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“It’s going by so quickly, I don’t think I like it,” Billie Marten remarked at one point. Having passed a bas-relief of the Day of Judgment and a mosaic about Time and Death on the way into the venue, I knew what she meant. Old churches inspire those sorts of thoughts.
Except that wasn’t quite what Marten had in mind. The Yorkshire singer-songwriter, real name Isabella Tweddle, is only 17: Time and Death hold no fears for her. It was the speed with which her concert was flying by that troubled her. She was playing her first sold-out venue. No doubt it will not be the last.
Marten is touring her warmly received debut album, Writing of Blues and Yellows, a self-composed set of songs reminiscent of the early work of another precociously formed singer-songwriter, Laura Marling. She stood at the front of the chancel in St Giles-in-the-Fields, an elegant 18th-century Palladian church, with a keyboardist, drummer and cellist-guitarist sitting behind her. Marten mostly played electric guitar.
Songs were subtle affairs, opening with delicate folk-rock tracery from the two guitars before building towards greater definition with firmer chords, shimmering cymbals and drumming. Marten’s singing was slow and hazy. Close microphone placement gave her words a dreamlike proximity, like thoughts flitting through one’s head.
Lyrics depicted states of mildness and irresolution. “I find the heat is too harsh on the skin,” she murmur-crooned in the first song, “La Lune”. “I’ve never been too bold” were the opening words of “Lionhearted”, a nicely crafted piece of introspection. There was none of the bumptious confidence of the stage school ingénue about her, although nor did she project the awkward reserve of the bedroom troubadour.
The church was an atmospheric setting but had drawbacks as a live music space. Pillars lining the nave obstructed the sightlines while lighting consisted of a pair of illuminated chandeliers hanging above Marten and her sedentary band, casting them in a dully unvarying light. Other venues await, better ones for experiencing the shades and nuances in her music, perhaps when she does not have to be accompanied by an adult to gain entry to them.
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