Bedsit Disco Queen by Tracey Thorn
13th Feb 2013
Tracey Thorn was one half of the multi-million-selling Everything But the Girl (whose Missing was, for me, the soundtrack to countless school discos), and a member of cult indie band the Marine Girls.
This is the story of how she went from dreaming of pop stardom in a suburban bedroom, to touring the world, via Hull University – or, as the subtitle puts it, ‘How I grew up and tried to be a pop star’.
Thorn makes for a beguiling narrator, with a refreshing absence of rock-star ego. This is not just a music memoir, but social history – a poignant reminder of a music industry that’s now vanished forever. When Thorn started out, if you wanted a record, you sent off for it in the post using a form at the back of the NME; if you wanted to be a pop star, you played local pubs in the hope that a tiny label would sign you, rather than uploading your video onto YouTube or aiming for X-Factor.
Even if you’re not a fan of – or even very familiar with – her music, Thorn makes for a warm, beguiling narrator, with just the refreshing absence of rock-star ego that her choice of title makes you hope for.
She’s brilliant when it comes to describing both the youthful ambition and DIY attitude of her early post-punk years, and the struggles with self-doubt that surfaced to varying degrees throughout her long career.
She remains, throughout, a very ordinary, albeit very lovely person, and so succeeds in painting a more convincing picture of what being a pop star is really like than many others who have gone before her.
Thorn’s strong and practical feminist attitude appeals, too. She seems to have grasped early on the double-standards and injustices of the music industry and the world beyond.
Throughout her story, the decisions she makes – about performing, writing, or even starting and raising a family – are in the spirit of this awareness, all of which makes me love her even more. The label ‘role-model’ comes regularly to mind, though Thorn would probably be too modest to accept it.
There’s also a touching love story at the centre of this book. The other half of EBTG was Ben Watt, who remains Thorn’s actual other half today.
They met as students at Hull University, swiftly formed the band, and while Thorn doesn’t reveal too much of the intimacy of their relationship, it’s clear that their love for each other has been a source of strength, creativity and support through times good and bad. This really is inspiring stuff all round.
Recommended for: Music and pop-culture fans of all kinds, even those who aren’t particular fans of EBTG or the Marine Girls.
Other recommended reading: Try This is Uncool: The 500 Greatest Singles since Punk and Disco by Garry Mulholland, a brilliant potted history of the music industry since 1976.