He may have been an in-demand DJ and respected record label boss of late, but until last month it had been thirteen years since Ben Watt last sang and played live with a simple microphone and guitar - not since he and partner Tracey Thorn parked their band Everything But The Girl in 2000. As for solo gigs, you have to go back even further. Thirty years, in fact. As far back as 1983 to the days when he was making left-field folk-jazz recordings like 'Summer Into Winter' and 'North Marine Drive' as a precocious 19 year-old for London indie label, Cherry Red, with stellar collaborators like Robert Wyatt and Kevin Coyne.
But with the partial closure of his ten year-old electronic record label, Buzzin' Fly back in March, Ben announced he was intent on finding time for his own work again. Sure enough, a new book, 'Romany and Tom' (about his parents' lives and the post-war years - the follow-up to 1996's acclaimed 'Patient') is scheduled for February 2014 publication by Bloomsbury; and for music fans he has returned to songwriting and his often-missed guitar-playing with a new solo album set for release next spring.
'I got to a crossroads and found I wanted to go back to some of my earliest influences,' he says, 'and try to carve out a new sound with new tunings on my guitar and simple direct songs. I realised I wanted to connect with people through words again not just music and beats, while finding new forward-looking ways to play them.'
In August, he made his comeback with two low-key sold-out nights at a small folk 'n' blues basement in London's Clerkenwell, The Slaughtered Lamb, road-testing a raft of new songs. The occasion was made even more special with the unannounced appearance of current collaborator, Bernard Butler on back-up guitar.
Now, November sees his first ever solo UK tour, as he plays a week of small intimate gigs around the country. Expect Bernard Butler to join him on a few.
Mon Nov 11 BRISTOL St. Bonaventure's
Tue Nov 12 MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Wed Nov 13 GLASGOW Oran Mor
Thu Nov 14 LEEDS Brudenell Social Club
Fri Nov 15 BIRMINGHAM Glee Club
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.