Tracey Thorn: Bedsit Disco Queen Book Festival

You might guess that there’s many a suburban housewife and mother who would dream of being an icon of popular music, but not too many pop icons who dream of live as a housewife and mother. But then, Tracey Thorn was never your run-of-the-mill pop star.

For someone who was so nervous of appearing on stage she regularly threw up before live performances, Ms Thorn came across as charming, witty, lively and very much at ease in her appearance at Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Bedsit Disco Queen is her collected memories of her career, covering her days in the Marine Girls (one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite albums), meeting her partner Ben Watt at Hull University and her life as one half of Everything But the Girl.

An early audition for a band found her singing from inside a wardrobe, so they couldn’t look at her…that should have given her a clue as to how much she was (not) going to enjoy appearing before an audience.

But Everything But the Girl achieve worldwide success, most notably with “Missing” and “I Don’t Wanna Talk About It”, and this success brings with it the usual problems – record company control of their image, touring more frequently and playing bigger and bigger venues – until the birth of their twins gives Tracey an opportunity to step away from all this. However much she might have been relieved at that, their lives are turned upside down when Ben becomes the victim of a life-threatening illness.

She says she never set out to write a book, but going through the memorabilia of her career, she gradually realised that the potential was there. An honest account of her career, and of the music of the era, it’s not the usual rock star memoir of excess and overindulgence. An anecdote from her days as a school gate mum (“none of the other mums ever mentioned if they had any of my records – I don’t know if they knew I was in a band”) recounts the day George Michael pulled up to say Hi, and even that got no comments (“English reserve!”)

Perhaps inspired by the success of the book, she’s back writing songs, her third solo album is out now, and I suspect anyone in the capacity crowd who hadn’t realised that will have gone out and bought them the next day.

One more story has to be told, though. EbtG were huge in Italy. On the day they arrived on their first tour there, the front page of one paper had equally-sized pictures of the Pope, John MacEnroe and Tracey. And while out walking in Florence, they were followed by an ever-increasing posse of teenagers. Very flattering, until they realised they’d been mistaken for Matt Bianco. I mention this as, while taking questions from the audience, one guy put his hand up and said: “I am from Florence, and I would like to apologise on behalf of my fellow citizens…”

Jim Welsh