The Cocteau Twins formed in late 1981 in Grangemouth – a grimy, featureless Scottish factory town on the Firth of Forth – when the trio of Elizabeth Fraser, Robin Guthrie and Will Heggie visited London to hand DJ John Peel a demo tape.
Their unique style featured Liz’s beautiful and intentionally incoherent but heartfelt vocals (she didn’t so much sing as let sound pour out of her mouth) over a tapestry of beautiful, ethereal sounds. Peel booked them for a session on his Radio 1 show and they subsequently signed to indie label 4AD.
Their debut offering, Garlands, was quickly recorded and pressed, hitting the shops a mere ten days later. Resisting many offers from major labels, they were back in the studio again for 1983’s Lullabies EP and their second album, Head Over Heels.
The Twins audibly blossomed on Head Over Heels, the work of teenaged lovers Robin and Liz (“fat Robin and little Betty”) minus founder member Heggie, who hadn’t fancied moving to London.
Meanwhile, Robin and Liz hit number one in the indie charts while guesting for This Mortal Coil on Song To The Siren. It was mistakenly thought by many that this was a Cocteau Twins off-shoot.
For Treasure (released in autumn 1984) they added Simon Raymonde, son of highly regarded pop arranger Ivor Raymonde. His role on the bass was to embellish and balance Guthrie’s billowing music to create the perfect setting for Fraser’s increasingly extraordinary and oblique vocals.
“The voice of God,” gushed Melody Maker, much to the annoyance of Liz, who has mistrusted the press ever since.
The album seemed nothing less than a broadcast from a previously undiscovered galaxy, a giddying taste of the apparently fathomless promise of this remarkable young band.
Band members have since called the album “detestable” and “our worst album by a mile”, but it was rapturously received in its day, and many fans regard it as the defining Cocteau Twins moment, citing its multiple textures as endlessly rewarding and surprising.
Treasure took just over a month to write and record. Tracks often began by simply jamming for a bit. If Liz responded well to one of these aural sketches the boys would work it up and she would sing over the results.
In that fashion, they conjured something that sounds much more complex and composed than this working method suggests, with colours of medieval music (Beatrix), gothic churchiness (Amelia, Domino), sunshine (Lorelei), Stygian gloom (Persephone) and blissful dusk (Otterley). Dated drum machine aside, the mystique and emotional tug of this album remains intense today.
Treasure was also their first taste of Top 30 success, but they easily surpassed this with the 1986 Top 10 effort Victorialand.
An abortive film project collaboration with Harold Budd was issued at the end of the year as they headed towards an increasingly ‘New Age’ sound.
Two more classic albums, Blue Bell Knoll and Heaven Or Las Vegas were released over the next five years, both finding a home in the US charts for Capitol records.
In 1992 they finally succumbed to signing for Fontana in the UK, leading to a comeback album, Four Calendar Cafe in 1993. In 1996 they returned once more with Milk And Kisses.
Guitar, drums, keyboards