Heel to toe to hair and hoof and it's head over heels and it's all but an ark-lark...

“Cocteau Twins Shine On”

  • Rorschach Testing
  • 1983

The delicate duo’s appearance at the most recent ICA week was an absolute joy, and having previously announced that they would be playing completely new material, it was great to see a sell-out crowd. Unfortunately, it was one of about three gigs to be at that week in The Mall, and you’re never quite sure how many are there for the right reasons.

Still, I had the time of my life and the gig has long since graced the music weeklies. A rainy night in Muswell Hill and on arrival Robin is extremely worried about the mounting turmoil in hist stomach which has him making the odd temporary exit later on. Liz is about to scrub the bath and Robin jibes her about being seen to be domestic.

I’m nearly embarrassed to mention it, but John Peel crops up dead early in the conversation and it comes to notice that the two parties involved have only ever met once and that was a glancing matter.

Robin: “I was down in London seeing The Birthday Party and so was he so I plucked up courage and went up to him ‘here’s a tape for you mister’. I had to make two tapes. We didn’t have it about us to make one tape and copy it. We had to play all the songs twice! [There’s a chorus of laughter, something which was to be common in the hour I was there.] I gave one to Ivo (4AD boss) and one to John Peel. Quite a lucky combination.”

From the beginnings to their most recent jaunt in Europe.

Liz: “Pass.”

R.T.: “Oh dear, was it as bad as that?”

Robin: “We had technical difficulties this time, so we had to come home. When we got there, there was nothing [equipment wise] we’d asked for at all. It’s difficult using a tape because we’ve got to hear exactly what’s on the tape so we can play along with it. The monitors just weren’t there. If you’ve got a drummer and a bass player it’s easy, you can just look round and see what they’re playing. You can hear the noise of the drum kit off-stage but we really need a perfect monitor system.”

R.T: “How many dates did you manage then?”

Liz: “We were supposed to do about 15.”

Robin: “We did about eight.”

R.T.: “Were there any places you got to enjoy then?”

Robin: “Oh yeah. Some of the gigs were really good but it was just that problem all the time. It was mostly Holland we were at this time. We’ve been there before, in January. Then we did the OMD thing all over Europe.”

R.T.: “Audiences were receptive then?”

Liz: “The French were really horrible!”

Having heard this said before I delved further.

Robin: “The people were really rude. At the gig everybody was…we went down well, a brilliant reaction, but everybody was so rude!”

Whilst Liz is visibly agreeing with this Robin is whispering how rude they were to himself as if to analyse the actual sound he’s making. He continues…

“They didn’t want to come and talk to you or anything like that. Really obnoxious.”

Favourite places?

Liz: “Holland’s nice.”

Robin: “I want to go live there. They’ve really got themselves together. It’s modern and clean. Paris is the most dirty place I’ve ever been–a dirty version of Glasgow.”

Liz: “I couldn’t believe how clean the metro was though.”

Robin, emerging from his five-minute time warp: “But everybody is so rude!”

Liz: “They were trying to steal our fucking gear out of the van.”

Robin: “Colin [friend and flatmate] was sitting in the van one day, writing a postcard and leaning down in the passenger seat and suddenly the van starts bouncing up and down and this bloke’s trying to break down the back door.”

On a more healthy subject, the upcoming dates and the lack of them.

Robin: “The idea was to play away from the ordinary—The Venue and Brixton Ace. But being the time of year a lot of theatres have got Christmas shows on. [The original idea for the London date was to have been a bona fide theatre.] A combination of that and the fact the cheapest one was gonna cost us 2,000 pounds put us off. The idea was…we had about a sixteen-date tour set up. I thought ‘fuck it’ it was just a big rut to get into. So I had the idea of going out for a weekend aiming towards Glasgow so playing a gig on the way up, Glasgow, one on the way down and then London.”

R.T.: “The set up with just the two of you, is it something you intend sticking with?”

Robin: “For the foreseeable future. I’m not going to rule anything out now. Every gig we’ve played we’ve had people coming up and saying, ‘It wasn’t very good. If you had a bass player and drummer it would have been great.’”

Robin is in a wind-up mood.

“I’ve got to get a new singer though.”

A friendly joke from present singer follows. I wondered if they got on as well when they were recording. They’re laughing again.

Liz: “I’m a moaning bitch, basically.”

Robin: “I get on fine.”

Liz: “I just get really, sort of uptight.”

R.T.: “Frustrated with your efforts or what?”

Robin: “I get frustrated with her efforts.”

Liz: “Robin’s very very even tempered.”

Robin: “Since then I’ve discovered she’s worse when it comes to singing live. Three days prior to a gig that’s when the moods start–slamming doors, breaking things.”

Doing gigs is obviously a big kick.

Liz: “Oh yes, that’s the best of it…”

Robin: “You never said that in Europe, did you? You said sitting in the back of the van going to gigs was the best bit.”

