They say you should never meet your heroes as you will more than likely be disappointed. My dad embarrassed me in front of Tom Baker once – in the bar of Theatre Clwyd, North Wales – following a performance of An Inspector Calls. At the time, I was wooing a potential girlfriend and aged 15 or 16. Going to the theatre was supposed to show how arty and bohemian I was. Somehow, I don’t think my dad shouting ‘He LOVED you when he was kid!’ at Tom Baker did my chances any good. However, the fourth Doctor Who was magnanimous in response. He simply smiled that big beaming smile, said ‘Of course he did’ and wandered off carrying a large glass of red wine. I’ve liked him that little bit more ever since. Last year I attended a small, intimate gig by Darren Hayman (once of Hefner) in the Godlee Observatory in Manchester after which he invited the entire audience to a nearby pub for an ‘aftershow party’ at which he proved to be as witty and genuine as I’d always hoped he was. The sad thing is that many reading this are probably unaware of his song-writing genius. To me he is famous but to others not, which is probably how he is able to remain so grounded.
After that I can count the number of ‘famous’ people that I have conversed with on one hand. I have briefly spoken to Jarvis Cocker in a Chinese restaurant in Manchester and have also spoken to I AM KLOOT’s John Bramwell when very drunk (and so was he). And that’s about it. There have been a few more brushes with celebrity but most of the pointing and gawping variety. Oh, and I was on The Weakest Link but I’m not sure Anne Robinson taking the piss out of your hair on national television counts. Besides, I never actually met her. She just turned up, asked the questions and fucked off. She didn’t even sign the cheque. I have stood in front of Dame Judi Dench in a queue but no words were exchanged. Also, I once saw Sean Connery outside the Grosvenor Hotel in Chester but nobody believed me (it later transpired that Connery was attending a clay pigeon shoot on the Duke of Westminster’s estate that weekend and was in Chester at the time).
Of course we now live in a world that is obsessed with celebrity and being famous is now a career choice amongst the young. You can be famous for being famous, a hellish mobius strip of a conundrum that I struggle to get my head around. I avoid the output of Simon Cowell like the plague, as I don’t really consider the ability to sing other people’s songs using an autotuner as a talent. This obsession with celebs is manifested in magazines like Hello and Heat and a multiverse of copycat publications. Social networking also feeds into the obsession too and you can now follow celebrities to your heart’s content via Twitter or become a fan of them via facebook.
Regular readers will know that I am big fan of social networking, especially Twitter; indeed, without it you would probably not be reading this now and the readership of this blog would comprise of my mum (not that she reads it). In a no-way-at-all-detailed analysis I think there are several echelons of celebrity on Twitter. There are those who are so famous that they employ PR minions to tweet for them (usually plugging themselves); there are those who actually do tweet themselves but keep a distance from those who follow them for fear of stalking; there are comedians – a lot of comedians – trying out new material or being witty whilst plugging their current shows; there are those who are so self unaware that their every tweet should have ‘which was nice’ added to the end, such is their disconnection from the lives of those that are following them (yes Michael Caine, I am looking at you). And then there are those rare few who don’t consider themselves famous or, dare I say, are as ‘normal’ as you and I. ‘Normal’ is probably the wrong choice of word. In fact I know it is but I can’t think of an alternative. What I mean is that there is a small band of artists, performers, musicians who get social networking and are just their own unassuming selves no matter how famous their followers think they are. These are people who reply to their followers, join in with conversations, retweet your tweets, follow you back, send personal messages, and refuse to countenance any suggestion that they are not like the rest of us despite the rest of us insisting that they are.
Getting back on track I follow quite a few of my heroes on Twitter. This has led me to believe that the sentence that opens the blog about never meeting your heroes should be appended with ‘or follow them on Twitter’. There’s nothing worse than finding out that someone you admire is actually a bit of an arse. Conversely though, there is nothing better than discovering that someone you admire is as brilliant as you always thought they were and who fall into that small band of unassuming celebrities mentioned above. In this category I would cite the actor and national-treasure-in-waiting David Morrissey, the children’s author Andy Stanton (author of the Mr Gum books – and if you have kids and haven’t read them why not) and the journalist and music writer Jude Rogers. And then there is Tracey Thorn.
I know that this is a long preamble and that what follows might disappoint but I wanted to put things into some sort of context first. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt (particularly recording together as Everything But The Girl) have soundtracked much of my formative years from the Cherry Red compilation Pillows & Prayers through to working with Massive Attack through to Tracey’s solo album of last year Love And It’s Opposite. Their song Apron Strings makes me cry (as mentioned in this post last week); their album Love Not Money is one of my great unrequited love albums as is Eden; Amplified Heart is a rarity – an album that my wife and I both love (this does not happen very often, if at all). Tracey’s voice has been described as mournful and that may be so (it may explain why I like her so much being something of a miserablist myself) but I think of it as the defining female voice of my generation, it has a quality that no other voice I know of has. Anyhow, you get the picture.
So, imagine my relief at finding that Tracey on Twitter was as funny and down to earth as I always hoped she would be. She is honest, self deprecating and laughs off any accusations of celebrity that are forced upon her. She tweets about her life and work and kids as we all do and with a refreshing lack of pretension; she is full of praise for those new female singers that she feels deserve it; she watches the X factor (which I don’t) and The Killing (which I do). And so, to finally get to the point. Last week a tweet went out asking anyone who writes a blog to send in six questions for Tracey and that the best ones would get a reply. I duly struggled to come up with six questions and sent them off. As this blog is primarily about my photography I thought about asking questions about what images inspired her but then I thought it would be better to ask questions that I would like to ask if we were to meet in person (even though I would probably clam up and end up asking what her favourite colour is). A few days passed and I forgot about it. Until last night. An e-mail came from Ben Watt (!) which said simply that ‘yours was one of the best set of questions we received. Here are Tracey’s answers’.
So here we are. A very short interview with one of my heroes…
Me. If you could give the world one piece of advice, what would it be?
Tracey. Pay attention to people who know more than you, not just people who make the most noise.
Me. If you could choose one of your personality traits to pass on to your children, what would it be?
Tracey. The ability to be contented.
Me. What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?
Tracey. A live performance.
Me. What is the best advice you’ve ever given and received?
Tracey. I once advised my two year old not to eat that bucket of mud, but sadly she ignored me. It was good advice, but good advice is not always taken. The best advice I ever received was from my Dad who told me cauliflowers are really hard to grow and probably not worth it.
Me. Do believe that people are inherently good or bad and how do you personally define "right" from "wrong”?
Tracey. Hmm, tricky one – I think I would err on the side of thinking people are mostly inherently good, or at least have the capacity to be so if it’s not thwarted. And my versions of right and wrong are certainly not particularly unusual, but based on a simple morality about not harming other people etc, being empathic, not being greedy.
Me. What do you consider your greatest regret and greatest achievement?
Tracey. I think my greatest regret is that I’m not more comfortable being a performer. I think I could have enjoyed my singing career more, and still be enjoying live performance, if I was just a more self-confident, more show-offy kind of person. My greatest achievement is probably having ever got up on a stage at all, given how terrifying it is to me.
And there you have it. Apologies to those who were expecting more after my excited social networking of last night. Obviously I have not taken the photograph used to head the blog but I was directed to a link where I could chose a suitable image and it occurred to me that it was probably best to use an approved image rather than go up in the loft and dig out some old vinyl to photograph. So there we have it, a break from the norm. Back to the photography tomorrow. It may all seem a little mundane after this brief foray into sleb journalism. But in the meantime I am heartened to know that sometimes heroes do live up to your expectations.