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The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: Christmas with the Cocteau Twins

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With Elizabeth Fraser set to come out of retirement this week at Antony Hegarty's Meltdown Festival, RBP goes back to her musical roots as one half/third of '80s proto-shoegaze luminaries the Cocteau Twins. Chris Roberts dined with her and fellow Twin/partner Robin Guthrie in a Sounds piece that ran on January 4, 1986——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages

So I spent a Friday afternoon eating and giggling with The Cocteau Twins.

They're not there. I pour disdain on the mannequins in Harvey Nichols' window, then stand in a dry place.

A young man rushes out of the jeweller's opposite and leaps into a waiting taxi. He is George Michael. I stare at him and then realise he is staring back at me. I look away, as one does. The cab roars away through the drizzle.

"Oh," I think. "This is going to be a funny day."

Then Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser amble and scurry up.

Robin and I agree not to go into the posh place. Liz keeps hiding behind Robin laughing with short catches of breath. We walk to Kings Road. It takes about seven minutes. Robin, kindly, talks. I concentrate on not positioning myself between the two of them.

Now and again Robin says out of the corner of his mouth, "Aw, come on, Liz."

Then I brazenly take control of the situation.

"Do you think interviews are a bit silly?"

"Yes!"

"What I find really funny is the way they always put... you can't analyse their music or describe it in words but anyway here goes: it's a radiant ethereal dooda dooda whatever..."

"Yes. That's true," says Robin.

That was me brazenly taking control of the situation.

I wonder what the alternative is. I am still wondering this when I kind of apologetically turn the tape recorder on.

*
We are sitting in the Chelsea Kitchen and all feeling much better for being in the warm and about to eat. Liz is acting less oddly. Robin tells me that in Simon's absence they intended to bring a cassette of Simon saying "Yes", "No", and "Four times", but they forgot it. I squeal, Oh, that would've been brilliant!! They seem cheered by my enthusiasm.

The waiter recognises them, pretends not to. They don't notice this.

On the menu we see Christmas turkey, which Robin orders. I order it too, because then I can tell all my little friends I had Christmas dinner with the Cocteau Twins.

Liz says, "Would it be alright if I had two starters?"

Once, at the BBC, they were interviewed by somebody who thought they were Frankie Goes To Hollywood. She said to Robin, "What's it like to be a fag?" Another time they saw Johnny Rotten in a New York hotel bar.

"He was with that guy who plays Scully and they were getting outrageously drunk. Liz was wetting herself, man."

Liz: "It was incredible!"

Robin: "It was disgusting. She was all giggling and everything."

Liz: "I know, I was being a twat. But it was wonderful!"

You don't think of yourselves as famous, do you?

Liz: "Definitely not. Almost no one knows who we are. Almost no one."

Robin: "Who are you more impressed with today, us or George Michael?"

Liz: "Is there turkey in that?"

Yes, it's under the gravy there.

Liz: "Did you just speak to George Michael??!"

Me? Heavens no, I didn't speak to him. It was just weird 'cos you weren't there so I thought, Oh, I'll look at the street for a bit, and the first person that came into view was him...

Robin: "The lying bastard! He said we were getting peas and cabbage with this."

Liz: "Oh! Oh! I can see the turkey now!"

Robin: "Never mind."

Is your life now very different to your life two years ago?

Liz: "Yeah."

Robin: "No."

Liz: "It is. Money and things."

Robin: "Yeah, we didn't pay any tax two years ago and now it's terrible. You're gonna get the bad end of this tax thing. The whole interview's gonna be about paying tax."

Oh, I don't think it will be.

*

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We eat. The music in the background is 'I'll Be There' by the Jackson Five. I feel curiously happy. I decide that when it's my turn to write about the Cocteau Twins' music, I'll say that if you have a broken heart it makes you feel even sadder but at least a bit grandiose. Then I remember I'm not going to fall into that trap.

"Come to think of it," says Robin, "it's not even for listening to. If you read all the reviews and stuff, the records are made specifically for knobbing."

"It's music to bonk to," chimes Liz.

Their Scottish accents add a richness to any humour you may think you find in this.

"Bloody hell! It's so cheap, so awful. And we keep getting these homemade videos sent to us. With all people giving it all this business, letting it all hang out an' everythin'."

Robin: "They're great. I'll make you a copy if you want."

Liz: "Every time it's got chests in it. It's got boobs and bums all over the place! How are you meant to react to that sort of thing? Are you meant to be flattered? It's sick, it's so vulgar."

