If you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance you’ll already know of Billie Marten. If you don’t, you soon will. At just 16, this singer-songwriter from Ripon, Yorkshire, has already developed a following for her arresting music, signed to a major label, and got her name on the BBC Sound of 2016 longlist.
On Thursday night at the Institute for Contemporary Arts, London, Marten was the headline act at a new talent showcase, hosted by Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac. Nervousness was in her eyes, but also happy determination, and Marten treated the crowd to a spellbinding set.
What hits you when you hear Marten sing for the first time is the maturity of her words contrasted by the innocence of her voice – that’s when the reality of her tender 16 years really leaves you aghast. When she sings, the aura she generates disarms and captivates. So though she greeting the audience nervously, by the time she was halfway through mood-setter, Heavy Weather, the room was silent.
Modestly clothed in a simple white top, black-patterned dress and faded blue-suede boots, Marten was a picture of purity. And yet, with each song she continued to demonstrate a dramatic sense of experience. Roots is a charitable song of understand for those that are vulnerable or isolated. Strumming pensively, her voice as delicate as morning dew, there was an air of Charlene Soraia and Norah Jones to her second song. Ribbon, the song which started her journey, is unusually verbose, led by a simple yet stirring rhythm, and is a work of folk wonder.
She was accompanied live band members who provided dutiful piano and cello chords on most of her songs. However, for her haunting cover of Royal Blood’s Out of the Black, she flew solo, and her guitar proficiency became more pronounced. She did stumble in a handful of spots, but not for lack of trying. Taking to the mic to perform her latest single, Bird, co-written with Olivia Broadfield, Marten let loose figurative lyrics that were cemented by emotional understanding (“Nobody’s watching / Droning in words so sweet / Mild as the water / Caught as a bird once free / I don’t mind”).
Inevitably, Marten’s youth will continue to be the first talking point for many – especially because her songwriting bears a maturely beyond her years. Comparisons to similarly youthful contemporaries, such as Soak and Lucy Rose, the latter of whom Marten toured with last autumn, will simply be part and parcel of her ascendance in the modern music scene. We’d hesitate to call her a “prodigy” – at least not until we’ve heard more – but she is a musician with a bright future ahead. In short: do not underestimate the power of Billie Marten.