Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt met while studying English at the University of Hull in North-East England. Thorn's rebellious punk band at the time, Marine Girls, was signed to the London independent record label, Cherry Red. Watt also had a deal with the same label and released his debut solo album North Marine Drive in 1982. One of Watt's photos was used as the album cover for Marine Girls' second record, Lazy Ways. Thorn was not overly impressed with Watt's folk record, so when the two first met she did not immediately think that they were soul mates both musically and romantically wise. They did become friends over their mutual interests in politics and social issues, which eventually led to the duo forming Everything But The Girl, and quietly becoming a couple.
The inspiration for their name came from the local furniture shop, Turner, in Hull. On a sign in their window was the stores slogan, "For your bedroom needs, we sell everything but the girl."
They released their debut album Eden in 1984 on Warner Music's international record label, WEA. It was produced by Robin Millar, who is best known for his work with the English Soul band, Sade. The album was jazzy with a Latin flair and yielded a minor hit with the song "Each And Every One."
The group developed a reputation of being difficult after they turned down the chance to appear on the legendary broadcaster Tony Blackburn's BBC Radio London Soul show. They refused to be on his program because they thought he was sexist.
Everything But The Girls' sophomore album Love Not Money, released in 1985, took the group in a much different direction. It explored a more indie rock sound with politically conscious lyrics addressing such topics as feminism and equal rights. Because of the lyrical content of the record, the pair was often asked to endorse various causes. It put them in an awkward position trying to decide which charities to support.
Thorn and Watt often avoided the subject of their relationship and personal lives in interviews, but Thorn did reveal to NME in 1986 that working together was easy for them and that they had an extremely stable relationship. When asked about whom all the sad songs were about then, Thorn replied, "There's nothing more boring to write about than a happy relationship, so the songs tend to be more about people around us than ourselves."
The group finally found commercial success in 1988 with their heart-rending version of "I Don't Want To Talk About It
" written by Danny Whitten from Crazy Horse. Rod Stewart also had success with the song when it hit #1 in the UK in 1977. Frustrated with not being able to reach a larger audience with their previous albums, Everything But The Girl tried to downplay their appearance and come across as more ordinary with their fourth record, Idlewild
. They confessed to Q in 1996 about musically running out of options, "There was no way we could go back into an underground sound. It was dominated by a younger generation," said Watt. "So we chose the alternative route. We had to go mainstream."
The duo had to take a break in 1992 when Watt battled a rare autoimmune disease called Churg-Strauss syndrome. If the illness is left unchecked, it can result in the collapse of the immune system because it attacks the body tissue and causes organ failure. It had already destroyed 85% of Watt's small intestine by the time the doctors figured out what was happening to him. He underwent five life-saving operations, putting him in the hospital for three months. Watt detailed his near-death experience in his memoir Patient that was released by Penguin in 1996.
Tracey Thorn collaborated with the British experimental act Massive Attack on their 1994 album Protection after vocalist Shara Nelson left the group. Thorn co-wrote the title track, which was released as a single.
In 1994, Everything But The Girl released their fifth album, Amplified Heart
. Several tracks were produced by Electronic music guru, John Coxon. When the group's contract came up for renewal with WEA, the record label dropped the duo after 10 years of being signed with them, and despite Thorn and Watt informing them that they had just done dance remixes for some of those songs. Just two months later, they became a successful Dance-Pop act worldwide with the remix version of their song "Missing
" by the House music producer, Todd Terry. Watt admitted to Q
that he felt a bit of pleasure in their new found success without their label. "The best way is to be magnanimous in victory," he said. "They made a mistake, they know they made a mistake."
The duo released the albums Walking Wounded in 1996 and Temperamental in 1999 through Virgin, but decided in 2000 to disband. Thorn told The Observer in 2012 about their choice to work separately: "One of the things that contributed to the end of Everything But the Girl was the slight pressure of being a couple and a band together." She continued, "We've been together a long time now and you don't necessarily need to increase the things that make your life stressful."
Thorn and Watt have kept busy both musically and as authors after the group split up. Thorn has released three solo albums and a memoir published by Virago in 2013 called Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up And Tried To Be A Pop Star. Watt spent a great deal of time as a DJ in the electronic clubs scene and running his record label, Buzzin' Fly. He released his second solo album Hendra in 2014, as well as a memoir about his parents called Romany and Tom that was published by Bloomsbury.
Reflecting on the musical variance over the career of Everything But The Girl, Ben Watt said in our 2014 interview
: "The size of your fan base should not be a determining factor when choosing what to do next. We made records we wanted to make and accepted the consequences. I certainly had no regrets."