Naked truths on stagefright and more by Tracey Thorn at Harrogate

Review by Graham Chalmers

Monday, 6th July 2015, 10:31 am
Tracey Thorn.
Tracey Thorn.

This queen of 80s indie music hasn’t felt able to play live for 15 years yet she seems utterly relaxed on stage at Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival.

It’s something Tracey Thorn’s interviewer, Tracey McLeod picks up on.

“This isn’t performing, we’re just chatting. This is a breeze compared to singing on stage,” the former Everything But The Girl vocalist tells the broadcaster in response at the Crown Hotel.

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Earlier, this most idiosyncratic and sophisticated of pop stars had paused in the revolving doors of the Crown Hotel to sign autographs - not just on pieces of paper but on one fan’s acoustic guitar.

If ticket sales for politician Dennis Skinner represent the high water mark in this big name series of talks organised by Harrogate International Festivals (sadly, he had to pull out through family illness) and DJ Edith Bowman the low tide (she also had to pull out but let’s spare her blushes), the crowd in conservative Harrogate for indie musican turned author Thorn is very healthy bearing in mind her cult status.

Speaking in the same precise, measured tones as those romantic songs from the 1980s and 90s which made her and her husband Ben Watt every thinking person’s favourite pop star, Thorn reads passages from her new book Naked at the Albert Hall.

A personal memoir of what it means to sing and be a singer topped up with celebrity interviews with some of her personal favourites, Thorn’s conversational style comes across well.

Despite a tone of reserve, as a speaker she is an open book - and likably witty with it.

There’s clearly a lot more to Naked at the Albert Hall than anecdotes about the likes of Elvis Costello or Dusty Springfield or Green Gartside of Scritti Politti, as interesting and revealing as they are.

Like her previous bestseller Bedsit Disco Queen, for a singer Tracey Thorn makes a very good music critic.

Happy to admit how neurotic getting up in stage to sing has always made her - hence her own long-term case of stagefright - what she can boast which most critics lack is the sense of freedom to say what she feels without worrying about appearing ‘cool’.

So she sticks to her guns on X Factor - “I enjoy it, it’s only Saturday night TV” - to the quiet alarm of a few of the more devoted Everything But The Girl fans in the respectful, educated Crown Hotel audience.

For me, I think Tracey Thorn is a terrific writer but the intelligence of her remarks masks her enduring confusion about a key question for her self and music as a whole - what is the true nature of singing in public.

Is it being authentic or is it simply a performance?

Polite to a fault, Thorn tells the audience she’s even had hypnotherapy in an effort to beat her stage fright.

It didn’t work but she didn’t want to upset her hypnotherapist by telling her the truth.