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

Cocteau Twins win inaugural ‘modern Scots classic’ album award

  • By Martin Williams
  • The Herald Scotland
  • 6-Oct 2022

Dream pop pioneers Cocteau Twins are being honoured with a special Scottish Album of the Year award given to those who still inspire music being made in the country today.

The SAY Award organisers have confirmed that that the Modern Scottish Classic Award winner for 2022 is the Grangemouth-founded band’s sixth and most commercially successful album Heaven or Las Vegas.

The 32-year-old album was picked by the 20 artists long-listed for this year’s SAY Award and it will be celebrated at the awards ceremony to be held later this month.

The Cocteau Twins formed as a threesome in 1982 and featured Robin Guthrie on Guitars, Will Heggie on bass and Elizabeth Fraser on vocals.

It is only the second time the award with the Frightened Rabbit’s classic Midnight Organ Flight chosen as the inaugural winner last year.

Vocalist Elizabeth Fraser said: “What a delightful surprise. Thank you for expressing such heartfelt affection for Heaven or Las Vegas and for presenting us with an award that we are thrilled and honoured to receive. Thank you so much.”

It comes as the judges of the SAY Award, the national music prize that has been described as Scotland’s answer to the Mercury Prize, revealed the top ten shortlist for album of the year.

It has been whittled down from a record-breaking 360 eligible album submissions.

The ten are AiiTee – Better Days; Constant Follower – Neither Is, Nor Ever Was; Fergus McCreadie – Forest Floor; Hamish Hawk – Heavy Elevator; Hen Hoose – Equaliser; Kathryn Joseph – for you who are the wronged; Kobi Onyame – Don’t Drink The Poison; Niteworks – A’Ghrian; Proc Fiskal – Siren Spine Sysex and Walt Disco – Unlearning.

The judging panel includes Jackie Wylie, chief executive and artistic director at the National Theatre of Scotland; Anneleise Harmon, general manager of the Music Managers Forum; author John Niven; Khaleda Noon, executive director of Intercultural Youth Scotland and writer, director and comedian Paul Black.

Now in its eleventh year, the SAY awards £20,000 to the winning artist as well as a bespoke award to be created by a local Stirling artist commissioned by organisers. Nine runners-up each receive £1000.

The career of the Cocteau Twins, featuring Robin Guthrie or guitars, Will Heggie on bass and Fraser on vocal took off after they sent in some tapes to the independent 4AD label.

Their early work drew influence from Siouxsie and the Banshees and Joy Division, while their debut album Garlands (1982) featured distorted guitars, a drum machine and Fraser’s unique and usually incomprehensible vocals which would become her trademark.

Their biggest hit in the UK, “Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops,” peaked at No. 29 on the UK Singles Chart [in 1984].

But it was Heaven or Las Vegas, released in 1990 that became their most critically acclaimed album, with 4AD label president Ivo Watts-Russell proclaiming it as their best-ever release.

The album peaked at number seven on the UK Albums Chart and became the band’s most commercially successful release.

In 2020, the renowned US-based music publication Rolling Stone listed it at number 245 in its list of the ‘500 Greatest Albums of All Time.’

After 20 years, together, the band stopped becoming active in 1997, which some say was in part due to issues stemming from the disintegration of Fraser and Guthrie’s romantic relationship.

Bassist Simon Raymonde, who joined the band in 1984 said: “When I was invited to join the band I just knew from the first session that we wrote music together that this was going to be a special time in my life and Elizabeth and Robin could not have made me feel more ‘at home’. I was never made to feel like the odd (English) man out.

“What I couldn’t have known was the impact our music was going to have, and Heaven Or Las Vegas the subject of this wonderful accolade from SAY.

“Even 32 years after its release it seems to keep finding new fans, without the aid of any reunion tours, marketing campaigns or fancy reissues.

“It is without doubt a great privilege to have been part of this band with two of the most talented Scottish musicians of the last 50 years, for such a big part of my life, and I am still moved by the reaction that Heaven or Las Vegas in particular continues to have. The award is humbling and I am grateful to everyone who chose this over so many other wonderful possibilities.”

Nominees and winners of these awards—as well as the main album of the year prize—will be celebrated at the ceremony’s Stirling debut on October 20 at the Albert Halls during an evening of announcements and special live performances. ▣

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Cocteau Twins win inaugural 'modern Scots classic' album award
Cocteau Twins in 1990.
Cocteau Twins win inaugural 'modern Scots classic' album award
Heaven or Las Vegas sleeve, designed by Paul West. Photography by Andy Rumball. 1990, 4AD, Ltd.