Planet suburbia

16 02 2019

Another Planet by Tracey Thorn


In a 1970s commuter town, Tracey Thorn’s teenage life was forged from what failed to happen. Her diaries were packed with entries about not buying things, not going to the disco, the school coach not arriving.

Before she became an acclaimed musician and writer, Tracey Thorn was a typical teenager: bored and cynical, despairing of her aspirational parents. Her only comfort came from house parties, Meaningful Conversations and the female pop icons who hinted at a new kind of living.

Returning more than three decades later to Brookmans Park, scene of her childhood, Thorn takes us beyond the bus shelters and pub car parks, the utopian cul-de-sacs, the train to Potters Bar and the weekly discos, to the parents who wanted so much for their children, the children who wanted none of it. With endearing wit and great insight, Thorn reconsiders the Green Belt post-war dream so many artists have mocked, and yet so many artists have come from.

I first encountered Tracey Thorn on Pillows & Prayers, the 99p bargain Cherry Red sampler, in 1982. With a solo track, ‘Plain Sailing’, and Marine Girls and Everything but the Girl songs too, I quickly became a fan. Since then of course she has released a sackful of albums with Ben Watt as EBTG and continues to produce solo records too. She has also produced two terrific books about her life in music too and this, the third in the inter-related series focuses more on the early teenage years and, interestingly, on family and suburbia too.

This one too is a great read and includes much confessional material from those teenage diaries as well as some really poignant reflections on parental relationships. The reminders of teenage life which emerge from her recollections of place though and the nature of suburban life including some really rather scary sounding encounters with older men are perhaps the really distinctive feature of the book.

It was great to hear her reading from the book at a recent event at Rough Trade in Nottingham (before she went down with a dreadful cold resulting in the rest of the book tour being postponed – get well soon!) and answering questions, mainly about the music. The question I never got to ask though was how she managed to get an A in her A level English despite reporting in her diaries doing pretty much no work. I reckon some revision slots were not recorded…

There are plenty of references to the music in Tracey’s life too at the time, some of it dead cool, some of it less so perhaps but actually all good. The disadvantage she had growing up, unlike me of course, was that she didn’t have the Marine Girls, Tracey Thorn and EBTG to provide the soundtrack.

Recommended reading for fans of Tracey and/or real life in suburbia.

four stars


Really not the Alan Bennett of pop

24 10 2015

Bedsit Disco Queen by Tracey Thorn


‘I was only sixteen when I bought an electric guitar and joined a band. A year later, I formed an all-girl band called the Marine Girls and played gigs, and signed to an indie label, and started releasing records.

‘Then, for eighteen years, between 1982 and 2000, I was one half of the group Everything But the Girl. In that time, we released nine albums and sold nine million records. We went on countless tours, had hit singles and flop singles, were reviewed and interviewed to within an inch of our lives. I’ve been in the charts, out of them, back in. I’ve seen myself described as an indie darling, a middle-of-the-road nobody and a disco diva. I haven’t always fitted in, you see, and that’s made me face up to the realities of a pop career – there are thrills and wonders to be experienced, yes, but also moments of doubt, mistakes, violent lifestyle changes from luxury to squalor and back again, sometimes within minutes.’

From post-punk teen-band rivalry in suburban Hertfordshire to international chart-topping success via a shared bedsit in Hull, three decades of touring and making music, and collaborations with Paul Weller, Massive Attack and dance legend Todd Terry – this is the funny, perceptive and candid true story of how Tracey Thorn grew up and tried to be a pop star.

I feel like I’ve grown up with Tracey Thorn. Her first solo album and the early EBTG recordings were pretty much the soundtrack to my late school and university years. As a result I found this memoir absolutely fascinating. Genuinely frank and funny it is a really easy read and offers real insight into the music business. Comparisons with any northern playwright, writer and diarist are very wide of the mark though (no matter what Caitlin Moran says).
4 star

Naked at the Albert Hall by Tracey Thorn



Part memoir, part wide-ranging exploration of the art, mechanics and spellbinding power of singing, Naked at the Albert Hall takes in Dusty Springfield, Dennis Potter and George Eliot; Auto-tune, the microphone and stage presence; The Streets and The X Factor. Including interviews with fellow artists such as Alison Moyet, Romy Madley-Croft and Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, and portraits of singers in fiction as well as Tracey’s real-life experiences, it offers a unique, witty and sharply observed insider’s perspective on the exhilarating joy and occasional heartache of singing.

A natural sequel to Bedsit Disco Queen in this book Tracey Thorn covers the realities of being a singer together with lots of insights into the music industry. Full of rich anecdotes and frank commentary as well as observations from her peers, Thorn does a great job in covering singing in a fresh and entertaining way.

4 star

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