When I was a teenager, there didn’t seem to be many female role models in the indie pop world, or the world at large, really. Not decent ones, anyway. Courtney Love and Shirley Manson adorned my walls while I played their records too loud for my mum’s liking, painted my nails blue and wondered how I might dye my blonde hair red without my mum noticing.
Now I’m all grown up I’ve discovered more – Patti Smith, P.J. Harvey, Lauren Laverne, Caitlin Moran, Tracey Thorn.
I was the wrong age for Everything But The Girl. Although I remember hearing their Rod Stewart cover ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’, really I was part of the ‘new generation’ that Thorn describes in her memoir as only knowing her ‘for the good stuff I’d done recently’. The ‘good stuff’ being ‘Protection’ with Massive Attack and the huge hit ‘Missing’.
And that’s probably where my interest in EBTG would have ended, if it hadn’t been for the social networking site Twitter. If you follow Thorn, you’ll know that she tweets about music and gardening and her children and films and TV. And books. She comes across as an interesting woman and her memoir bares this out.
She begins with her teenage diaries which disabuse her of the notion that punk got her started in music. But she does catch on to it in 1977, to the shock of her family:
I wasn’t supposed to have gone to the bad like this; it wasn’t in the script at all.
She befriends people who also like punk and starts buying records mail-order from the back of the NME:
Illicit-looking seven-inch brown cardboard envelopes would arrive at the door for me from Small Wonder records. The Clash, X-Ray Specs and Patrik Fitzgerald singles arrived in this way, and seemed all the more precious for being hard to come by.
She buys mail-order as record shops ‘were not appealing locations for a girl to hang out in’ – the theme of being a woman in a male-orientated world continues throughout the book. Thorn considers why she learnt to play guitar and joined a band in which she was the only girl; her position in the music industry as part of the all-girl band the Marine Girls and again as part of EBTG – often the only woman on tour, and finally as a mother who first loses interest in singing and then needs to consider how it can fit in around her children.
The bulk of the book tracks her life with Ben Watts. From their initial meeting, through their time spent at Hull University (from where Thorn graduates with a first in English Literature and debates whether to do a PhD instead of moving to London to be a singer), the ups and downs of EBTG and the illness that nearly killed Watts.
It also touches on her politics – ‘A Song for Labour!’, a visit to Russia and telling Smash Hits magazine that the last book she read was The British in Northern Ireland: A Case for Withdrawl.
It feels twee to say that this is a really lovely memoir, but it is: Thorn comes across as self-aware and, despite living a quite unusual life, very down-to-earth.