Everything But The Girl was formed in 1982 by Tracey Thorn (b. Brookman’s Park, Herts 26.9.62) and Ben Watt (b. Barnes, London 06.12.62). Both had already had early acclaimed starts in their teens on the UK post-punk independent scene – Tracey with her indie minimal girl group, the Marine Girls (1980-1983, later name-checked as one of Kurt Cobain’s favourite bands); Ben with more experimental solo folk-jazz recordings featuring alt-folk icon, Robert Wyatt (1981-1983). All the recordings had been released by London independent, Cherry Red, during it’s A&R heyday under Mike Alway (1980-1983). The pair met by coincidence at Hull University in the autumn of 1981.
Merging their respective early non-rock influences (Tracey: Buzzcocks, Billie Holiday, torch songs, disco; Ben: John Martyn, Brian Eno, Bill Evans) their first release was a stark acoustic cover of Cole Porter’s ‘Night and Day’ (1982) on Cherry Red. Originally intended as a last-minute B-side to two originals, it unintentionally threw the pair into the burgeoning London jazz-pop scene.
Returning to work in the relative isolation of Hull, each then released acclaimed minimalistic solo albums that topped the UK Indie Charts – Tracey’s ‘A Distant Shore’ (1982, recorded in a friend’s garden shed, incl. cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Femme Fatale’) and Ben’s ‘North Marine Drive’ (1983, incl. cover of Dylan’s ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’) before they pooled songs for Everything But The Girl debut, ‘Eden’, recorded with producer Robin Millar in the summer of 1983, but not released due to contractual issues involved in their move to Blanco Y Negro/WEA until May 1984. It spawned a Top 40 hit (‘Each and Every One’) and went on to sell 500,000 copies, while Paul Weller unexpectedly invited them both to guest on a track on the debut album by The Style Council, ‘Café Bleu’ (1984).
The next three albums charted different paths. The breezy folk-jazz of ‘Eden’ was followed by the politicised electric guitar pop of ‘Love Not Money’ (1985), the orchestral 60’s wall of sound of ‘Baby, The Stars Shine Bright’ (1986) and the more introspective machine-pop-soul of ‘Idlewild’ (1988). All three went gold in the UK, with ‘Idlewild’ also seeing a quick re-release after the band’s Top 3 UK Top 40 success with a cover of Danny Whitten’s ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About It’ in the summer of 1988.
With a maturing audience EBTG set their sights on North America. 1990 saw the release of ‘The Language Of Life’ produced in Los Angeles by Tommy Lipuma and featuring guest appearances from jazz legends Stan Getz, Joe Sample and Michael Brecker. It spawned their first serious US hit with ‘Driving’ dominating playlists on MTV’s main rival, VH-1, but it also drove the band into a self-confessed creative cul de sac as they moved further from their alternative roots. The self-produced follow-up ‘Worldwide'(1991) and the covers album ‘Acoustic’ (1992) were to follow, each meeting with respectable success (the latter including the UK Top 20 hit ‘Love Is Strange’), but it took Ben’s nosedive into life-threatening illness in 1992 to kickstart a major imaginitive revival in their lengthy career.
Ben detailed his 1992 battle with the rare Churg-Strauss Syndrome in the acclaimed memoir ‘Patient’ published by Penguin in 1996. It also triggered a vigorous return to songwriting and recording.
1994 saw the release of the self-produced return-to-form ‘Amplified Heart’ (on which they worked on several tracks with electronic music producer, John Coxon for the first time) and a collaboration with Bristol’s Massive Attack on their second album ‘Protection’. Ironically, WEA (who had marketed and distributed EBTG’s releases for ten years outside of North America) saw no future in either project and ended Ben and Tracey’s contract. By the end of 1995 however, a remix of ‘Missing’ (from ‘Amplified Heart’) by New York house don, Todd Terry, became a runaway underground and then overground hit. It went on to sell over three million copies, peaking at No. 2 in the US, No. 3 in the UK, and No. 1 in several other countries.
Out of contract and buoyed by a new found musical direction that allied Tracey’s voice and their songwriting with sounds and grooves from the burgeoning mid-90’s electronic scene, they went on to produce ‘Walking Wounded’ (1996) teaming up again with Coxon (this time with partner Ashley Wales in Spring Heel Jack) for the title track. The album delivered four UK Top 40 hits, gave the band a new home on Virgin, and sold over one million copies.
1999’s ‘Temperamental’ followed a similar template, selling 500,000, but signalled a fork in the road for band. After final live appearances at the Montreux Jazz and Roskilde Festivals in 2000, EBTG voluntarily stepped back from the mainstream limelight.