IN TRACEY THORN’S MEMOIR, PUBLISHED IN A FORTNIGHT, THERE’S THE ODD SIDE-DISH OF SOME FAMOUS PERSON OR OTHER, BUT NO VULGAR BANQUET OF HEROIC EXCESS, ARTISTIC WASTEFULNESS AND PERSONAL RECRIMINATION. NOR ARE THERE ANY MICROWAVE REHEATS OF CONTENTIOUS MORSELS.
There aren’t, in fact, any specific instances of contention in BEDSIT DISCO QUEEN apart from, perhaps, Marine Girls’ split in 1983. Her telling is the closest Thorn veers towards self-serving but, even then, she acknowledges that and ingenuously accepts that her version of events is only actually a version.
During the course of these rounded 350 pages she comes across as thoughtful, modest, understated and – crucially – likeable. Not once does she give the impression that she’s divorced from reality and enslaved to an out-of-balance ego. Or that she ever was. Even as she impetuously storms out of an early interview that is going badly, Thorn’s spiky behaviour arrives from utter frustration with a journalist lazily pigeonholing her band rather than a spoiled sense of entitlement.
Fusing her love of pop music and a post-punk ideology to Ben Watt’s esoteric leanings, initially jazz, Thorn’s careful contextualising of much misunderstood early Everything But The Girl is a handy reminder that they were not Sade. In their EDEN days NME writer Adrian Thrills positioned the duo alongside politically-charged Billy Bragg and the Redskins as ‘New Realists’, and Thorn herself beautifully describes the approach of the time as “sounding like Astrud Gilberto but coming on like Gang Of Four”.
She details how signing to a major label brought a slow rattle of undignified trade-offs which subtly peeled off the credibility, whittled away at the art and chiselled at the self-confidence. Along that cumulatively diminishing chain were unsuitable clothes or hairstyles chosen for them for video shoots, bookings to appear on awful television shows, having an aesthetically perfect album cover vetoed by committee in favour of something not quite in keeping with their artistic intent, and being ordered to write hits. The story is familiar – effectively, sense of responsibility and control robbed away in increments – and Thorn describes herself as having been caught in a position of paralysis somewhere between polite compliance and utter resent.
She also reveals a wistful self-doubt – for instance, when going back out onto the stage mere minutes after a barnstorming Albert Hall show. The historic venue now empty save for cleaners, and roadies disassembling the equipment, Thorn recognises the transient nature of what it is that surrounds what she does, and questions her overall place in it. Tellingly, she doesn’t seem inclined to chase something superficial to fill a hole. In it for the art.
Late-in-the-day validation arrives, seemingly accidentally, a couple of times: the sparse electronica on a demo from Massive Attack initially confuses but, when it registers, opens an exciting and fulfilling artistic doorway and new credibility awaits through it; Todd Terry’s remix of MISSING lays siege to both dancefloor and chart mere moments after the duo are dropped by their record company; a stadium-level U2 offer the pair a support slot on a huge tour…
There are also laugh-out-loud moments which, in the warm telling, feel inclusive: a fierce crush on Morrissey leaving her unable to actually speak to him when they visit The Smiths backstage; Lenny Kravitz catching his dreadlocks in the sequins of her dress at an awards do; Paul Weller trying to get in touch to arrange a gig but having to ring the phone-box down the road from their Hull bedsit flat; a long-disengaged-from-fame Thorn standing at the school gates with other mums waiting for their kids, and a very expensive car driving by with George Michael (presumably on his way to Snappy Snaps) leaning out of its window: “Tracey! Tracey! It’s me!”
BEDSIT DISCO QUEEN ends in 2007, two albums into a low-key solo career and, more importantly, content in motherhood. Throughout her delightful book Thorn doesn’t shy away from any notion that the benefits of success were welcome – nor, though, does she give the particular impression that she harboured ideas beyond her station or would have considered rushing the counter to steal a ticket for the fast train through it.