North Marine Drive

I waited outside the school gates for Heather at the beginning of lunchtime. It had been easier to coordinate lunch in the 3rd year as we were in the same set and had the same lessons. The 4th year was the start of our ‘O’ Level options and as we had chosen differently had to plan meeting up at breaks.

At registration that morning she had tantalised me with news that she had new music from her older super cool sister who was at University. We were predominantly listening to The Smiths and Simple Minds until Helen, the older sister, had introduced us to Freur and their electronic album Doot Doot. In the same vein I hoped the new music would be original and something off the wall.

Heather appeared and immediately passed her school books to me. Heather was a young lady and preferred to carry a small, impractical for school books, picnic basket which housed her hairbrush and make up. I didn’t mind as my bag was much bigger and I was stronger. We had been good friends for over a year after Heather dated one of my school friends. They split but we stayed friends.

We hurried the 10 minute walk to her parents’ house, and I retrieved my cheese sandwiches my mum had prepared that morning. Cheese was my preferred sandwich with prawn cocktail crisps, penguin and apple. I sometimes varied the cheese sandwich with cream cheese. Heather went into the lounge and hit play on the large silver coloured ghetto blaster.

Brass instruments hit my ears followed by a distinct jazzy beat, and then the silky voice of Tracey Thorn ‘If you ever feel the time, to drop me a loving line.’

WOW!

WOW!

This was jazz, and I liked The Smiths. But there was something so unique and so simple. I didn’t like jazz. It wasn’t cool, but this was something else. It sounded like jazz but as the tracks flowed it was clear that there was a darker sound to the voice. I needed to get a copy.

My new sound stayed with me through the day, and Heather had promised to make a copy for me that evening. I got Everything But The Girl’s album Eden on one side and Ben Watt’s solo album North Marine Drive on the other. It’s funny that we talk today about illegal downloads, but either recording from the radio or tape to tape copying was commonplace in the 1980s.

The beginning to Eden gets me every time, even to this day. It’s so powerful and pure, and transports me to a different place and time.

Ben’s solo album is more raw, and a collection of melancholic but picturesque (however bleak) tracks. As a somewhat morose teenager at times, this fitted perfectly and provided a companion (alongside Morrissey) to the problems and depressions associated with growing up.

I never got to see Ben Watt or Tracey Thorn live either individually or collectively as Everything But the Girl. Concerts weren’t so accessible then. In fact I didn’t go to concerts until I was in my early 20s. I was not in the know to find out about concerts and rarely read NME so didn’t see any EBTG concerts advertised. My Boulevardier qualities were in their infancy. EBTG were silent popstars. Today the words silent and popstar create an oxymoron. EBTG were not emblazoned across the front of every newspaper, falling out of clubs or selling their souls. They just made music.

So that was that! I still loved and consistently listened to particularly Eden and North Marine Drive. It was such a relief when these albums were released on CD. CDs were more durable, and every time I played the tapes I feared it would be their last.

Earlier this year, Ben Watt posted on Twitter that he was performing a couple of acoustic concerts, at small venues. These would be the first solo gigs of this nature since the early 1980s. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted tickets and booked two. I really wanted to ask whether he would be playing some of the older stuff, but I always sensed they were not sentimental and preferred not to look back. This was confirmed by Tracey Thorn earlier in the year when I asked her at her book reading about touring and playing some of the earlier ETBG material.

Ben asked on Twitter who was coming to the gigs, and I responded positively. Justin, my good friend who was coming with me, stated that he wasn’t sure what to wear. Ben replied saying ‘It’ll be hot, so keep it simple.’

Fashion advice from Ben Watt on Twitter.

I decided to keep it really simple and wore denim shorts, sandals and a Jimi Hendrix T shirt. I met Justin at Old Street underground station, and he was wearing a long sleeved, but thin, sweater, jeans and silver pointy shoes. He was also carrying a jacket. A Jacket! It was still about 24 degrees. I did have an H&M graffiti hoodie around my waist but a jacket. We laughed and joked as we bound along Old Street expectant of a great gig.

The venue, interestingly called The Venue is a downstairs room at The Slaughtered Lamb Public House in Clerkenwell. The pub itself is a large square room with a mish mash of aging leather sofas and unpolished wooden tables and chairs. Justin walked in and instantly greeted the barman. Was he a regular? No, it was a friend he didn’t know worked there!

