Tracey Thorn hasn’t aged, she looks exactly the same as when she formed Everything But The Girl with her partner, now husband, Ben Watt in 1982.
The self-confessed reluctant pop star was at the Aye Write Book Festival in Glasgow in April 2013 to read from and discuss her book, a memoir called Tracey Thorn Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up And Became A Pop Star.
Reading sections from her book we heard how she bought her first electric guitar when she was 16, and a little wet behind the ears, she didn’t realise she needed to buy an amp – so she got used to playing it quietly at first.
It was no surprise to learn that she was never a fame-hungry child. She was more often to be found reading books than standing in front of a mirror and singing into a hairbrush.
But as Tracey reminded us “sometimes it’s the quiet ones sitting in the corner reading books that have the things to say, and the songs and stories to write.”
Even so, it took her a while to find her voice. She became a guitarist in a band called Stern Bops, and one day when their singer Paul failed to turn up, she was asked “What about you, Trace? Can you sing?”
It was something that had never occurred to her, and she agreed to give it a shot … but only if she could sing in the wardrobe. While they all agreed she sounded good, they also quickly realised that carrying a wardrobe around on tour so that Tracey could sing, wasn’t an option.
Eventually other bands followed including a spell in Marine Girls, who disbanded in 1983. Tracey had already met Ben Watt at the University of Hull and Everything But The Girl was formed in 1982. Their first album, Eden, was released in 1984.
Obviously she had come out of the wardrobe and was now a front woman of a successful chart-topping band. Everything But The Girl eventually went on to release nine albums and sell nine million records.
But Tracey also wants to be remembered for being not just a singer, but a songwriter too, something she feels is overlooked.
She loved working with Massive Attack but reminded us she wasn’t just brought in to sing their hugely successful hit Protection, she wrote it.
A question and answer session at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library provoked lots of lively discussions. An advocate of the DIY approach to making records, it was interesting to hear Tracey talk about the advances in technology, making the DIY ethos of crafting music in your bedroom relatively easy. But there is a downside. As everyone starts to use the same packages and equipment, everything starts to sound the same.
Furthermore, the sophistication of technology means that music made in the bedroom can sound as if it was crafted in a high tech studio. It wasn’t like that in Tracey’s day, where charming little glitches betrayed their music’s origins.
One form of technology Tracey loves is Twitter. The connection to her fans with their feedback is important to her.
From today’s music industry, The XX were singled out for both their songs and for the fact that singer Romy Madley Croft looks more like Tracey Thorn than Tracey Thorn.
Adele was commended for being a woman who doesn’t conform to the pop industry’s ideal of female singers, i.e she sounds amazing and she wears a cardigan! Something Rihanna should perhaps try sometime joked Tracey.
“Why didn’t I want it more? Or, not that exactly, for in many ways I really did want it, desperately. But why was I so ambivalent about the very concept of attention, both wanting and not wanting it? Making music is never just about making music. It’s about being heard, fighting for your personal vision – your own version of events – to be listened to, given weight. It’s about making people sit up and notice you, and acknowledge your worth. But while I wanted all this, I seemed to want it in an invisible kind of way. I wanted to be heard without having to be heard, or perhaps more specifically, without having to be looked at.”
Excerpt from Tracey Thorn Bedsit Queen: How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Rock Star
Published by Virago. £16.99