LIVE REVIEW: Billie Marten at O2 Ritz, Manchester

Going to a Billie Marten show feels like a comfort. There’s something innately easing about the way Marten carries herself and the way in which this translates across to her audience. Enough so, that on this night, people sit crossed legged on the venue floor (like one would in school) before the show starts, waiting patiently yet eagerly for the first glimpse of Marten. It’s a particularly unusual sight considering the size of the venue, coming in around 1500 capacity but leaning more towards 1000 on this night at a rough approximation, and I can’t decide whether the quaintness of it all or the sweetness, outweighs the other. For certain, is that we’re in the right place (as Marten jokes early in her opening statements: “Thank you so much for not going to Gorilla, that would’ve been awkward.“) This venue upgrade came a mere three days ahead of the show’s commencement, and like all other tour dates during this album spell, tickets are selling rapidly. With more demand than ever, it’s set to be a tour of sell-out shows.

Since last touring cycle, for 2021’s Flora Fauna, Marten’s show has evolved just a bit. One of the main changes being, a completely new set of musicians join her on stage: Ellie Mason (keys and guitar), Tommy Heap (bass and upright bass) and Casper Miles (on drums). Together they elevate songs new and old to places that the live show hasn’t reached before, weaving folk, indie and jazz sensibilities into one fine experience. It’s easy to say that Marten’s confidence has grown, she has been releasing music professionally for the best part of ten years and in that time has consistently developed her style and voice, but to witness her live at this present moment, one sees that it truly has. It’s the confidence of a person who has reached a state of contentment in who they are and what they stand for; she is direct, blunt at times, it’s a wry sense of humour that is offset by a lightness of tone—for example, when song requests start to become unruly during a solo part of the show, Marten calmly addresses the matter: “You’ll get what you’re given, and you’ll like it.” And a moment later, “See,” she adds as the crowd audibly gasps in excitement at the opening chords of ‘Vanilla Baby’. Her stage persona doesn’t feel like a persona, it’s more genuine than that, Marten connects with an audience the way she would connect with a friend. It’s a natural exchange between the two. 

During ‘Liquid Love,’ Marten sets down the guitar and takes just the mic only (which I can’t say we’ve ever seen before) for a performative moment, that is sensational. She conducts the crowd and asks them to sing three part harmonies with her. One side of the room is given a slightly more difficult harmonic flourish than the other, and it all works out really well. The new record is given its due throughout the night, and it really shines. ‘I Can’t Get My Head Around You‘ is breezy and sumptuous, topped with a guitar solo by Ellie Mason that highlights the song’s incredible capacity to be much more than simply what is displayed on the studio recording. These new songs have an appeal that feels universal, they are part of a new strand emerging in Marten’s work that signals a deep breadth of musical range and act as a hopeful indication of future longevity. ‘Nothing But Mine‘ is a waltzing romantic moment with echoes of Sixties songwriting, whereas ‘Just Us‘ offers intricate acoustics, ‘I Bend To Him‘ focuses on lyrical expression, and is the most minimalist of the show.

Billie Marten has played to audiences in Manchester many times by this point, and this was her biggest headliner in the city to date. If this performance proves anything, it is that the quality of her music and songwriting is equally reflected in the quality of her live show. Marten holds an audience captivated when singing solo with just an acoustic guitar, but really wows when a full band arrangement is set in motion. Marten’s talent will always be the main attraction, but the added colour makes for a show that’s well rounded and utterly magical.

Billie Marten’s fourth studio album, Drop Cherries, is out now on Fiction Records. The UK tour continues through to May 27th, where it culminates in London at Lafayette – remaining tickets can be found here.

Photo Credit: Katie Silvester

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Charlotte Holroyd
Editor, Creator and Founder of Bitter Sweet Symphonies. A lover of music and cinema, who's constantly attending gigs and in search of a great experience.

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