Grangemouth is a Victorian port in central Scotland that became a belching sump for the landing and processing of crude oil: a constellation of flames and all-night industrial lights. Like ‘Blade Runner’, some say, but living five minutes up the road as a teenager in the mid-’90s, I would never have managed such a poetic reference. I would have said ‘shitehole’.
The idea that Grangemouth could incubate rebellion any bolder than kicking a can down the road seemed improbable, but the town had hosted punk clubs in the late 1970s. Therein met Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie, who formed the Cocteau Twins. Along with The Smiths and The Cure, they were one of the biggest indie groups of the ’80s, but their music didn’t echo anything ever made with instruments and voices.
Guitarist Guthrie and bassists Will Heggie and (from ’83) Simon Raymonde cloaked their notes in layers of opiated reverb, every production a crystal cavern of exquisite noise. And Fraser’s vocal: a celestial choir channelled through one shy wee lassie from Grangemouth. If you think that’s getting carried away, in 1984 Melody Maker said: ‘Surely this band is the voice of God.’
To my youthful ears it was a revelation: not all indie bands sing in a Manc sneer! There’s more to Scottish music than Wet Wet Wet! And when I looked out my window at the place where they came from, their inception seemed miraculous.
The Cocteaus have been silent since their acrimonious split in 1997, but their label is engaged in an ongoing reissue campaign on heavyweight vinyl. Reissue away, 4AD: the more people who hear the music the better. But, as a fan, I hope they never reform and their magic remains frozen for ever. They came from five minutes down the road but they sounded like they’re from another galaxy, and that’s how it should stay.
Reissues of ‘Tiny Dynamine/Echoes in a Shallow Bay’ and ‘The Pink Opaque’ are out now.
Previously: Why I love The Jesus And Mary Chain