Inspired, in part, by the recent run of Goth ICAs; but to be fair, it was always on the list of pieces of vinyl that should be taken out of the cupboard, dusted down and given the 320kpbs treatment via Audacity for distribution on a Monday morning.

1983 was the year that I really ‘got’ Cocteau Twins.  As mentioned a few weeks ago, I caught them opening for The Fall in Glasgow in April 1982 and thought them OK, thinking in the main that the lead singer had been a bit overwhelmed by the occasion.  But my mate who was at the gig with me that night went all in on the band, and he pushed hard for me to give them a try, and so I did.

I was prepared to admit that the debut album Garlands had its moments, but it didn’t fully click.  Looking back, I wonder if the fact that I didn’t have, at the time, anything beyond the most basic of stereos meant I didn’t really appreciate it – my mate was listening to the band through his older brother’s equipment and, yes, it did seem to sound better, fuller and more powerful when I was in his house rather than mine.

I moved into shared student accommodation in the summer of 1983.  One of my flatmates had an even better stereo set up than my mate’s brother, and he also had a ridiculously extensive record collection, courtesy of always having had a decent amount of disposable income vis his well-off parents.  He was also a fan of Cocteau Twins and he picked up a copy of Head Over Heels, the new album, on its release in October 1983.  He played it as the three of us who shared the flat, together with one other bloke who was rarely away from our place, listened on in awe.  The sounds coming from the speakers were astonishing, almost unwordly at times.  It felt like a quantum leap from what had come before, and it certainly did not sound like the sort of music you associated with bands living and working in Scotland.

I bought my own copy of Head Over Heels a few days later and played it on my cheap stereo.  It sounded good, but not as majestic as it did on the equipment sitting in the bedroom through the wall.  It was then that I vowed to save to get myself a bigger, better and more powerful set-up, which I achieved some nine months later, thanks to the generosity of my parents on the occasion of my 21st birthday… and the timing couldn’t have been better as I was soon to take leave of that first shared flat and move to a bigger premises with six of us sharing a multi-occupancy in a very spacious tenement flat, with the bonus of a shared living room in which my new system, along with a telly and a VHS recorder, took pride of place.

All of which has been a bit diversionary in respect of today’s music.  It does come from Cocteau Twins and it’s in the shape of the EP which was released just a few weeks after Head Over Heels.  It came as the band, now just a duo of Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie, were getting to grips with things and were even prepared to put themselves on the telly as part of the promotional activities.  So it was that they appeared on the second series of The Tube, performing live and also as This Mortal Coil, in a promo video for their cover of Song To The Siren.  The VHS tape on which I had captured these performances was very much in danger of wearing out in my new abode….and it was incredibly satisfying that, to a man and woman, even though we had different and varting tastes across alll genres of music, we were in agreement that Cocteau Twins were something out of the ordinary, the likes of which we were lucky to be able to appreciate.

Our collective night out, on a Sunday night in December 1984, was a trip to the Pavilion Theatre, not to see the annual pantomime, but to be part of the audience for what, at that point, was surely the band’s biggest headlining gig in their career.  The set opened with From The Flagstones.  It also closed with the same song….the band didn’t expect to be afforded an encore and had nothing left on the drum machine to offer that hadn’t been used before, so the solution was to rewind and hit the start button one more time.

mp3: Cocteau Twins – Sugar Hiccup
mp3: Cocteau Twins – From The Flagstones
mp3: Cocteau Twins – Hitherto
mp3: Cocteau Twins – Because of Whirl-Jack

These are taken from the 12″ vinyl, which means the version of Sugar Hiccup is slightly longer and differently mixed from that which was found on the album.

It’s worth mentioning that not everyone was enamoured by Cocteau Twins. Ian Pye, reviewing this EP for Melody Maker back in December 1983, for one:-

“When the Cocteau Twins perfected their impersonation of Joy Division nobody liked them much; now they’ve learnt another act—The Banshees’ gothic wall of sound—it seems suddenly they’re very desirable.

Yet this four-track EP only serves to underline that the Twins still prefer artifice to substance. Everything about their music appears to have been chosen because of its superficial immediacy: the grandiose guitar lines, the fake majesty of the frequently incomprehensible lyrics, even the fatuous song title: ‘Sugar Hiccup’ and ‘Because of Whirl-Jack’! This is music for people who want to play at being serious young persons but lack the resolve to see it through to the bitter/positive end”

That last sentence in particular is bullshit of the worst type.



  1. This was the first record that I ever heard by Cocteau Twins and I immediately fell in love with them. Loved the stereo set up story, JC. My parents had a pretty decent turntable & tape deck – birthplace of many a mixtape – but it was my mid-20s before I had enough saved after rent, bills & clubbing to get a decent hi-fi set up. Worth every penny and still going strong!

  2. I was captured by the Garlands album and was devote follower from the start, and picked up every 12″/EP they did for 4AD. I have all the albums (of course) – maybe slightly embarrassing fact that I thought Victorialand was too slow and acoustic so rarely played it until I several years later discovered it played at 45 rpm…

  3. “That last sentence in particular is bullshit of the worst type.”

    Yes the music press back in those days were full of shit. Half the time the writers were more bothered about how intellectual they were and would make their reviews nearly impossible to understand. Especially for kids from the east end of Newcastle upon Tyne (me). The writers at the NME were especially snobbish in their writing and thought they always occupied the intellectual high ground.

  4. *enter any/all superlative*

    This is the sound of me growing up – fitting in by not fitting in – and the perfect escape from the dull and uninspired.

    While I love what came before, Sunburst and Snowblind and Head Over Heels, are things of exceptional beauty – releases that cemented my affection.

    Not even listening from a grubby, damp council house flat on the tinniest of record players could diminish the hold the e.p. had on me. Only last week it blasted as I made my way to the dentist. Joy!

    I wish I had been to earlier gigs but alas it was not to be. I’ve only seen the band twice (which is crazily low when I really think about it). On both occasions they played Sugar Hiccup. On both occasions I was an utter, emotional mess. 2 nights I hold in some reverence.

    Is Sunburst and Snowblind the perfect e.p.? I’d holler, yes!

    Thanks, JC.

  5. I fell hard for Cocteau Twins as soon as I heard them. The problem was that I built them up to this fairly impossible level in my mind. So when I had the chance to see them in the NYC sanctum sanctorum of dark music, Danceteria, I was inevitably going to be disappointed. What ended up occurring could have NEVER been what I imagined. Most shows started late at the club, this was fine, but Cocteau Twins didn’t get onstage until about 2am , losing a good deal of the crowd who showed up earlier, and replaced by the curious filing out of other parts of the club.
    When the made it on stage, Elizabeth Fraser looked like she was about to be sick onstage with fright…this was not far from the truth. She was obviously suffering from a travel cold – it was January – and her vocals were almost impossible to hear for the first few songs. Two songs in and my friends bailed. I was glued to my spot, watching this train wreck. The sound mix, which was honestly never great in this small concert room, was not prepared for the intricacy of TCT’s sound. But somehow, they recovered about halfway through their set and Fraser seemed to warm to her surroundings.

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