‘I’ve grown a little weary of this old town
A conscience sure can bring you down
I’d like to hang around Chicago bars With murderers and movie stars’ (Sugar Finney)
In 1982, largely due to its budget price of 99p, the album to get was
3 Pillows and Prayers, a compilation
; of mainly gentle and always
i intriguing songs by acts on the
independent Cherry Red label. In
student campuses particularly that
record was hard to escape and,
' although the sampler showed a range ’ and depth of talent, the tracks that
needles were nudged to first and
L most often were compositions by
Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, two students at Hull University who played and sang haunting tunes of simplicity and tenderness, accompanied only by acoustic
Strangely, for a couple whose
styles complemented each other so 3 well, they had been recording
separately for the label long before they ever met, Watt solo and Thorn on her own and with The Marine Girls, a female trio whose dreamy and beautiful song ‘Lazy Ways’ can also be found on Pillows and Prayers. They finally met on their first day at Hull, and have been together ever since , but a musical partnership, although inevitable, didn’t follow immediately. The duo who were to provide a bittersweet soundtrack to romance and broken hearts as Everything But The Girl didn‘t really think ofworking together at first.
‘Someone at the record company suggested we do just one single
and one which displayed their left-wing sentiments to a great extent) is obviously a very serious record, and it was made because we wanted to write very serious lyrics. There are a lot of things we care deeply about, and we said a lot of things that we’d never said before. And I think that after we’d ﬁnished
that there was no need to keep saying
it over and over again, and this time we just really enjoyed making the pop that we love.’
I remind her of a review of Baby, The Stars Shine Bright in a national music paper which accused them of sweeping their political conscience under the carpet at the first sight of fame. It’s a topic that clearly rankles.
‘I think it’s a really stupid approach
to us, because I think anyone who knows anything about us knows that in no way have we swept our political views under the carpet. They're still very much a part of us. We’re still very much a part of the Red Wedge group. We’re still prepared to do benefit gigs, as we always were. I think it stems from people who look at our LPs in a line, saying that every time we change we’ve left behind what we did before. And I think of all our records in a circle, existing together. . .
‘We always have written love songs. If you look back to our earliest reviews they always concentrated on the fact that we wrote really astute straightforward songs about relationships. That’s how we made our name. I never felt that our political songs were more important than our love songs.’
Lyrically, Everything But The Girl have borrowed much from Country music. Baby, The Stars Shine Bright is saturated with images of
Shine Bright into a pigeonhole it It’s in keeping with the aura surrounding the LP, that this is make-or-break time for Tracey and Ben. Is this conscious?
‘It is, it is! I think it would be foolish of us to pretend that because we’re serious . . . you know, right-thinking individuals who care about the world, we therefore don’t care about personal fame. And I think the nearer you get to fame the more appealing it is. But if the possibility presents itself as a strangely appealing prospect, at the same time it’s quite frightening.’
So they are aiming for the big one?
‘Well, in a sense, yes, but at the same time, for 1986, in a lot of ways it’s a very uncommercial record. If we were really going for the big one I think we would’ve gone to America and made an LP with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, with synthesisers on it, which I wouldn’t have minded doing . . . I think it’s a risk, and whether it’s a risk that pays off remains to be seen.’
She’s right to be cagey about the prospect of fame. Could such a hitherto private couple as Tracey and Ben cope with The Sun probing into their love life?
‘Not at all. I think I would die if they came anywhere near me. The thought of a photographer putting a ladder up your window is pretty horrifying.’
Armed with this knowledge, I decide she’s kidding when she tells me the high point of her career so far
has been a ludicrous story by John Blake in the Mirror that she and Ben plan to get married live on Wogan.
This equal attraction and repulsion of fame brings Tracey round to one of her favourite subjects; Marilyn Monroe, about and for whom she wrote ‘Sugar Finney’.
‘She’s the epitome of what I was saying about my equal interests in relationships and politics. My interest in Marilyn is on loads of different levels. I mean, I love her as an actress and I think she’s a really fascinating person, I think her life is fascinating. To see what can happen to a woman who should be a very successful woman — talented, attractive, wonderful qualities — and yet is completely destroyed in the end. As more and more comes to light it seems more and more likely that she was actually murdered. And I think she’s a very interesting casein point of someone whose personal and political lives were completely interwoven.’
We leave aside such weighty matters to ponder the less drastic intrusion into their lives of their audience. What sort of fan letters do ' Everything But The Girl get?
‘We get very sincere fan letters. We do get letters from people who write really interesting analyses of our lyrics, rather than “Will you marry me?”’ There’s a moment’s pause, then a laugh. ‘Which is quite disappointing, really.’
I don’t think she’ll have to wait too long.
They won’t be getting married live on Wogan — official! Mab talks to Tracey Thorne, singing
together, which we did and we recorded (Cole Porter’s) ‘Night and Day’ around Christmas 1981.
would probably have to be Easy Listening. Tracey has got a chance to sing those big ballads that Ben feels
loneliness, distrust and drink. A major, slightly disturbing, theme running through the songs is that of fame and its possible consequences. Everything But The Girl were intended to vanish.’
a himself, Partllf engewered by their their resources, and Ben’s penchant about the
5 IOVC (“19605 Slngers like DUSIY for jazz (his father is jazz arranger
E Springﬁeld and 500" Walker» Partly Tommy Watt) started to show deyelopment 0f
5 by the" new'found feelmg for through strongly. The songs on II]le partnership.
her voice is suited for, laden with orchestral arrangements by Watt
Country and Western.
Tracey laughs when I question her about the inﬂuence which most strongly marks a line between Baby,
' The Stars Shine Bright and their
previous recordings. ‘We got into Country and Western quite recently, because I think that,
. like everyone else, we grew up
thinking it was the most despicable form of music around. And then a year ago I realised it was a form of
music I almost knew nothing about,
and I virtually tried to teach myself, more or less, just by going out and buying records by people. And once you discover that there are people like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, you just realise it’s a wonderful form of music:’
Tracey’s enthusiasm spills over on to her band’s new LP, their crucial third, as well.
‘I’m very happy with it. I think we really enjoyed making this record. I
think Love Not Money (their last LP, 4TheList3—16-Oct0ber H I I I
After about 18 months, though, the couple wisely decided to pool
Eden, their first long player, sway gently with the rhythms of cool jazz and bossa nova. It remains a collection of songs to cuddle up to at night, with or without company.
‘I think we both got a bit tired of rock music, really. That influence really showed on the record. There’s a lot of acoustic songs.’
The rich but vulnerable voice that
breathes life into Watt’s tunes is
talkative. Tracey Thorn is clearly 3 optimistic about EBTG’s new LP g Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, and ; their biggest concert tour to date ,
though she does liberally qualify her statements with ‘I think’, perhaps the result of conducting an interview without Ben. Her band is poised on the brink of major success after spending the last few years with the ‘student bedsit’ tag like a millstone around their necks. (‘I think it’s hilarious!’ she laughs. ‘I’ve never lived in a bedsit in my life’.)
If one had to force Baby, The Stars
Everything but the Girl,
half of jazz revivalists,