THERE was a time when Beth Orton chased a boy all the way to Thailand. She was 19 and already involved with somebody else. He accompanied her on the trip, too. A second couple tagged along. And, to make matters even more complicated, Beth ended up living with Buddhist nuns.
“The intention was to go on a fancy holiday to Thailand,” says the British music maker. “And one of the reasons I booked a ticket was because I knew this boy I really fancied was going, and I was sure we’d bump into each other. Thailand is huge!” she laughs. “But I was 19, and I didn’t know better. We got out there, and the holiday was fun, but then me and my friend got really bored and just split off. We went on this little journey up north and found a monastery and ended up staying. I just sort of had this feeling I would never get the chance to do something like that again – so I did it.”
The holiday took place shortly after Beth’s mother passed away. Has she returned to the monastery since? “I did go back at one point,” she replies. “I went back to visit and it was amazing. Unfortunately, I was with a boyfriend who wanted nothing to do with it. This is years ago, but I’m in touch with the people there and one of these days – when I get a minute – I’ll go back, for sure.”
She might have to wait a while. Indeed, Beth is now a married mother-of-two. Last October, she released her first record in six years, the beautiful Sugaring Season. It’s her fifth studio album.
Famed for giving British electronica a serene, folk-tinged voice in the mid-Nineties, Beth is all about the acoustic guitars these days. For Sugaring Season, she made friends with Midlake in Texas. She worked with the late Bert Jansch, too. And, she discovered – for the first time – the difficulties in trying to record an album while heavily pregnant.
“Only because my dinner was up in my throat most of the time,” she laughs. “That’s a disgusting description, sorry! I was so huge – it was quite hard to sing … ”
Having kids slowed down the album-making process. Beth took her time – she also set up her own studio. “There’s lots of things I haven’t really had the chance to do because, you know, ‘poor old me – I’d been so successful,'” she laughs, “but being successful makes you very busy, and that sort of, in a funny way, depletes you after a while. I needed to get down to the nitty gritty of learning about my craft, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious.”
Contrary to reports, Beth never lost her confidence. She did wonder, though, how she might juggle motherhood with touring. “Now, I’m kind of over that,” she explains. “I’m like, ‘no, I can do this’ – I can do both, it’s all right. This doesn’t mean that anything has to be lost, you know, on either side. It’s bloody exhausting, but it’s possible.”
It seems Beth never planned a career in music. She’s also a little wary of the word ‘career’. “I just thought it was something I was trying out for a little bit,” she insists. Whenever possible, the whole family join her on tour (Beth’s husband, American folk artist Sam Amidon, is also part of her band).
Beth is now 42. She said: I don’t feel that old. I feel like a kid and I’m constantly discovering, and the day I don’t is the day I’d give up … ”
Sugaring Season is out now. Beth Orton plays the Olympia Theatre next Wednesday