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Beth Orton

Beth Orton
Orton at the Mojo club night at the Slaughtered Lamb, Clerkenwell 2009
Background information
Birth name Elizabeth Caroline Orton
Born (1970-12-14) 14 December 1970 (age 45)
East Dereham, Norfolk, England
Origin Norwich, England
Genres Folktronica, folk rock, trip hop
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter
Instruments Vocals, acoustic guitar
Years active 1993–present
Labels Heavenly (1996–2005)
EMI-UK (2005–present)
Astralwerks (2003–2010)
ANTI- (2010– )
Associated acts The Chemical Brothers, William Orbit

Elizabeth Caroline "Beth" Orton (born 14 December 1970) is an English singer-songwriter, known for her 'folktronica' sound, which mixes elements of folk and electronica.[1] She was initially recognised for her collaborations with William Orbit, Red Snapper and the Chemical Brothers in the mid-1990s. She released a solo album in 1993, Superpinkymandy (produced by William Orbit), but since the album was only released in Japan, it went largely unnoticed by international audiences. Her second solo album, Trailer Park, garnered much critical acclaim in 1996. Orton developed a devoted audience with the release of the albums Central Reservation (1999) and the 2002 UK top 10 album, Daybreaker. In her 2006 release, Comfort of Strangers, she moved towards a more folk-based sound and away from the electronic sound of her past albums.

American films and television programmes such as Felicity, How to Deal, Charmed, Dawson's Creek, Vanilla Sky and Grey's Anatomy have featured her music and provided her with exposure to a more mainstream American audience.

Early career

Orton was born in East Dereham, Norfolk, but moved to Dalston, east London at age 14. Her father, an architectural draughtsman, left her mother when Beth was 11, and she lived with her mother, an artist and political activist, and her two brothers, her father dying shortly afterwards.[2][3] Her mother died from cancer in 1989, when Beth was aged 19,[4] which led to her travelling to Thailand for a short period, residing with Buddhist nuns. Orton found success as a musician relatively late, having first worked at jobs such as a waitress at Pizza Hut and even owning her own catering company.[5] She was also more interested in acting during her early career, having enrolled at the Anna Scher Theatre School, and she spent some time touring Une Saison en Enfer with a fringe theatre company throughout the UK, Russia and Ukraine, playing Rimbaud's lover.[6][7]

Singing career

Early work

Her first contribution in music came after she met William Orbit at a party and tried to beg a cigarette from him.[7] They began a relationship shortly after, and he encouraged her to do some spoken word for his Strange Cargo project and to sing. Possibly the best-known work from that time is "Water from a Vine Leaf", which she co-wrote and which was released as a limited-edition single. It was also at this time that Orbit and Orton covered John Martyn's "Don't Wanna Know 'Bout Evil", which was not only the first song that they recorded together, but also their first release in Japan, as a duet called Spill (later re-released in the UK in 1997). She regarded Orbit's influence as very positive, commenting "I think William pulled me out of the crowd and pulled me out of the gutter, in a way. Because I don't know where my enthusiasm was going to take me, because it was pretty raw to say the least."[7]


Shortly after, Orton and Orbit began experimenting to pull an LP together. "Don't Wanna Know 'Bout Evil" was the first track on the album Superpinkymandy, named after a rag doll which she bought at a jumble sale at the age of six.[8] This rare album was released in Japan alone, in extremely limited numbers (popularly quoted as between 1000 and 5000 copies pressed). The sound is very much Orbit's, but all songs (except "Don't Wanna Know 'Bout Evil") were written by both Orton and Orbit, and some tracks were later recycled, in very different versions. "She Cries Your Name" later appeared on Trailer Park. "Yesterday's Gone" became "Montok Point" on the fourth Strange Cargo release, Hinterland (1995). Hinterland featured Orton's vocals on several tracks, and also included an alternative version of "She Cries Your Name".

