Ben Watt’s parents inspire memoir, music 

click to enlarge Ben Watt
  • Ben Watt’s new solo album, his first since 1983, is “Hendra.”
Everything But The Girl founder Ben Watt clarifies the intent of his memoir “Romany and Tom” in the opening passage: “We only ever see the second half of our parents’ lives – the downhill part. The golden years we have to piece together.”

Through painstaking research, he documented the colorful past of his titular mother and father, a journalist and a big-band jazz musician, respectively. But he never expected the project to evolve into a solo album – “Hendra,” his first since “North Marine Drive” in 1983, which he’ll premiere in The City this week.

Watt has always stayed busy. With his wife Tracey Thorn, he recorded nine EBTG efforts over 18 years, and now the couple is raising twin 16-year-old daughters and a son, 13, who also record music in the family’s home studio.

He also ran two London nightclubs, launched a DJ career, a BBC radio show and the label Buzzin’ Fly, plus the imprint Strange Feeling for Thorn’s solo work. And he wrote a stark autobiography, “Patient,” detailing his battle with the auto-immune disease Churg-Strauss syndrome. But “Romany and Tom” took on a life of its own.

“It’s true. We do only ever experience our parents in their decline, and their best moments – their golden years – happened almost certainly before we were born,” says Watt. “And if you want to find out anything about how they were as human beings, about their flaws and thwarted ambitions, you have to go back and look it up.”

But the more he discovered about his father – whose bustling 1950s career was derailed in the early ’60s by rock and roll – the sadder he became.

“It became clear that I was writing the book at the point where my dad had given up,He became a house husband and my mother was the one who earned the money,” says Watt, 51, who was feeling conversely productive.

The person he most wanted to read the manuscript, his half-sister Jennie, died unexpectedly just as he finished it. So he composed a lilting song for her – Hendra was a retreat in Cornwall where she would escape her humdrum existence running a village market.

The reflective ballads kept coming. Watt, who wanted some six-string oomph behind the folky new material, had Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour add texture to the ethereal cut, “The Levels,” and ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler (who is touring with Watt) electrified most of the rest.

“But I don’t really buy any of that self-analysis, I-went-on-a-journey stuff,” he says. “These songs were all written out of compulsion – I just had to get them out of my system.”


Ben Watt

Where: Chapel, 777 Valencia St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

Tickets: $20 to $22

Contact: (415) 551-5157,

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Tom Lanham

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