George Glew, Jasmine, Billie Marten @ St Giles-in-the-fields, London, 29/10/2016

Billie MartenAn 18th century Palladian edifice, St Giles-in-the-fields follows in the highly successful tradition of active churches opening the doors to live music. Located as it is just meters from Oxford Circus, the elegant church provides refuge from the typical Saturday evening bustle of central London for the 300-plus present, and offers the perfect place for Billie Marten to end her current tour.

In George Glew and Jasmine, the supporting slots offered similar guitar-driven folk pop fare to the headline act. In particular, Glew’s ‘These Walls’ hints at a sophistication of songwriting that suggests he’s worth keeping a eye on over the next few years.

Once underway, the headliner’s ethereal vocals and evocative instrumentation prove perfectly suited to such an atmospheric venue. Whilst the large, arching pillars and dim chandeliers affect viewing, they do nothing to detract from the Yorkshire native’s compelling onstage performance.

Playing the final show of a whirlwind six-day tour promoting debut album Writing of Blues and Yellows, Marten – real name Isabelle Tweddle - croaks through her opening numbers, admitting herself the impact such a schedule had had on her vocal cords.

This is just the first of many glimpses we get throughout the night of her gentle demeanour, happily chatting with the crowd, and comfortable commanding such a grand venue.

Still only 17, Marten has built up a formidable reputation since emerging as a YouTube star three years ago. Having been nominated for the BBC Sound of 2016 long list and quickly signed to Chess Club Records, increased touring and festival appearances this year have cemented her position as one of the UK’s brightest emerging talents.

Those vocal cords soon warm up, and deliver the best bits of her debut album with gusto. "Live" builds a wall of sound so fragile it feels like the slightest breath would shatter it around us, and each track takes on an ethereal quality in the church surrounds. There is also a cover of La Roux’s electro pop hit "In For The Kill", turning it into an entirely different beast.

At this early stage of her career, the teenager’s repertoire doesn’t lend itself to dancing in the isles, yet each song somehow fills the high-ceiling'd church with ease. From the gentle, percussive beats of "Lionhearted" to Marten’s plaintive, earnest wailing on ‘Bird,’ there are clear sings that, despite her young years, this is an artist miles ahead of her contemporaries.

On the evidence of tonight, there is still plenty for Billie Marten to develop, as one would expect from an artist still completing their A-Levels. After more than 60 minutes of wistfulness and adolescent soul-searching, one yearns for her obvious lyrical talents to be imbued with greater emotional variety, whilst those tired vocal cords show she’s still developing as a live performer.

There is plenty of time for that, though, and for now it is enough simply to marvel at one of the UK’s finest young talents in full flight.


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