Martina Topley-Bird

Martina Topley-Bird

Performing with Massive Attack, 2009
Background information
Birth name Martina Gillian Topley
Born (1975-05-07) 7 May 1975
St Pancras, London, England
Origin Bristol, London, England
Genres Trip hop, indie pop, indie rock, alternative hip hop
Occupation(s) Vocalist, songwriter, musician
Instruments Vocals, guitar, keyboards, ukulele, bass, rainstick, drums, tambourine
Years active 1993–present
Labels Independiente, Honest Jon's
Associated acts Tricky, Massive Attack, Gorillaz, Danger Mouse, Mark Lanegan, Cath Coffey, Warpaint

Martina Gillian Topley-Bird (born 7 May 1975)[1] is an English vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who first gained fame as the featured female vocalist on trip hop pioneer Tricky's debut album, Maxinquaye (1995). She also worked with him on his subsequent albums Nearly God and Pre-Millennium Tension (1996). In 2003, Topley-Bird released her debut solo album, Quixotic, which was critically praised and earned her a Mercury Prize nomination.

This was followed by Anything (2004), The Blue God (2008), and Some Place Simple (2010). She has also collaborated with Gorillaz, appearing on their album Demon Days (2005), as well as with Mark Lanegan, Diplo, and Massive Attack on Heligoland (2010), which she followed by a world tour with the group. Her work has been sampled by such artists as Stephen Marley, Berry Weight, and The Weeknd.


Early life

Martina Topley-Bird was born in London, England to Charlette Conlon (née Pouncey), and Martin Geoffrey Topley, who died in 1974 before her birth; Martina was named after him. Her stepfather is British direct marketing specialist Drayton Bird, whose surname she adopted in addition to her father's. Her mother is of Salvadoran and Seminole Indian descent, while her father was of untraceable African American descent.[2][3][4] Topley-Bird grew up in a large family, with five siblings and three step-siblings.[2]

Her family later relocated from London to Bristol. "We moved about a bit when I was a child, which wasn't a problem for me," she recalled. "If you're not white and middle-class, then you're slightly different and exotic in those new environments. I thrived, and survived, on those situations."[2] She attended Clifton College, where she was a member of the school choir[5] and took piano lessons.[6]

Topley-Bird grew up listening to R&B, opera, and soul music throughout her childhood.[7] As a teenager, she began listening to alternative rock, and became a fan of The Sugarcubes, Faith No More, and Jane's Addiction.[7]

Collaboration with Tricky

In 1993, as a teenager at Clifton College, Topley-Bird was discovered by trip hop pioneer Tricky when he saw her sitting on a wall near his house, singing to herself.[8] "That's really how it happened," she recalled. "It's one of those things people are always surprised to find out is true. I remember the graveyard behind the wall. A few weeks later, I went around to his house with some friends. We'd been drinking cider after our GCSEs. We were banging on his door, but he wasn't in. Then Mark Stewart, who lived there, came up to us and said: "Yeah, this is Tricky's house, jump in through the window." So I jumped through, opened the door and we got mashed."[8]

She and Tricky formed a musical partnership, and Topley-Bird collaborated with Tricky as a featured vocalist on his debut album Maxinquaye (1995)[9] (a printing error credited her as "Martine"). Almost all of her vocals on the album were recorded in a single take.[10] In describing the recording sessions, she recalled, "It was totally instinctive. There was no time to drum up an alter ego. I liked the idea that the information people needed about me was what they would hear when they put the record on. Anything else was sort of extraneous. I didn't think there was anything in my biography that would explain my musical choices."[10] Topley-Bird continued her collaboration with Tricky on his follow-up albums Nearly God (1996), Pre-Millennium Tension (1996), and Angels with Dirty Faces (1998). Topley-Bird and Tricky have one child together, a daughter, born one month after the release of Maxinquaye.

Solo career

Following a falling-out of their professional and personal relationship in 1998, she began pursuing a solo career. It was not until 2003 that she released her debut album, Quixotic through Independiente Records, which she recorded in Los Angeles, California. The record was mainly produced by Topley-Bird and production team AMP9 (Alex McGowan, Steve Crittall, Nick Bird) at Space Eko Recording Studios London. She commented on the concept of the album, saying:

A lot of it is about the notion of physical proximity relative to emotional connections between people. My dad, Martin Topley, died when he was twenty-nine. Between the release of ‘Quixotic’ and now, I turned twenty-nine, and I started thinking and what I’d achieved in my life as a human being. Also I wanted to focus on the nature of my relationship with him and with my step father because of the way I felt those relationships were affecting my other relationships.[7]
Topley-Bird performing with Massive Attack in Conegliano, 2009

Quixotic peaked at no. 70 on the UK Albums Chart,[11] received positive reviews from critics, and was a finalist for the 2003 Mercury Music Prize. The album finally saw a limited release in the United States in July 2004 when the Palm Pictures label released a re-designed and re-sequenced version under the title Anything, which featured a trimmed-down track listing and all-new cover art. The following year she appeared on the Starbucks compilation album, Sweetheart 2005: Love Songs, which features contemporary musicians covering classic love songs. She sang "I Only Have Eyes for You", a song originally by composer Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin.

