"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
Trailer Park (1996)
Best Bit EP (1998)
Central Reservation (1999)
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.
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
BETH AND ME
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