Beth Orton's first major release was Trailer Park in 1996, which includes the ghosty, rich single She Cries Your Name. I heard that track a few times and went straight to Borders and paid full price for the cd, which I never do. Then I paid full price again, for Beth's second major album, Central Reservation. I figured that, given Beth's performance and unpretentious expression on "Trailer Park", she wouldn't disappoint me with her second album, and she didn't.

Both albums are superbly crafted and wholly engaging, in other words, she kicks much booty, check her out. Beth has a more distinct, developed voice on "Central Reservation". She seems to have more clarity about where she's going with her music and where she's coming from. She is delicious. Beth Orton said in an interview in 1998 that before she had the guts to sing in front of people, she used to sing to her vacuum for practice. How could you not love that? She is an old soul with a young voice, and welcomed treat.

I went to a Beth Orton show, some indeterminate time ago. Here is the story, a bit of Modnar history:

I just got back from seeing Beth Orton play at the 9:30 in Washington, DC. It was a pretty amazing concert. I'd just seen her a couple days before when she played this year's HFStival (a huge arse concert put on by the local Baltimore/DC area alt-rock radio station). While I was there they mentioned that she'd be playing a show at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday that would be free to anyone that brought their HFStival ticket stub (or 99 cents if you didn't). My friend Eric (who was also at the HFStival) and I thought this was a pretty sly deal so we decided to go. (My girlfriend also thought it was a sly deal but she couldn't come. Instead she has to read about it here.)

How hard could it be going to a free concert? Harder than you might think. Eric was supposed to pick me up from my apartment at 7:00 so we could make it down to the club by 8 or so depending on how lost we got. However, for Eric, the lure of home cooked foodage won out over timeliness and he stuck around his place until 7:30 and ate the food his roommate was making. We ended up leaving for the concert at 7:45, about the time we wanted to get there. As we drove down the road Eric remembered he forgot his ticket stub but we didn't really think anything of it as he could still get in for 99 cents.

We got lost on the way to the club. Part of it was Eric's fault as he always gets lost no matter what. The other part of the blame lies with the directions to the club we had gotten. They seemed to involve a lot of turning onto nonexistent streets which is rather difficult to do. A fair bit of improvisation ensued and thus we got to the club much later than we should have. We ended up parking in some random parking lot and prayed that the car would be there at the end of the night.

There was a separate line at the club for people buying tickets and for people cashing in their HFStival ticket stubs. Eric and I got in our respective lines but a second later he was back standing next to me. It turned out that the show had sold out in the time it took us to get there. I guess the lure of such a cheap concert drew more people that we thought it would. They were still letting people get a ticket if they had their ticket stub so the end result was that I now had a ticket and Eric did not. We then proceeded to stand there with the bunch of other people in denial that the concert was sold out. After a few failed attempts to con people into giving us an extra ticket, Eric spotted Sebastian Steinberg, of the band Soul Coughing, walking around to the side of the club. We had seen him at the HFStival playing bass in Beth Orton's backup band so we figured that maybe he could get us into the concert.

Apparently Eric had helped the guys from Soul Coughing carry out their equipment after a show in Cleveland and Sebastian vaguely recognized him when we approached. After we explained our plight he agreed to get Eric + 1 (me) onto the guest list. He went inside and we stood our front waiting of the guest list to be updated. As we waited Eric decided that it would be a good idea to give away my ticket to some girl who needed an extra one. I would have preferred to have waited until we were sure we were getting in before I pawned off my ticket but it all worked out so there was no need to beat Eric.

They let us in midway though the set of the opening act which was some singer named Kelly Willis. She was a bit too country for my taste but a lot of the crowd seemed to like her. Because it was sold out the club was packed but we did manage to squeeze our way up to about 4 people away from the stage. Beth Orton was a bit late coming on, mainly due to a problem they had setting up her guitar. She came on about 10:15 and played for an hour or so. I enjoyed her quite a bit which is kind of surprising since the only stuff of hers I'd heard before was at the HFStival. She was funny on stage as she seemed surprised and amused to be playing in front of a big audience. It came across that she didn't just treat this as one would a normal day job. She actually enjoyed playing in front of people. This is something that's not really evident in may live shows that I've seen. She did two encores, the first was with the whole backup band and at the end of it Beth's guitar decided to die. For the second encore she came on with just her guitarist and had to borrow his spare one so she could play. She did one song with him and then did another song solo. She then took a go at singing a song that she hadn't been able to sing since recording it. The final song went off quite well except for the random loud noises that the sound setup made on occasion. Whenever the guitar would cause one of these noises to happen Beth would get startled. It was rather amusing.

After the show we thanked Sebastian for getting us in. We thought about asking if we could go backstage but that seemed like pushing it a little. We got lost on the way home (big surprise) and somehow ended up driving though the middle of downtown DC near the Capitol. It took way too long to get home.

"A horse walks into a bar and the bartender says 'Why the long face?'"

Name: Beth Orton
Date of Birth: 14th December 1970
Place of Birth: Norwich, England

SuperPinkyMandy (1993)
Trailer Park (1996)
Best Bit EP (1998)
Central Reservation (1999)
Daybreaker (2002)

Beth Orton is one of the most talented singer/songwriters of her generation. Combining folk and trip hop to great effect, she has produced four exceptional albums. With a very secure fanbase, she is the type of artist unlikely to ever have massive commercial success, but that is hardly the point.

The Early Years
Born in Norfolk in 1970, Beth moved to East London with her parents at the age of 14. From an early age she had loved singing:

"I never used to sing in public, but I always used to sing to the Hoover. I sing really well to a drone.
I'd be singing at the top of my voice because no one could hear me."

