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October 2016

Billie Marten

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Billie Marten at the Deaf Institute Manchester. As a musician I try to go and see as many bands as I can, whether that’s local bands or my favourites from across the world. I find it really inspires me to see how an artist works the stage with both the band and the audience, and find it very helpful with my own song writing and performance. Even if the artist is starting out, I am always curious as to how they perform on stage and how they create new and interesting sounds.

So this time my sister, Ella, and I had tickets to go and see Billie Marten perform at Manchester’s Deaf Institute. Not only do I love the Deaf Institute for its quirky wallpaper, but also the intimate setting. Even if you are standing at the back of the room, you’re never really far away from the musicians on stage, with a capacity of only 300 people, which seems to me the perfect size. Especially if you are an act as delicate and intimate sounding as Billie Marten.

Ella and I arrived fashionably late to walk into the final support act, Siv Jackobsen, performing her own rendition of Britney Spears’ Toxic. I was suitably impressed to find the arrangement completely unique, verging closer to Yael Naim’s version than to Britney Spears’ herself. Siv’s vocals very much reminded me of a mix between Joanna Newsome and Ane Brun, although a little more tamed. Her writing style made me think of someone like Joni Mitchell, as her lyrics sounded very much as if they were based on her life experience. I was disappointed that we only managed to catch the last three songs, so I shall be checking out her music further, alongside Jasmine Kennedy who we missed completely as she opened the stage for Billie.

https://www.facebook.com/listentosiv/

As time crept nearer to Billie’s performance, we moved further forward into the crowd to get a better view. Soon enough the band made their way to the stage followed by Billie (real name Isabella Tweddle) and opened the set with La Lune.  It was fairly obvious from the start that she was nervous, but who can blame her being only 17 years old and on her first tour. Certainly not me, who at that age made sure my songs were kept hidden in my bedroom away from everyone and anyone. As unsure as she seemed performing to the audience, she was however very confident talking to the crowd, putting everyone (including herself) at ease, announcing that we all looked rather sad and apologised that her songs weren’t going to get any less depressing. This of course we all knew having listened to her newly released album ‘Writings of Blues and Yellowsprevious to the show. Depressing doesn’t really seem the right word to describe her music though. To me, ‘lullaby’ would be the best word to describe her songs. Each song, melancholy or not, is as soothing as a lullaby due to her ridiculously beautiful, delicate voice that I can only define as sounding like honey. Her lyrics, however, are very un-lullaby-like, with mature and sophisticated writing that make her seem much older than a 17 year old studying her A Levels. As she announced her new song Emily, she asked the audience if there was anyone of that name, and after someone timidly nodded, she dedicated the song to audience-Emily, before breaking into song.

Billie Marten at the Deaf Institute Manchester

Billie Marten at the Deaf Institute Manchester

The young songwriter, who was nominated for BBC Sound of 2016, was backed by a band who complimented her vocals perfectly, with a pianist who occasionally swapped his piano for a bass guitar, and a cellist who also switched between her cello and electric guitar to create flawless sounds. I was impressed further still when Billie introduced the drummer, Suren, who I recognised as the drummer from Bombay Bicycle Club, whom I was a massive fan of at Billie’s age. Clearly I’m still more of a fan than I thought! Their arrangements completed the songs, never over powering Billie’s soft voice and guitar playing, only enhancing the delicate sound

Billie Marten at the Deaf Institute Manchester

Billie Marten at the Deaf Institute Manchester

“I’m such an awkward human being” she exclaimed as she put down her guitar and wrapped her arms round herself. Clearly uncomfortable at not having her guitar to play, she announced she would be covering La Roux’s In for the Kill, which is led by piano in Billie’s version. It’s funny how much I could relate to her feeling so uncomfortable without an instrument to ‘hide’ herself, as it always feels a little naked to sing without my piano. Although she was clearly unsure of how to act without playing, as she serenaded us I think it’s safe to say her confidence will soon grow.

