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Sunday, 2 October 2011

Baby's Fine: The Life Of Alice Martineau

When the ~Streetlamp~ team enjoyed their much celebrated visit to Portencross back in July (see here), the events of the day out there in the real world were a little darker than usual. The day began with the news of the massacre in Norway, and then as we made our way home, we learned of the death of Amy Winehouse.
Amy's death was a strange thing in that nobody I know seemed in the least bit shocked or surprised by the news! Amy's music may not have been to the ~Streetlamp~'s personal taste, but you'd have to deaf or stupid to deny that she was a genuinely talented singer. Her life had become yet another tabloid-inflamed carcrash that the scummy redtops seem to exist purely to document these days, but I couldn't help but feel that all this Rock'n'Roll-leave-a-beautiful-corpse tripe really needs to be knocked on the head. Why should we just accept that rock stars MUST die young to preserve their 'outsider' image? Bullshit!
And what of those stars whose bright light is extinguished without the drink, drugs and Bacchanalian excesses? How should we feel about them? Well, when it comes to someone like the subject of tonight's Blog, then all I can feel is a powerful sense of melancholy, and desperate sadness that yet another mercurial talent never achieved it's full potential.
Welcome to the world of Alice Martineau......
Baby's fine's just it don't show...

Like most people who fell in love with the music of Alice Martineau, I first heard her through Radio1 DJ Jo Whiley who was an early champion of her songs. Alice's debut single 'If I Fall' was played constantly on Jo's show during the Winter of 2002, and although I was originally ambivalent towards it's charms, the infectious power of Alice's crystal clear voice somehow broke through my snobbish veneer.
Her debut album 'Daydreams', released in November that year, was one of the albums I received that Christmas and it practically soundtracked the whole Festive period of that year; the first Christmas spent in my new home.

I have to admit that I didn't know an awful lot about Alice, and she never seemed to appear in many of the music papers of that time, but I had somehow picked out from what Jo had said that Alice had some illness and was awaiting an operation.
And then in March of 2003, a couple of months after that Christmas, Jo Whiley announced on her show that Alice Martineau had died. She passed away on the 6th of March, a victim to the cystic fibrosis she had suffered from since birth. The phonecall she waited her whole life for, to tell her that a complete heart and lung transplant could be performed, simply never came. She had just passed her 30th birthday, yet she looked a decade younger.
That night I re-listened to the album and re-read the lyric booklet and from that moment the songs never meant the same again. I now knew that all the references to hurt and loss were not about some silly love affair or some mad crush, but were actually about standing up to a respiratory disease that she knew she only stood a small chance of beating.
Suddenly my favourite song of hers, 'Baby's Fine' took on a whole new meaning. I had always imagined it was about how she was coping with a broken heart, but reading the lyrics again I now saw that she was telling the world that she can't get on and enjoy her life if people keep asking how she is, constantly reminding her that she isn't well; "Danger grows in the mind// It's so hard when your life's one big lie"...

Another favourite track, 'Inside Of You'(which features a startlingly heart-wrenching vocal), I now know was written by Alice as if from beyond the grave, looking back and seeing her memory kept alive by the people who loved her. Quite how someone so young finds the strength and clarity of mind to approach such a lyrical view is beyond me....

Alice's record company, Sony, had planned to release a second single 'The Right Time' in the February of 2003 but had been made aware of her deteriorating condition and didn't want to put any undue pressure on her to perform and so withheld the release. This means that Alice's entire recorded output is TWO releases, one single and one album.
The only other artifact she left us with was a 60 minute documentary made for the BBC called 'The Nine Lives Of Alice Martineau'. Below is the opening segment of it:

The documentary goes on to show Alice as being feisty, funny and full of life. She admits to having spent her teenage years listening to The Smiths and The Cure, and reveals that it was her constant coughing when she was young that had strengthened her diaphragm which in turn gave her that powerful delivery. She is also shown singing live in some club, proving that she could cut it live too.
Just as before, the documentary only aired after Alice had died, and so yet again the programme takes on a different hue once the viewer knows the outcome of her short life.
This short piece shows a demo of 'If I Fall' with a brief interview at the end (apologies for the very poor quality):

Sadly, Alice remains a mere footnote in the history of music, except of course to those who fell under her spell in that short period in late 2002, but when people talk about it being better to burn brightly than to fade away (another hoary old Rock cliche), I think of Alice and how she'd probably mock the ridiculousness of the whole 'beautiful corpse' nonsense.
"I've got this chilling feeling//Coming over me//My mind's exposed//I know it shows//But I'm gaining sanity//And tomorrow you will understand//I'm not trying to be anything but me//Could it be too late now?"

Alice Martineau 8 June 1972 – 6 March 2003
R.I.P xx


(I was going to post a Download of her album here, but at the risk of incurring the wrath of Sony, decided not to. However, the whole album is available to listen to on Youtube!)

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