biography

 
 
    the story so far...    
   
Martina Topley Bird was born on May 7 in 1975, grew up in London, Maidenhead and then Somerset. Some people still think she is called 'Martine', but that was just a printing error in the booklet of her first album with Tricky, 'Maxinquaye'. Martina went to school in Sussex and Bristol, where she later met Tricky. She has quite a big family: "Her mother has five children, her stepfather three. Her real father died when she was a child." (The Observer 2003) Almost all her family seems to be involved in music somehow. Her mother works in the music business, one of her sisters works in New York, where she books bands and two of her brother are involved in a group called Outtro. Martina herself was singing since she was very young, first in choirs, then in a school jazz band. Then she was into punk and dyed her hair blue. She listened a lot to bands like Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins or Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Martina met Tricky in 1990, when she was 15 years old and still in school. How they met sounds like a myth, but is obviously true: Martina was sitting on a wall in her school uniform, smoking, Tricky comes up and chats her up. "So we met that day and I went round to his house a couple of weeks later. Tricky was out but Mark Stewart [former singer with the apocalyptic post-punk band The Pop Group] was there - he'd known Tricky since he was about 15. So I was banging on the door pissed out of my head on Merrydown. I climbed in through a window and we must have spoken about the band I was in, because next time Tricky was, like, oh, you're a singer." (The Face 96)

The rest is history: they recorded 'Aftermath', Tricky pressed a 12" off it and got a contract with Island Records. In 1994 they record the songs for 'Maxinquaye' together. Tricky and Martina are like chalk and cheese, but obviously that's one of the reasons why their music is so intense and fascinating. In spring 1995 the first Tricky tour starts through the UK with PJ Harvey. Martina is already pregnant, so Alison Goldfrapp takes her place live. Shortly after the release of Maxinquaye Martina's  and Tricky's daughter Mazy (in articles sometimes misspelled Maisie) gets born. Martina joins the touring shortly after, probably from the beginning of May on (here's a live review of one of her first shows).

In the following years their relationship is already over, Martina says at the end of 1995 that Tricky and herself "have grown apart" (NME 95). But they still work together and record songs, in 1996 they record 'Pre Millennium Tension' in Jamaica. Afterwards Martina goes on US tour with Porno For Pyros as a background singer (listen to one song here!). In 1997 Martina is still touring with Tricky, in 1998 she only appears on stage with him at the Glastonbury festival.

In 1998 their musical relationship ends. Tricky explains that they won't work together anymore, because (as he explained it) the press said he's a bad father. He relates to two articles in The Face, one from 1996 by Andrew Smith, and one from 1998 by Craig McLean (for some other reason). Tricky explained:  "When I read that Face thing, I started thinking we should split up. Our relationship's good, it's been seven years, and the fact we were seeing each other, had a kid, stopped seeing each other and carried on making albums is unbelievable." (Big Issue 98)

Luckily Martina keeps on making music, in 1999 she contributes backing vocals on two songs of Primus' 'Antipop' album. She also collaborates with David Holmes on two tracks of his album 'Bow Down To The Exit Sign' (see discography). He will produce some tracks on her own solo album.

For a long time rumours were floating around that Martina will record an album with jazz standards. Tricky already mentioned in 1999 that she will write songs and he will maybe produce some of those (Il Mucchio Selvaggio). She got signed to Independiente Records and releases her first single, 'Need One', in 2003. Tricky records three songs with her for her debut solo album (Ragga, Stevie's and Ilya), but she wrote most of the songs with Alex McGowan (The Starseed), Steve Crittall and her stepbrother Nick Bird. Finally in July the album with the title 'Quixotic' is released, and soon afterwards nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. She also starts touring in the UK in summer, followed by a few gigs in France and the Netherlands. The rest of the world still needs to wait some years to finally see her live. Quixotic is released in the US one year later, but with another cover, song order and title ('Anything'). Producer is Chris Blackwell from Palm Pictures, who also worked with Tricky a lot.

In the following years it gets a bit quiet around Martina, although she can be heard on other people's albums. Her collaborations include the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Gorillaz, Diplo, Puracane, Jet Lag and Son of Dave, whom she also joined on stage a couple of times (see discography for details about all these releases). In 2005 she covers the song 'I Only Have Eyes For You', while even one of her songs gets covered ('Too Tough To Die', by the Twilight Singers). 

Meanwhile she is working on a new album, which is produced by Danger Mouse. The album is called "The Blue God" and finally released in 2008 (coincidently also Tricky released his first album in 5 years in 2008). The album release is followed by an intensive European tour from April to November.

In the year 2009 Martina records two songs with Leila Arab ('Deflect' and 'Why Should I' with Terry Hall, both on her album "Blood, Looms And Blooms") and also with Massive Attack, something they always wanted to, as they say in interviews: "It was one of those things where we've always wanted to work with Martina because we've always thought she was amazing, but politically we never really approached her because of the Tricky situation" (BBC News). The "Tricky situation" refers to personal problems between Massive Attack and Tricky back in 1994. But obviously things have healed between Massive and Tricky. Martina records four songs with Massive Attack: 'Babel' and 'Psyche' (also written by her) landed on the album "Heligoland", released in 2010. The other two are still unreleased: 'Invade Me' and 'Red Light'. Martina also goes on tour with Massive Attack in 2009 and 2010, performing as support act, but also joining them on stage to perform some songs ('Babel' and 'Psyche' of course, but also 'Teardrop' and the two unreleased songs 'Invade Me' and 'Red Light'). 'Red Light' was only released as a remix by Clark on the 'Atlas Air EP' (listen to it on You Tube). To close the circle Martina sang one song on Clark's album "Iradelphic" ('Secret') in 2012. 

The excessive touring during the last years results in a sort-of live album in 2010: 'Some Place Simple'. It features stripped-down versions of her songs from Quixotic and Blue God and also four new songs. She also records two songs with the French group Molecule ('Baby Girl 2014' and a cover of 'Black Steel', unreleased so far). Talking about covers: Neneh Cherry covers Martina's song 'Too Tough To Die' on her album 'The Cherry Thing' in 2012. Martina starts as a vocal coach at the music college BIMM in Bristol, giving a master class on February 17 (read about it here) and hosting a choir, who performed some of her songs on February 22 (see photos here). The choir performed 'Ilya' and 'Sweet Thing'. Sweet Thing is yet unreleased, she played it live around 2008, for example here. She is listed as a vocal coach and songwriting coach on their official website.

In April 2012 Martina returns on stage with Tricky for a short Maxinquaye-reunion tour in the UK in April! The gigs were a bit disappointing for fans, because Tricky was not in the mood to play, but Martina gave her best. Later Tricky admits in interviews that his manager persuaded him to do the shows and it was a mistake: "As soon as I walked on stage I realised that this manager took me back 15 years and not in a good way... Itís not his fault, he wasnít doing it maliciously, but it was just a very bad idea" (Faster Louder). Martina also does some solo shows this year and joins the Africa Express train with about 80 other musicians, she plays with Tony Allen and The Noisettes, to name just a few. She posts on Facebook that she is playing also some new material during her solo show, then in 2013 she announces a new studio album (again coincidently also Tricky released his first album in 5 years!), which we are awaiting eagerly...
 

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