Tracey Thorn on her first solo mini-album, A Distant Shore

'This work was well received at the time and has proved enduringly popular – I think that's because it's such a passionate record'

When I recorded [the 1982 album] A Distant Shore, I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't even know whether I was recording an album, let alone how to do it.

I'd written seven new songs but in my band, the Marine Girls, I wasn't really the singer, I was just one of the singers. But these new songs I'd written were so personal, so heartfelt, that I knew I had to sing them myself. So I went into the mobile recording studio in our producer Pat Bermingham's garden shed and recorded them, plus a Velvet Underground cover, not knowing whether they were demos, new Marine Girls ideas, or something else entirely. I sent the tape to Mike Alway at Cherry Red Records and he informed me that I had made a solo mini-album, which would be released just as it was.

Tracey Thorn, A Distant Shore, 1982
Tracey Thorn, A Distant Shore, 1982 Photograph: internet Photograph: internet

That was 30 years ago, when I was 19 years old. The songs are more or less all about Ben [Watt, her husband and long-time musical collaborator]. We had met on our first night at university, but he had a girlfriend back home, and things dragged on for a while, as they do. There were lots of scenes, tears, letters. Perfect inspiration for the kind of songwriter I was turning out to be. It was well received at the time and has proved enduringly popular, and I think that's because it's such a passionate record. It wears its heart very much on its sleeve, and is short enough to get away with doing so.

I hadn't learned how to tune a guitar, and nor had I really learned how to sing yet – so there are moments where it gets a bit "pitchy", to use modern parlance. But that's counter-balanced by the complete absorption of the performance. There's a sensuality to the vocal which is the result of me finally having the mic to myself and simply revelling in the experience – all that lovely reverb, all that lovely low vibrato; God, I was enjoying myself! The rough edges place it firmly in the indie camp, but it's the emotional warmth that enables the record to transcend that genre.

Lyrically, I can't quite believe how intense it all is. Looking back now from my advanced years, I marvel that I was able to take things quite so seriously at such a young age – had I no idea how lucky I was to be so young? No sense of perspective on the real seriousness of this tragedy enfolding me? No, of course not. That kind of detachment only comes with maturity. I was so much older then; I'm younger than that now.


As told to Laura Barnett

The GuardianTramp

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