Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to be a Pop Star

Tracey Thorn

Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to be a Pop Star
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Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to be a Pop Star

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.

Review

Picture this. You’ve just had your breakout album and your career trajectory looks set for the stratosphere. Out of the blue, the management of U2 wants you to support them on a stadium tour of the USA. Would you take it? Tracey Thorn, one half of Everything But the Girl, never wanted to be a pop star. Starting out in the immediate post-punk era when destroying the joint was de rigeur, fame was not the point.

It is this moment of temptation that provides the pivot for Bedsit Disco Queen, Thorn’s skillful examination of her long career, the post-punk period, the pursuit of success and what life feels like when success goes away. While Tracey Thorn doesn’t shake the cabinets like Adele, she remains one of the finest voices British pop has produced in the past 50 years. And that voice has been there, like a fingerprint, since her first recordings with the Marine Girls (sessions recorded in a garden shed), through six EBTG albums and the tracks with Massive Attack that reset her musical compass.

Bedsit Disco Queen coolly examines her inner life, her ‘tomboy looks’, her bouts of stage-fright and her development as an artist. The memoir is also crammed with stories, such as when Paul Weller rang the young Tracey and Ben to arrange to play at their gig at London’s ICA. They were still at university in Hull and didn’t own a telephone. So they waited for Weller – who was then about as famous as he would ever get – to call them at a phone box on the corner. Spinal Tap, Thorn contends only half-joking, is more a documentary than a comedy. Thorn holds steadfast to post-punk values of the personal-is-the political, yet stops short of being sentimental about it all.


Mike Shuttleworth is old enough to remember the 1980s the first time around and is the program manager at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

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