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.
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Dakota Johnson's 'It's only Isis' Saturday Night Live sketch sparks controversy
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
Broadchurch series 3: David Tennant and Olivia Colman to return for third season, ITV confirms
EastEnders may bring transgender character to Albert Square to challenge 'traditional' viewers
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Indian Summers recommissioned: Channel 4 confirm a second series of British Empire drama
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'