Orton provided a one-word vocal to the first Red Snapper EP in 1994 ("Snapper"), then co-wrote and sang on "In Deep" on The Swank EP (also 1994). Ali Friend from Red Snapper later joined Orton's band.

It was roughly at this time that she met Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands of the Chemical Brothers and began the first in a series of collaborations, supplying vocals to the tracks "Alive Alone" and "One Too Many Mornings" on 1995's Exit Planet Dust.

Trailer Park

Her first solo release, a cover of The Ronettes' "I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine", was released, again in extremely limited numbers, in mid-1996, and was followed by "She Cries Your Name", shortly before the release of what she herself considers to be her début LP Trailer Park, released on Heavenly Records on 19 October 1996. This release earned her nominations for two BRIT Awards (best British newcomer, best British female), and the Mercury Music Prize in 1997, was well received by critics, and sold modestly well, shifting 300,000 copies and peaking at No. 68 in the UK. The album was produced by Andrew Weatherall, whom she selected based on his production of one of her favourite records at the time, Primal Scream's Screamadelica. The album was far removed from her previous work, with a lot more pop/folk tunes present, although there were more than a few hints of her electronic roots. She began to tour this record, first supporting acts such as The Beautiful South, and appearing with Ron Sexsmith, before breaking out on her own. In June 1997, she had her first UK Top 40 hit single with a reissue of "She Cries Your Name".

Central Reservation

Beth at Lilith Fair 1999

She toured that summer with Lilith Fair, as well as releasing the Best Bit EP, improving on her previous best chart position, reaching No. 38 in the UK. Central Reservation, her second album (proper), helped Orton build on the success of her début. Although retaining the electronic edge of the former, this record showed a notably more acoustic side with several tracks consisting purely of Beth's vocal accompanied by a solitary acoustic guitar, with subject matters becoming more introspective, including "Pass in Time", a song about the death of her mother. Despite this style, the album still provided more polished moments such as lead single "Stolen Car" and the electro melancholy of "Stars All Seem to Weep" (with the haunting vocal allegedly recorded in a single take) or the jazz-and-strings-tinged "Sweetest Decline", songs which cut a much deeper mark than the more glossy feel of her debut. The album also featured notable contributions from folk musician Terry Callier, Dr. Robert and Ben Harper. Two tracks were also produced by Ben Watt of Everything But The Girl.

The album earned Orton a second Mercury Music Prize nomination and won the Best Female Artist award at the 2000 BRIT Awards.


Beth performing in Bristol, 2002

In July 2002 she released the album Daybreaker, which again blended the early electronica style, with up tempo pop songs and acoustic ballads. It featured guest appearances from musicians such as The Chemical Brothers, Emmylou Harris, whom she met at Lilith Fair, Ryan Adams and Four Tet. It was a great commercial success, reaching the top 8 of the UK album chart, and received largely positive from the press, ranging from "Her best work yet" from Mojo magazine,[9] the NME (8/10),[10] Rolling Stone[11] and The Guardian, but receiving a more lukewarm reception from Q[12] (Despite this she was nominated for the Q award for best album). This was followed in 2003 by an US only release on American label Astralwerks, The Other Side of Daybreak, an album consisting mainly of b-sides and remixes of songs from Daybreaker, created by artists such as Roots Manuva. She also contributed a song to the War Child charity, for their Hope compilation album that year.

A "best of" double album, titled Pass in Time, was released in 2003. It represented Orton's extensive and diverse musical career through previously unreleased songs, b-sides, and rarities (such as "Where Do You Go" from Superpinkymandy), as well as collaborations with William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers. The highlight of her career arguably came on 31 March 2003, when she played to a packed Royal Albert Hall in London on the last date of her worldwide Daybreaker tour. In addition, she played a tribute concert to Elliott Smith in November.

