Ben Watt, Oran Mor, Nov 2013
|Bernard Butler and Ben Watt at Oran Mor, Glasgow|
Everything But The Girl were the kind of intelligent, sophisticated band that it is hard to see any record company bothering with these days. When I first saw them play, it was in the bizarre setting of a foyer in a Moscow hotel in 1985. I was 14 years old and trying to avoid the attentions of a lively bunch of East German girls who found my kilt highly entertaining. We were all attending the World Festival of Youth and Students, me as a delegate from the Glasgow West branch of Youth CND and I was sharing a room with a bagpiper in the Cosmos Hotel. Misty In Roots musically made a bigger impression on me on that trip, but EBTG were there as part of Britain's cultural delegation to the event. Thatcher was in government here and Gorbachev, who spoke at one of the events I attended, had just become leader in March 1985 of the Soviet Communist Party. The Cold War was in full swing. During the days we attended various meetings and festivals, and each night ended with partying in the hotel foyer. Looking back it seems a ludicrous trip to have ended up on without my parents, and some of our interpreters took me under their wing a bit. My memories of it are all happy ones. Forever afterwards seeing Tracey Thorn or Ben Watt takes me back to Moscow.
Ben Watt started as a solo performer before forming Everything But The Girl with Tracey Thorn at Hull Uni. They later married and he has since become a dance music DJ and producer, ran his own record label and written a book about about his near fatal auto-immune illness. Now he has written another book, which will be out in the new year, about his parents Tom and Romany Watt. His dad, he tells us at his gig in Oran Mor last night, was a jazz musician, born in Partick before living in Knightswood and Anniesland. I hadn't heard this before, but was living in Knightswood myself at the time of my Moscow adventures so will definitely be looking out for his book. In researching the book, he started putting some of his thoughts down as songs and has recorded an album, which will be out in 2014. So tonight he didn't have anything to sell, but is trying out his solo stuff live and was accompanied by friend and collaborator Bernard Butler. There was just the two of them on stage, plus a Wurlitzer keyboard and about a dozen different guitars. Almost everything played was new, although he did play a lovely song he'd got Robert Wyatt to record with him when he was 19 years old. ("I thought I lived in a Bohemian household, but that was nothing compared to Robert's.")
Many of the songs were melancholic, or connected with personal memories or an "Old Flame". The storytelling in "Bricks and Wood" of re-visiting his childhood home and "Nathaniel" of a roadside sign seen in Oregon were especially touching. The guitar playing of Bernard Butler, fringe flick and all, was mesmerising in that song in particular, although I did have echoes of Jeff Wayne's "oh no Nathaniel" at the back of my mind. Despite reflecting on the past in these songs he was clear that he'd "rather play new material to 200 people than play the old stuff to 2000."
Looking forward to his new book and the new album, and great to see Bernard Butler in such an intimate setting.