Are they sent to you by British people?

Robin: "Most are. There's been some Japanese ones."

Do you get unorthodox fan letters?

Liz: "Not to do with anything like that! Is that what you meant? Hee hee hee... oh, but we do get some strange ones..."

Robin: "The average one starts off, this is something I've never done before..."

Liz: "...I've never written to a band since the Beatles. Since the Dave Clark Five!"

Robin: "Liz, this is your big chance to tell all the people who send you poetry to fuck off."

Liz: "Oh... it's like... it's brilliant, but... no more!"

Robin: "Can you imagine getting loads and loads of unwanted poetry?"

Robin and Liz live together.

Liz suddenly explodes.

"There's just too much cutlery! There's so much cutlery! There's so much!"

Robin: "What?"

"There's just so much cutlery; I don't know what to do with it! Aw ha ha ha ha... aw, shit!"

"Er, yeah," Robin concludes.

I'm intrigued. So I'm laughing.

CATS ARE NOT TWEE

Elizabeth Fraser sang a hit single once; it was called 'Pearly Dewdrops' Drops'. She becomes very animated when, given by my brain a choice between the state of pop music, more sex and the supremacy of cats, I opt for the third.

"That was one of the most important decisions we ever made in our life," she says.

Her man (is that phrase ideologically sound?) is less overtly respectful towards Otto.

"He's a great big huge tomcat, a real bruiser, y'know? You should see his tackle, man, an' he's only five months old."

"Robin! Please. Stop it. No... it was like gettin' a kiddie or something. And if we had a kid we'd talk about the kid all the time, y'know? And that wouldn't be considered twee, would it?"

I talk for quite a long time about cats now, until Elizabeth says, "What's the word?"

Robin suggests "stinks".

"He's the most blah thing in our lives. Mega-naughty! No, I mean — we're really... it's all very safe and secure... sort of normal... getting the cat was the most dangerous thing we've done in a long time. That was like... anarchy, y'know?"

The Cocteau Twins comment on my interview technique. Robin says, "Oh this is really great, this is brilliantly unprofessional. I quite like this."

Liz says: "They usually shout at you."

"AS FOR the story itself, it was entitled 'The Dancing Fool'. Like so many Trout stories, It was about a tragic failure to communicate. The plot: A flying saucer creature named Zog arrived on Earth to explain how wars could be prevented and cancer cured. He brought the information from Margo, a planet where the natives conversed by means of farts and tap dancing.

"log landed at night... he had no sooner touched down than he saw a house on fire. He rushed into the house, farting and tap dancing, warning the people about the terrible danger they were in. The head of the house brained Zog with a golf club."
— Kurt Vonnegut Jr: Breakfast Of Champions

Robin: "Eat your soup."

Liz: "I think I will. Aw, I just shouldn't open my mouth, y'know? Aw, it doesn't matter. I think... I think basically we know how stupid we are, that's why we don't do interviews."

Are you well-organised?

"No."

Do you like being disorganised?

"No. It'd be really nice to be swish and have sheets of paper with 'Cocteau Twins' written across the top... but it just doesn't happen."

Robin shows me his chequebook.

Liz: "Look! It's filthy! It's all grubby!"

Here is what Liz, singer with a chart-topping pop group, thinks of football fans.

"The ones with scarves and shit? I love those people. They're so calm."

"Violence?" says Robin. "It's alright in its place. I'm anti mindless violence. Y'know, like the police..."

Liz sucks in her cheeks. "Ooh, you're so wicked."

Robin: "...But if somebody was to sort of... er... I wouldn't just sit down and take it, y'know? She certainly wouldn't."

Liz: "I'm a very violent person, actually. It really annoys me."

Robin: "We went to see GBH in Amsterdam. We went to get some drugs, but that's another story, we'll talk about that later... So anyway, we were walking up the stairs an' this Dutch girl goes 'Ha! ha! ha!' like that, so Elizabeth grabbed her hair and kicked her in the face."

Liz: "No, no, no! It wasn't like that at all! She was very venomous towards me. She didn't like me. She didn't."

Waiter: "Anything else?"

Robin: "Apple crumble and cream, please."

Liz: "Do you want any of these?"

Eh? Oh! Er... um... cherry cheesecake, please.

Robin: "Ooh... I might have that next."

They're not exactly aloof.

We spoil it only briefly. I feel duty-bound to ask if there's anything they want to say about the two highly successful new EPs, Tiny Dynamine and Echoes In A Shallow Bay.

