she calls "a particular formula for living" — that she missed by hitting the road at such a young age, and her insecurities about having left school before she finished.

"You are what you can prove you've done. That's how people judge you," says the singer. With that in mind, she put out her album, Alas, I Cannot Swim, to prove that she's a songwriter and a singer. She's sees it as her one qualification.

Her youth and her lack of schooling do not seem to be stopping her from anything. It was during Marling's first tour around Britain when she and her band showed up to play a gig and were told she couldn't go in — at 17, she was too young. She says most clubs in the U.K. wouldn't have cared, but this one was also a gay strip club, so they were more strict about their underage policy. She and her band instead marched out into the street and played the show to a sold-out crowd on the sidewalk, in front of two sex shops in London's Soho.

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