Her early musical heroes were artists such as Neil Young, Rickie Lee Jones and Joni Mitchell, but by her teens she was more interested in becoming an actress than starting a singing career.

A youth spent on the dance floors led to a chance meeting with William Orbit. He signed her up to record some spoken text for his Strange Cargo project, but the drunk Orton sang instead and embarked on her singing career. Rather bizarrely, Beth went blind for five days shortly afterwards, for still unknown reasons. The work with William Orbit included Water from a Vine Leaf, which Beth co-wrote.

"'Don't Wanna Know 'Bout Evil' is the first song I ever sang with William.
So I suppose that marks the beginning of my love affair with music.
Which is very important as it's the only thing I've ever really committed to in my life.'

The album SuperPinkyMandy was released in 1993 in Japan only and was limited to 1000 copies. Heavily produced by Orbit, it features Beth's vocals on all 10 tracks and is essentially her debut album. The style is very reminiscient of the Strange Cargo series and unlike Orton's later work, although it does contain an early version of She Cries Your Name, later to appear on Trailer Park.

Originals of SuperPinkyMandy are incredibly difficult to get hold of and change hands only with the lubricant of large amounts of cash, but cd-r copies do float around (I have one - yay!) and mp3s of the tracks are to be found on the internet.

The first track on SuperPinkyMandy, Don't Wanna Know 'Bout Evil, was released as a single in the UK under the name Spill, which was essentially just William and Beth as a duo. It is a cover of the John Martyn track and was the only release by Spill.

It was about this time that new starters The Chemical Brothers approached Beth to work with them on their first album, Exit Planet Dust. She appears on the sublime closing track, Alive Alone - it was to be the start of a long-term friendship. Beth also spent a little time fronting Red Snapper, appearing on their first singles, Snapper and In Deep.

Beth then recorded some demos with members of Primal Scream and came to the attention of Heavenly Recordings, who signed her up and the Trailer Park project was born.

Solo Work
After assembling a backing band comprised of double bassist Ali Friend, guitarist Ted Barnes, keyboardist Lee Spencer and drummer Wildcat Will, Beth issued her debut EP, She Cries Your Name, in 1996. The album Trailer Park followed later that year to fairly unanimous critical acclaim, but only managed to reach number 68 in the UK charts.

Beth toured in support of Trailer Park during 1997, while also recording Where Do I Begin? for the Chemical Brothers' second album Dig Your Own Hole. She also reissued the She Cries Your Name single, hitting the top 40 singles chart (sadly only getting to number 40) for the first time and Trailer Park was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, losing out to Roni Size Reprazent's New Forms.

Best Bit
The Best Bit EP was the only release including new material by Beth in the three years between albums. A wonderful set of songs, two recorded with jazz musician Terry Callier - it was exactly what Beth fans wanted.

This was a quiet year for Beth, spent writing and recording Central Reservation. Towards the beginning of the year, she was nominated for two Brit Awards - Best British Female and Best British Newcomer, losing to Shola Alma and the Stereophonics respectively.

Central Reservation
Central Reservation was released in March 1999 and was an absolute dream come true for many fans. Expanding on the style she set down in Trailer Park, Beth created a luscious album, perfect in its composition and scale. It saw Beth's first collaboration with Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl, who remixed the track Central Reservation to create (the then again version).

The album was again shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize this time losing out to OK by Talvin Singh.

In late 1999, Beck released Midnite Vultures, which features Beth's vocals on Beautiful Way and in early 2000, Beth supported Beck's European tour.

At the 2000 Brit Awards, Beth walked away with the Best British Female award, much to everyone's surprise, not least her own.

"It's nice, I mean I never got any awards at school.
It's a little Brucey Bonus."

Crohn's Disease
Beth had suffered from Crohn's Disease, a debilitating bowel disease, for her whole life and was hit by it in 2000. She was out of the limelight for most of the year and had to cancel some shows and promo activities.

Beth's one and only appearance in a feature film is 2001's Southlander, the tale of a Los Angeles musician searching for a mystical keyboard. It also features Beck and Elliott Smith, among others.

Beth took a long time working on Daybreaker. Released in mid 2002, at first listen it appears to be a big step away from Beth's past style, but this is an illusion. Beth really did rope in as many of her friends for this album as possible, and it is this that gives it a slightly different sound, but it is still essentially Beth. Ben Watt mixes, William Orbit gives significant production to many tracks, Daybreaker (the track) shows massive influences from the Chemical Brothers who laid the bass-line down, Emmylou Harris' country vocals lend a unique style to God Song and then theres Ryan.

Ryan Adams
Intrigued by Ryan Adams' album Heartbreaker, Beth asked him to join her on one of her tracks, Concrete Sky. His backing vocals perfectly complement the unique aspects of Beth's own voice to produce a wonderful track. Ryan then asked Beth to lend vocals to one of his songs, originally entitled OK but called This One's Gonna Bruise on Daybreaker. My personal favourite track from the album, the two voices again complement each other perfectly. Again, there are rumours of a romance.

I first became aware of Beth's music in about 1997, introduced to Trailer Park by a friend. Bowled over by her astonishing voice, I quickly became a massive fan, buying every release.

My first experience of Beth's live performance was in early 2002, in London. Starting off slowly (and clearly nervous), her performance blossomed into everything I hoped it would be. Have now seen her again, in Cambridge, and, if anything, this performance was even better. Maybe it was just that I'd had longer to get to know the tracks from Daybreaker, but I found I enjoyed this one more. Clearly much more confident, Beth's voice was absolutely sublime and she was full of confidence, even if she did tell all the same jokes...

my own Beth knowledge

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