Billie Marten at the Deaf Institute Manchester

Billie Marten at the Deaf Institute Manchester

Highlights of the set for me were songs that I already adored before seeing her live, including Lionhearted, Bird, Milk and Honey and Heavy Weather. I was equally taken with Live which she announced with a nod of the head and a giggle was ‘about living!’. The only disappointment of the night was that she played just for 45 minutes without an encore, and it would have been nice to see her for a little longer. I am however, looking forward to seeing how her sound will evolve over the next few years as she grows older. Until then anyone interested in acoustic singer-songwriter folk songs, this will be right up your street!

Billie Marten at the Deaf Institute Manchester

Billie Marten at the Deaf Institute Manchester

Here are links below so you can have a listen yourself! ☺

https://www.facebook.com/billiemarten/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smX6xCPDbrE – BIRD

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNAmwWBy0nw – MILK AND HONEY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zy6e1D4yDEQ – HEAVY WEATHER

M x

Recent Book Reads

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‘A BOOK MAY WELL BE THE ONLY TRUE MAGIC’ – A. Hoffman

I’m not afraid to admit that I’m a little bit of a bookworm. For as long as I can remember I have always been drawn to books and as an 11 year old I was convinced I was going to become an author. I even decided to study literature at A-level, before my music took me to university.  I suppose being a songwriter isn’t a million miles away from the world of literature. Song writing allows me to write about any subject matter I want, whether it’s fact or fiction, and by putting the words to music I am combining two of my favourite things. The wonderful thing about reading or writing is that you can take your imagination anywhere, whether that’s as the reader or the writer, and for me that’s the exciting part. Due to my love of literature, I thought I’d write a little bit about some books I have recently read.

BESIDE MYSELF

Ann Morgan

Over the summer, I spent a week in France and so I made sure to pack some books to take with me. The book that captivated me the most, and caused me to be very anti-social for the best part of a couple of days, was Beside Myself by Ann Morgan. I had picked it up based on the fact that it seemed a little different to what I would usually read (that and the fact it was Buy 1 Get 1 Half price in Smiths…). The blurb depicted identical twins who decide to swap places as young children, but when one of the sisters refuses to swap back, a nightmare slowly starts to unfold. I was intrigued by its twisted plot and curious to find out what happened. It was quite literally a book that I couldn’t put down. I had to keep myself from reading it all in one sitting.

The story is led by the main character Helen who overshadows her twin sister Ellie, and when they decide to swap places to play a trick, fooling even their mother, Ellie decides that she doesn’t want to swap back, forcing Helen to take on her sisters introverted personality. Why doesn’t she just tell everyone the truth, I hear you ask? Well, she does. Multiple times. She attempts to prove the truth on many occasions, but this is what makes the book so dark and psychologically complex, because no one will listen to what she has to say. I found myself so wrapped up in the storyline, that I became as frustrated as poor Helen.  The story shifts between Helen’s present state as an adult, and her time as a child where we see the development of her unwillingness to take on her new identity causing behavioural problems and a downward-spiralling mental illness. For anyone wanting something uplifting, obviously, this would not be recommended!

There is a dark mood that lingers throughout the book. You quickly become caught up in the depressive state, so much so that even when you put the book down it takes a while for your headspace to adjust from the disturbing atmosphere back to reality. This is what made me so gripped to the story.

Recent Reads - A BOOK MAY WELL BE THE ONLY TRUE MAGIC

Beside myself – Ann Morgan

THE CRUCIBLE

Arthur Miller            

Whilst I was abroad on said holiday, I was longing for my piano. Spending so much time in the mountains, where very little happens and the internet is limited, a lot of thinking time takes place and made me feel very inspired when I returned home to my piano. At some point, although I’m not sure whether it was while I was actually abroad or when we had landed, I decided I wanted to write a song about the play, The Crucible by Arthur Miller. This was a production that I studied in school when I was around 14 years old. I’m still not sure what made me think of it again all these years later. I think, perhaps, it was the dark twisted mood of the play that makes for an interesting song topic.

Once back home at my piano, I proceeded to write a song based on Abigail, one of the characters I remembered most without having the play to hand. Feeling very inspired I decided to order a copy of the book so that I could read through it again, as a type of research, and even now I still intend to write some more songs based on the storyline and other characters. What drew me back to this play is similar to that of Beside Myself because of the frustration and disbelief of the characters. The play, written in 1953, is set in 1692-93 taking place in Salem, Massachusetts Bay Colony, with the subject matter being the famous Salem witch trials and a focus on McCarthyism.

