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

“Growing apart together”

  • By Alastair Mabbott
  • The Scotsman
  • 21-May 1994

The Cocteau Twins are back on home ground this week after an exhausting tour and some testing times behind the scenes

Back on the road, the Cocteau Twins are finding it a disorienting experience. They played Glasgow in early February, worked their way around the USA and Europe while further British dates were arranged (including this week’s Edinburgh show) and are set to depart for Japan and Hawai’i immediately after that. A “zoned-out” Liz Fraser hasn’t a clue as to which town she’s in, although she is certain that it’s in France somewhere. But as long as she doesn’t try to address tonight’s crowd in German, she says, she thinks she’ll be all right.

This is the longest tour the group have undertaken since the first time they hit the road, supporting OMD in the early eighties. After that, their original bassist Will Heggie quit, and this tour is, if anything, an even stranger experience for them.

Fraser and Robin Guthrie, her long-term partner and father to four-year-old Lucy, split up just before the tour started. It was the most drastic in a period of upheavals that was well underway before anyone heard last year’s Four-Calendar Café album; but when those accustomed to Liz Fraser’s impenetrable, evocative private language heard it superseded by real English lyrics, it was clear that things were changing in the Cocteau camp. The woman who spent early rehearsals in Grangemouth slumped in a chair refusing to sing was not upfront enough to multi-track herself caroling, Are you the right man for me? in a not entirely ambiguous reference to her own relationship.

“I think it was a life-preserver,” she says of the so-called gobbledygook of yore, adding that it was able to communicate emotion to an audience just as effectively. “I won’t turn my back on it, because words keep me awake at night. I get obsessed by them. Obviously, it was much more important than that; they served a much bigger purpose for me, because I found it difficult to sit down and talk with people. I’ve been trying to do my best to communicate without giving my life away. I did the opposite of that on Four-Calendar Caf´, and I don’t know if I’ll have the nerve to do it again, but it doesn’t mean I have to give myself a hard time for it if I don’t.”

The Cocteau Twins have always been a law unto themselves, following their own muse and their own working methods. “People can get quite offended with us existing just because that’s what we want,” she remarks. “Like not having a lyric sheet on the album which is what they would like, or by me singing lyrics instead of sounds.” It emerged that the band were not only insular, but also unable to communicate with each other. It took Guthrie’s worsening cocaine addiction to bring matters to a head.

“Robin has various things that he’s recovering from, and I got so sick trying to make him well, I ended up in a worse state of affairs than him. I had to take steps to take care of myself. So I had to look at my past and I went away to do that on my own, and went into a treatment centre and went into therapy when I came back.”

She is full of praise for bassist Simon Raymonde, “an absolute gem” who was there for them both in their hours of need and, as befits a member of a close-knit trio, attending their “family weeks” when they were in treatment.

After the tour, Guthrie may go to America for a while to pursue his interest in producing other artists; Simon Raymonde will most likely spend as much time with his family as he can—“He just had a new baby before we went on tour and he’s hardly seen the little mite”—and Fraser will start to put pen to paper writing for the next album. While there is a lot of personal history to be hacked through, there seems to be no doubt that they will continue as musical partners.

Fraser, though bewildered by events, is effusive and outgoing these days, a laugh never far away. She doesn’t know what’s happening to them or what’s going to happen, but she knows they’re all growing, and that’s what appears to matter most.

“We learned an awful lot about communicating. We learned how to tell people things without hurting each other and what to do about it and we also had to work out what was wrong in the first place. There’s been an awful lot of upheaval and, I don’t know, sometimes it seems a bit like nothing’s changed, but… I personally enjoy experiencing it, though. I like being present now.” ▣

Cocteau Twins in 1993. Photo by Kevin Davies.