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.
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 Yellows’ previous 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.
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
“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.
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!
Here are links below so you can have a listen yourself! ☺
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNAmwWBy0nw – MILK AND HONEY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zy6e1D4yDEQ – HEAVY WEATHER