Bedsit Disco Queen, By Tracey Thorn Virago £16.99
The reluctant pop star who came out of the wardrobe
If Tracey Thorn were starting out in music today, she wouldn't stand a chance. This isn't meant as an insult. It's simply that, despite having maintained a career for the best part of 30 years, and enjoyed a fistful of hits as the singer of Everything But the Girl alongside her boyfriend and musical partner Ben Watt, Thorn doesn't really do the pop star thing. As she says in her memoir: "It (has) always been a strange thing for me to be doing, a job I wasn't really cut out for."
Self-aware and seemingly devoid of ego, Thorn is about as far removed from typical notions of a successful singer as it's possible to get. Which makes her ideal to report on the pop star experience, and the ever-shifting landscape of the British music scene of the Eighties and Nineties. Her role is that of a skeptical outsider with an access-all-areas pass.
If there's one moment in Bedsit Disco Queen that fully conveys Thorn's lack of ambition and indifference to fame, it's her recollection of the time in 1997, while staying in the penthouse suite in a luxury hotel in Australia, when Watt picked up the phone to U2's manager who was offering the support slot for the band's US stadium tour. "Should we do it, or what?" he asked, covering the receiver with his hand.
"Actually babe, d'you know what?" Thorn replied. "I think I want to stop now."
Her story begins in Brookmans Park, a village some 20 miles north of London, where a terminally shy 16-year-old auditioned for her first band from inside a wardrobe. (Thorn wasn't keen on being looked at.)
Two years later, with her stage fright tamed if not vanquished, she and a school friend formed the indie-punk duo Marine Girls, recorded their debut LP in a garden shed, and would later be lauded by Kurt Cobain.
A year later, Thorn went to study English literature at the University of Hull. There she met Watt, and having bonded over their record collections, the pair founded Everything But the Girl. Critical success arrived quickly but the financial spoils took longer. Thus, they frequently found themselves huddled around a heater in their tiny bedsit, entertaining visiting journalists from the NME.
Thorn's refusal to toe the passive popstrel line is endearingly charted. On observing publicity shots of herself looking "doe-eyed and ringletty", she swiftly gives herself a short back and sides. When an excitable interviewer from the glossy teen mag Smash Hits asks her to name the last book she read, her answer is The British in Northern Ireland: The Case for Withdrawal.
The book is filled with comic moments: being chased down Italian streets by over-zealous fans; Lenny Kravitz's dreads of getting hooked on her sequined dress at an awards ceremony. But elsewhere, there is constant self-doubt and pre-gig vomiting; pressure from record companies to produce a hit; and Watts's brush with death from a rare auto-immune disease.
While it's not without its dramatic moments, Bedsit Disco Queen is far from your traditional musical memoir. Those searching for bacchanalian rock'n'roll hijinks will not be able to find them here.
But, as a witty and wise chronicle of the post-punk era and a life spent dipping in and out of the limelight, this is second to none.
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