Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

Billie Marten with some ethereal vocals on show in Leeds, her 2nd album ‘Feeding Seahorses by Hand’ gets a rapturous welcome at her homecoming show at The Wardrobe.

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There are 3 artists that have managed to get goosebumps on my arms within seconds of hearing their voices, Lucy Rose, The Staves and now Billie Marten. It is a fine art, just enough of that breathy ethereal vocal and the emotional needles start to flicker. She doesn’t travel much further than a foot from the mic and at times you are looking to see if her lips are actually moving, but the noise emanating from the speakers tells you enough. Hard to believe that having just turned 20 years old last month she is already on her 2nd album promotion tour, and has played on some big stages, most recently support to Snow Patrol in Europe.

Tonight in the Wardrobe, which is a lot bigger than you are probably picturing, we have a sold out audience of mainly students with the odd older person (myself included in that demographic) who perhaps have followed the career of the young ‘Billie Tweddle’ (as she was known then) from ‘Ont Sofa’ YouTube clips and going back perhaps even further when she was still in school at Ripon during the week but playing Corks Wine Bar in Otley at the weekend. Since those days she has grown dramatically but still has a strong air of nervous teenager about her. Marten deals with her anxieties, mainly caused by seasonal affective disorder, by fixing a stare position in the audience whilst playing and singing, it can be a little disconcerting, but I’d rather that than eyes closed throughout the performance. We of course are completely transfixed by her performance, as they have been on the whole of this tour.

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Starting with her biggest hit (according to Spotify streams) ‘Mice’ was a deft move – get it out early, and then my personal favourite from her new album ‘Feeding Seahorses by Hand’ – ‘Blue Sea Red Sea’, which is a happy tune and lilts along as if you are floating on a lazy river.

The overall sound is boosted on this tour with her band – keys and particularly drums can sometimes over power the delicate voices on offer here. We also have some backing vocals and bass supplied by Kitty, who Billie described as “We met on the internet, and she’s not a mental, so I kept her”. The dichotomy of the Billie Marten character in-between songs, compared to during, is interesting to watch. She stops to ask about a famous fact about Leeds, told someone off for laughing and asked for quiet and calm for this next very sombre song. Then, when in the performance ‘zone’ she goes back to the ‘rabbit in headlights’ look.

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Varying between electric and acoustic guitars she is rooted to the spot and it will be interesting to see if over the years that changes. She has watched both Rae Morris and Lucy Rose develop their differing styles in the last 18 months, and at the moment she is certainly comparable to Rose, as she is going through a stripped back and sparse arrangements period. I could quite easily see her having a soft solo keyboards session to break up the constant guitar position, but right now we only have the one perspective.

At the moment all of this is endearing, but you must listen, I witnessed a horrendous situation where everyone was chatting as she played support to Rae Morris at the Ritz in Manchester last year, it’s a shame and their loss, because there isn’t a finer soft folky voice out there right now, and coming from a twenty year old this is just incredible. Too early to compare to the likes of Joni Mitchell but we have potentially 30-40 years of music to look forward to, and yet I’m already lamenting that she didn’t play ‘Ribbon’ or ‘Bird’ tonight. The set was finished in just over an hour, which made us feel a little short changed for a homecoming of sorts show. We didn’t get any cake either tonight, she has been known to bake cakes and biscuits for the merch desk as people queue to buy a signed cd or vinyl record.

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Tonight, we did get an insight into the new tracks from this superb 2nd album. If you want to watch the whole album in full and see just how Billie Marten can turn this old man into jelly – just with her voice, then she recorded a live studio version in York, which is on her YouTube channel here, better still, watch out for her next tour and get those tickets early.

SETLIST: Mice, Blue Sea Red Sea, Betsy, Cartoon People, Live, La Lune, She Dances, Bad Apple, Vanilla Baby, (Toulouse), Cursive, Milk & Honey, Boxes

LISTENING: Feeding Seahorses by Hand – latest album released April 2019

WATCH THIS!: Feeding Seahorses By Hand Full Album in Studio (BBC York)

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