Her second solo album, The Blue God, was released in May 2008. The track "Carnies" was released as the first single on 3 March 2008[12] and reached No.20 on the UK Indie Charts.[13] "Poison" was released as the second single[14] and reached No.9 on the Indie Charts.[13] The album received generally positive critical reception; BBC said it "warps reflections of Ella Fitzgerald, two-tone ska, dark psychedelia and Pentangle's 'acid folk' into unsettling shapes... It's an often astonishing album and one which, if Tricky's forthcoming comeback can't match it, may curse him to be known as 'that bloke who used to rap with Martina Topley Bird.'"[15]

In 2010, Topley-Bird appeared on the album Heligoland by Massive Attack, lending her voice on the tracks "Psyche" and "Babel". She also toured with Massive Attack as their support act and providing guest vocals at their shows.[8] Topley-Bird's third album, Some Place Simple, was released in July 2010. It contained stripped-down versions of songs from her first two releases, along with four new songs. Topley-Bird performed Maxinquaye live at the Sundance Festival, London, in April 2012,[16] and also appeared on the tracks "Open" and "Secret" on electronic musician Clark's album Iradelphic. In 2013 contributed to a cover of the xx's "Crystalised" with Mark Lanegan and Warpaint,[17] and also toured with Warpaint as a supporting act on their 2013 world tour. On 26 January 2015, she appeared as lead vocalist on title track "The Day is My Enemy", the second single of The Prodigy's, from their latest album The Day Is My Enemy (2015).[18]


Topley-Bird cites Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday as vocal influences,[6] as well as Tom Waits and Serge Gainsbourg as instrumental influences.[19] She has cited Bollywood and Asian cinema as an influence on her album artwork as well, including the work of Park Chan-wook.[20]

Personal life

Topley-Bird has one daughter, Mazy, born in March 1995, with Tricky.[10] She has said that she doesn't consider herself religious, though she "believes in the need to have a healthy spiritual life."[21]


Guest appearances
Topley-Bird performing with Massive Attack, 2009


  1. "England and Wales Birth Registration Index, 1837-2008," database, FamilySearch (1 October 2014), Martina Gillian Topley, 1975; from "England & Wales Births, 1837-2006," database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing Birth Registration, St. Pancras, London, England, citing General Register Office, Southport, England.
  2. 1 2 3 Staff (2003-08-16). "Into the past, present, and future". Irish Times. Retrieved 2015-09-30.
  3. FindMyPast website
  4. 1 2 "Martina Topley Bird interview with". YouTube. 2010-05-26. Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  5. 1 2 3 Moody, Paul (2008). "Martina Topley-Bird Biography" (PDF). WME Entertainment. Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  6. 1 2 3 Fox, Killian (2010-07-10). "Martina Topley Bird: 'I played Boggle till 4am the other night. Is that rock'n'roll enough for you?'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-03-21.
  7. Martina biography, the story so far...
  8. 1 2 3 Lynskey, Dorian (2012-04-18). "Tricky: 'I thought I'd be an underground artist. I was not ready'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  9. Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 562. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  10. – Martina Topley-Bird – London – Autre / Autre –
  11. 1 2 BBC – Radio 1 – Chart Show – Indie Singles
  12. NEW SINGLE ANNOUNCEMENT! – Martina Topley Bird
  13. Clarke, Paul (2008). "Martina Topley-Bird The Blue God Review". BBC. Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  14. "Tricky and Martina Topley Bird to Perform Maxinquaye". Trebuchet Magazine. 2012-02-27. Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  15. Minsker, Evan (2013-09-25). "Watch: Martina Topley-Bird, Mark Lanegan, and Warpaint Cover the xx's "Crystalised"". Pitchfork. Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  17. Topley-Bird, Martina (2010-12-17). "Musicview: Martina Topley Bird" (Interview). Interview with MusicView. Retrieved 2015-03-21.
  18. Topley-Bird, Martina (2008). "Martina Topley Bird Interview" (Interview). Interview with Mk2. Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  19. FaceCulture (2008). "Martina Topley-Bird interview". Retrieved 2015-03-20.
  20. "Crystalised (feat. Mark Lanegan & Warpaint)". iTunes. 2013-10-21. Retrieved 2013-11-03.
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