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Ben Watt

Known primarily as one half of long-time courting-couple duo EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL (alongside “English Rose” TRACEY THORN), singer/songwriter/musician/author/producer/label boss, BEN WATT, subsequently emerged as a post-millennium house DJ/radio presenter and resurgent solo artist.
Born Benjamin Brian Thomas Watt, 6 December 1962, Marylebone, London, Ben was raised in nearby Barnes by his Scottish jazz musician/bandleader father Tommy Watt and showbusiness journalist mother Romany Bain. A student at the University of Hull in the early 80s, as new wave music was forever cascading and splintering into indie/d.i.y. factions, Ben met TRACEY THORN, also singer with all-girl quartet-cum-trio MARINE GIRLS.
WATT had already established himself a solo act with Cherry Red Records, releasing the single `Cant’, in June ’81 (with KEVIN COYNE as producer) and the spring ’82 EP, `Summer Into Winter’ (which co-credited the maverick ROBERT WYATT on piano and backing vocals). An indie chart entry and exclusive to the 12-inch format, the record comprised five DURUTTI COLUMN-ish cuts, `Walter And John’, `Aquamarine’, `Slipping Slowly’, `Another Conversation With Myself’ and `A Girl In Winter’.
Duly forming what they thought might be a one-off duo, EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL got underway with their mid-1982 cover of Cole Porter’s classic `Night And Day’. Allowed to create their own solo sets by way of THORN’s mini-LP `A Distant Shore’ (1982) and WATT’s `North Marine Drive’ (February 1983), EBTG were put on hold for a year to gauge a response.
The aforementioned indie chart-topper, NORTH MARINE DRIVE {*8}, featured an acoustic-led, jazz-folk Ben, plus stripped-back accompaniment from jazz man Peter King on alto sax, whilst minimal melody set the mood. Proving his palatable prowess as a singer in his own right, highlights included the picture-postcard `Some Things Don’t Matter’ (a single), `On Box Hill’ (its B-side), `Lucky One’, `Empty Bottles’, the title track, and his concluding cover of BOB DYLAN’s `You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’.
EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL re-kickstarted their career by signing to Blanco Y Negro Records; moving immediately into chart territory with the single `Each And Every One’ and its parent album, `Eden’ (1984). For the latter half of the 80s and the whole of the 90s, the duo spun out over a dozen hits (including Top 3s `I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ and a re-vamped/re-mixed `Missing’), while several albums from 1985’s `Love Not Money’ to 1999’s `Temperamental’, created a light stir among the sophisti-pop, jazz-folk and drum ‘n’ bass fraternity.
Hospitalised in 1993 for around two months while he recuperated from a life-threatening and rare autoimmune system disease, Churg-Strauss syndrome (in which he lost approximately 40 lbs and a large part of his intestine), BEN WATT put pen to paper and wrote his personal memoirs, entitled Patient: The History Of A Rare Illness. Published by Grove Press in 1996, and dealing with his observations on possible death with some humour, it certainly changed his perspective on life, and indeed his impending music. Turning his back on acoustic indie-jazz-pop and working alongside HOWIE B, while producing several techno/drum ‘n’ bass acts (BETH ORTON, MASSIVE ATTACK and RONI SIZE among them), WATT would re-invent himself under the mirror-ball of a dance-orientated London, while cooking up a storm co-hosting Lazy Dog nights (on a Sunday) with KISS-FM DJ Jay Hannan.
Putting EBTG on hold indefinitely while he and common-law wife THORN had their third child, Blake, in 2001 (their first two were twin daughters Jean and Alfie, born in 1998), WATT was able to make a living on the remixing circuit; SADE, Sunshine Anderson and Maxwell all called upon his services at this stage. As the decade progressed, so too did his recording schedule side-lines, but this was mainly as boss of fledgling record company, Buzzin’ Fly (for several 12-inch singles between 2003-2010) and its sister imprint, Strange Feeling. This tied him in with work for Galaxy Network radio, Kiss and, in 2010, the 6Mix show for BBC Radio 6 Music. And finally, after 27 years as a couple, Ben and his better half TRACEY THORN – herself a revived solo artist – wed in 2008.
Conspicuous by his absence as a solo entity (never mind that of duo EBTG), the distinguished BEN WATT returned to the fray and the Top 50, in 2014, with the long-overdue and cathartic, HENDRA {*7}. Cut in Berlin and London for Unmade Records, under an exclusive license to Caroline International, one could hear former SUEDE lead guitarist BERNARD BUTLER throughout, while there was a guest spot for the legendary DAVID GILMOUR on `The Levels’. Ewan Pearson was behind its production; its best bits occupying areas within the opening title track, `Matthew Arnold’s Field’, `Forget’ and `Golden Ratio’.
Also registering a minor chart place and relatively hot on its heels, WATT’s third album proper FEVER DREAM (2016) {*7} was another artistic triumph. Calling upon BUTLER (again), plus drummer Martin Ditcham and upright bassist Rex Horan, the grooves were of the “Grace & Danger” or “Night Owl” variety (in terms of cool hands JOHN MARTYN and GERRY RAFFERTY – if one didn’t guess already), whilst the songs concerned the recent deaths of his parents and step-sister. The dreamy `Gradually’ opened the record’s account with some aplomb, a track that etched into one’s mind, body and soul; the same could be said for the title track, in which one could imagine Tracey getting in on the act. Sadly, she doesn’t appear, but in the folk-jazz `Faces Of My Friends’, `Running With The Front’ and the MARISSA NADLER-addled finale, `New Year Of Grace’, a woman’s touch was reinstated.
© MC Strong/MCS Apr2016

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