Best known for his seventeen years (1983-2000) as songwriter-performer-producer with Tracey Thorn in alt-pop duo Everything But The Girl, Ben Watt is also an award-winning solo artist, a prize-nominated non-fiction writer, a DJ and a radio presenter.
Early Years (1981 - 1983)
Born on December 6 1962 in London to Glaswegian jazz arranger, pianist and bandleader Tommy Watt and journalist Romany Bain, Ben Watt first appeared in 1981 on London indie Cherry Red as a young nineteen-year-old experimental songwriter-singer-guitarist. His first single Cant was produced by folk maverick Kevin Coyne. The follow-up, 1982's 5-track EP, Summer into Winter featured Robert Wyatt on piano and backing vocals. Watt's guitar-playing - rich folk-jazz voicings and propulsive echo/delay - set him apart from many of his contemporaries. His early work culminated in his sparse atmospheric debut album North Marine Drive (1983, UK Indie Album Chart Top 10) and featured solos from British alto sax giant, Peter King.
Everything But The Girl (1983 - 2000)
In 1983 Watt put aside his solo plans and formed alt-pop duo Everything But The Girl with singer-writer-partner Tracey Thorn after meeting each other at Hull University in late 1981. Over the next sixteen years they wrote and recorded nine critically-acclaimed studio albums and sold nine million records, receiving eight gold, and two platinum album BPI Certifications in the UK, and one gold album RIAA Certification in the US. Commercial highpoints included their debut Eden (1984), Idlewild (1988, incl. the UK Top 40 No. 3 hit I Don't Want To Talk About It), The Language of Life (1990, incl. US VH1 hit Driving), Amplified Heart (1994, incl. US Billboard Hot 100 No. 2 and global No. 1 Missing) and Walking Wounded (1996, incl four UK Top 40 hits). Their 1993 song I Didn't Know I Was Looking For Love became a UK Top 40 No. 8 hit for Karen Ramirez in 1997, and in 1994 they both contributed to Massive Attack's second album, Protection.
Ceding lead vocal duties mostly to Thorn, Watt still turned in memorable performances throughout the duo's career on songs such as The Night I Heard Caruso Sing, 25th December and The Road. He branched out from guitar-playing and songwriting into arranging and orchestration (most notably on 1986's Baby, The Stars Shine Bright) before moving into sampling and electronic production techniques. His work on Walking Wounded earned him a nomination as Producer of the Year at the 1996 Q Awards.
Quitting on a high, Everything But The Girl made their last appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2000 as Thorn moved out of the limelight to spend more time with their family and Watt looked for new challenges in underground electronic music. (A more in-depth Everything But The Girl history is carried at www.ebtg.com).
Beth Orton (1999-2002)
In 1999 Watt produced two tracks for Beth Orton's second album, Central Reservation (1999, nominated for Mercury Music Prize) and mixed her third album Daybreaker (2002, nominated Best Album at Q Awards).
Lazy Dog (1998 - 2003)
Encouraged by DJ-producer Howie B to start DJing, Watt was thirty-two when he first started mixing freestyle sets of jazz, drum 'n' bass and deep house in London in 1995. Guest sets followed at London nights such as James Lavelle's Dusted, Fabio's Swerve and Howie B's own west London Sunday parties at The Paradise.
In 1998 he established the London Sunday day-night club Lazy Dog with Blackmarket Records's Jay Hannan at the tiny 200-capacity Notting Hill Arts Club in west London focussing on the then underground sound of deep house. The night forged a pioneering path in the capital's now ubiquitous day-night Sunday clubbing scene. It became a runaway success, and soon a bi-monthly Friday night party the 900-capacity central London club The End was added. Sell-out US tours and three performances at Miami's Winter Music Conference cemented the duo's reputation.
Moving away from Everything But The Girl's mainstream eclecticism and into club-oriented dance music production, Watt also turned out an accompanying string of hit dancefloor remixes for Sade, Sunshine Anderson, Zero 7, Maxwell and Meshell Ndegeocello.
Lazy Dog folded in 2003 after five years of sell-out parties around the world and mix compilation sales of 100,000.
Cherry Jam, Neighbourhood (2002 - 2005)
In 2002, deepening his ties with clubland, Watt became part-owner-founder of two new west London event spaces - Cherry Jam (a tiny 160-capacity basement in Royal Oak); and a year later, Neighbourhood (built from the shell of the old 600-capacity Subterania club near Portobello Road). Resident DJ at each venue, he orchestrated the design and music policy for both and helped establish their three-year reputation at the forefront of London's club scene.
Cherry Jam hosted international DJs and rock bands - The Libertines played their first official debut show there - and launched art exhibitions and spoken word events including Book Slam (still a cornerstone of the London book scene).
At the larger Neighbourhood Watt brought in Groove Armada, the Rough Trade Records 25th Anniversary and the inaugural House Music Awards before leaving both venues and ending his stakeholding in 2005.
Buzzin' Fly, Strange Feeling (2003 - 2013)
April 2003 saw Watt launch his own independent record label Buzzin' Fly Records focussing on underground electronic music. As well as a new home for his own club-oriented productions - incl the underground hits Lone Cat, Pop A Cap In Yo' Ass (with Estelle), and Guinea Pig - the label fostered new talent, unearthing Justin Martin, Rodamaal, and Flowers and Sea Creatures. The label won Best Breakthrough Label at the House Music Awards 2004 and was runner-up as Best Label at the DJ Magazine Best Of British Awards in both 2007 and 2008. Watt was nominated in the Outstanding Contribution to Dance Music category at the DJ Magazine Best Of British Awards 2009.