After quenching our thirst on delicious wine and beer, respectively not subsequently, we walked downstairs to the Venue. Two heavy dark wood doors opened into a medium sized dark room. At one end was the bar and the performance area. This was not a stage as it was not raised. It actually looked like a guitar shop as there were 6 guitars all lined up ready for use, along with a mandolin, keyboard, mikes and amps. One solitary standard lamp rather frayed at the edges lit the corner. In front of the stage were a number of small stools, and we selected the second row. The Venue gradually filled and started to heat up. Ben was right with his advice! I wondered if Justin rued wearing a sweater. Both our jacket and hoodie were redundant and on the floor.

At just after 8.30 Ben appeared to applause. He didn’t bask in the applause and instead offered simple non-verbal gratitude and sat at the keyboard and shared one of his new tracks with us.

Wow! It was fantastic. The sound more mature than his early solo material, but still full of emotion. His voice still as unique and haunting as it ever was.

Someone called Bernard joined him to play on a few tracks. Ben joked that Bernard hadn’t had time to learn them all. I wasn’t aware at the time but this was Bernard Butler from 90s fame and acclaim.

Ben warmed up and as he did engaged more and explained his journey back to music. He hadn’t written any new tracks for a number of years and was suddenly hit by inspiration earlier in the year. It was good to know that even the great and successful artists found it difficult to write when consumed with other projects. I have previously written here that my passion for the commercial world stifled and stunted my create writing. I am working hard at redressing this balance.

Ben hinted that if he was brave enough he would play a few of his old tracks. My excitement intensified. Was I really going to hear live interpretations of some of the sounds of my youth.

Ben continued playing some beautiful new tracks, mostly with the same gloom and angst present throughout his early work. Songs such as Golden Ratio, The Levels, Nathaniel we will always love you, and Bricks and Wood, or was it Wood and Bricks, spring to mind.

Ben announced that he had not played the next track to an audience in over 30 years. As soon as the first few melancholy plucked notes hit my ears, I knew we were in for the treat that is Walter and John.

Ben then played Somethings Don’t Matter and North Marine Drive, which are two of my favourite tracks from his North Marine Drive album. Ben forgot some words halfway through North Marine Drive, but it really didn’t matter. It felt like we were sharing a journey with him, and in doing so he was fulfilling my journey which started with these tracks over 30 years ago. This evening was a precious moment in time.

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The temperature in the room was akin to a sauna, but it somehow didn’t matter.

After a few more new tracks and a keyboard version of On Box Hill Ben’s first solo concert in over 30 years was over, and an amazing success. He even quipped that it wasn’t as tough as he had expected! And that he would be in the studio from September and hoped to release some new material next spring.

Ben came back into the room after the concert and it gave me a chance to say thank you in person.

A fantastic evening coupling a trip down remembrance avenue and some new fantastic material.

TNW

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Bedsit Disco Queen

Last Sunday the Boulevarider left the sanctity of his Crouch End, and headed to the Southbank, to hear Tracey Thorn read from her autobiography Bedsit Disco Queen.

I had booked the tickets a month or so previously and invited my good friend Alison, who is also a massive Tracy Thorn, and Everything But the Girl fan.

I had already read the book and in fact ordered it as soon as it was out, and really enjoyed it. It was fantastic to hear how Tracey felt about her band, their records, and their success. It was even better to hear her read extracts on BBC4 as part of the book promotion. Hearing her tone gave slant on her musings, and she seemed to be sending herself up quite a lot for some of her younger views, particularly around integrity of music, and not ‘selling out’.

So it was now time for one better! To actually see her read from her book, and hopefully to get my copy dedicated and dreaming of a photo opportunity!

I woke early (not sure if it was the excitement of the book reading or just had sufficient sleep!) However, it’s not my habit to wake at 7.15am on a Sunday!

I relaxed in bed, checking Facebook, Twitter and enjoyed a leisurely assam.

A text from Alison arrived to say ‘Miserable news… I am not very well L Thought I’d be OK but have woken with a disgusting cold, the sweats and sore throat. Honey I don’t think I am going to make it. Soooooooooooooo disappointed.’ Suffice to say, so was I. Not only was Alison the perfect person to go to this event with, and a massive fan, but I wanted to see her, and have a good catch up.
Fortunately two other friends Ange and Tony were also going so I wouldn’t need to fly solo. But I didn’t want a good ticket to go to waste and set about advertising its availability on Facebook and Twitter.

After porridge and blueberries I headed to Virgin Active for an hour to complete a biceps and triceps workout left over from last session, being too tired to complete it then.

Now, what to wear? With a potential photo opportunity I didn’t want to let myself down with less than perfect style! After a few outfit changes it was the leatherette jeans (current favourites), black t shirt with outline of Amyesque rockabilly chick on the front singing into an old style microphone, and platform, polka dot creepers.

