Making her return to UEA for the first time in six years, Tracey Thorn will be getting this year’s Spring Literary Festival underway, coinciding with the release of her second memoir: Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia. On finding out that Thorn was making a return to the UEA Literary Festival, I was more than thrilled. As someone I regard as I huge pioneer of British music, being one half of Everything But The Girl (the duo she formed at Hull University with her now partner Ben Watt) she has certainly earned her place as a true master in her field. Thorn’s prowess is proven through her near five decades of being in music, from EBTG and prior to that, Marine Girls, as well as the myriad projects that have followed in between, most notably her appearance on Massive Attack’s 1994 album Protection.
I must confess that her literary work is rather new to me, being more familiar with her musical talents, and yet I find it just as intriguing. Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia, follows on six years from her previous memoir, Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to be a Pop Star, which was met with critical acclaim and was the first step that launched Thorn to becoming an acknowledged writer. The new memoir tackles the issues of her adolescence, while wittingly placing it in the humdrum state of 1970s Britain in all its dull glory. It starts from a diary she kept when she was 13 in 1975, and is full of little quirky fragments of nothing too exciting, but of the humble insight into how dull early teenage life can be.
To her contemporaries and critics alike, Thorn is far from your well-established pop star ego. Timid, but packed with wit, she was described by Catlin Moran as the “Alan Bennett of pop memoirists” finding the most mundane of surroundings just that little quirkier. In between these sets of memoirs, she released Naked in the Albert Hall in 2015; a part- autobiographical account of the art of singing, underpinning, the pressures of being a lead vocalist. It featured contributions from Alison Moyet and The Streets’ Mike Skinner, to name a few. Thorn hails originally from the concrete jungle of Hatfield in Hertfordshire. Many of these commuter towns in greater London are a hotbed for English pop success, being home to the likes of David Bowie and Susie Sioux. In a small extract from the book featured in a recent article she wrote for The Observer, Thorn is very keen on showing how mundane life in this small commuter town is. One of Thorn’s diary entries is as follows:
“29th December 1975 – Went to St Albans with Debbie. Got a belt. Could not get a jumper or skirt.”
The memoir is filled with these fragments that highlight essentially, nothing, differing greatly from the typical entry of a “Dear Diary”. Thorn, in an unorthodox yet funny way, expresses the honest reality of her youth in the 1970s without being too hung up on the over-the-top emotions of a teenager. The release of her book has rounded off what has been a good year for her: In March she released her fifth studio album Record, her first solo material release for six years, to critical acclaim, ushering in a new, wiser branch of synth-pop that is still as fresh as anything Thorn has done previously. Her approach to her work is as unique as her reputation as an artist, and this is what makes her the revered icon she is today.
Tracey Thorn will be appearing at the UEA Spring Literary Festival in conversation with Henry Sutton on Wed 13th February.