Lee Martin “At Home” Gig Review

I have been writing gig reviews for more than 30 years, but always from notes taken at the time which act as memory joggers, so this is the first time I have ever written a full review while the concert itself is still taking place! With the current restrictions in New Zealand, and in many other places in the world, live music has stopped overnight as gatherings are not allowed. Originally on this date South African-born Lee Martin was supposed to be playing a gig with her full band, and as that wasn’t possible, she decided instead to host a gig from her house. It felt intimate, and very special, yet she also ensured the sound was going to be as good as possible, utilising her normal PA and mix so her vocals had just a touch of reverb and bounce. I soon realised I needed to find some way of capturing what was taking place so out came the laptop and I am watching the gig on my TV, writing the review as it goes.

By the time it started there were already more people viewing than she expected to attend, and with the help of a glass of red wine she took us on a journey. We started with “Thinking About You”, the lead track from her ‘Lost Girl’ EP which came out last year, which really set the mood. This was followed by a new song, “When I Was Still At Home”, which talks about her emotions at being away from her family as she now lives in New Zealand, and about a lucid dream where she thought her recently departed grandfather was in her room talking to her. As with all her songs, there is a backstory and she made a point of telling us these which adds so much to the experience.

“What If I Die?” is about living your life to the fullest, and not having regrets. Lee has always wanted to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and visiting Italy and the Greek Islands, and she started to think she might never achieve those things if she didn’t organise them. So earlier this year she actually booked the flights to make her dream a reality. Of course, they have now been cancelled but at least she tried 😊. Lee has a very warm and welcoming style, and her friendly and engaging manner combined with her clear and strong vocals means she is a singer-songwriter who the audience warm to immediately, even if they don’t know the material.

“That’s How It Goes” is far slower, sung in a lower register, much darker and I was immediately reminded of Johnny Cash.  “Brave Train” is more upbeat, all about doing the right thing when the time comes. Given the only feedback she was getting were from comments on the Facebook page, Lee was performing as if there was a live crowd in front of her, interacting with comments between songs but without losing the flow of the performance itself. It really did feel like Lee was performing just for each viewer, but without any of the awkwardness which comes when you are sat in the front row of a plane and unable to see the safety video to the stewardess does a presentation just for those three people.

“Whiskey and Red Wine” is another song from the EP and is about a very personal experience from Lee when she was attacked at night and is how she got through it with the love and support of her family and friends. Another slowie, quite country in many ways, it moves around in tempo and feel, as Lee shares yet more emotion. “I Miss You” is her latest song, literally only finished the day of the gig. This is quite different in approach, almost a rock number played on acoustic, with vocals quite breathy and quiet, packed with emotion, just coming to the fore during the bridge and chorus.

“I Can’t Wait Forever” apparently works better when everyone is drinking and swaying, and works much better with a full band, and is another Cash-inspired slow number full of emotion and heartbreak. This was one of the highlights for me, as it really takes the listener into different world, where the guitar and voice, especially the voice, are all that matters.

“Finally Going My Way” is about balancing dreams and personal life, and how friends can be lost while dreams are pursued. Another slower number, with Lee singing in a lower register, she somehow comes across with an American accent, which given she is from SA is not what one expects. But this number soon wakes up, and we get some Joplin-style power. Americana rock, all performed with just vocals and an acoustic. “Kiss My Lips” was originally supposed to be the final number and is a love song as one would expect from the title, but again feels very personal and that Lee is singing to each individual. She then started taking requests, and first up was “Head On My Shoulders”, one of her older numbers and one I hadn’t heard before. This one is upbeat and bouncy, and given she hadn’t played it in years and certainly not rehearsed, sounded mighty fine indeed.

“Lost Girl” was the title of last year’s excellent six-track EP and is probably the slowest number performed tonight. Packed full of emotion it contains many long-held notes and there is no room to hide if a singer can’t maintain pitch, but there is never a problem for Lee who really shines when she gives her voice the room to swell. “I Know You’re Sleeping” is another old one I hadn’t previously come across, a love song written when she was living in New York and her boyfriend was back in South Arica. There were loads of comments coming into the thread, with more and more requests, so Lee kept extending the set, with the next song being “Thunderstorm”, one which Lee wasn’t convinced she would be able to remember more than a verse and chorus as it was so long since she had played it. All about finding the right man to dance with her in the rain, it is more upbeat than many, and yet again once she got into it the memories kicked in and she made it all the way through with no issues. We even got a snippet of a song she wrote in Afrikaans which originally appeared on the Southern Soul ‘Package’ album in 2006, before finally getting to the end of the set with “A Way Out Of Here”, again from the ‘Lost Girl’ EP.

