Thursday, November 21, 2019


Well this was a stroke of luck, the two colours I haven't already covered, along with a cheeky pink for future reference, together giving an opportunity to offer a SMM debut to this much admired scottish group, active between 1979 and 1997. Never hugely successful in their lifetime, it is the accolades offered afterwards, by their peers and adherents, that have ramped up their reputation, even if their best known song, was not, strictly speaking, by them at all.

Confused? Song to the Siren, a song originally by Tim Buckley, appeared on a record by This Mortal Coil, more collective than band, the collection being, largely, of acts on nominal bandleader Ivo Watts-Russell's record label, 4AD. And within that was included Cocteau Twins, the performers on the track, and who subsequently included it within their CT repertoire. This Mortal Coil existed over three albums, 1984 - 91, the Cocteaus, as a unit, appearing only on the first, although with later member Simon Raymonde heavily involved with the second, leaving briefly the band he had decided to join, at the first sessions.

So, let's revisit this. Elisabeth Fraser, vocals, and Robin Guthrie, guitars and programming, had, along with John Heggie, on bass, formed in the scottish industrial port of Grangemouth, a dreamy mix of Fraser's ethereal vocal, lyrics largely indiscernible within a hazy swirl of effects pedals, anchored some propulsive baselines. When intelligible, the vocals remained, largely, still unintelligible, often being streams of sound rather than identifiable english. (The featured song here has words based around the latin names of various butterflies, but I guess you had worked that out......) After a trio of well-received records, Heggie left, leaving a gap they chose not to fill for the next record. Simon Raymonde, a multi-instrumentalist, then joined, left and joined again, apropos his This Mortal Coil responsibilities. Pink Orange Red comes from this time. Their closest taste of mainstream success arrived in the 90s, with Heaven or Las Vegas even denting the US chart.

Success is always a wily mistress though, with Guthrie retreating into dependency, casting friction on the band, not least with Fraser, by now his partner and mother of their daughter. With this limiting any build forward from that point, together with the time taken for rehab (his) and therapy (hers), the sound, having clarified and become possibly more commercial, retreated back into distort and shimmer. A further few releases and they were done, both as a band and a couple.

Raymonde and Guthrie have continued to work together, setting up the Bella Union record label, both individually and together, often in production and management of bands signed to the label. Fraser has led a quieter life, but has still cropped up in the occasional high profile collaboration, the best known being with Massive Attack, writing and singing the song below. Having had one abortive attempt at reunion, it seems unlikely the three will perform together again.

Here, below, is the acoustic version of Pink Orange Red. It can be found on their 1985 release, the EP Tiny Dynamine. The richer and more highly produced version at the top of the piece comes from Lullabies to Violaine, a 2005 4CD retrospective.

blog comments powered by Disqus