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.