Queer as folk
A world away from the the trip-folk tag of her youth, Beth Orton explains her part-punk, part-Zen philosophy to TONY CLAYTON LEA
DOESN’T TIME FLY? Quite incredibly, much-appraised British singer Beth Orton has been living a quiet life in music for almost 20 years; she first came to notice as a willowy, floating member of William Orbit’s Strange Cargo project in the early 1990s, and subsequently through her idiosyncratic work with the likes of The Chemical Brothers, Red Snapper and Primal Scream.
Her mid-1990s debut, Trailer Park, achieved what many had considered unlikely if not impossible – it made her folk-influenced music hip among the clubbing community. She considers the description applied to her since then – Queen of Comedown – as somewhat negative, and the description of her music – trip-folk – as redundant.
“I agree with that description in the context of where I was at many years ago,” she says, “but now I think it’s used in a derogatory way. I think it’s a bit of a putdown, to be honest.”
Yet Orton is nothing if not resilient; she may have dipped in and out of the public eye during the past decade (her previous album, Comfort of Strangers, came out six years ago, and she has spent most of that intervening raising two young children), but now that she is in her 40s, she maintains her position as venerable soothsayer to the bemused, confused and downright befuddled. Isn’t that right, Beth? Beth?!?
“Wot? Gosh, I dunno! I’m not sitting on a plateau of knowing and understanding just because I’m 41. I do all right, I reckon; I work it out on a day-to-day basis. I’ve got two kids now – a six-year-old and a one-year-old – and that changes things. Having kids means you have to rearrange everything, really, in hundreds of different ways. It’s hard to say exactly without talking platitudes. It’s just different.”
And for someone who, until their mid-30s, was able to fashion tunes whenever the fancy took her, what’s it like now for this mother of two to get the time to come up with ideas for songs? Does the “pram in the hall” syndrome inhibit creativity for her?
“It’s neither easy nor difficult,” she reasons. “It’s just a different discipline entirely, and you have to work around things. It’s been pretty inspiring having kids; you have to have a private life in order to write songs, and sitting around on a tour bus year after year doesn’t exactly give you much of interest to write about, to be honest. For me, having other people in the house has been quite a rich area to be inspired by. In some ways, I’ve experienced more solitude since having children, and yet at the same time it’s been a bit noisy! But that’s a good paradox.”