Managing to juggle school work with her music, Billie Marten has stunned the critics with her debut album. Ruth Campbell talks to the talented rising star from North Yorkshire

RIPON sixth former and talented singer-songwriter Billie Marten has received rave reviews in the national and international press for her stunning debut album, recorded while studying for her exams.

The Sunday Times declares that Billie’s Writing of Blues and Yellows "isn’t an excellent debut for a 17-year-old, it’s an excellent debut, period”. The Culture section review predicts we will still be listening to Billie’s songs in 20 years’ time, going on to compare her to Nick Drake, John Martyn, Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell, both stylistically and in terms of the emotional pull she can apply with just a few piano chords and subtle vocals. Billie wrote all 13 tracks, including her recent single Milk & Honey, herself.

She comes from a musical family. Both mum Sally, an administrator, and dad Andy, a copywriter, sing and play instruments. “We had David Bowie playing in the car instead of nursery rhymes when I was little. I listened to my parents’ Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake and John Martyn records,” says Billie, who performed her first gig, on the bandstand at Ripon Racecourse, shortly after her YouTube debut. Her mother posted a video of the then 12-year-old singing to show her grandparents in France, it got hundreds of thousands of hits, and Billie was suddenly in demand.

The Northern Echo:

In demand: Billie Marten, who is being compared to Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell

Her quiet, sad, melancholy songs touched a nerve and, now, after the launch of her debut album, the UK’s leading music magazine Mojo has put her at number eight on its playlist, describing her as "a preternaturally talented 17-year-old" who has left a trail of "glassy-voiced folk lullabies" on the internet. The Sunday Express gives Billie’s album five stars, while The Guardian, sure there is even better to come, praises her rich and nervily self-analytical lyrics: “Her vocals are a whisper in a world of clamour.” The Evening Standard, which also compares her to Kate Bush, says Billie creates all sorts of beguiling textures with songs that take time to yield their secrets and delights: “Marten fashions her own world of fragile darkness,” says its reviewer.

Digital music magazine Never Enough Notes says it cannot find a flaw in Billie’s truly outstanding album: “In the age of curated playlists, algorithms and streaming, we have forgotten the joy of discovering something new that genuinely takes your breath away.” The Financial Times gives the album four stars out of five, saying: “The atmospherically worked mood of introversion is all the more impressive considering Marten’s youth.” Billie has also had reviews in the international press, including the Irish News, Les Echos and the New York Times, which says Billie’s album is one not to miss: “This 17-year-old British songwriter harks back to eras before she was born on her quietly striking debut album.”

Billie, born Isabella Tweddle, recorded the album in London and Ripon while studying for A-levels in English literature, French and art, although some of the songs were written when she was only 14. Billie, having turned down the chance to appear on the big TV talent shows, eventually signed to Chess Club Records, a division of Sony Music, in 2015. “I signed on January 5 and I remember because it was the day before my mock exams and in the photo of me signing, you can actually see my maths revision on the floor,” she laughs.

Billie was soon shortlisted for the prestigious BBC Sound of 2016 music industry poll, previously won by Adele and Ellie Goulding, and was praised by Ed Sheeran as ‘stunning’. Having performed over the summer at 11 festivals, including Bestival, Secret Garden Party and Latitude, Billie’s first headline tour in the autumn took in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Leeds. “This summer’s festivals were the most gigs I’ve done consecutively, which has helped my confidence,” she says.

For the rest of this year, she will be combining her academic studies with performing. “I’m very lucky to be doing both,” says Billie. She says it’s surreal to think she has released an album. “I find it super silly. Not many humans get to do it, so I’m eternally grateful. The record has had some ridiculously nice reviews, I keep telling people I don’t understand it.” She adds that it’s not always easy combining recording and touring with her studies at Ripon Grammar School. “I will often be doing exams or revising at the same time. I ruined several hotel rooms with oil paints in the sink,” she says. “I keep the mentality that everyone has commitments outside their job and this just happens to be mine. I’ll always keep school as a priority. But I don’t bring music into school. I tend to stay quiet about anything music-related so my friends find out from Twitter or something. They’re all hugely nice and proud of me and school has been incredibly supportive.”

As for the future, she says she has no definite plans. “I’m off on a tour to celebrate the album, which will be beautiful,” she says. “As always, I’ll keep writing songs and singing them.”

Her advice to other students looking for a career in music is: “Trust your gut. Put your music everywhere on the internet, even if you think it’s shoddy. It’s probably not.”

Billie’s headline autumn tour, which takes in Leeds, Manchester, Cardiff, London and Glasgow runs until Saturday October 29. See for more information