There were many requests for “Hallelujah”, a song she plays in her covers sets, which she very much makes her own with sumptuous vocals. She finally finished what was supposed to be an hour-long set, with a repeat of her very latest song, “I Miss You”. 100 minutes just swept past, and lock down all of a sudden didn’t seem so bad

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And to see the gig yourself, 

An Interview with New Zealand based singer/songwriter Lee Martin

Lee Martin is a New Zealand based singer/songwriter who has been impacting the music scene with her thought-provoking lyrics and storytelling writing style.  She is South African born and has previously recorded two original albums which received ample radio play and enjoyed great success with her fans from all the corners of the world.  A childhood spent listening to greats such as Van Morrison, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen, etc. has greatly influenced her music.  Lee started her training in classical guitar at the age of 9 and has been singing and performing professionally for the past 15 years. Lee Martin is an old soul with a versatile writing style which allows her to cross genres as she glides easily between folk, rock, blues, and country, all the while maintaining her unique sound.

Lee’s storytelling writing style is what intrigues her fans and keeps them captivated. With a new EP being released through AAA Records at the beginning of May, it seemed like a great time to have a catch-up.

Who first influenced you to start performing music?

My dad has always been an incredible music lover with an extensive library of records, and later CD’s.  I remember just absorbing album after album when we visited him fortnightly and studying the lyrics.  If lyrics weren’t included, I would write them out by hand (not always getting it right ha ha). I used to buy a pack of blank tapes before every visit and I would fill them with all my favourite songs by the end of the weekend, and then continue to listen to it for the next couple of weeks leading up to my next visit. Favourites were Van Morrison, Dire Straits, Leonard Cohen, the list goes on… 

When I was five years old, I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar and desperately wanted to be a singer/songwriter. I told my mother of this plan and she was told nine is a good age to learn how to play guitar. This is where the longest wait of my life started! Finally, when I turned nine, my single mother, (on a teaching salary supporting two kids) took me to a pawn shop and we managed to get a $10 guitar that to our incredibly untrained ears sounded semi decent.  It had the highest action and just about killed me to play.  To my dismay at the time, the guitar lessons she enrolled me in was for classical guitar but after my mother took on an extra job after hours to be able to support this dream, I just sucked it up and gave it my all. My guitar teacher soon realized that I had to endure a lot of pain on the guitar I was playing, and he was quite confident about my ability and passion, so he convinced my mother to upgrade my guitar to a Yamaha after which I just took off.  

Because of the classical training, I found it very easy to play chords and pretty much immediately started writing songs about love and other things I had no idea about. My mother was my biggest fan and loved listening to my new compositions (no matter how bad I’m sure they must have been, she loved it). In primary-school I forced family, friends, and neighbors to pay an entrance fee to attend my house concert and in high school Favorites, I had the odd music concert. When I went to University, we started a Uni band and traveled the country with our music. My band was called Southern Soul and we quickly recorded an album and fully immersed ourselves into this music world. The favorite broke up after a few years with life leading us in different directions, but I went solo and kept going at it.

What material have you released? 

My first album was with my band Southern Soul in 2006 and was called “Package,” while my solo album as Lee Martin in 2008 was “I Know You’re Sleeping”. I guess it is similar in a sense to what I am writing now, but I feel like my music has definitely evolved and matured. I then got married and we moved to NZ in 2010.  Soon after that I had a baby, followed by another, so had a bit of a break.  I slowly got back into gigging and starting over in NZ where I was a complete unknown but managed to become active on the scene and I re-released some of my solo music together with some live recordings in 2016 on an album called “Late Night Sessions.”

How would you describe your style to someone who has never heard you before?

I feel like Norah Jones and Eva Cassidy are two of the artists I have been compared to. I like writing about life, and I am a big storyteller in the way I write my songs. I love observing people and making real connections in order to tell a relatable story not only about my own life but about others as well.  I cross the boundaries of genres and would say all these are applicable at some point; folk, country, blues.

Who inspires you now, both locally and globally?

Van Morrison is my ultimate inspiration as he kind of breaks all the rules. He keeps bringing out new music, performing and doing what he loves. He never stops. It’s just is who he is. Also, I love the way he crosses the boundaries of genres. He’s not worried about having massive hits or impressing anyone (I know he can be a grumpy bugger), he is just doing his thing and I love it!  I also love Norah jones and the fact that she just released another album. 

Locally, I adore Jamie McDell, Matty Von Voin, Marlon Williams (the list goes on). NZ has so much amazing talent.

When you perform live is it just by yourself or do you have a regular band?

I like the simplicity of performing by myself and this is what I do most of the time. For bigger shows and launches I’ll perform with a band.

What are your plans for the next six months?

Promoting this EP as much as possible and touring around NZ, Australia and back in South Africa in September.

by Kev Rowland