Martina Topley-Bird

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Martina Topley-Bird
Massive Attack @ Conegliano 04 (crop).jpg
Topley-Bird performing with Massive Attack at Conegliano in 2009
Background information
Birth nameMartina Gillian Topley
Born (1975-05-07) 7 May 1975 (age 47)
St Pancras, London, England
OriginBristol, England
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • musician
Years active1993–present

Martina Gillian Topley-Bird (née Topley; born 7 May 1975) is an English singer, 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 (both 1996). In 2003, Topley-Bird released her debut solo album, Quixotic, which was critically praised and earned her a Mercury Prize nomination.[1]

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 song "Sandpaper Kisses" was covered by Stephen Marley and sampled by such artists as Berry Weight and The Weeknd.

Early life[edit]

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 descent, while her father was of untraceable African-American descent.[2][3] 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 and took piano lessons.[4]

Topley-Bird grew up listening to R&B, opera and soul music throughout her childhood.[5] As a teenager, she began listening to alternative rock, and became a fan of The Sugarcubes, Faith No More and Jane's Addiction.[5]


Collaboration with Tricky[edit]

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.[6] "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."[6]

She and Tricky formed a musical partnership, and Topley-Bird collaborated with Tricky as a featured vocalist on his debut album Maxinquaye (1995)[7] (a printing error credited her as "Martine"). Almost all of her vocals on the album were recorded in a single take.[8] 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."[8] 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).

Solo career[edit]

Following a deterioration of her professional and personal relationship with Tricky in 1998, Topley-Bird 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 ideas underpinning 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 about 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.[5]

Topley-Bird performing with Massive Attack in Conegliano, 2009

Quixotic peaked at no. 70 on the UK Albums Chart,[9] 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 shorter 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[10] and reached No. 20 on the UK Indie Charts.[11] "Poison" was released as the second single[12] and reached No.9 on the Indie Charts.[11] The album received generally positive critical reception; the 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.'"[13]

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.[6] Her 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,[14] 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,[15] 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 album The Day Is My Enemy (2015).[16]

In 2018 Martina Topley-Bird released the single "Solitude", which would subsequently appear on the four-track EP MTB Continued. In May 2021 Topley-Bird released the single "Pure Heart" from her upcoming album Forever I Wait.


Topley-Bird cites Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday as vocal influences,[4] as well as Tom Waits and Serge Gainsbourg as instrumental influences.[17] She has cited Bollywood and Asian cinema as an influence on her album artwork as well, including the work of Park Chan-wook.[18]

Personal life[edit]

Topley-Bird has an elder sister named Elizabeth.

Topley-Bird had one daughter with Tricky.[8][19] Mina Mazy (19 March 1995 – 8 May 2019)[20] was born one month after the release of Maxinquaye.

She has said that she doesn't consider herself religious, though she "believes in the need to have a healthy spiritual life".[21]




  • "Need One" (2003)
  • "Anything" (2003)
  • "I Still Feel" (2003)
  • "Soul Food" (2004)
  • "Carnies" (2008)
  • "Poison" (2008)
  • "Baby Blue" (2008)
  • "Crystalised" (2013) (with Mark Lanegan and Warpaint)[23]
  • Solitude (2018)[24]
  • "Pure Heart" (2021)
  • "Hunt" (2021)

Guest appearances[edit]

Topley-Bird performing with Massive Attack, 2009


  1. ^ Tilden, Imogen (22 July 2003). "Mercury shortlist favours newcomers". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 February 2022.
  2. ^ a b c "Into the past, present, and future". The Irish Times. 16 August 2003. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  3. ^ "Martina Topley Bird – Ragga". Soundcloud. Retrieved 6 May 2017.
  4. ^ a b "Martina Topley Bird interview with". 26 May 2010. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 20 March 2015 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ a b c Moody, Paul (2008). "Martina Topley-Bird Biography" (PDF). WME Entertainment. Archived from the original (PDF) on 1 October 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Fox, Killian (10 July 2010). "Martina Topley Bird: 'I played Boggle till 4am the other night. Is that rock'n'roll enough for you?'". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 March 2015.
  7. ^ Kitty (17 February 2012). "Martina Topley-Bird [biography]". Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  8. ^ a b c Lynskey, Dorian (18 April 2012). "Tricky: 'I thought I'd be an underground artist. I was not ready'". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  9. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 562. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  10. ^ "Martina Copley-Bird – Carnies". Independiente. 25 February 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
  11. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 May 2012. Retrieved 14 March 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 12 June 2008. Retrieved 26 March 2008.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Clarke, Paul (2008). "Martina Topley-Bird The Blue God Review". BBC. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  14. ^ "Tricky and Martina Topley Bird to Perform Maxinquaye". Trebuchet Magazine. 27 February 2012. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  15. ^ Minsker, Evan (25 September 2013). "Watch: Martina Topley-Bird, Mark Lanegan, and Warpaint Cover the xx's "Crystalised"". Pitchfork. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  16. ^ Perry, Andrew (30 March 2015). "The Prodigy – The Day is My Enemy". Mojo. Retrieved 5 May 2017.
  17. ^ Topley-Bird, Martina (17 December 2010). "Musicview: Martina Topley Bird" (Interview). Interviewed by MusicView. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  18. ^ Topley-Bird, Martina (2008). "Martina Topley Bird Interview" (Interview). Interviewed by Mk2. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  19. ^ McNulty, Bernadette (15 March 2008). "Martina Topley-Bird: Encounter with an exotic, mysterious Bird". The Telegraph. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  20. ^ "Mina Mazy Topley-Bird - When You Go". Trickyofficial. 28 May 2019. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021.
  21. ^ "Martina Topley-Bird interview". 2008. Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  22. ^ "Anything - Martina Topley-Bird | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  23. ^ "Crystalised (feat. Mark Lanegan & Warpaint)". 21 October 2013. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  24. ^ "Solitude | Martina Topley Bird". 13 November 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2020.
  25. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 17 June 2018. Retrieved 17 June 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]