Creating hope
The Australian Women's Weekly|June 2021
When a devastating illness forced Martha Marlow to quit art school and stop performing music, she had to find a new way to share her talents with the world.
GENEVIEVE GANNON

You may not realise it, but you already know and love the honey-toned voice of Aussie singer-songwriter Martha Marlow. In 2014, she brought the perfect dash of longing to Randy Newman’s Feels Like Home for a moving series of Qantas ads. Martha’s rendition was praised as “soul-stirring”, but it might never have existed if her talent hadn’t touched the heart of one of the world’s greatest living composers.

The story goes that the ad campaign’s creative director, Neil Lawrence, had asked several artists to record versions of Feels Like Home to help him convince Newman to grant him permission to use the song.

In a moment of inspiration, Neil asked the daughter of a friend how she would perform it. Martha was only 21, but she had a reputation for finding the emotional core of a piece of music. So, in their garage, Martha and her father, jazz musician Jonathan Zwartz, recorded a stripped-back, melancholy version of the song.

“I tend to put most things into alternate tuning. It’s quite an intuitive process, finding the right chords and trying to tap into the feeling of the song,” Martha explains. “I don’t have music theory, I don’t know how to read music – everything is self-taught. It’s a process of finding and listening and using my ears.”

Neil travelled to LA to present Newman with several variations of the song. First, he played those by the professional artists. “[Randy] said, I don’t think these versions do it justice,” recalls Martha’s mother, Jane.

Undeterred, Neil played Martha’s home recording. “Randy was sitting there with his hand on his head, and Neil thought, ‘He hates it’,” Jane says. “Then Randy said: ‘She’s got it’.”

Martha adds: “He said, ‘This girl really feels it, she really means it’.”

Qantas used the recording that Martha and Jonathan had made at home, adding only some strings. The piece Australians know and love retains the quiet intimacy of the father-daughter collaboration that has shaped Martha’s life and art. Her parents are both musicians, and she was raised in a house alive with creative zeal. Jane writes songs for children’s show Play School, while Jonathan is an ARIA Award winner. Martha’s grandfather played violin on The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

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