|Martha and the Muffins|
|M + M|
|Origin||Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
|Genres||Art pop, new wave, funk|
Martha and the Muffins are a Canadian art popband, active from 1977 to the present. Although they only had one major international hit single "Echo Beach" under their original band name, they had a number of hits in their native Canada, and the core members of the band also charted in Canada and internationally as M + M.
The group's initial line-up came together in Toronto in 1977, when David Millar asked his fellow Ontario College of Art student Mark Gane to help him start a band. Millar recruited Martha Johnson to play keyboards; Johnson brought in a friend from high school, Carl Finkle, to play bass; and Gane's brother Tim signed on as the drummer. With Millar and Mark Gane as guitarists, and Johnson as lead vocalist, this is the line up that debuted at an Ontario College of Art Hallowe'en party in October 1977.
They chose the name "Martha and the Muffins" to distance themselves from the aggressive names adopted by many punk bands of the era. According to Mark Gane: "We decided to use it as a temporary name until we could all agree on something better." The name ended up sticking for the next seven years.
Saxophone player Andy Haas began performing with the band in early 1978 (initially, as a guest artist). Founding-member Millar left the band shortly thereafter, preferring to work as the band's sound engineer for live shows. He was replaced by Martha Ladly, who had attended high school with the Ganes. She became the group's second keyboardist/vocalist named Martha, although Martha Johnson remained the group's primary lead singer.
In 1979, the band travelled to England to record their first album Metro Music (1980) for the DinDisc Label - a Virgin Records subsidiary. The album was produced by Mike Howlett and recorded at The Manor Studios in Oxfordshire.
This album gave Martha and the Muffins a major international hit single with "Echo Beach". Although the album didn't spawn any further hits, "Paint by Number Heart" did get some airplay on Canadian radio while "Saigon" and a further single "Suburban Dream" were played on BBC Radio 1. In addition, both songs received airplay on the American dance charts.
In October 1980, the band released their second album, Trance and Dance, which was less successful and didn't give the band any hit singles. Ladly left the band after the album was recorded (but before it was released) to pursue an art scholarship. Jean Wilson briefly replaced Ladly on tour in the latter part of 1980, but never recorded with the group.
In 1981, bassist Finkle left the band and was replaced by Jocelyne Lanois, the sister of then-unknown record producer Daniel Lanois. After Jocelyne introduced the band to her brother, they figured Daniel was an ideal candidate to produce their next LP. However, in order to utilize his services as a co-producer, Martha and the Muffins had to agree to Virgin Records' demand that, if they were going to insist on working with an unknown producer, they would also have to work with a lower album-recording budget.
Martha and the Muffins' 1981 album This Is the Ice Age, produced by Daniel Lanois and the band, was recorded in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario. More experimental than previous efforts, it also gained significant Canadian radio airplay from the singles "Women Around the World at Work" (a No. 24 hit in Canada, peaking on November 7 of the same year on the RPM national singles chart) and "Swimming". Shortly after the album's release, Tim Gane decided he did not want to tour, and left the band; he was replaced by new drummer Nick Kent.
Despite critical acclaim, This Is the Ice Age didn't spin off any hit singles outside of Canada, and Virgin dropped the band from their roster.
After the tour for This Is the Ice Age, Haas left the band over creative differences in a very public spat carried out in the "letters to the editor" column of Toronto's NOW. The band, now a quartet (Martha Johnson, Mark Gane, Jocelyne Lanois, and Nick Kent), signed to Canadian indie label Current Records, distributed by RCA.
1983's Danseparc was produced by Daniel Lanois, Gane, and Johnson. Gane, eager to drop the name "Martha and the Muffins", proposed that the group be now called "M + M". In a compromise, both names were used for a time, and the Danseparc album cover had both "M + M" and "Martha and the Muffins" printed on it.
The album's title track was another top 40 single in Canada and, for the Danseparc tour, the group was augmented by auxiliary players including guitarist Michael Brook. At the end of the tour, Gane and Johnson (now a couple) announced that, although they wanted to continue as a recording act, they also wanted to branch out in new directions by using new collaborators. In essence, Gane and Johnson decided that "M + M" was now Martha + Mark, along with studio musicians and sidemen.
The duo's 1984 album Mystery Walk was again co-produced by Daniel Lanois with Gane and Johnson, and it featured a large sticker crediting the band as "M + M o/k/a Martha and the Muffins". Guest players included drummer Yogi Horton, bassist Tinker Barfield, and the Brecker Brothers on horns.
Mystery Walk album gave M + M/Martha and the Muffins their biggest hit in years with "Black Stations/White Stations". The song was an anti-racist anthem whose first verse took radio stations to task for refusing to play a song about mixed-race romance, a story that Martha Johnson had heard related on the radio while driving in her car.
"Black Stations/White Stations" was a hit in Canada; in the United States, it reached no. 2 on the dance music charts, but was ironically banned by many radio stations. "Cooling the Medium", the second single, was also a significant hit in Canada.