The play opens with the Salem preacher, Reverend Parris, concerned about his daughter who lies motionless after he discovers her one night with her friends, all involved in a ritual in the woods with Parris’ slave, Tituba. It’s not long before the whole of the village is rife with rumours of witchcraft, which ensues the accusation of innocent people. Parris’ niece, Abigail, who appears to be the leader of the girls denies any involvement with witchcraft. She threatens all the girls who had taken part in the woods that they must stick to their story of just ‘dancing in the woods’ so as not to be suspected of being witches. As the story unfolds, we are introduced to the character John Proctor, who is married to Elizabeth, but we soon find out he had an affair with Abigail, in which Abigail still has feelings for him. It’s not long before Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, is accused of witchcraft herself which she is certain is by Abigail. From this point onwards the whole of the village seems to become swallowed up in chaos and madness, with people accusing neighbours, friends, loved ones, turning on each other, all seemingly encouraged by the court who believe the Devil is in the accused. The story seems unbelievable but the fact that it is based loosely around a true story makes the plot even more fascinating. If that’s not good content for a song, then I don’t know what is.

Recent Reads

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

THE BELL JAR

Sylvia Plath

When I was making my book order for The Crucible, I thought it would be worth investing in some other well know classics. When I studied English Literature at A-Level, I vividly remember a poster for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath stuck on the wall. Why I never thought to read the book back then is beyond me, as I have since heard the book mentioned a fair amount. I thought this would be a suitable book to order and I heard many good reviews about it. Before I go further into detail though, I have to admit I was actually a little disappointed with the book. I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it, and I perhaps wondered if my expectations had been too high based on reviews because it’s an American literary classic. I can’t seem to pinpoint what it was that I didn’t like about it, which is a little frustrating. None the less, I am still glad that I have read it and ticked it off my so called Book-Bucket-List. What I did like was the realistic nature of the book, which in essence, is quite a sad one as we watch the narrator Esther Greenwood collapse into a breakdown. The psychological side of this is similar to that of Beside Myself as Esther’s life slowly falls apart, seemingly not for any particular reason! (I’d just like to point out that I’m actually a happy person in real life, contrary to the books I read and the songs I write).

The character slowly descends into despair and often the timeline skips, which I assume is to portray her state of mind, but it left me a little lost at times. The book covers a lot of difficult topics which I think is what makes the book so well admired and relatable to so many. The thing I found most captivating, but eerily loomed over as I read it, is that this could almost be about Sylvia Plath, who herself committed suicide in 1963. There are elements of the book that could be questioned as almost autobiographical, and you wonder if what the character is thinking is what Sylvia was thinking at the time. It becomes clear that Esther is extremely vacant, and when she considers committing suicide, it’s as if no feelings are involved. She finds herself in a mental institute, which supposedly helps her recover as she later leaves the institute, but by the end of the book I still felt

Recent Reads - A BOOK MAY WELL BE THE ONLY TRUE MAGIC

The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

unsure as to whether she really did get better. Overall, I’m glad that I read the book, as for the most part I did enjoy it and I think it challenged me from the books that I usually tend to read.

I would recommend any of these books if you’re looking for something to read, or fancy something a little different. I don’t tend to read plays but I am now on my search for my next one, and perhaps even a song will come from that!

If you have any book suggestions for me, please comment as I’m always looking for something new to read.

M x

MUSICIANS AGAINST HOMELESSNESS

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Musicians Against Homelessness. On Sunday night I was lucky enough to be involved with the project. The charity has been set up by Alan McGee who created the campaign for the whole nation to take part. The aim of the project is to raise money for the homeless charity, Crisis, combined with providing gig opportunities for up-and-coming bands. They also intend the project to be an annual event to continue to raise money, which I think would be hugely beneficial. Spending the last two years living in Manchester, I have unfortunately seen a lot of suffering on the streets, and I was grateful to be a part of this project.  This Autumn, the gigs span up and down the country, over a three week period from 18th September to the 9th October (so there’s still time if you want to catch the last few gigs!) and all the proceeds go to Crisis.

