Cocteau Twins were fortunate to have a handful of talented musicians and collaborators who supported them both in the studio and on tour.
Ben Blakeman (Guitar, live performance 1990-1994)
Ben Blakeman was born in Salford, England, on September 27, 1963, and hadn’t heard of Cocteau Twins until 1989 when his girlfriend suggested that he answer an ad in a music paper looking for “a guitar player who likes the Cocteau Twins.” His background was unusual for a Cocteau Twin as it consists of playing with a psychobilly band (The Highliners) and being a stripogram. His versatility as a guitarist enabled him to pick things up very quickly, and he proved invaluable in the live set-up.
Harold Budd (Composer, multi-instrumentalist)
An internationally-revered composer, musician, and poet, American artist Harold Budd famously collaborated with Cocteau Twins on the LP The Moon and The Melodies in 1986. It was originally conceived by then head of 4AD Ivo Watts-Russell as a long-form film project, but the funding for the larger work fell through. The music was released under the names “Budd | Raymonde | Guthrie | Fraser” to avoid it being seen as a proper Cocteau Twins LP, but most fans consider it an integral part of the band’s oeuvre. In later years, Budd has gone on to collaborate with Robin on various projects, including the motion picture soundtracks for Mysterious Skin and White Bird in a Blizzard, as well as several of Robin’s solo albums.
Benny DiMassa (Drums, live performance 1994-1996)
Benny Di Massa was the Cocteau Twins’ first real drummer (and sometimes spiritual advisor), who played with the band on tour from January 1994. Born April 25, 1963 of Italian parents in London, Benny played drums from the age of 16. Until working with the Cocteaus he filled up his time playing with 4AD bands Wolfgang Press, A R Kane, and Frazier Chorus, amongst others. Saddled with the unenviable task of reproducing Robin’s drum programs, Benny coped with style. His affable personality and—unusual for a drummer—his willingness to stop hitting the drums when the rest of the band are trying to talk, made him a welcome addition to the touring family!
Lincoln Fong (Engineering and production 1984-1996)
Lincoln Fong first met Liz and Robin when they arrived at Guerilla 24 track studio in Little Venice, London in 1984 to mix “Ivo” from the Treasure LP. “I couldn’t understand what they were saying but put this down to Robin’s having had a few drinks. He was wearing pointed shoes with sick on them and Liz was apologising profusely. When he sobered up I still couldn’t understand him.” He was a fan though and a friendship was struck which led to him telling his employers, who took themselves far too seriously, what he thought of them.
He went freelance, incorporating doing live sound for the Cocteau Twins into his many activities, another being the wiring of their 24 track studio in Acton, West London (Called “Smash Palace” among other names), where he engineered many bands including Cocteau Twins, AR Kane, The Christians, Fuel, The Gun Club and MARRS “Pump Up The Volume” 12” mixes. He rebuilt the studio on the present site and has continued engineering and producing freelance, maintaining and inventing at September Sound and working with the Cocteau Twins. He released two LPs of his own under the names For.Mat (the news set to music and recorded at home on 8 track) and Polar, a collaboration with Hamish Mackintosh (Fuel and The Wave Room). Additionally, he has played bass in Moose and the Jesus and Mary Chain on tour. He loves travel, songwriting and cats.
Cocteau Twins fans may have seen brother/guitar maker Russell Fong’s guitars and 5-string basses being used by Robin, Simon, and Mitsuo on the Four Calendar Café and Heaven or Las Vegas tours. Russell has built and repaired guitars for many bands. RUSSELL FONG GUITARS: London 0171-357 0260.
Dave “Polf” Polfreeman (Percussion, 1993-1996)
Dave Palfreeman, born October 16, 1960 in Stockton-on-Tees, England, became the Cocteau Twins’ first percussionist in 1993. He played drums and percussion in various bands since a teenager (a long time ago), notably Sedition, Hula and the Screaming Trees, before joining Cabaret Voltaire in 1991. He also worked in collaboration with dancer/choreographer Greg Nash on a series of dance projects. It was through Cabaret Voltaire that he met up with the Cocteau Twins, became friends and seemed the obvious choice when it came to choosing a percussionist. Dave ran his own label, Groove Recording Products, and contributed to Simon Raymonde’s solo album, Blame Someone Else (1997), in addition to his own solo projects.
Mitsuo Tate (Guitar, live performance 1989-1996)
In 1986, on a tour of Japan, Cocteau Twins stumbled across the Ishibashi music store in central Tokyo, where a shy boy nervously served their peculiar demands for Ernie Ball plectrums! Little did they know that just three years later in September 1989, this same individual would turn up on the doorstep of the studio to leave an unforgettable mark on their lives.
Mitsuo Tate, born in Aizu, Japan on the 19th of May 1965, was an enigmatic and thoroughly entertaining addition to the Cocteau family. With his unusual diction and bizarre facial hair, he helped them through many potentially grim moments with great humour. Apart from his undeniable charm, he is a wonderful musician, who can turn his hand to anything, including making the band sushi. A musical chameleon, his ability to re-create other people’s sounds is legendary, yet his own songwriting talents are sadly still to be properly recognised. In 2005 he released Lost in Blue under the name Flat 7 on Fate Records, which included the track “Smile” featuring Miki Berenyi of Lush and a remix of the song by Robin Guthrie.
Faye Wong (Wangfei)
For the Asia release of the LP Milk & Kisses, the band collaborated, however indirectly, with Chinese pop singer Faye Wong (Wangfei), who provided the lead vocals to the song “Serpentskirt” (with Elizabeth’s backing vocals intact). Over the years, Wong has recorded her own versions of Cocteau Twins songs, including “Know Who You Are at Every Age,” “Bluebeard,” “Rilkean Heart,” “Tranquil Eye,” and “Touch Upon Touch,” as well as a song written by Simon and Robin entitled, “Amusement Park,” which was released after Cocteau Twins disbanded. (“Amusement Park,” having been written by Robin and Simon, sounds an awful lot like how a late Cocteau Twins song might have sounded, but both have said emphatically that it is not a track from the “unfinished album” they had been writing at the time of their breakup.)
Additional musicians—often friends—have appeared on Cocteau Twins recordings. In 1982/83, Gordon Sharp, of the band Cindytalk, provided additional vocals during Peel Session recordings of the songs, “Dear Heart,” and “Hazel.” Sharp occasionally accompanied the band on stage. An artist identified as “Ally”—full name Ally Gibb, a musician in a Falkirk-area band called Pastis-51, whom Robin and Liz met one day while at the beach—played saxophone on the song, “Five Ten Fiftyfold,” on the LP Head Over Heels in 1983. Richard Thomas, of Dif Juz (and currently part of Lost Horizons with Simon Raymonde), played saxophone and tablas on the 1986 LP Victorialand, and joined some live performances in 1986 for the song “Lazy Calm.” In 1995, Thomas Hill provided string arrangements for the acoustic version of “Half-Gifts” on the EP Twinlights. The four tracks featured on the EP Otherness, also released in 1995, were remixed and produced by Mark Clifford of the band Seefeel.