he American and the Briton have a very different approach to tortured artists. Across the Atlantic. they’ll raise them to lofty heights granting them godlike status, inevitably to be let down by a single shot to the skull or by passing out in the bathtub. Us Brits deride them — ‘give us a smile. you miserable old sods‘. We yearn for their downfall and hope they unwittingly show a ludicrous side to their nature which can be mocked with equal ferocity. Hiya Morrissey. how ya doin’. old bean?
When another side reveals itself through the artist‘s own volition. we are lost, not knowing quite how to react. Such a transformation took place last year when Everything But The Girl leaped Carl Lewis-like from the bedsit onto the danceiloor via the track ‘Missing’. Sure. Tracey Thorn had worked with Massive Attack. but no one could have predicted that she would succeed in convincing her sullen mate Ben Watt to make the crossover. But there they were on Top ()fT/te Pops for what seemed like weeks on end. standing stock still while the kids swayed and waved in front ofthem.
The current album. Walking Wounded. remains firm to that new path. ‘Missing‘ is indeed just that. but its mark is hauntingly present in tracks such as ‘Wrong’ and ‘Big Deal‘. Yet imagine the songs stripped bare of the drum and base motif. and you would be left with the tenderness and melancholy which had become the Everything But The Girl trademark.
The pair first sprung to attention in I982 while attached to the London independent label Cherry Red. Thorn as part of the Marine Girls .' nd Watt as a solo artist. They collaborated on a single which platformed the band name for the
‘We found ourselves backed into a corner musically where our audience wasn’t rejuvenating, it was just growing older with us. There had to be a change if we were to carry on.’
first time and in l‘)84 signed to Blanco Y Negro. Their debut LP. Eden. immediately found appeal with students. lost souls and student lost souls around the country. Chart success has been staggered. but with 1988‘s ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About lt‘ they did to Rod Stewart what he has failed to do. time and again. to Tom Waits. Cover him with dignity.
Against all the odds. 1994‘s Amplifier! Heart brought them to the notice of a worldwide audience. Watt looks back at that time as perhaps the moment when a shift in emphasis was desperately needed. ‘lt has been a gradual process. having realised that we had to pill the past to bed.‘ he admits. ‘We found ourselves backed into a corner musically where our audience wasn‘t rejuvenating. it was just growing older with us. There had to be a change if we were to carry on.‘
But a change of a different sort was close to being forced upon the band when Watt suffered a rare and nearly fatal illness. An auto immune disease exotically entitled Churgh Strauss Syndrome ravaged his body. convinced that his bodily tissue was the enemy. and sought to destroy his life-force. He spent three months in hospital. undergoing five life-saving operations and at one stage being handed the less than joyful news that his chances of survival were 20 per cent at best. His intestine has been
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL FEATURE
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drastically reduced and he is on a strict diet.
’Going through that and recovering. it can be seen as a kind of catalyst for change.‘ he states. ‘We then made the first steps to try to collate everything that was good about our past and put it together with something that pointed gently to the fttture.‘
As for the future. they had better get used to putting their hands across their eyes. It really is that bright. having signed a new deal with Virgin after Blanco Y Negro‘s bosses at WEA showed the duo the door. And. irony of irony. the remixes of ‘Missing’ were among the last product they delivered to the company‘s doorstep. Not that Virgin are moaning. gratified as they are to be benefiting from this remarkable lack of foresight.
So as a band. all is fine and dandy; yet. as a
couple. cynical observers may see indications of
discontent on Walking li’oundcd. particularly on the track ‘Single’. Surely Ben and Trace. the postmodern Peters and Lee. are not on the verge of separation‘.’ Tell me it can‘t be true. ‘Lyrically. the song is about me just imagining what it would be like to be on my own again.‘ explains Thorn. ‘People have said to me. “How can you write that song when you know you‘re
part of a couple'."‘. but il‘ you‘ve got any kind of
imagination. you can always picture the opposite to your own life.‘ Blimey. what a relief.
Watt has his own slant on the track. ‘We now live in a culture where the social unit is getting smaller and smaller. where the post-war concept of the family has basically boiled down to the
couple. We’re now getting very much used to
the idea of the single person.’ he philosophises. ‘They may be living willingly or unwillingly on their own. but there is a whole culture growing where people are in recognition of their own lives and what they want to do with it. I think that ‘Single‘ appeals to that in some ways.‘ Perhaps Tracey Thorn will branch out and again team ttp with Massive Attack. having so
Missing in action: Ben Watt and iracey thorn go on tour
potently applied her lyrical touch and vocal presence to their second album Protection. The band were looking fora less than natural choice to succeed Shara Nelson. who had jumped ship to launch her own solo career and. having admired her from a distance. they put a call through. Initially. Thorn was apprehensive.
‘I thought it could backfire. wondering whether I could fit in with their image.’ she confesses. ‘I do think it was brave of them. but that‘s them all over. really. They don‘t stick to what‘s cool and what will definitely enhance
‘People have said to me, “How can you write that song [‘Single’] when you know you’re part of a couple”, but it you’ve got any kind of imagination, you can always picture the opposite to your own life.’
their reputation. They take risks all the time with people they work with and what they do. and once i realised that. I came to respect them. They gave me more confidence.‘
Watt believes it was a risk on both sides. "l‘racey and l were aware that our star was so low in the sky at that point. I sometimes wondered whether she was going to drag the whole of Massive Attack down with her.‘ he muses. ‘We were just so uncontemporary in many ways that it was going to compromise all the good things they were doing. But we never told them that at the time. of course.‘
For now. given both members‘ new leases of life. finding confidence is not a problem. And this is very mttch apparent on Walking Wounde Accomplished and mature. it portrays a band very much at peace with itself. Wonder if WEA feel the same? lz'i'r'rjt'I/iiltg But The Girl play Glasgow Royal ( ‘omv'rt Ila/l on Sunday 2.1’ June.
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