Everything but the Girl's Ben Watt returns to the written word
PUBLISHED: 11:36 28 February 2014 | UPDATED: 11:36 28 February 2014
After spending more than a decade underground as Hampstead's finest DJ and record producer, musician-turned-author Ben Watt felt tired of yesterdays and tomorrows.
A former member of alternative pop duo Everything but the Girl alongside his wife Tracey Thorn, the 51-year-old shut down his independent record label Buzzin’ Fly in 2013 and the upshot – his first book since 1996, Romany and Tom – marks quite a renaissance.
“I needed to go back to words and music, not just beats and other people’s work. I had begun writing by then and wanted space to finish it off. I also sensed I had to get back to my own music again,” explains Watt, whose comeback solo album is released in April.
His return to the spotlight starts this month with Romany and Tom – a thought-provoking memoir of his parents, exploring ambition and stardom during the post-war years.
The couple’s divergent backgrounds offer a fascinating insight into family roots: Watt’s father was a working-class Glaswegian jazz musician who defied social strictures to become a bandleader in London, whilst his mother was the daughter of a Methodist parson who went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College and became a Shakespearean actress.
By the age of 32, as their son illustrates, both Romany and Tom found themselves in loveless marriages with first partners and couldn’t work out how it all had happened.
“When they met at a New Year’s Day party in 1957 they were like tinderboxes – one spark was all it needed. There was a lot of passion that had been buried for too long in each of them and they must have seemed very exotic to each other too,” Watt reveals.
The author stresses that his book also represents a personal journey, with the later narrative filtered through his own emotions and reminiscences. His moving chronicle of an inexorable role-reversal from offspring to carer, in particular, will resonate with many readers.
“You begin as the child and need the unconditional love and support of your parents. As you become an adult, you can have some well-balanced years with them,” he says. “But as old age takes hold, you become the adult and they – to a large extent – the child.”
Watt takes great satisfaction from the chance to address the whole story of his mother and father, who were seen as larger-than-life characters in his autobiography, Patient – which details his struggle with the rare autoimmune disease Churg-Strauss syndrome.
This is not least because he is fortunate to be well enough for work. Watt lost 80 per cent of his small intestine to the illness and lives on a restricted diet. “I had a one-in-five chance of making it through one particular night in hospital so I count myself very lucky.”
Looking upon his career decisions and literary refrains, it seems as though Watt’s unremitting vitality helps him strike a chord with audiences of any genre.
“As with the songs I have always written, this book is simply an attempt at making a connection with people and to hold up a mirror to life,” he says.
“Towards the end you need to try and be at a distance to the work, imagine how it might strike others and try to avoid sentimentality. We often expect our parents to be solid and untroubled but they are battling with life at all stages, the same as the rest of us.”
Romany and Tom, by Ben Watt, is published by Bloomsbury priced £14.99.