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Bedsit Disco Queen, By Tracey Thorn
The singer's memoir is not quite as assured as her lyrics – but still fascinates
Friday 22 February 2013
Considering the confessional nature of her songwriting, both with Everything But The Girl and solo, you expect Tracey Thorn to excel as a memoirist. Her brilliantly-titled autobiography arrives more than 15 years after Patient, the book her musical and life-partner Ben Watt wrote about his struggles with Churg-Strauss syndrome, the auto-immune disease which nearly did for him. It certainly slowed down the duo in the early Nineties, before their remix renaissance and the ubiquity of their worldwide hit "Missing".
Thorn neatly intersperses complete song lyrics between each chapter, and dips into her diaries to recollect her discovery of punk, as a 14-year-old, halfway through 1977. Two years later, she joined her first group, the Stern Bops, but quickly moved on to the all-female Marine Girls, infused by the DIY ethos and influenced by the folk punk Patrik Fitzgerald and the minimalist Welsh trio Young Marble Giants.
Thorn and Watt enrolled at Hull University in 1981, where they met after he asked for her over the Tannoy. They named themselves after a local shop, began drafting a non-rockist manifesto, "a little bit indie, a little bit boss nova", invented Quiet Is The New Loud two decades before the Norwegian duo Kings of Convenience, and charted with "Each and Every One" the week they sat their finals in 1984. Even if she uses old press cuttings a tad too much, Thorn is good at describing the joy she felt receiving a call from Paul Weller in a Hull phone-box, or meeting Morrissey, whose androgyny fuelled her own outlook.
When EBGT scored a Top Three hit in 1988, it was with a cover, "I Don't Want To Talk About It", their tenth single. They made a few too many compromises until Watt's illness put everything in sharp focus. Thorn teamed up with Massive Attack and EBTG devised a "modern retro hybrid" on their landmark albums Amplified Heart and Walking Wounded. Thorn, always a reluctant performer, stopped to become the mother she yearns to be.
Writing this book has helped Thorn return to music, with two more albums completed since 2007, but her prose is not as assured as her unique voice. However, reading Bedsit Disco Queen sent me back to EBTG's rich, understated canon. It felt like catching up with a long-lost friend.
Tracey Thorn will be appearing at the 'Independent' Bath Literature Festival on 5 March
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