Love Songs #11 / Pandora

Adrian was in Devonshire. The only all male Halls Of Residence associated with the university. Its listed buildings centred around a fountained courtyard. Its air ripe with the testosterone, machismo, sadism, homo-erotica of a Public School. No doubt familiar to the bulk of “boarder” types living there. The separate nature of its location – and to an extent its inhabitants – meant that during our first year in Leeds, despite Adrian being more than tight with Al, we didn’t see him much. Al`d bunk off afternoons and the two of them would get high and listen to the Cocteau Twins – Treasure and Victorialand – in Adrian`s room. Lost in Pandora and Beatrix. Lorem Ipsum lullaby and nursery rhyme. Through the smoke imagining the otherworldly vocal belonged to a pair of hot twins. Not a solitary siren. We`d only bump into Adrian in town. Where he was always a part of a large group of larger rugby chaps, on a pub crawl. Drink, drink, drinking like “zulu warriors”. Usually in drag. Fishnets and feather boa at the very least. Me and H didn`t like him. And took the piss out of him behind his back. Because his world seemed so different. But also because we were jealous of his relationship with Al. I mean I was green. I`d listen to their tales of drink, drugs and women, and just be confused. It was with Adrian that I first smoked dope. Al had tried to discourage me, said I already had a stoned sense of humour. Didn`t need it. But Adrian had crushed an empty Coke can at its middle, perforated the bend with a circle of holes. There he`d placed the gear and held his lighter while I inhaled from where he`d once drunk the Cola. I had made, he`d declared, “an auspicious debut on the can.”

Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser were Working Class kids from the refinery town of Grangemouth in Scotland. With Will Heggie, then Simon Raymonde, as the Cocteau Twins, through the 1980s and 1990s they made “ethereal” Dream Pop. Their influences a mix of Punk and Kate Bush. Taking their name from a song by an early incarnation of another Scottish band, Simple Minds. Back when Jim Kerr was “Johnny” and the rest of them, “The Self-Abusers”. Making a noise like The Buzzcocks meeting Roxy Music`s Glam.

The Cocteaus were signed to Ivo Watts-Russell`s 4AD.





Guthrie had traveled to London for a gig by The Birthday Party, gone to the shop of the parent label, Beggars Banquet, and given Watts-Russell a tape. Based on the two tracks he`d listened to in his car, Watts-Russell invited them down to record an LP. At this point he still hadn`t heard Elizabeth sing. No one had really heard her sing yet.

The music on their first album, Garlands, is New Wave, Post-Punk. With Fraser still wearing her Siouxsie Sue tattoos. Now removed by laser. Labelled as Goth, with the rest of the 4AD roster, they picked up bad reviews. The press spiteful about Fraser`s lyrics. Prompting her to stop singing in English. Instead applying her soprano to developing a divine language. Like the Angelical of Dr John Dee. The universal language used by God to create the World, and used by Adam to name all the things in creation. The language lost upon his fall from Paradise. One where words get in the way. Guthrie also sought to hide his own perceived limitations. Transforming his guitar-playing through effects pedals and overdubs.

They recorded a follow up to Garlands, Head Over Heels, at Blackwing Studios. A deconsecrated church in Southwark. Where they met Simon Raymonde. Where songs such as Five Ten Fiftyfold and Sugar Hiccup set a sonic template for everything they did after. Using what Brian Eno described as “extraordinarily brave” amounts of reverb.

Riffs that blur. That seem to simultaneously speed up and slow down. A frozen Folk of hot breath caught in cold air. Microscopic in detail. Crystalline, like Guthrie`s powders. Speed and Coke. Guthrie`s abuse belying the music`s beautiful calm. Echoing backwards. Passing for whale song in the deep. The voice operatic. Almost Shakespearian. Madrigal, curtsey and waltz. Eno`s Ambient atmospheres rather than songs. In revery and synesthesia inducing. Hymn-like and holy. Jealous and protective of Guthrie, Fraser flew ecstatic. And then fell sad.

Heaven Or Las Vegas shone, their sixth long-player, shimmered and soared. With a return to words. A heart-broken English. Lyrics that seem to describe moving forward. Regaining self-respect. The birth of Guthrie and Fraser`s daughter, Lucy-Belle. The title thought to be Fraser`s allusion to one last throw of the dice. Regarding her relationship and the band. To be honest, with names like Fotzepolitic and Frou Frou Foxes In Midsummer Fires I could still only guess at their meaning. They all sound like love songs to me.

Guthrie for his part has said that the music he makes is personal. Like a page in a diary. Inspired by literature, travel and circumstance. That you`re welcome to ascribe your own memories and feelings to it, but that they couldn`t be the same as his, Fraser`s or Raymonde`s. That,

“It has nothing to do with your experience.”

On Iceblink Luck Fraser sings

“Burn this whole madhouse down.”

By the close of the next album, Four-Calendar Cafe, Guthrie was in rehab and Fraser had suffered a nervous breakdown.

“I won`t heal until I run and hide.”

“I`m not afraid of your anger. I love you and know that you love me.”

Post-Cocteaus Fraser has shied away from any kind of audience. shied away from Guthrie. Fear and false starts. Cancelling a proposed reunion in 2005. There are recordings with her alleged lover, Jeff Buckley. Her Rilkean Heart. That were never released. A collaboration with Massive Attack, Teardrop. Penned after Buckley`s death. But a solo LP, promised in 2007, never surfaced. Hopefully she`s happy. Content contributing to scores for film and TV with new partner, Damon Reece. Lucy-Belle lives with her father. I wonder if her mother can even bear to be reminded.

Guthrie went solo. Continues to produce, record, and tour. Raymonde founded the label, Bella Union. Whose success won him an Entrepreneur Of The Year Award, and a seat, as Vice-Chairman, on the board of the Association of Independent Music. But musically, Guthrie and Raymonde have seemed to chase their own ghosts. With bands, Violet Indiana and Snowbird. Both projects sounding like The Cocteaus. Just minus Elizabeth.

Treasure is the latest jewel from the Cocteau Twins` back catalogue to be remastered and reissued. You can purchase a copy directly from 4AD


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