From the vault: 1988

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 September, 2007, 12:00am

Everything But the Girl



England's Hull University has produced many English literature majors and for three decades was the workplace of poet and novelist Philip Larkin. During the late 1970s, it was where British poet laureate Andrew Motion earned his salary.

The year 1982 also has its place in the university's history of wordsmiths: this was when two student musicians and remarkable lyricists, Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, met. It didn't take them long to form Everything But the Girl (EBTG), though the world had to wait six years to hear their inspired blend of acoustic pop, jazz, folk, soul, and poetry.

In 1988, Idlewild yielded a touching and enjoyable collection of songs. Originally released without EBTG's cover of Rod Stewart's I Don't Want to Talk About It, the album now opens with this enduring classic. The really good original stuff follows.

These Early Days reveals Thorn in fine voice. Guitarist Watt's minimalist fretwork is restrained but effective, with a two-note riff providing the tune's perfect hook. It's a fine song marred only by a dated-sounding drum machine, but then this was the 1980s.

Oxford Street is another great track, showcasing the duo's way with words: 'When I was 10 I thought my brother was God - he'd lie in bed and turn out the light with a fishing rod. I learned the names of all his football team, and I still remembered them when I was 19.'

Watt takes over singing duties on the sublime The Night I Heard Caruso Sing, providing one of the great vocal performances of the 1980s. It seems churlish to expect more, but Idlewild is chockfull of treasures. After Lonesome for a Place I Know starts captivatingly with a strummed acoustic guitar and Hammond organ, something beautiful happens. Thorn starts singing another great lyric: 'So here we are in Italy, with a sun hat and a dictionary ...' The promise of another masterpiece unfolds over two verses.

Nicely topical as we approach the Mid-Autumn Festival is Shadow on a Harvest Moon, although any time of year is a good time to listen to this album.

EBTG followed Idlewild with The Language of Life two years later. Another superb album, its production was more lavish, but Idlewild is the EBTG album that fulfilled the destiny of two gawky undergraduates 25 years ago at Hull University.