Widening the musical output, 2006 saw the launch of sister imprint, Strange Feeling, focussing on alternative pop and rock. Early signings included Danish band Figurines, and Hungary's The Unbending Trees. In 2010 the imprint signed Watt's partner Tracey Thorn as she returned to the indie scene to release the solo albums Love And Its Opposite (2010) and Tinsel and Lights (2012).
As a club DJ, Watt's reputation grew widely in 2005 when he was booked on the festival circuit (Good Vibrations, Homelands, Coachella, Lovebox, Electric Picnic). In 2008 he went on to open the prestigious Sonar Festival in Barcelona and became a resident DJ at We Love on the Space Terrace on Sundays in Ibiza. In New York he was given a Giant Step residency at Cielo. Back home he moved Buzzin' Fly's intimate twice-monthly label parties to east London basement venue, Plastic People and regularly filled The End in central London with special additional nights.
In March 2013, on the anniversary of Buzzin' Fly's tenth birthday, Watt announced a change of direction. He was closing the label to new signings and freezing the release schedule to find time to return more fully to his own creative work. He simultaneously hit the pause button on his DJ schedule.
Radio, BBC 6Music (2006 - 2014)
In 2006 Watt launched a weekly online radio show focussing on house and electronic music. It broadcast over 150 editions over three years with transfers onto the Galaxy Network and Kiss 100 in the UK plus several global syndications. He finally closed the show in 2009 and accepted an ongoing role as a resident DJ on BBC Radio 6Music's flagship electronic music programme, the 6 Mix, until the show moved off the schedule in 2014.
Return to Solo (2013 - Now)
In March 2013 Watt announced he was returning to the solo career he put on hold in 1983. His record labels and DJ career were mothballed and he launched a new imprint and production company called Unmade Road as a vehicle for his new work. Writing a raft of new songs, he teamed up with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler and producer Ewan Pearson to record Hendra, his first solo album for thirty-one years. After a chance encounter on the eve of the recording sessions, the album also included a rare cameo from Pink Floyd's David Gilmour.
Hendra signalled a move away from electronic music and a return to his earliest roots in folk and jazz and art-rock. Following widespread acclaim, the album won the Best Second Album category at the AIM (Association of Independent Music) Awards 2014 in London. Watt played sixty live shows in support of it, travelling to North America, Japan and Australia. Japan's Music Magazine made it No. 3 in their Albums of the Year. Rolling Stone (Germany) made it No. 2 in their Albums of the Year. Rolling Stone (US) included it in their '15 Great Albums You Didn't Hear In 2014'.
In 2015 Watt returned to the studio to record the follow-up, Fever Dream, renewing key partnerships with Bernard Butler and engineer Bruno Ellingham, and sprinkling guest vocal cameos from Boston’s singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler, and Hiss Golden Messenger’s M.C. Taylor. The Guardian and Stereogum trailed the first single/video Gradually in February 2016. The album was released globally on Unmade Road through Caroline International on April 8 2016. Uncut Magazine posted a 9/10 review. The Guardian commented: 'In his early 50s, he is making some of the best music of his career.' The Washington Post noted: 'Jazzy, bluesy, slightly overdriven, passionate and poetic … Watt has worn many hats but these songs fit him like a glove.'
Author (1996 - Now)
In addition to his years as a musician, Watt has written two compelling memoirs.
1996 saw his first, Patient - the True Story of a Rare Illness published to wide acclaim by Viking/Penguin in the UK (a Sunday Times Book of the Year for William Boyd; Shortlisted for the Esquire Non-Fiction Award 1996) and by Grove Atlantic Press in the US (a New York Times Notable Book of The Year.) The book details his extraordinary life-and-death battle in 1992 with a rare and almost-career-ending auto-immune disease Churg-Strauss Syndrome during which he was dramatically hospitalised for nine weeks and endured several life-saving operations, losing 80% of his small intestine. The book has since been translated into Spanish, Swedish and Italian, and was republished in a new edition by Bloomsbury in 2014.
2014 saw the publication of his second memoir, Romany and Tom (Bloomsbury). Both a personal journey and a fearless portrait of his parents, it was nominated for the Samuel Johnson Non-Fiction Prize 2014, and featured in the Guardian’s Best Biographies and Memoirs 2014, and the Guardian's Readers’ Books of the Year 2014.
Nominations and Awards
Nominated, Best Producer of the Year at Q Awards 1996 (UK)
Nominated, Outstanding Contribution to Dance Music, DJ Magazine Best of British Awards 2009 (UK)
Winner, Best Second Album Award for 'Hendra', Association of Independent Music AIM Awards 2014 (UK)
Shortlisted for Esquire (UK) Non-Fiction Award 1996 ('Patient')
Longlisted for Samuel Johnson Non-Fiction Prize 2014 ('Romany and Tom')
In Addition (with Everything But The Girl)
Two Platinum Album BPI Certifications (UK)
Seven Gold Album BPI Certifications (UK)
One Platinum Single BPI Certification (UK)
One Gold Album RIAA Certification (US)
One Gold Single RIAA Certification (US)
Nominated for Best Single, BRIT Awards 1996