So much more than just a great voice, Getintothis’ Paul Fitzgerald takes stock of Tracey Thorn’s career, hears of anecdotal spats, and crosses his fingers that she’ll sing live once more.
There was a welcoming and appreciative crowd waiting for Tracey Thorn as she took the stage with former Hacienda DJ and author Dave Haslam. This event, brought to Leaf as part of the Writing On the Wall festival, sold out weeks ago. Unsurprising really, given the extraordinary career Tracey’s had. A 35 year genre defying life in music as singer, songwriter, half of Everything But The Girl, columnist and author.
She’s with us this evening to discuss her new book, Naked At The Albert Hall, her follow up to the bestselling memoir, Disco Bedsit Queen. The first book is mainly autobiographical and details the life of Thorn, from her youth in a Hertfordshire village to forming her first band, The Marine Girls, and meeting Ben Watt at university in Hull, where their relationship and the band began, and onwards to her solo work, marriage to Ben, children, and a quieter life of school runs, packed lunches, and book writing.
This new book, however, looks at the art of singing, through the eyes of a singer, and like the first, is packed full of Tracey’s musings on her own career, and that of other singers, her influences, and many, many anecdotes. Anyone who’s followed her career could be forgiven for thinking that she would be a shy, retiring, add-on to Ben Watt’s songwriting. Just a voice. Wrong. Much of the band’s best work was entirely written by Thorn, and it’s a point she’s rightfully keen to make, however gently she makes it.
She has a great line in anecdotes, from her, erm, frank opinions on working with Paul Weller, to the time Morrissey invited her and Ben round to tea, but went out before they arrived. This particular tale was recounted in Bedsit Disco Queen and later replied to, in a non-appreciative way, by the former Smiths singer in his autobiography. No love lost there, then.
Tracey Thorn is justifiably proud of the many collaborations she and Watt have been involved, most notably her work with Massive Attack on their 1994 classic Protection. She explains that she was given a cassette with nothing on it but a ridiculously sparse beat. At first she wondered what to do with it but, after five or six days repeated listenening, she came up with the goods. Lyrics, melody, instrumentation, arrangement, title. The whole nine yards. Thank God she did, too, because as we all know, it’s a thing of achingly subtle beauty. But again, the point is there to be made. She’s no ‘hired hand’. Let’s have it right. It’s a Tracey Thorn song, on a Massive Attack album.
These stories are told with Thorn’s natural charm and wit, and to the many fans gathered here, she gives the impression of the sort of person you could share a few laughs with over a nice bottle of red. Dave Haslam is a great interviewer too, asking just the right questions, and leaving the right amount of space for the answers to be given in a thoughtful and honest way.
Tracey has not sung live for 15 years. It’s not so much stage fright, as the fact she’s been away so long, she doesn’t yet feel comfortable with the notion of ‘coming back’. She details the reasons in Naked At The Albert Hall. She’s not that bothered by this, though. As she puts it, “Its only been 15 years, Kate Bush was away for 35, that gives me another 20 to think about it”. A great evening, with a fantastic artist, in a favourite venue, for a much loved and valued literary festival.