Simon Says #11: Nostalgia for the Cocteau Twins era
This issue, Bella Union founder Simon Raymonde, current member of Lost Horizons and former Cocteau Twin recalls the alchemy at the heart of the Twins’ music-making process…
Last week, Pitchfork posted a curious article headed “Cocteau Twins Announce Treasure And Head Over Heels Reissues”, the implication being that we were somehow involved in these pressings – and it made me laugh. We broke up 21 years ago, and while I love to see the adorable Elizabeth at shows and catch up with her, the idea that we could or would ‘announce’ anything formal as a band these days is pretty funny.
It’s no secret that things went spectacularly wrong with 4AD in the early 90s, and when I read about these reissues coming out now 34 years later, I can’t deny it had me reminiscing fondly about the happier times leading to me joining the band in late ’83 and our first sessions that lead to The Spangle Maker EP released on my birthday in 1984 and the LP, Treasure, that followed on 1 November the same year.
I first met Elizabeth and Robin a few years earlier at the Beggars Banquet record shop the day they arrived to hand their recordings over to 4AD, who had their office above the shop. Either by fate or design, I was alone in the shop when they knocked on the window at 9.55am. They were sweet, and gave me a cassette to pass on to Ivo Watts-Russell. I couldn’t have known the significance of that moment, but there was definitely a lovely vibe there.
We saw more and more of each other over the next couple of years and when Head Over Heels came out, Ivo and I drove to see them play whenever we could outside of London. They were wonderful to watch, Elizabeth barely 20 and already one of the most compelling female vocalists I had ever seen. We were all transfixed when she walked onto the stage, her innate power and almost-crippling stage fright at curious odds with each other, yet combining to create such a unique stage presence. Quite how I ended up joining such an already-brilliant band is beyond me, as I was sure they didn’t need another person and I’m certain they weren’t looking for one! Who knows, maybe that’s why it happened. A beautiful natural accident – like most of the music we began to make. It sounds corny to talk of ‘magic’ (and the press at the time, replete as it was with the huge brains and even larger pens of Paul Morley, Ian Penman, Danny Kelly, etc, found our inability to say why our music sounded like it did endlessly frustrating), but something very odd happened when the three of us got into a studio. It’s hard not to think of it in terms of unexplained mysteries, alchemy, even magick, and while we smoked a lot of dope and took a lot of speed in the early days, our states of mind were not drastically altered!
In 14 or so years, we had no spare tracks, no half-finished songs that never made it onto the albums; there is nothing left over. That just doesn’t happen, normally. When we decided to do a 10-track album, we recorded 10 songs. When we wanted to do a four-track EP, we recorded four songs. This continued throughout the band’s lifespan. We were pushed to explain it a lot in the early 80s, but never could.
Analysing music is not for all of us. We knew if we thought about it too much, or tried to dissect it, it wouldn’t be the same, so we didn’t. The press thought we were brilliant liars. As far as getting into the studio in the early 80s, we did bend the truth somewhat. No one booked studios for an album project unless the band were at least partially ready with a bunch of songs road tested or demo’d. When we asked them to book us in, they enquired if we had the record ready: “Yes! Course we do!”. They asked if they could hear some of it: “No, you don’t want to spoil the surprise by hearing the demos, you’ll get too attached to them.”
So with no plan other than buying some cool pedals, we arrived at the studios, excited at the complete uncertainty. But maybe the adrenaline saw us through, the simple thrill of being in the studio with all the toys we needed to play our games.
When I returned to music-making proper last year with Richie Thomas – who improvised many a fine sax part in This Mortal Coil, Dif Juz and for Cocteau Twins a few times – this same process was how we made the Lost Horizons album Ojalá. We arrived at the studio with nothing, with no fear of failure, and thankfully, we returned home with a full plate and no leftovers. I don’t take it for granted that it will always be so, but I will say it’s thrilling to not have a clue what’s going to happen once you close the studio door; and as long as it isn’t costing you an arm and a leg, the gamble is very much worth taking.
SIMON RAYMONDE is currently in Lost Horizons and was the bassist and keyboard player in Cocteau Twins. He founded the independent record label Bella Union.