Having seen one of our more innovative and interesting local bands The Elephant Trees live a couple of times over recent months, I was keen to contrast it to lead singer Martha Phillips strutting her stuff solo. That she was playing at a new music venue in Huddersfield (the Northern Quarter) just added to my curiosity.
In her set Martha covered my favourite Elephant Trees track Monster with a stunning vocal delivery, and with Martha playing acoustic it was a slightly less strident and a beautifully controlled version. Martha also produced a very different aspect to the Trees latest radio friendly track, Hooked. This gave the song a darker complexion and as Martha put it herself, this was her attempt to pull in some teenage angst to the evening.
From the off, I could feel and see a certain fragility about Martha. Although there is heaps of delicacy, onstage Martha is nobody’s fool and that occasional flash of hard gives her performance a multi faceted sparkle. Martha’s first song was an Ariana Grande cover which she made her own. There were a pleasing number of people here early for Martha and the hubbub of chatter quickly died down. By the end of the first song and for the rest of the performance you could hear a pin drop.
Next up was a song that Martha casually dropped was something she had just finished on the train over to the gig, Helter Skelter. I struggle to finish Candy Crush on the train, so I was mightily inspired to think Martha had completed a gig ready song. The song seemed to have a deep story about mood swings and as Martha later admitted, she finds it impossible to write a cheerful song.
Martha also covered a Florence classic You’ve Got The Love. Must confess I find Florence a little harsh vocally, so Martha’s exceptionally clear and pitch perfect version had me thinking about Joni Mitchell and not for the first time it was clear her audience was in Martha’s hand. To close, Martha played a track Heroine, which perhaps had a feel of the Irish folk of the likes of Christie Moore with the beat of Martha banging her guitar. During the set, Martha made full use of what a man of my advancing years has to be obliged to describe as electronic wizardry to record loops of music, beats and voice to create a full backing sound.
The evening offered a varied showcase of bands with Martha’s pure acoustic start leading into the lively and pleasing thrash of Joey’s Knuckle, and ending with the funk pop sensibilities of Heir. I spotted the Larkins guys amongst the audience to hear their forthcoming gig partners who were headlining here. At an absolutely ridiculous £3 for a ticket the evening left me thinking the acts were left even more short changed than usual.
I’ve not counted the local acts I’ve seen over the past 15 months but there will be some dozens. I’ve identified perhaps four I think could take it up the notches to national and international status. Martha and the Elephant Trees make my cut as they have the individuality to stand out in a crowd, professionalism, and a rare and precious ability to transfer the strong emotion in their songs to the audience.
You can catch Martha Phillips solo at Oporto in Leeds supporting Bryde and The Big Wheel on April 17th and at the forthcoming monster Live at Leeds Festival on 5th May. Meanwhile the Elephant Trees tread the boards at Manchester’s Night People on 26th May.