Content from: Post weekend - the Nottingham post - june 21, 2003
Gifted singer/songwriter Alice Martineau was tipped for great things with her debut album. Then she died in March, aged 30, from cystic fibrosis - which she had battled since birth. Her Nottingham-based manager Phil Long tells Mhairi McFarlane why he thinks Alice's talents will make her a star, even posthumously
The voice of an angel
Alice Martineau's brief life contained many blessings and one terrible blight. She had intelligence (a first class English degree), beauty (working for a short stint as a model), talent (record label Sony signed her on the strength of just a handful of songs), a devoted boyfriend and a loving family at her home in the wealthy area of Kensington, west London.
if Alice had never been ill, she would've said to have been born with a silver spoon in her mouth, leading a charmed existence. Instead, she was born struggling for breath, cursed with cystic fibrosis, a genetically inherited, incurable disease which clogs the lungs and other organs with thick sticky mucus. She needed a machine to give her oxygen day and night, a stomach tube and 40 pills a day.
Her only chance of survival - cystic fibrosis sufferers do not have a life expectancy beyond around 35 years - was a heart, liver and lung transplant operation, a risky procedure with a low success rate. Alice carried a bleeper which, if it went off, gave her two hours to get to a hospital in the event of a donor being found.
"I think she always thought the pager would go off at first," says Phil Long, her manager.
"But she gradually realized that it wouldn't."
Alice died at home on March 6, aged 30, after a haemorrhage so severe and sudden that there was no time to save her.
She was positive about the prospect of recovery to the end.
Although Alice has gone, Phil is still championing her cause. When I speak to him in the days after her death, he sounds shaken.
"She'll be a star," he says.
The 56-year-old lives in The Park and began his career in music with a job at the old Selectadisc shop, in Goldsmith street, as a fresh-faced and keen twentysomething.
Phil spotted his knack for promotion when Ken Dodd was visiting the city: He came up with the idea of getting Dodd to open a new branch at Bridlesmith Gate, and it came off.
"I started to realize that promotion was something I could do," Phil said.
A job with island records saw him touring with names like Roxy Music, Leo Sayer, John Martyn and Bad Company in the 70s and 80s. After a spell in London, and working for EMI, he returned to the East Midlands to run the Blue Note club in Derby. When he sold that, he went into management.
Phil discovered Alice's music when a friend-of-a-friend handed him a four-track demo tape. "I took it home and listened to it. I adored it, my wife adored it," he says. "There was just something about them that appealed to me, I thought it was timeless and I loved her voice. The first thing Alice told me was that she had cystic fibrosis. I phoned her up and we met at a studio complex in north London. She didn't look ill, she used to hide it, get to places early so she didn't arrive out of breath. She was just a very nice looking, well-mannered, well brought-up person."
Photos of Alice abound in every article about her; a BBC documentary shows her comfortable on a photographic shoot.
Her appearance is striking: feline, Slavic eyes, high cheekbones and blonde hair - her illness was the only physical disability she faced in becoming a pop star.
Phil signed up to manage Alice for six months and "got stuck into trying to get her a record deal." They were up front about Alice's condition and it was hard to separate the many knockbacks any new artist gets from prejudice about her health. Except in one instance. "A particular publishing company took a real interest, Alice sang a song for them and they offered us a deal," Phil says "but then they suddenly got cold feet and withdrew their offer.
"I think companies got carried away with the music but, once they knew about her illness and thought through the implications, like her never playing live, it scared them."
so after a dispiriting end to the period of slog, he and Alice gave up searching for a deal. The turning point came last year; when she wrote a cover piece about coping with cystic fibrosis in The Daily Telegraph Magazine. "With my promotion head, I thought 'this is publicity', and asked Alice if she wanted to give the record deal another go," Phil says. He approached Sony with the four-track demo and she was swiftly signed up.
"Alice couldn't believe it," Phil says.
In the television documentary, senior figures at Sony say they had never been so sure about a signing, or met an artist with so much steely self-belief.
Her doctor confesses he has no idea how lungs so damaged can produce such a lovely voice. Like her speaking voice, it can be both husky and flirty. "Because I spend most of my time coughing, my diaphragm muscles are well developed and I can belt it out quite loud," explained Alice. (When other teenage wannabes were singing into their hairbrush in front of the bedroom mirror, Alice said she was singing into her nebuliser). Her album, Daydreams, was released last November and Radio One DJ Jo Whiley made her melodic, ethereal debut single If I Fall her record of the week. It was produced by Marius De Vries, who co-produced the Moulin Rouge soundtrack and whose collaborations include David Bowie, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Massive Attack and David Gray.
Of course, signing Alice could never be controversy-free.
Critics have accused Sony of cashing in, looking for the 'British Eva Cassidy', the tragic blonde American singer/songwriter who became famous following her premature death from cancer in 1996.
"Sony's attitude was that they were damned if they do, damned if they don't," Phil says. "If they don't sign Alice, It's because she's ill. If they do, they're exploiting her. But her music stands up on its own. She was signed despite the cystic fibrosis." He adds: "Alice and Eva are both the same and completely different. If Alice's music gets more successful then people are going to compare her. But they're not really similar as artists."
Sony is planning to release Inside of You, a song written about Alice's boyfriend, Al. A recent memorial service in London - Alice's funeral was a strictly private affair - included a song by boy band Blue, who met Alice through sharing a voice coach and became friends with her. She had hoped to perform a song live on TV, with the aid of an oxygen tank. Touring wasn't an option, because Alice needed to be within two hours of a hospital, and she couldn't have managed a while set. But she was still keen to do it. Before she died, Alice told Marie Claire magazine:
"That's when I'm happiest - on stage. When I'm playing my music, I forget about everything. It all becomes about the moment."