“Fun from Falkirk—Fat Chance?”
- By Don Watson
- NME/New Musical Express
- 6-Nov 1982
Getting tae ken the Cocteau Twins
Friday night is cardboard box kicking night.
It’s punky party time in Glasgow with celebrations spilling over from the festival of The Damned being held at Tiffany’s.
The born-too-late crowd, here to see the last loathsome efforts of a gang whose only ever virtue was their sense of timing, are displaying hteir anarchistic tendencies by giving the odd defenceless cardboard box the statutory good kicking.
Meanwhile, other daring rebels are jumping defiantly into the forbidden flowerpots that line the pavements.
“So this is the bright lights of Glasgow, eh?” says Cocteau Twins guitarist Rob ambling along behind the noble warriors.
Rob, like the rest of the Cocteaus, rarely makes the 20-mile trip from his home in Falkirk to the big city.
The Cocteau Twins are one of the year’s great enigmas, a mystery to everyone including themselves. Three months ago, their 4AD album ‘Garlands’ crept into the independent charts. They expected the customary couple of weeks hovering around the lower regions before the usual slide into obscurity.
Rob, vocalist Elizabeth, and bassist Will read the music papers every week and waited for the fall. But the fall never came.
“We just couldn’t understand it. We got hardly any reaction from the press and still the album kept selling.”
The mandatory Peel Session was recorded, broadcast, and repeated by public demand three times. The album continued to sell and, the week I met them, their 12-inch [‘Lullabies’] struck number 19 in the independent charts on the first week of release.
Yes folks, it’s our old favourite, ‘the cult band,’ ignored by the press but loved by the great masses.
Bring up the subject of music to The Cocteau Twins and they sink to a reticent whisper.
“The whole thing’s really remote from us, y’ken? We can look at the charts and see that we’re at a certain number, but it means very little in concrete terms, because we’re tucked away up here. We have little or no contact with the London music scene,” says Rob.
“I mean, if we ever go down there and we get taken round the clubs by the record company, we just feel totally out of place.”
As the London scene slouches along the sharpest shots are once again coming from the provinces.
“We’ve actually been allowed to develop on our own, because we’ve been relatively removed from the Edinburgh and Glasgow scene. There were a lot of good bands involved in those but, because they shared equipment and had a pool of ideas, they seemed to end up sounding the same.”
The one thing the band have had to deal with is the legacy of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
“People are always comparing us to the Banshees but it’s not as if we go out of our way to sound like them,” says Rob. “It’s just that we’ve got a female singer and we use the crashing guitar sounds which makes closed-minded people immediately pigeonhole us as Banshee imitators.”
“Actually, if you really want to know, we’re more interested in Wire and early Matt Johnson [The The].”
The first encounter with ‘Garlands,’ with its splintered snatches of guitar lines, moody bass, and fractured vocals, does tend to invoke Banshee-like images.
But the play the album a couple of times and their shy, retiring values begin to creep out. The bass and guitar switch the opposite roles of melody and discord, dancing around the drum machine patterns. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s wailing vocal sobs around the sound with a unique phrasing, sounding like a backward incantation.
It’s an album of intriguing drifting sounds—evocative and atmospheric, but ultimately lacking in bite, a deficiency the band are well aware of.
“It sounds rather dull compared with what we know we’re capable of. It was our first time in a studio, and we weren’t quite sure how to handle it. The 12-inch is actually much better, but it still doesn’t reach the sound we’re aiming at.”
“Actually, we were thinking of having a saxophone on the next album to bring an extra dimension to it, but I’m not sure about the image of that,” explains Rob with a grin. “I might try and mix it so it sounds like a synthesiser.”
The one thing the Cocteaus have in common with bands like Danse Society, Southern Death Cult, and The March Violets is a fascination with magic, but it’s a stage the Cocteaus feel they’ve passed through.
“It was just at one particular time,” Elizabeth explains. “I was reading a lot of books about magic, and I just picked up a lot of the language. That’s what I’m most interested in when it comes to writing songs, just the sounds of words—I’m moving away from the magic side of it now.”
“It’s something that a lot of people form preconceptions about,” Rob adds. “They expect us to keep toads and talk about magic, but we’re not like that at all.”
So, what are they like?
“Fat. That’s our major worry really. How can we be stars when we’re so fat?!” ▣