Friday, February 1, 2013

Bedsit disco queen

Late in 2012 I was asked by the good people at Readings to review Bedsit Disco Queen, Tracey Thorn's memoir of a life in music. The brief was to review it 300 words. For What Swerves I have added some links to videos, interviews and websites. A wonderful book - buy it!

Bedsit Disco Queen
Tracey Thorn
Virago pbk $32.99

Picture this. You’ve just had your breakout album and the career trajectory looks set for the stratosphere. Out of the blue, the management of U2 wants you to support them on a stadium tour of the USA. Would you take it? Tracey Thorn, one half of Everything But the Girl, never wanted to be a pop star. Starting out in the immediate post-punk era when the destroying the joint was de rigeur, fame was not the point.

It is this moment of temptation that provides the pivot for Bedsit Disco Queen, Thorn’s skillful examination of her long career, the post-punk period, the pursuit of success, and what life feels like when success goes away. While Tracey Thorn doesn’t shake the cabinets like Adele, she remains one the finest voices British pop has produced in the past 50 years. And that voice has been there, like a fingerprint, since her first recordings with the Marine Girls, (sessions recorded in a garden shed), through six EBTG albums and the tracks with Massive Attack that reset her musical compass.

Bedsit Disco Queen coolly examines her inner-life, her ‘tomboy looks’, bouts of stage-fright, and her development as an artist. The memoir is also crammed with stories. Such as when Paul Weller rang the young Tracey and Ben to arrange to play at their gig at London’s ICA*. They were still at university in Hull and didn’t own a telephone. So they waited for Weller - who was then about as famous as he would ever get - to call them at a phone-box on the corner. Spinal Tap, Thorn contends only half-joking, is more a documentary than a comedy. Thorn holds steadfast to post-punk values of the personal-is-the political, yet stops short of being sentimental about it all. 

Readings do a great mail order: you can buy the book here.

Ian Wade at The Quietus has a wonderful interview with Tracey and Ben, to mark the reissue of the first four Everything But the Girl albums. Well worth reading.

Tracey Thorn's website.

Bedsit Disco Queen revisits key periods of her Thorn's life and career. Below is a selection of my favourite songs.

Plain Sailing appears on Tracey's solo album and The Marine Girl's Lazy Ways.

These Early Days from the Idlewild album: Tracey in fine voice, Ben in a shocking pullover that even he seems embarrassed to wear.

In soul queen mode: Love is Here Where I Live

Everything But the Girl could always swing a good cover version: Simon and Garfunkel's Only Living Boy in New York. Film clip directed by Hal Hartley.

With Massive Attack. 

Safe at home: the solo years.

Happy days!

*The miracle of the internet: scratchy recording of that very gig.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

And the beat goes on

This time last year I translated a summary of annual bande dessinée sales activity in France. Lo and behold, the good people of have posted the 2012 report by the Association of Bande Dessinee Journalists and Critics (l'ACBD).

It would appear that despite the stalling economy of France, and of Europe more generally, activity in graphic novel publishing, buying and reading remains reasonably healthy, though the stagnant economy is not without implications for the industry.

In the interests of spreading the word about bande dessinée to English language readers, here's my translation of the toutenbd summary. If you would prefer the original text, you can read it here in French.

Bande dessinnee 2012: proliferation and polarisation
The annual meeting of the Association of Critics and Journalists of Bande Dessinée has again noted the increased number of books published but also that four publishers largely dominate the sector.
The traditional annual report from the general secretary of the Association of Critics and Journalists of Bande Dessinée (ACBD) Gilles Ratier, has been handed down for 2012. For the seventeenth consecutive year the number of books (albums) published has increased: 4.28% growth from 2011, to 5,565 books published in 2012, of which 4,109 were new titles.
The growth of new titles is in four distinct areas: Franco-Belgian bande dessinée; manga; American comics (genre comics); graphic novels and experimental books, creating a more complicated arrangement of titles and presentation of albums in bookshops, Gilles Ratier reported.

Eighty-nine series or complete works of authors succeeded in selling more than 50,000 copies (ten less than for 2011) and providing the industry's core sales. The five highest sales are: one million copies of volume 13 of Titeuf by Zep (published by Glénat); 450,000 sales for the fifth Lucky Luke by Daniel Pennac, Tonino Benacquista and Achdé (Lucky Comics); 440,000 copies of Largo Winch, volume 18, by Jean van Hamme et Philippe Francq (Dupuis); 440,000 copies of Blake and Mortimer, volume 21, by Yves Sente and André Juillard; and 350,000 sales for XIII, volume 21, by Yves Sente and Iouri Jigounov (Dagard Benelux). In regard to manga, it's no surprise that Naruto, with three new titles each selling 225,000 (Kana); One Piece with five books between 135,000 and 165,000 (Glénat) and Fairy Tale's six titles each selling 85,000 (Pika).

As in previous years, the report notes a strong segmentation within the market: four groups - Delcourt (Akata, Tonkam, Soleil Manga and Quadrants), Media-Participations (Dargaud, Kana, Le Lombard, Dupuis, Graton, Blake and Mortimer, Lucky Comics, Fleurus/Edifa/Mame, Mediatoon Publishing, Huginn & Muninn, Urban Comics), Glénat (Comics, Disney, Mangas, Treize étrange et Vents d'Ouest) and Gallimard (Casterman, KSTR, AUDIE/Fluide glacial, Jungle, Denoel Graphic and Futuroplis) - dominating the production and activity in the sector with 44.87% of production, and that 326 publishers and/or imprints published bande dessinee in 2012 (against 316 in 2011).

Once again, development around digital publishing of bande dessinee is very cautious, so that those concerned with digital publishing more concerned with creating digital imprints (Iznéo, digiBiDi, etc) than the creation of purely digital content (Plumzi, for example).

The legal access progressed less quickly than the pirate copies (10,000 titles are easily accessible according to the l'Observatoire du livre et de l'ecrit en Ile-de-France) with hardly 6,000 available. On the other hand, crowd-sourcing is established with Sandawe (28 projects drawing together half-a-million euros), My Major Company (17 projects, 172,000 euros) and Ulule (14 projects, 26,000 euros) who come together and are launching print publications.

Buzzcomics draws on the l'ACBD report to show the extent of events for Franco-Belgian comics,  including festivals, fairs, markets. They note that in francophone Europe in 2012, there were 489 festivals, fairs, markets and industry gattherings - and that the extent of this activity is continuing to expand, particularly in France.