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Tracey Thorn

Not exactly one of the “Girls” anymore, the endearing and enduring lady of lounge-indie music, singer TRACEY THORN has had her fair share of success, whether within EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL (alongside hubby-to-be BEN WATT), or as guest foil on MASSIVE ATTACK’s glorious `Protection’ album, and as a solo artist.
It all began seriously with her guitar/occasional singing input for turn-of-the-80s d.i.y./indie combos, Stern Bops and MARINE GIRLS; the latter an all-female quartet/trio that delivered a couple of seminal LPs, `Beach Party’ (1981) and `Lazy Ways’ (1983), before they splintering into different factions. Concurrently attending the University of Hull, where she met Ben, Hatfield lass TRACEY THORN (born 26 September 1962, Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire) somehow managed to find the time to release her own solo mini-set, A DISTANT SHORE (1982) {*7}. Clocking in at only 23 minutes, one would assume the indie chart-topper would be as throwaway as chip-paper, but the fact was, that a minor treasure had been unearthed by the many fans who’d also adored the likes of The RAINCOATS and YOUNG MARBLE GIANTS; the unassuming Tracey excelled on `Small Town Girl’, `Simply Couldn’t Care’, the attendant `Plain Sailing’ single, and a cover of The VELVET UNDERGROUND’s `Femme Fatale’.
Having already got off the mark in summer 1982 with another Cherry Red Records opal, `Night And Day’, EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL were ready to extend their sophisti-jazz-indie boundaries after signing to Geoff Travis & Mike Alway’s Blanco Y Negro imprint for 1984’s `Eden’ album. For the next decade and a half, degree graduates Tracey and Ben created their own slick mystique, running up a gamut of Top 20 albums and several hit 45s that encompassed Top 3 successes `I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ (from the pen of the late CRAZY HORSE Danny Whitten) and `Missing’ (the latter a re-mixed rendition helped on by Todd Terry).
While one never could be sure that EBTG were completely out of the picture, Tracey and Ben were understandably busy after the birth of their third child, in 2001, having already had twins in 1998. While Ben took on the role of DJ, label boss and producer, TRACEY THORN finally came out of her shell again in 2007, when her sophomore solo set for Virgin Records, OUT OF THE WOODS {*7}, cracked the Top 40. In start contrast to Ben’s techno side-project offerings (and even her credit on TIEFSCHWARZ’s `Damage #1’ from the previous year), her DUSTY-like, delicate, downtempo pop had elements of percolating production on `It’s All True’, `Falling Off A Log’, `By Piccadilly Station I Sat Down And Wept’, and the hypnotic `Grand Canyon’.
Downscaling production augmentation to just Ewan Pearson (Cagedbaby, Sasse, Charles Webster and Martin Wheeler, surplus to requirements), singer-songwriter THORN was back to her mellow and moody best on 2010’s LOVE AND ITS OPPOSITE {*7}. Finally married to Ben in 2008 after approximately 27 years as a couple, the biggest surprise concerned the opening piece, `Oh, The Divorces!’ (actually about other couples splitting around them), which probably went a long way into Ben and Tracey’s tentative steps towards tying the knot. Her husband was responsible for the its release on his Strange Feeling Records (Merge in the US), but too often it stepped on the toes of The BEAUTIFUL SOUTH; witnessed on `Hormones’ and `Long White Dress’. Then again, her experience and scope let her shine on the melodramatic `Why Does The Wind?’ (featuring HOT CHIP bass man Al Doyle and Invisible drummer Leo Taylor), whilst comforting covers of LEE HAZLEWOOD’s `Come On Home To Me’ and The UNBENDING TREES’ `You Are A Lover’, fortified her charm and quiet demeanour.
Whether suited to a full set of festive songs having just turned 50, Tracey’s TINSEL AND LIGHTS (2012) {*7} was not your average gamut of traditional fare – with the exception of one staple, `Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’. Contributing a couple of thoughtful soul-stirrers from her own catalogue (the title track and the opener `Joy), THORN, and hubby Ben by her side, created their own balance to songs by contemporaries JONI MITCHELL (`River’), RANDY NEWMAN (`Snow’), RON SEXSMITH (`Maybe This Christmas’), STEPHIN MERRITT (`Like A Snowman’), JACK WHITE (`In The Cold, Cold Night’), SCRITTI POLITTI (`Snow In Sun’), SUFJAN STEVENS (`Sister Winter’) and a collaborative song with LOW on `Taking Down The Tree’.
As Ben had published his memoirs way back in ‘96, it was only fitting that Tracey added her personal two-pennorth by way of the 2013-published autobiography, Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star. After time spent with Ben on a BBC4 project that concerned NICK DRAKE’s mother Molly Drake and an unconnected cover of KATE BUSH’s `Under The Ivy’, THORN was tracked down by screenwriter/director Carol Morley to soundtrack music for The Falling. Having premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in 2014, the eight short cuts from the dorm documentary were released the following spring under the mini-set title of SONGS FOR THE FALLING {*6}. Needless to say, Tracey matched an early-80s indie motif to fit in with the late 60s English girls’ school subject matter with echo-y songs such as `It Was Always Me’, `Follow Me Down’ and `Little Things’. Next up was her kaleidoscopic career-spanning double-CD, SOLO: Songs and Collaborations 1982-2015 (2015) {*8}, featuring just about everything as said on the tin – but obviously no MARINE GIRLS material to stretch it beyond its bedsitter appeal.
© MC Strong/MCS May2016

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