Comfort of Strangers

Orton's fourth studio album Comfort of Strangers was released in February 2006. The North American release was through Astralwerks, and the UK release was through EMI-UK. The release saw her move away from the electronica element that she is usually associated with, to a more stripped down traditional alt-folk album. This album followed an extended absence since her previous release, partially a result of several failed production attempts, and the parting of ways between her and Heavenly Records.[13] The album was produced by musician Jim O'Rourke.

Sugaring Season

On 11 July 2012, Sugaring Season was announced on Beth Orton's official website as the follow up album to Comfort of Strangers, to be released on ANTI-, her first through that label, on 1 October 2012, in the UK and the next day in the USA. Recorded in Portland, Oregon, USA, the album is produced by Tucker Martine.


Her consistent band from 1999's Central Reservation until around 2006 was guitarist Ted Barnes, keyboardist Sean Read, ex-Sandals drummer Will Blanchard and former Red Snapper member Ali Friend on bass. However, this had changed by 2008, with Ali and Ted having moved on to form their own band Clayhill, and Ted having pursued his own projects, with Beth guesting on his solo debut album, Short Scenes. Only Sean remained in her current live band as of 2008, although Clayhill have played as the support act on both her UK and US tours to promote Comfort of Strangers. Her band for the 2012 album Sugaring Season consisted of keyboardist Rob Burger, bassist Sebastian Steinberg, drummer Brian Blade, guitarists Marc Ribot and Ted Barnes and folk singer Sam Amidon. Her touring band consists of Amidon, Steinberg, with Steven Nistor on drums.[14]

"Sing" with Annie Lennox

Annie Lennox joined forces with Beth Orton and 22 other female artists to raise awareness of mother-to-child transmission of HIV to unborn children in Africa. The single "Sing" was first released on World AIDS Day on 1 December 2007, in conjunction with Annie Lennox's appearance at the Nelson Mandela 46664 concert in South Africa.[15]

Personal life

Orton gave birth to a daughter, Nancy, in mid-December 2006. She cancelled her September 2006 UK tour because of her pregnancy.[16] She is now married to musician Sam Amidon and the two have a son, Arthur, born in 2011.[17]

Orton played at the One Big No concert in March 2003 at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, organised by Emily Eavis.

All of her recent releases are "carbon neutral", whereby a tree is planted in a poor area of Mexico for every certain amount of units produced, to offset the emissions generated when pressing the CDs and other marketing paraphernalia.[18]

Orton played the lead female in the independent film Southlander[19]



See also


  1. ^ "Search results". ASCAP ACE. Retrieved 11 September 2006. 
  2. ^ Q Magazine, issue 56, page 202
  3. ^ "Emotional Rescue", Daily Telegraph, 28 January 2006, p32
  4. ^ "Emotional Rescue", Daily Telegraph, 28 January 2006, p35
  5. ^ An Interview With Beth Orton, Heavenly Recordings, BETH002, 1999
  6. ^ "Firstmagazine's Blog | Just another weblog". Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c "In their own words: Beth Orton tells the untold story of the birth of Trailer Park". The Quietus. 18 March 2009. Retrieved 20 March 2009. 
  8. ^ Morning Becomes Eclectic, first aired 30 May 1997
  9. ^ New album reviews, Mojo Magazine, p.102,August 2002)
  10. ^ New album reviews, New Musical Express, p.33, 27 July 2002
  11. ^ New album reviews, Rolling Stone, p.72, 25 July 2002
  12. ^ New album reviews, Q Magazine, p.132, August 2002
  13. ^ "Beth Orton Bares All". Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  14. ^ "BBC Radio6 Music Marc Riley Beth Orton". Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ "Beth's pregnancy". Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  17. ^ Tim Adams (23 September 2012). "Beth Orton: 'I started to believe I had run my course' | Music | The Observer". London: Guardian. Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  18. ^ "Carbon Neutral Flights > Calculate Carbon Footprint | The CarbonNeutral Company". Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  19. ^ "Beth Orton". IMDB. Retrieved 2015-02-11. 

External links

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