Echoes of Success: The Martha and the Muffins Story


Who is Martha and the Muffins?

Martha and the Muffins is a Canadian new wave band formed in Toronto in 1977. Known for their eclectic sound that blends post-punk, art rock, and new wave influences, the band achieved international success with their hit single “Echo Beach” in 1980.

Formation and Early Years (1977-1979)

Martha and the Muffins was formed by two art students, Martha Johnson and Mark Gane, at the Ontario College of Art. They were soon joined by David Millar, Carl Finkle, Mark Gane’s brother Tim Gane, and Martha Ladly. The band name was chosen as a playful jab at the plethora of “The Something-something” band names at the time.

The group quickly became a staple in the Toronto music scene, known for their quirky and innovative performances. Their unique sound combined elements of punk, rock, and electronic music, setting them apart from their contemporaries.

Breakthrough with "Echo Beach" (1979-1980)

In 1979, Martha and the Muffins signed with the British label Dindisc, a subsidiary of Virgin Records. Their debut album, “Metro Music,” was released in 1980 and included the single “Echo Beach.” The song became an international hit, reaching the top 10 in Canada, the UK, and several other countries. Its catchy melody and lyrics captured the imagination of a generation and remain iconic to this day.

Subsequent Albums and Lineup Changes (1981-1985)

The success of “Echo Beach” propelled the band into the spotlight. However, they faced challenges in maintaining their momentum. Their second album, “Trance and Dance” (1980), and third album, “This is the Ice Age” (1981), saw significant lineup changes, with several members leaving and new ones joining. Notably, Daniel Lanois produced “This is the Ice Age,” helping to shape the band’s evolving sound.

In 1982, the band released “Danseparc” another collaboration with Daniel Lanois. The album further showcased their willingness to experiment with different sounds and production techniques.

By the mid-1980s, Martha and the Muffins underwent a significant transformation, with Mark Gane and Martha Johnson remaining the core members. They released “Mystery Walk” in 1984, which included the Canadian hit “Black Stations/White Stations,” a song that tackled issues of racial segregation in the music industry.

Hiatus and Solo Projects (1986-1991)

Following the release of their 1985 album “The World is A Ball” Martha and the Muffins took a hiatus. During this period, Johnson and Gane focused on solo projects and other collaborations. Johnson released a solo album, “Solo One” in 1997, while Gane worked on various production and music projects.

Reunion and Later Years (1992-Present)

In the early 1990s, Martha and the Muffins reformed, primarily as a duo consisting of Johnson and Gane. They released “Modern Lullaby”  in 1992, which was well-received by critics but did not achieve significant commercial success. After another extended hiatus, the band re-emerged in 2010 with the album “Delicate” which marked a return to their roots while incorporating modern influences. This period also saw renewed interest in their earlier work, with reissues and retrospective collections.

Martha Johnson and Parkinson's Disease

As the lead vocalist and co-founder of Martha and the Muffins, Martha Johnson has been open about her battle with Parkinson’s disease. Diagnosed in 2001, Johnson has faced significant challenges due to the progressive nature of the disease, which affects movement and can cause tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination.

Diagnosis and Early Impact

Martha’s diagnosis came after she began experiencing symptoms that interfered with her ability to perform and record music. The diagnosis was a significant moment for her, marking the beginning of a long journey to manage the condition while continuing her career in music.

Coping and Advocacy

Despite the challenges, Martha  has shown remarkable resilience. She has become an advocate for Parkinson’s disease awareness, using her platform to educate others about the condition. Her advocacy includes speaking engagements and participating in events aimed at raising funds for research and support for those affected by the disease.

In 2013, Martha released “Solo One”, a solo album that received critical acclaim. The project demonstrated her enduring talent and commitment to her craft, despite the physical limitations imposed by Parkinson’s disease. Now, Martha’s new single, “Slow Emotion,” is a fortifying hit of emotional oxygen for those living with Parkinson’s Disease. According to Parkinson Canada, more than 100,000 people in Canada live with Parkinson’s.

Released under the project name Martha Johnson and Company, the song furthers the reputation for courageous exploration Martha has carved out. This time, she’s used soothing keyboard pads and an easygoing, quasi-R&B bounce to send a message about the need to stop, listen and relate. In this episode she shares her thoughts about this song and tells us about how it came to fruition. 

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