on 24 March 2014
Could any memoir really be as good as all of these professional reviewers suggest? In my view, for once the answer is actually yes. If you have any familiarity with Ben Watt, or even if you don’t, this is a revealing and engaging story. Apart from being intelligent, reflective and well-written, it feels to be a story openly and honestly told; extremely rare traits in the vast majority of autobiographies.
Ben is probably best known as a musician and songwriter, one half of EBTG with Tracey Thorn, DJ, “Buzzin’ Fly” producer. But he is also a very good writer indeed, if not exactly prolific. He should write more, instead of a book every twenty years or so. His previous autobiography (also essential reading), “Patient” (Penguin 1996) was centred on the life threatening auto-immune disease that he contracted in 1992. “Romany and Tom” is indeed a portrait of Ben’s mum and dad, but much more than that, it has a wider focus; in Ben’s words, it is “about who we are, where we come from, and how we love and live with each other for a long time.” Clearly, these are the universal themes of literature and life. Happy families may well be all alike, (i.e. dull and not very inspiring as far as creativity and drama are concerned), and every unhappy family may be unhappy in its own way, but perversely, the idiosyncrasies of sadness are really the things which bring us together and connect us. The narrative takes us through the changing relationships and dynamics of Romany and Tom and Ben and his wider family. The years unfold, and with the wisdom of experience and personal insight, Ben unwraps the human frailties of his parents, and also himself. He is equally insightful about his own life, the shift in responsibilities from parent to child and how most of us struggle to do the best we can, yet perhaps still beat ourselves up in the process. But this is by no means a one note “misery memoir”. It draws a multi-faceted portrait, engagingly informative about music and journalism, addiction and marriage, success and depression, love and its opposite . Above all however, it is laced with humour; funny as only a recognised truth can be. I’m tempted to say that Ben puts the “fun” into “dysfunctional”, but that would be flippant. Yes it is a cliché to say it, but like all good books, Ben’s story really will draw you in. There are so many touchstones and shared recognitions here for almost everyone. Although this is a story of a single family, the decisions and dilemmas are likely to be familiar to many, particularly anyone with ageing parents. And like all good writing, the style appears to be simple and effortless, a bit like Larkin (who Ben mentions), disguising the level of underlying formal control. I suspect this book was years in the making. Ben does not follow a direct chronological structure, moving backwards in time but maintaining an internal clarity throughout. And in fact this allows the narrative to become almost a detective story, and a real page-turner in the last part. But the book is much more than that. It should be savoured. There are few enough books about kindness, and despite his misgivings, Ben is a kind man. Yes, you should buy this book. And Ben, you really should write more
on 12 August 2014
At times this compelling story made me feel a bit intrusive. Its thoughtful and bracingly honest - I could have done without the description of his Dad's ablutions.
I've sung along in the car with Ben and Tracey on and off since about 1985, but know little else about them. Part of the reason I started going out with my wife in 1990 was because our record collections overlapped a bit around the LPs Eden and the Marine Girls.
Anyway, we finally saw Ben live for the first time (with Bernard Butler) at a lovely low key gig in Nottingham a few weeks ago. The music was great, his guitar and keyboard playing always lights up part of my brain, but there was more wistfulness to the songs than I expected.
So I took the book on holiday this summer to Skye. It's a tough story about his talented and successful parents, about their affair, their weaknesses, careers and about how they got old.
If you are a contemporary, dealing with children, ageing parents and the middle of your career, this book provides a chance to reflect on each age and how we end up being who we are.
It's a great story by a great man, and his singing wife who does understand.
on 5 May 2014
A beautifully written, elegiac, and profoundly moving book. It's about love , loss, parents and families, about generational differences and similarities and seeing yourself in your parents as you get older, whilst simultaneously feeling them slip from your grasp. The fundamental truth that we do not know the people our parents were before they were our parents , is wonderfully exposed and explored. I came to this as a fan of Ben and Tracey's music and a big fan of Tracey's book, but still was surprised, impressed and constantly moved by Ben's spare but perfectly weighted prose, as well as the raw emotion he sometimes expressed and was matched by my own as reader. By the end I felt I knew something of these two fascinating people I had never met. A gem of a book, rendered with love.
on 21 April 2014
Many readers will find passages of this memoir which resonate: be it the pain of foiled ambition, the pathos of unsung genius, the immutable stubbornness of certain personalities, the inability to deal with jealousy of spouse or son, the calm confidence of addiction or the incongruous task of looking after ageing parents. I have deep admiration for the author who swept me away 20 years ago with "Patient" (which I'd bought thinking would be something like "Touching the Void"!) and who has now grounded me with "Romany and Tom". Ben Watt is able to rise above circumstances, write without mincing words or emotions and express his gratitude, love and admiration for these two remarkable individuals who walked the same line. I am very grateful he shared this extraordinary story with me and look forward to his next book, hopefully in less than 20 years from now! I hardly know what to expect.
on 7 May 2014
Ben Watt is an excellent writer and somehow makes, what at times, is a sad tale into an absorbing read.
He achieved the same feat with Patient some years ago and once again has shown his natural talent as an author .
I enjoyed the book very much and would recommend it.
on 14 March 2014
I looked this book. Funny, thought provoking and so honest. You get Ben's story of growing up in late 60's, his mum and dad's lives and relationship and their, plus their joint story of the journey into old age. Highly recommend.
on 3 May 2015
There is no doubt that this book got published because of Ben Watt's profile as a musician, but thank goodness he was able to use that lever to bring his story to the rest of us. This is a real "everyman" tale, of parents, childhood, family, and that precarious phase when you are poised at the fulcrum of life's wobbly see-saw, with declining parents teetering at one end and young children bouncing up and down at the other end. Ben attempts to piece together "Romany and Tom's" back-story at a time when he is shuttling between care homes, hospitals and their general descent down the property ladder, trying to make his parents' lives as bearable as possible. Everything is laid bare in the process - family secrets, parental failings and faults, and the author's own demons. I can imagine the writer's struggle with how best to tell the story, given its complexity and chronology. What emerges is a fragmentary collage of fading memories and revived recollections from long ago, reflecting exactly what our family stories are like - most of us know embarrassingly little about our parents' and grandparents' lives, but by the time we realise that, it's generally too late to find out what we want to know. Fortunately, Ben Watt realised in time, and if his book wasn't published in time for many of the people involved to read it, there is lots here for the rest of us to reflect on, and perhaps try to grab hold of those around us while we can as a result.
Ostensibly a biography about Ben Watt’s parents - the titular Romany and Tom - it is actually about much more: families, relationships, memory, class, depression, alcohol, jazz, journalism, identity and nostalgia.
It’s beautifully written and every bit as compelling as a well written thriller.
I came to this having recently finished reading Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to Be a Pop Star by Ben's wife Tracey Thorn - both books are excellent.
on 14 July 2014
Gorgeous poetic, beautifully crafted passages - this is a book of typically complex lives written with grace, respect and huge candour. A reminder to us all of the significance of family throughout the lifespan and the changing roles we find ourselves in. Ben is not only a great writer and musician but sensitive and resilient too. Whether you are an Everything But The Girl fan or not this is a great read. More please Ben...
on 26 September 2014
Having seen two parents go through the gentle (and sometimes rapid) decline of age , care homes and dementia I was in awe at Ben Watts description and perception of this period of his own parents life. His gradual revelation of how they met, their passion for each other and the inevitable outcome is something that will long stay with me. Thanks for writing this Mr Watt.