Her first contribution in music came when she met William Orbit at a London nightclub, when he tried to borrow a cigarette from her. They began a relationship shortly after, and before long he invited her to do some spoken word for his current Strange Cargo project, but she drunkenly decided to sing also. 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 the first release as a duet called Spill in Japan, which was also re-released in 1997 in the UK.
Shortly after, Orton and Orbit began experimenting to pull an L.P. together. "Don't Wanna Know 'Bout Evil" was the first track on that album, called SuperPinkyMandy, named after a rag doll which she bought at a jumble sale at the age of six. 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 several songs were co-written, and some tracks were later recycled, in very different versions).
"She Cries Your Name" later appeared on what she now considers her debut album (Trailer Park). "Yesterday's Gone" became "Montok Point" for the fourth Strange Cargo release Hinterland in 1995. That album featured Beth on several tracks as vocalist, and also included an alternative version of "She Cries Your Name".
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 track "Alive Alone" on 1995's Exit Planet Dust.
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 L.P. 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 #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".
She toured that summer with Lilith Fair, as well as releasing the Best Bit EP, improving on her previous best chart position, reaching #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", 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 the Best Female Artist award at the 2000 BRIT Awards.
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, the NME (8/10), Rolling Stone and The Guardian, but receiving a more lukewarm reception from Q (Despite this she was nominated for the Q award for best album). This was followed in 2003 by an U.S. 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, entitled 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
Beth'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. The album was produced by the musician Jim O'Rourke.
Beth released her long awaited follow up album to Comfort Of Strangers and her Anti- Records debut, on October 1st in the UK and October 2nd in North America. Recorded in Portland, Oregon, with producer Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists), the album bears the fruits of a period of introspection & renewal: deeply lyrical songwriting, a newfound expressivity of voice, and, more than ever before, a daring synthesis of her broad musical influences into a powerfully individual artistic vision. “I stretched myself as a singer on this record and used voices I never have before as a writer,” she explains. “A lot of the writing on this record happened in the dead of night, when spiders mend their webs, with an infant asleep in the next room… as a result, my writing became a secret again: illicit and my own.”
For ‘Sugaring Season,” Orton and Martine have brought together a dream band of new and old friends: keyboardist Rob Burger, bassist Sebastian Steinberg, and legendary jazz drummer Brian Blade, along with guitarists Marc Ribot and Ted Barnes and folksinger Sam Amidon. The album was recorded predominantly live on the floor as the band reflected and internalized Beth’s disparate inspirations, from Roberta Flack’s ‘First Take’ album to Pentangle’s folk-jazz collisions. The songs range across styles from deeply soulful to effortless and breezy, with open-tuned guitars, pensive pianos, and modal grooves underpinning her emotional weathervane of a voice.
While Orton has shifted away from the electronic textures that dominated her early work, her music is still built upon an implicit groove, even if it emanates from her acoustic guitar rather than from a sequencer. “It may not be a ‘dance’ beat,” she says, “but it’s definitely there and it’s earthed and primal and insistent.”
Discography from 1992 To Date
|Don't Wanna Know 'Bout Evil||28 September 1992|
|I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine||01 June 1996|
|She Cries Your Name||26 September 1996|
|Touch Me with Your Love||20 January 1997|
|Someone's Daughter||24 March 1997|
|She Cries Your Name (1997)||02 June 1997|
|Best Bit||01 December 1997|
|Four Songs So Far||1999|
|Stolen Car||01 March1999|
|Central Reservation||13 September 1999|
|Concrete Sky||15 July 2002|
|Anywhere||04 November 2002|
|Thinking About Tomorrow||31 March 2003|
|Conceived||29 November 2005|
|Shopping Trolley||26 June 2006|
|Heart Of Soul||18 September 2006|
|Something More Beautiful||10 July 2012|
|Magpie||28 August 2012|
|Call Me The Breeze||11September 2012|
|SuperPinkyMandy||24 November 1993|
|Trailer Park||14 October 1996|
|Central Reservation||09 March 1999|
|Daybreaker||29 July 2002|
|The Other Side of Daybreak||02 September 2003|
|Pass In Time||22 September 2003|
|X2||05 September 2005|
|Comfort of Strangers||13 February 2006|
|Trailer Park Legacy Edition||09 March 2009|
|Sugaring Season||01 October 2012|