I met Ange, Tony and Fabrizio (the saviour for Alison’s ticket courtesy of Ange) outside the Dominion and we headed into Centre Point. We thought to walk through but Fabrizio had other ideas and had booked us into the bar and viewing gallery on 32nd floor! Spectacular! Views across London which outstripped views from the London Eye or the Gherkin.

Expectantly we headed across to the Royal Festival Hall at 6.30, not wanting to be late (show starting at 7.45… God I was turning into my parents!). No one else was yet there and we enjoyed a beautiful drink on the 5th floor balcony, one watchful eye on the doors to the suite to ensure when a queue grew we were near the front. As we chatted and laughed as the sun lessened its glare up popped Paul Burston and his husband! This was turning into a Literary Salon reunion!

7.20 and I went back to the bar to ensure glasses were refilled so that we would not dehydrate during the performance.

As I came back up the doors were opening and we shot into the venue, being some of the first in there, and with unreserved seating I moved towards the front and selected the second row. A bold Tony announced ‘Get the front row as its available!’

So there we were, us four, front row, eagerly expecting Tracey Thorn and Suzi Feay (literary journalist and Tracey’s interviewer). Tracey Thorn was going to be 10 feet in front of us. I can’t speak for the others but I was getting very excited!

It felt like an age wait, but I believe they came out on time. After introductions Tracey read from her book. She selected a section following the release of Eden, and Everything But the Girl became better known across Europe and embarked on a tour of Italy. Tracey read in a beautiful animated way bringing the story to life, and I could see her and Ben Watt crossing the Ponte Vecchio in Firenze, pursued by hoards of fans, only to hear them shouting ‘Matt Bianco! Matt Bianco!’. The entire room laughed, and Tracey set the tone for the evening as engaging, sharing and witty. It was wonderful to soak up. My teenage years were filled with Eden, Love Not Money, and Baby the Stars Shine Bright, alongside A Distant Shore and North Marine Drive, BUT I never seemed to find much of what Ben and Tracey actually said or thought at the time. I am not sure whether this was a lack of press coverage or my choice of reading material!

Suzi Feay guided Tracey seamlessly through memories from meeting Ben at Hull University via the tanoy having only arrived a few minutes earlier, through taking a break to raise the children, and ultimately to the writing of the book (very little rewriting – lucky lucky Tracey!), and recording new material.

Tracey vivaciously described times huddled into a telephone box to speak to Paul Weller who already had number one singles under his belt, the love of tape, and a lack of love for technology! She explained how she felt when finding out that Kurt Cobain loved some of her music!
The atmosphere in the room, made me feel as if it was just the three of us… Tracey, Suzi and me, sitting at the pub catching up. I so wanted to ask some questions, and get Tracey to expand on certain points. I fortunately managed to stop myself.

However, as if by my sheer will, Suzi opened up the questions to the audience. I really wanted to ask a question and many possibilities shifted through my racing mind. The first question was asked by an audience member and another was requested. I thrust my hand in the air, the words of my question jumbling in my mind as the roving microphone approached.

I wanted to say ‘Hi Tracey. I really enjoyed the book. It’s taken you into forgotten memories. Has this instilled nostalgia enough for you and Ben to go on the road as EBTG, and perform some of your wonderful musical moments?’

The actual question was at least twice as long, less succinct and delivered with a nervy voice!
Tracey answered with wit and grace and explained that she was not a particularly nostalgic person and always looked forwards rather than back, and not to say never, but it was unlikely!
Boooooo – I wanted to say but instead smiled! It was only my selfish longings that wanted to boo. I was at school when Eden came out, and as one of my favourite albums of all time, I dream of the day I can hear EBTG perform songs from it, or even better the entire album!

Other questions followed where everything from George Michael to bob hairstyles were discussed, and continued to evoke fantastic discussion from Tracey!

All too soon it was over, but Tracey was to sign copies of the book in the foyer.
My copy was already signed, as I ordered from the first batch available from Buzzin Fly, but I wanted to get it dedicated, get something signed for Alison and ask for a cheeky photo.
Tracey obliged all three!

It was a fantastic day, culminating in a brilliant evening spent with friends, and listening to an amazing and understated talent.

I do hope they tour again, and write other books (Tracey confirmed she was writing again), and release more music (Tracey’s recent solo material has also been really good), and give me other opportunities to beg for concerts!

So if you read this Tracey Thorn, and I am going to post a link to your twitter thank you very much for your music, book and giving us the chance to speak with you! (Any chance of a retro tour?lol)

TNW

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