For this show, I was excited to be back on stage with my band after a month of solo gigs, it was our first opportunity to try out and reveal some new material we had been working hard on. As I mentioned in my first blogpost, one of our favourite gigs over the summer was LymeLight Festival, not only because the sound was great, but because the audience were so wonderfully welcoming and supportive. We had been invited to play Sunday night’s gig by the same organisers so we were looking forward to coming back to play. And we weren’t disappointed.

The Kings Pistol, a three piece band, kicked off the night’s proceedings. Made up of guitar, bass and drums, The Kings Pistol create a sound that is best defined as Americana with English Folk, a genre I admire (probably my Dad’s influence there). Slightly more acoustic than the other bands, I was really taken with their sound, especially a track called ‘Paperback Road’. This could almost be described as a ballad, as it was one of their slower songs with prominent stops that let the acoustic guitar ring out,  making the song that more memorable.

https://www.facebook.com/thekingspistol/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yB3DqHOI5c

Musicians against Homelessness

The King Pistol

Next up were Blackwater Trading Company, a five piece band from Stoke-on-Trent.Their experimental sound combining funk and soul with rock and acoustic elements, created a powerful psychedelic ambience. Although a busy arrangement it actually works really well, especially with the lead singer’s soulful voice. The tracks that stood out to me the most were ‘No End In Sight’, which they announced as one of their newest songs. The simple guitar riff throughout caught my attention, as I found it perfected the song, and brought the psychedelic feel to their sound.

https://www.facebook.com/blackwatertc/?fref=ts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yqg9D0i92Oc

Musicians against Homelessness

Blackwater Trading Company

The Red Kites were the next band to take to the stage. Made up of four members, the band were well-rehearsed which showed in their tight performance. I suppose you could describe the music as fairly rock oriented, led mainly by the guitars but there were also parts that were really ambient which, if it isn’t already obvious, I really love! Their best song for me was a new one called ‘Murder Ballad No.3’. I was immediately intrigued by the title and rightly so. Quite a mournful song, this was where the ambience shone through! The chorus melody completed the song and is happily still stuck in my head as I write this.

 https://www.facebook.com/theuniversalnoise/?fref=ts

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6195zOlcSg

Musicians against Homelessness

The Red Kites

At 9:45pm, it was time for the band and I to play, and I’ll admit, I was quite nervous to follow after some truly great bands. I was equally as nervous to play some new songs but thankfully, I think the audience enjoyed them! The sound on stage calmed my nerves when I found that the levels were perfect and thankfully I could hear all the instruments and vocals just how I needed them, which made performing that much easier. Having the band playing with me creates such a buzz on stage. We all bounce of each other musically and there’s always that rush of adrenaline as the songs sound exactly how we want them to, especially in the tracks that build up to climatic endings! I think it’s safe to say that we all get magically lost in the music when we play. Much like the last time we played in Stoke we received a really warm reception from the audience, which, as I’ve mentioned before is so encouraging and wonderful to hear. It made me even more excited to be back performing with my boys!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcCadq4D6Tk

Musicians against Homelessness

Megan Dixon Hood

Musicians against Homelessness

Liam Morgan

Musicians against Homelessness

Jake Greville

Musicians against Homelessness

Left to right: Liam, Jake, Megan, Jordan

To end the evening, with a name even longer than mine, was Nixon Tate and The Honey Club. In a similar style to some of the other bands, they had elements of rock and Americana, but with a strong singer songwriter feel. Because of this, one of my favourite things about this band was the lyrical content. I absolutely loved their track ‘Honeytrap’ which had me hooked on the first line “Walked in through the open door, ordered double whiskey and lime…”. The song only got better as the drums and bass kicked in with a beat that you couldn’t help but bob your head to. The electric guitar featured the rock elements it needed to put the icing on the cake!

 https://soundcloud.com/nixontateandthehoneyclub

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRI2m2KXOlg

Musicians against Homelessness

Nixon Tate and the Honey Club

I was so happy to have been part of such a wonderful evening. Thank you to the organisers and everyone involved for putting on such a fantastic night! All the bands are definitely worth a listen, so if you get chance, please check out all the links as there’s a load of great music available!

Also, a big thank you to Mark Vyse for all the lovely photos featured in this blog, check out his website here, http://www.mvyse.co.uk/portraits1

Till next time friends,

M x