In 1985, Johnson and Gane started work on their next album in Montreal before heading to Bath, England to work with producer David Lord, resulting in the album The World Is a Ball (1986). Although the lead single, "Song in My Head", garnered them some airplay (and was another top 40 hit in Canada), the album sold poorly, and Gane and Johnson subsequently moved to England for a time.
Johnson and Gane took several years to record a follow-up to The World Is a Ball. Recording started in Bath, where the couple had moved to in 1987, and it continued in Toronto when they moved back to their home city in 1989.
In 1992, they released the album Modern Lullaby. For these and all future releases, the duo revived the name "Martha and the Muffins", although the only other original Muffin to participate in the making of this album was Tim Gane (on "additional percussion").
The lead single "Rainbow Sign" made RPM's "CanCon to Watch" chart at no. 4 but didn't cross over into the top 100, and the parent album similarly failed to chart. The same year, Martha and the Muffins contributed a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Shades of Scarlett Conquering" for the Mitchell tribute album Back to the Garden.
In 1992 Johnson and Gane's daughter Eve was born. After the disappointing sales of Modern Lullaby, and a new family situation to consider, Johnson and Gane essentially shut down the band and moved to other projects for the next several years.
In 1995, Johnson released an album of children's music entitled Songs from the Tree House. Credited simply to "Martha", the album was an M+M/Martha and the Muffins project in all but name, as the record was written, arranged and produced by Gane and Johnson. Songs from the Tree House won a 1996 Juno Award for best children's album.
In 1998, Johnson and Gane recorded a single new bonus track ("Resurrection") for the 1998 Martha and the Muffins/M+M compilation album Then Again: A Retrospective. The following year, another new Martha and the Muffins recording ("Do You Ever Wonder?") appeared on a various-artists compilation called The World According to Popguru.
In May 1999, Martha and the Muffins performed a live version of "Echo Beach" on the show Open Mike with Mike Bullard. In addition to Mark Gane and Martha Johnson, the band included Jocelyne Lanois and another Gane brother, Nick.
In 2003, the Johnson/Gane duo (augmented by session players) performed at the CFNY Reunion as Martha and the Muffins. Then in 2005, they performed a number of reunion shows in Toronto, including a double bill with the also-reunited Parachute Club on 14 May. A later concert that year also included Jocelyne Lanois on guitar. However, no other former Martha and the Muffins members participated in these 2005 'reunion' shows, which were the first full-length Martha and the Muffins concerts since 1987. Around this time, one of their later songs, "Paradise", became popularized when the Canadian TV show Paradise Falls used the song as its closing-credits theme.
In 2007/2008, Martha and the Muffins had both This Is the Ice Age and Danseparc reissued on CD. The latter was billed as Danseparc: 25th Anniversary Edition, and was digitally remastered by Peter J. Moore. Both albums featured bonus tracks.
In June 2008, Martha and the Muffins began work on a new album, to be called Delicate, in collaboration with prodoucer David Bottrill. In December 2009, the first single from the album Mess was made available on YouTube. The album was released on February 2, 2010, on their own label Muffin Music. It was Martha and the Muffins' first album of new material in 18 years.
In early 2013, Martha Johnson announced she would be recording a solo album, and raised money for the recording using Kickstarter. The album Solo One was billed as her solo debut, even though she previously had released a solo kids album. Johnson's M+M/Muffins partner Mark Gane was involved in every stage of the album, co-producing all 11 tracks, playing on nine, and co-writing seven. Other contributors to the album, which was released in the autumn of 2013, included Ron Sexsmith and Ray Dillard.
|Martha and the Muffins discography|
|Year||Album details||Chart peak positions|
|1980||Trance and Dance
|1981||This Is the Ice Age
|1986||The World Is a Ball
|1987||Far Away in Time
|1998||Then Again: A Retrospective
|Year||Single||Chart peak positions||Album|
|US Hot 100
|1979||"Insect Love" (re-recorded version)||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|1980||"Echo Beach"||5||5||6||10||-||37 ||Metro Music|
|"Paint by Number Heart"||69||20||-||-||-||37 |
|"About Insomnia"||-||-||-||-||-||-||Trance and Dance|
|"Women Around the World at Work"||24||10||-||-||-||-||This Is the Ice Age|
|1983||"Danseparc (Every Day It's Tomorrow)"||31||-||-||-||-||-||Danseparc|
|1984||"Black Stations/White Stations"||26||11||-||46||63||2||Mystery Walk|
|"Cooling the Medium"||72||-||-||-||-||34|
|1986||"Song in My Head"||30||25||-||-||-||-||The World Is a Ball|
|"Someone Else's Shoes"||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|1992||"Rainbow Sign"||-||-||-||-||-||-||Modern Lullaby|
Unfortunately, however, thanks to a certain, indelible tune called "Echo Beach," success came so swiftly to the frosty-exteriored art-pop outfit in 1980 - "almost a matter of months" after the group had formed, says co-founder Mark Gane - that the ensuing years would become a pitched battle between the band's ambitions and a music industry more interested in duplicating that hit.