Liz: “Well it was the best bit there because we were fighting a losing battle. The sound was bad, every gig.”

Robin: “It’s alright for the soundman out front but it’s not for us—the monitors have got to be perfect.”

Robin explains their method of working out new material involving both being in different rooms…

“Liz usually hears it through the walls.”

Liz: “Well it’s not something I’m listening to because I’m concentrating myself [on her lyrics]. I usually get things from books.”

I mention TV as a possible source and the two divert to the inability to get a rented TV because “we didn’t have a proper job.”

Robin: “So if anybody out there has got a TV that they want to get rid of!”

There’s a quick change of direction again which loses me but ends up in remembering the previous night’s “Hollywood Worst” effort, quickly followed by an appearance of Grover, a Sesame Street look-a-like soft toy, one of hundreds that are lurking in quiet corners of this bedroom.

It may not have escaped your notice but these two get far more fun out of the world of animation than the animated world of music, and having been to the flicks, Liz gets excited over the Jungle Book.

“It was brilliant. I’d forgotten everything but it was dandy.”

Robin: “She’d forgotten about Baloo. She thought he was killed at the end. Actually we’re into really fucking hip trendy things. Just because you see us cuddling Sesame Street frogs and talking about Jungle Book doesn’t mean… [Liz has got the giggles again.]”

Robins’ view on the business and added distractions.

“When This Mortal Coil looked set to go through the roof Ivo was saying, ‘How about TOTP if that comes up?’”

Drastic measures were needed so.

Liz: “We did a video. It went back down after we’d done it.”

Loose talk and one very nervous Miss Fraser.

Liz: “Oh hell, my nerves just totally threw everything out the window. It really did. [There’s a point in the middle of the video where she takes a gulp and nearly seizes up.] That’s when his fingers nearly dropped off.”

Robin: “Yeah, I just stopped playing [on the record]. I don’t like the 12” ‘cos these other songs are just poxy. I was really sick when I saw that getting played on the radio all the time and the Cocteau’s had never been played. So the only way we could get played on the radio as to do somebody else’s song under a different name. Regarding the ‘Song to the Siren’ video, it’s very nice except I’m in it.” This self put-down always annoys Liz. “That kind of spoils it. It’s got a black background. There are all these leaves whizzing about, really autumnal. Then there’s wee Betty here singing…she’s in black and white on top of that.”

Liz (Betty): “Oh, he’s poking fun calling me Betty or…Eliza [she tuts].”

The major problem for the rest of the adoring world regarding the Cocteau Twins is their absolute hate of having to promote their art.

Robin: “It’s the selling of it I don’t like very much. Not so much your music but selling yourself—getting your picture in the paper and all that.”

I mention the probability of them, given their way, of staying in, hibernating, forever more, only popping their heads around a corner to do an album.

Robin: “If we had a telly we would do.”

I personally get a feeling of nostalgia and things gone by from their music to which Robin makes a remark, looking at Liz.

“He’s spotted your tattoo…every time anyone ever mentions Johnny Rotten or something she gets all nostalgic. She comes out with things like, ‘ah, those were the days!’”

It’s something they were both heavily into. When The Rotten One began taking on the world Robin was 14, Liz 13. Hell, I bet these two were fiery young devils in their distant past. Liz, on thinking back, wipes a mock tear from her eye.

They both caught the modern Lydon on ‘The Tube.’

Liz: “Oh dear…I’m glad I was laughing.”

Robin: “I just feel completely ripped off by the man. He’s done it again and it’s the only thing he can do. If he was to try and give us another po-faced Public Image thing, that would have been what was expected really. He’s come out of this laughing, getting all the money.”

The music press…

Liz: “It’s been a bit harder to ignore this time.”

Robin: “I take notice of it because they go overboard and underboard [regarding ‘Head Over Heels’]. It’s not had a good review at all.”

Liz: “It hasn’t been the press that’s sold the records we’ve sold. People still read it though and take notice of it.”

Robin: “Like that Barney Hoskyn’s thing in NME reviewing ‘Head Over Heels’ saying it was a good LP. He also said it was a good LP because it was a really good copy of Siouxsie and the Banshees.”

1984 sees the two of them heading States wise.

Robin: “We’re playing in Pennsylvania [a grouping of the two somehow just doesn’t seem right] on New Year’s Eve then we play in New York on January 4 and that’s my birthday!”

The lead singer asks for confirmation of the second gig.

“Right on your birthday?…Oh that’s dandy.”

More dates in Britain…

Robin: “The idea is maybe in February/March we’ll do another four like these, at a weekend and then another four the next month. What we’ve done in the last nine months is a lot, I would say I don’t want to do that much again. We’ve spent seven weeks in a studio, done three BBC sessions and an average of two gigs a week [?!] and until two weeks ago, from February ‘til then, we’d nowhere to live, sleeping on people’s floors and being on tour.”

