Bedsit Disco Queen Playlist

I recently read TRACEY THORN‘s excellent book Bedsit Disco Queen, How I Grew Up and Tried to be a Pop Star.  THORN is not just a gifted lyricist, but a great story teller as well.   And her story makes for a great read and a great playlist.

This is a great story, two stories actually.  First, Tracey describes her suburban childhood experience, and tells the tale of how the punk movement of the late 70’s could grab the attention of a shy music-loving kid and infuse her with the DIY mindset that anything is possible.  This DYI ethos really provided a catalyst for profound changes in music of the time (both changes in genres and the way the music business worked).  Tracey describes her story with punk as the initial backdrop, providing characters and the attitude that made what she did later possible.  Listening to her first band, MARINE GIRLS, and her later solo work for Cherry Red Records, punk hardly comes to mind when describing the hushed, direct approach of these early recordings.  Folk, Bossa Nova, or Jazz maybe, but not punk.  However, it was that punk attitude that inspired her and so many around her in suburban London and that attitude could be applied to whatever style you wanted to play.  The story of how she became involved with independent label Cherry Red (with its likeminded, diverse group of artists including THE RUNAWAYS and KEVIN COYNE), the influence BEN WATT and others musicians have on her make for a compelling narrative and an interesting diverse playlist.  At the start, we see punk’s great influence, shaking up the entire music industry at the time.   And that story continues through the lens of Tracey and Ben’s 80’s and 90’s experiences in the music industry.   Tracey watches as the DIY ethos fades around them, even with some of their contemporaries and influences, but the skepticism and desire to be original and true to themselves for the most part stays intact.  And every once in a while, even with their skeptical disposition towards the music business, their work overlaps into the big record company world of pop music hits (for example, “Missing” from Amplified Heart 1994).

A second story is Tracey and Ben’s fascinating personal journey: how they met, stayed together all those years and made music together for much of that time.  Especially interesting is the influences they bring to each other along the way.  The stories of their contemporaries and friends during this same period of time (THE GO BETWEENS, THE SMITHS, THE JAM) could (and have) filled volumes themselves.  But Tracey is a gifted and honest storyteller with an acute eye.  This is not name dropping but, rather, a great perspective on some other impressive careers.  The tale winds up where it starts, with Ben telling Tracey in an Australian hotel that he just received a call asking how they would like to open for U2?

I have been especially fond of Tracey’s return to music in the past decade, including her wonderfully well crafted and mature albums (Out of the Woods 2007, Love and Its Opposite 2010, and Tinsel and Lights 2012).  This book is a delightful backstory that provides a great companion to the music of her entire career and confirms TRACEY THORN‘s importance in British pop music.  As the playlist shows, there is a lot going on here.   The soundtrack to this story makes for some wonderful music.

 

1.  SEX PISTOLS  “Liar”  (from Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols 1977).  Tracey describes how, as a young girl, her journal and attitude transforms after seeing the Pistols on Top of the Pops.  “I had finally had my socks blown off.”

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2.  THE CLASH  “White Riot”  (from The Clash  1978).   “Fantastic, I luv ’em.”

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3.  THE JAM  “In The City”  (from In the City  1978).  An early influence, later THE STYLE COUNCIL will really help put EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL on the map of British pop.

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4.  SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES  “Carcass”  (from The Scream  1978).  One of Tracey’s female punk heros.

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5.  MARINE GIRLS  “A Place In The Sun”  (from Lazy Ways 1983).  Tracey’s first real band is not really a band but three girls with a strong DIY attitude and clever songs written by TT.

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6.  MARINE GIRLS  “Honey”  (from Beach Party 1981).  Tracey gets the courage to start singing and the rest is history.

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7.  KEVIN COYNE  “Love In Your Heart”  (from Beautiful Extremes Et Cetera  1983). Cherry Red label mate.  Coyne is an example of an artist who was revitalized by the punk movement and found a new label home with independent minded artists.  Coyne ends up producing Ben.

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8.  TRACEY THORN  “Plain Sailing”  (from A Distant Shore  1982).  Early TT before EBTG really got going.

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9.  JOHN MARTYN  “Solid Air”  (from Solid Air  1973).  At college in Hull, Tracey meets Ben and his record collection, which blows her mind again.

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10.  THE DURUTTI COLUMN  “For Belgian Friends”  (from LC  1981).  Ben describes his music to Tracey as The Durutti Column with songs.  Pretty obscure now, but pretty interesting.

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11.  BILL EVANS  “Waltz For Debbie”  (from Waltz For Debbie  1961).  A strong influence for EBTG was jazz artists like Bill Evans.


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12.  BEN WATT AND ROBERT WYATT  “Walter And John”  1982  (from Pillows and Prayers Vol 1 & 2, Cherry Red 1982-1984).  Pretty impressive that Ben could record with such an icon as Robert Wyatt.

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13.  EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL  “Night and Day”  1982  (Ambition Vol 1 & 2  the History of Cherry Red Records).  This cover of the COLE PORTER classic catches the eye of PAUL WELLER, who wants to go in a jazzy direction after the demise of THE JAM.

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14.  EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL  “On My Mind”  (from Pillows and Prayers Vol 1 & 2, Cherry Red 1982-1984).  Ben and Tracey are, by now, a working duo, each contributing their own songs to EBTG.

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15.  THE STYLE COUNCIL  “The Paris Match”  (from Cafe Bleu  1984).  Weller plucks EBTG, to contribute to this jazzy song.  This is sure a long way from recording with your girlfriends in a shed (Marine Girls) just a few years earlier.

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16.  THE SMITHS  “This Charming Man”  (from The Smiths  1984).  Early on, EBTG gets a lot of encouraging support from Moz and Tracey ends up following The Smiths around on tour.

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17.  THE GO BETWEENS  “Right Here”  (from Tallulah  1987).   Tracey forms a close bond with LINDY MORRISON, the drummer for the Go Betweens, and like the rest of us, cannot understand why this band did not become widely known.

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18.  DUSTY SPRINGFIELD  “Don’t Forget About Me”  (from Dusty In Memphis  1969).  A big influence on Tracey.

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19.  FAIRPORT CONVENTION  “Genesis Hall”  (from Cropredy 1990).  Ok, this is not just a cheap opportunity for me to slip a little RICHARD THOMPSON in.  When EBTG is invited to play the Cropredy Festival in the mid 1990s, Tracey is impressed by how DAVE PEGG runs the Fairport operation from a computer in his kitchen.  On the surface it seems like different worlds, but it really does work well together, especially when you hear Fairport’s DAVE MATTACKS and DANNY THOMPSON provide the rhythm section on Amplified Heart (1994).

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20.  MASSIVE ATTACK feat. TRACEY THORN  “Protection”  (from Protection 1994).  Tracey wrote the words, this collaboration turns out to be a pivotal point in EBTG’s career.

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21.  EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL  “Missing”  (from Amplified Heart  1994). Huge, huge hit.

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22.  JEFF BUCKLEY   “I Know It’s Over”  (from So Real  2007).   Ben and Tracey play their first Glastonbury with special guest Buckley on a classic Smith’s cover.  From Tracey’s description, this is probably a significantly more polished version.

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23.  TRACEY THORN  “Nowhere Near”  (from Out Of The Woods  2007).  Tracey’s welcome return to recording after almost a decade.

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24.  BEN WATT  “Guinea Pig”  (from Buzzing Fly Anthology Vol 4  2009).  Ben’s post EBTG work has focused on his Buzzing Fly label and club and his work as a remixer, radio presenter and DJ.  But I am happy to report we can expect a new solo album in April.

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