WHEN Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn formed Everything But The Girl back in 1984, they never thought they had a career in prospect. But it seems they, in Watt's words, must be doing something right because, a decade later, the British duo is still going strong with their eighth album Amplified Heart hot on the Hong Kong shelves this week. Yet, barely two years ago, the duo's future looked seriously threatened when Watt, who composes the majority of the songs, was suddenly struck by a rare life-threatening disease identified as the Chung Strauss Syndrome, which involves an abnormality in the auto-immune system in which the body attacks its own connective tissues. It left him bed-ridden in hospital for three months and it was another three before he was ready to get back into the studio again. ''I'm much better now,'' Watt said in a telephone interview from London. ''But it's a long-term recovery really. I have a lot of strength; I'm working non-stop and enjoying life again. But I think it's something that people have to keep looking out for.'' While it has not incapacitated him - or the duo - any, it is obvious from recent photographs and the album cover that Watt is a much more gaunt figure than his former self. ''I am much thinner,'' Watt admitted. ''I have a problem with what I eat and I'm on a really small diet at the moment. But it doesn't seem to affect my work, the promotion and stuff. People just keep expecting me to fall over!'' Amplified Heart marks a return to basics with Everything But The Girl's original no-frills, folksy influence after a two-album foray into the sophisticated studio mixing. ''Our last two albums, Language of Life and Worldwide had high production value; they were very much studio records,'' Watt said. ''I certainly don't regret doing the two albums. The sounds in them were very appealing and we worked with a lot of fantastic musicians; and obviously there is an area of people who buy records who really want slick production. ''It was something we thought we should try. Tracey and I wanted to see how our songs would feel with that sort of treatment but I wonder now whether it was right for our songs and whether the way we write songs doesn't need all that kind of stuff. ''When we finished the albums, we really didn't have much more to say with that style of production. We also began to wonder if that sort of lush production really let the songs speak and breathe.'' Watt and Thorn also decided that it was time to get back in touch with their roots by playing concerts around Britain, armed with just an acoustic guitar, Thorn's rich vocals and Watt's lush tunes. ''We sort of built towards the new album from that position,'' Watt said. But it wasn't until Everything But The Girl bumped into drummer Dave Mattacks, bass guitarist Danny Thompson and lead guitarist Richard Thompson at a music festival last year that the new album fell into place. ''We got to talking about our new plans for ourselves and we suddenly realised that standing in front of us was our band. We decided to keep a little of the old influence from Eden, put in a little folksy jazz and folk rock and let the songs come out really naturally,'' Watt said. ''There aren't any rules but, at the moment, we feel that that is the way we want to record our songs - the simpler way. ''It's a very honest album, very direct lyrically, and very plain in the recording style with just beautiful strings and guitar. I just hope that people take it for the kind of album that it is and on its own merit.'' Yet, he added, the duo did not care if the album never made it to the top of the charts around the world. ''We just want people to understand what we're trying to do.'' He and Thorn have never put all that much priority in financial returns anyway, which explains a half-written score for the soundtrack of a French art movie starring Terence Stamp. ''I read the script and it was great. There was never any money in it, I just liked the project. It wasn't like Steven Spielberg or anything,'' he said. Watt spent two months coming up with 45 minutes of film music and a song but the film eventually ran out of money and was never made. Just as their music has backtracked from the opulent to the basic intimate touch, so too have the duo's live performances. Watt and Thorn have moved from fancy venues like the Royal Albert Hall in London, to small clubs which cater to groups of 200 or so. ''It's a really enjoyable experience in its own way, and yet at the same time playing in front of 5,000 people is fantastic as well - but different.'' Watt himself prefers the intimacy and relaxed atmosphere that smaller clubs offer. ''That's how I am when I go to concerts, even with my favourite groups. I prefer to have a drink and walk around a bit. At the end of last year, we felt that we were playing too many concerts where people just sat quietly and listened. The atmosphere was becoming too much like a museum,'' he said. ''We wanted people to relax more; to come down and not feel under pressure but just to enjoy themselves.'' Watt and Thorn started off last month playing a few clubs and are moving on to bigger ones this month but ''still where people can stand around with a drink'', insisted Watt. The secret to the duo's longevity and success could best be credited to the fact that both have common interests and beliefs. ''I've always thought the centre of what we did is Tracey's voice, my tunes and the guitar-playing,'' Watt said. ''And then what happens is that we just get interested in other types of music and create this hybrid. That's really what we've done all our career . . . I really like music that isn't one thing or another, sort of in the cracks.'' Up next for the acoustic duo will be concert tours to the United States, Europe, Japan and other parts of Asia. As for Hong Kong, Watt said it was not in their itinerary yet, but ''we certainly hope to make it there as well''.