I mention that it’s obviously handy being settled and…wouldn’t you know it!

Liz: “We’re getting evicted, I think, and we haven’t bloody been here.”

Robin: “Everybody in the whole block signed a petition to get us out because of the noise and we’ve been in Europe. The day we made the Mortal Coil video we were out from about eight in the morning ‘til two the following morning and the next day we had a complaint about ‘the terrible noise that was going on the day before’. Everybody else in the place is really old so we don’t fit in. So if anyone out there has a nice flat for us [all with the telly request I imagine the offers stretching to wall-to-wall TV in something like the Dakota Building.]”

Robin will most probably, in the future, get to watch as much TV as he wants because…he’d like to retire at 24/25.

“I don’t see the relevance in overdoing it. Take Siouxsie and the Banshees for instance as everybody likes talking about them. If they’d meant half the things they said when they started, they would have finished after their second LP—that would have been that. Now they’re the establishment they were fighting against when they started. They’ve really overdone it, just making fucking idiots of themselves. They’re so old and they just go on and on making records. It’s not relevant what they’re doing, anymore. I’m not saying we’ll stop but I hope we have the sense to know when we’re past it.”

A mention of someone over 25 who’s still kicking?

Liz: “Elvis Costello is brilliant.”

Back to his retirement. Maybe into production?

“I’d like to, I’d rather do that.”

The frightening point next made regards Liz carrying on singing.

“No, definitely not.”

Robin: “She doesn’t want to sing, she just wants [mockingly] to be a housewife! for God’s sake.”

I’m now eavesdropping on a family matter.

Liz to Robin: “I don’t want to be a housewife.”

Robin to Liz: “What do you want to do then?”

Liz to Robin: “I don’t know, I can’t see what else I can do.”

I thought for a moment someone was going to get sent to be without any tea but Robin’s back planning the immediate future.

“We’ve got a contract for five albums. We’ll see that out.”

That, it appears, is the length the Cocteau Twins believe they need to see out their ideas. I question anybody with ever-flowing sparkle giving up, whoever it may be, and point out that I think they more than likely find the whole process of writing easy.

Robin: “It’s funny you said that because since we started with just me and Liz we’ve written more songs than the old Cocteaus ever wrote which is strange. Maybe there was an element of laziness.”

It’s at this point that Robin’s stomach enters the conversation and he leaves the room. Liz’s taste in music? Seeing as I mention the quaint idea that had Janis Joplin had a daughter, Liz would be her. Maybe she sees and admires the strength of Piaf. Honest, I didn’t know but…

“We bought an Edith Piaf LP the other day, a spur of the moment thing. I’d never heard her but we seemed to get compared. So I thought, ‘Go for it, Liz.’ We’ve been buying an awful lot of Billie Holliday records as well. But it’s Robin that usually buys the records.”

They’d got the stereo wired up that day, only recently acquired a radio—no TV. The art of conversation with soft toys must be electric in the spare tie they have. I asked to take a photo which was later dispensed with through Robin’s absolute hate of having his photo taken.”

Liz: “He gets really embarrassed about it, much more than me.”

From there the conversation went to names, Andy Capp, Paul Morley, Hate Letters in Sounds, how much better the ICA gig could have been [Liz’s words], personal photo albums, etc. The more light-hearted the chat became the more care-free they got, only quietening on the subject matter of their music. Ah! Oh for a world full of people like these.” ▣

TESTING CHARACTERS

1. Name: Elizabeth & Robin
Guideline in life: Elizabeth and Robin
First record you’ll admit to buying: Hot Love - T. Rex
Fundamental mistakes of the music press: Journalists
Healthy side of music business: ?
Treasured belongings: Elizabeth’s ring
Gigs to cherish…
(a) Yours:
(b) Others:

Others
Ours?
The sun shines out of: Elizabeth
Best friend: Robin and Elizabeth
Eternal vinyl: Examples; The Doors; Ocean - Dead Can Dance; State of Independence - Donna Summer; Prayers on Fire - Birthday Party; Burning Blue Soul - Matt Johnson; 154 - Wire; Shipbuilding - Elvis Costello; Billie Holliday - Songs that she sings in our kitchen
Makes me laugh: Elizabeth
Examples of good video: Colin Newman - B
Fears for the future…
(a) Personal:
(b) Universal:

Yes
Yes
Favourite…
(a) Film:
(b) Album:
© Club:
(d) Book:
Bedazzled

Chocolate Ones
The Antipope - Rob Rankine
Pets: Elizabeth
Passions (outside of music): Robin & Elizabeth
Closest to ideal format rock on TV: Rock Follies
Bands to watch: Dead Can Dance
Countries…
Worthwhile:
Worth wasting:
Holland
France
That’s what Xmas means to me: ELIZABETH & ROBIN