Robin: "We're thoroughly fed up with them now. Some of the music goes back to last February. We hate them just the same as we hate the others now."

I bet you like the covers, though.

"Yeah, they're the best thing about them."

Liz: "No, no, the labels are."

The music paper interview is, as you can see, a promotional device.

THE '80S COUPLE

DO YOU WIND each other up?

Liz: "He winds me up. You do! You wind me up! You do hoo hoo! Oh..."

Robin: "Elizabeth's got some foul habits. No, no, not bad habits, not dirty, 'cos she's the cleanest, tidiest person in the world apart from Lawrence from Felt. She hoovers when I'm watching TV.

"And she hangs things on door handles. That really gets on my tits..."

Excuse me — what sort of things?

"Just... like a jacket or something. So you sort of open the door and some things falls off the other side, y'know?"

Liz: "There's no room! The wardrobe is not fuckin' big enough man! Get me a big wardrobe, an' there'll be none of that fuckin' things-on-door-handles business."

Do you still occasionally surprise each other, after all these years?

Liz: "He constantly surprises me."

Robin: "You could never surprise me... so predictable."

Liz: "Aw... one year I actually opened my Christmas present. 'Cos he left it in the room with me. He knew I'd open it, and I did. Isn't that horrible! I cried. So he bought me another one."

Does one of you sort of look after the other one?

Liz: "I think we both do our little bits and pieces."

Robin: "Yeah... I remind Elizabeth where she lives."

Liz: "And I clean up after him."

Is health the most important thing in the world?

Liz: "Definitely not."

Robin: "I'm the most unhealthy person in the whole wide world. It's incredible that I can actually walk about without machines and things."

Are you style-conscious?

"Oh yeah! Look!"

How do I know you're not imposters pretending to be the Cocteau Twins today?

Liz: "You don't."

Robin lifts up the sleeve of Liz's inside-out Fall T-shirt to expose her tattoo.

Liz: "You sonovabitch! Don't you do that!"

Robin: "I'm as close to being realistic as the two of us will ever get. She's definitely not. She's got her feet firmly screwed six feet above the ground."

Liz: "What does that mean?"

Robin: "It means you're a bit of a screwball, dunnit?"

Liz: "Noooo..."

Robin: "It means you've got your head in the clouds and you don't know what's going on from one day to the next."

Liz: "I should've thought that was very sensible of me. Leave it all up to you. This is his part of the relationship, you know. He carries me. You carry me, Robin. Ha ha!"

Robin: "I don't think that's possible."

Liz: "Ha ha ha! No. Y'know... y'know... I'm just not meant to know those sort of things."

Elizabeth's New Year resolution will be to be less bad-tempered, while Robin's will be to contradict himself more often, and maybe to stop wearing pointy shoes, though Liz doubts this.

However! They are busy recording a new LP, just the two of them, with just guitars and voice.

I expect this will sound very special.

"It's wonderful," says Liz. "It's like going on our second honeymoon."

Do you get depressed if things aren't meaningful?

Robin: "I don't know what you mean."

Do you feel better for having eaten?

Liz: "It definitely makes you feel a bit more human, doesn't it?"

*

"Och, Robin, that's the C word. I never say the C word. Do you say the C word?"

Er... yeah I do, yeah.

"Ooh, do you?!?"

But I try not to say it in front of ladies because of my conditioning.

Robin: "Yeah, they don't like it at all."

Liz: "Yes, I wonder why that is. I must be just the... sort of... I mean... I dunno... I think it's just because it's sort of... some women say all sorts of terrible things. I'm really bad but I still can't say the C word."

*

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Robin's birthday is January 4. Liz says Otto's been less vicious this week, because of the trouble with his teeth. Robin just spent a ridiculous amount of money on monitors for their new studio, which made him feel ever so good. On Treasure, there's a refrain which I think says "Here's what it takes". I could be wrong. It doesn't matter. Fantastic and high.

Liz: "That's what you do. That's what people do to each other all the time, don't they? They just misunderstand each other all the time, it's terrible."

But she is abandoned to laughter.

The Cocteau Twins are very happy.

A New Year. Right.

The woman whose voice is the ghost of Helen of Troy if you want it to be says, "Look, I've got to buy some shoes."

© Chris Roberts, 1986

Read more articles on the Cocteaus — and on artists from Aaliyah to ZZ Top — at Rock's Backpages. 20,000+ articles by the best writers from the finest music publications of the last 50 years.

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