Tracey Thorn reveals anxiety in early career drove success

Tracey Thorn Everything But the Girl
Tracey Thorn was the singer and songwriting partner with Ben Watts in the 80s band Everything But the Girl. Photograph: David M Benett/Dave Benett/Getty

Everything But the Girl singer Tracey Thorn believes her early anxiety about making music and performing may have been what made her band’s songs so successful.

“I think now I have articulated what a lot of people feel,” the author and New Statesman columnist will tell Lauren Laverne on Sunday when she is the castaway on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs: “There is something very connecting about seeing people performing who are struggling.”

The singer recalls how her career in pop suddenly took off once her second song with bandmate and partner Ben Watt, Each and Every One, went into the charts while they were both at Hull University together. “A career in music was inventing itself for me,” remembers Thorn, who graduated with a first.

The pair had been put together musically by their shared record label, Cherry Red.

Thorn’s disc selections for Laverne reflect her family’s taste in music, from her parents’ love of Frank Sinatra, to her sister’s disco tastes and her brother’s penchant for heavy metal. But her choice of the John Martin track Solid Air is in tribute to the first evening she spent with Watt, who played it then.

The band’s loss of popularity in the late 1980s was partly their own fault, Thorn argues: “You run a little bit out of ideas and I think we would both admit we weren’t at our most creatively prolific.” But their musical careers received a kickstart in 1995 with a hugely successful club mix of the track, Missing.

Meanwhile. Watt had suffered and then recovered from a serious illness, an autoimmune diseasethat took its toll on him, but which, Thorn speculates, ultimately allowed them to spark again as a creative duo.

“We have shared something extraordinary, extraordinarily horrible. We both recovered in slightly separate spaces and that was quite conducive to making music, that feeling of living on your nerve endings again like a teenager,” said Thorn, who has three children with Watt.

The couple, who recently married, have no secret to share about the rare success of their relationship, she said. “There is something about us that suits each other. It was a lucky meeting.”