1984 was the year that Cocteau Twins popularity would rise enough to make the top 30 of the UK singles chart and to skirt the edges of the mainstream, first with the release of the ‘Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops’ single and amplified by year’s end with ‘Treasure’, a third album from the band that contains many a fan favourite to this day and arguably the emerging dreampop sound. They were also filling concert venues the size and likes of The Royal Festival Hall in London and The Usher Hall in Edinburgh – a mere two years on from their debut album. Along the way, the independent spirit was retained with exclusive tracks on some more obscure cassette compilations. Starting with…
Cassette compilation: ‘State Of Affairs’ (Pleasantly Surprised, 003)
A various artists compilation from a period where sturm und drang was very much in fashion and is reflected in many of the tracks found here, the Cocteau Twins connection here is an exclusive remix of ‘In Our Angelhood’ that has never been reissued anywhere else. It appears that there were plans to issue this track as a single from the ‘Head Over Heels’ album, but it never came to pass. The intended single release is mentioned on the text in the booklet that accompanies this cassette, but I don’t know for sure if this remix was the planned single mix or not. Its a good bit different from the album mix for sure, though the sound quality here is not the best, it must be said. The arrangement on the version recorded for the October 1983 BBC Radio 1 David ‘Kid’ Jensen session is quite similar.
A fairly packed selection of tracks from a good many acts, the Pleasantly Surprised series of cassettes were blessed with good will and many an exclusive track or version.
The cover image – I don’t recognise its original source, but it had certainly been used before on a flyer for a concert by The Wake back in 1982…
Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops 7″ (4AD AD 405) / The Spangle Maker 12″ (4AD BAD 405)
Released at the same time, but with different songs chosen for the A sides of the differing 7″ and 12″ singles, as you can see from the side by side photos of the sleeves, the colours were that bit different as well between the two formats of the beautiful sleeve design, for what was to be the band’s first ‘hit single’ (breaking into the UK top 30, with a peak position of 29) and dalliance with commerciality (at least under their own name). ‘The Spangle Maker ‘ and ‘Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops’ were previewed on Friday 24 February 1984 by way of live in the studio versions on BBC 2’s long running ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ music programme ahead of the actual release date some time later on Monday 16 April 1984. (The 4AD website entry for the single currently lists 2 April 1984 as the release date, but that’s wrong. A news item in Music Week magazine is dated 7 April 1984 lists the 16th as the planned release date. The same magazine, issue dated 21 April, also included an advert for the single’s release (as did the NME issue of the same date), while its first appearance on the official UK charts was in the charts published in Music Week issue dated 28 April, a new entry at number 38.)
The instrumentation featured across the tracks of this single would see the band becoming more adventurous sonically. Recorded at Palladium Studios in Edinburgh, alongside the familiar guitar, bass and drum machine textures, there was also room for Robin Guthrie to experiment with the Gizmo, a musical invention of Godley & Creme that allowed infinite sustain to guitar strings and thereby lend it more of a keyboard wash atmosphere. It is always difficult to know what instrument is making what noise on Cocteau Twins Records – I always thought it might be the elongated background sound heard on the outro of ‘Pepper Tree’ (along with the ticking clock, of course) – though I wonder now if that is just an example of the ‘snapshot’ reverb effect Robin Guthrie has mentioned in some of the music tech magazine interviews of the time.
NME ‘Department of Enjoyment’ cassette (NME 011)
This compilation cassette featured the hitherto unreleased track ‘Millimillenary – one of their finest in my book, for what its worth – which was the first recording made after Simon Raymonde had joined the band.
Treasure LP (4AD CAD 412) and cassette (4AD CADC 412)
Released Monday 12th November 1984, its probably fair to say that ‘Treasure’ is considered a fan favourite and a highlight of their career, maybe even their best, perhaps? Tracks such as ‘Lorelei’ and ‘Donimo’ seem to be eternal favourites, it seems. My own favourites are some of the rockier tracks such as ‘Persephone’, ‘Amelia’, ‘Aloysius’ and ‘Cicely’ – in some of these a more traditional bluesy rock sound, of a sort, can almost be heard. It’s a curious sonic blend across the whole album really, from gentle, blissed-out confections such as ‘Pandora (For Cindy)’ through the mechanical steam hammer beats of ‘Persephone’.
Sonically, one of the hallmarks of this album is yet another upgrade in the drum machine area, with the Drumulator (an early model) which had featured on ‘Head Over Heels’ upgraded to use the ‘Rock’ chip set, famously containing samples of Led Zeppelin’s rhythmic powerhouse, John Bonham. It’s unapologetically machine like in its robot-like machine-gun precision on the rolls – check out ‘Persephone’ in particular for this. At times perhaps too overpowering – the relentless cymbal splashes throughout ‘Amelia’ on top of the already busy tumble of drums sound almost like someone’s gone mad at trying everything out from the box in one song.
As well as this, keyboards are increasingly to the fore, in the shape of the Emulator and a Yamaha DX7, evident in its ultra clear bell-like tones such as the intro to ‘Lorelei’ and throughout ‘Ivo’. Also present and corrrct, the ageing Mellotron, owned by Palladium, first used by the band in 1983, heard most notably on ‘Donimo’, by the sound of it. The gentlest piece of music from the band to date was present in the form of ‘Otterley’ near beat-less, gentle, like some countryside waterway landscape come to life. All in all, a hell of a long way from ‘Garlands’ already.
Technical talk about the album can be found in a few contemporary interviews such one from Electronics and Music Maker August 1984 magazine, a short but spiky commentary from Robin Guthrie in One Two Testing, November 1984 magazine (this one is the absolute business for intricate detail on Cocteau’s instrumentation of the time, be it guitar, bass, effects, microphones, keyboards, drum machines – you name it) and a more elusive piece from Electronic Soundmaker and Computer Music, February 1985.
Various Artists: ‘Dreams and Desires’ compilation cassette
This third appearance on a Pleasantly Surprised compilation cassette was previously featured in one of the earlier posts of this blog, back in 2010 – ‘Dreams and Desires’ tape (Pleasantly Surprised, PS006, 1984)‘. Amongst plenty of other good stuff of the era, this cassette includes a great alternative version of ‘Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops’ – I always found the more regular single version a little tame, but this one swings into life with somewhat more oomph. As far as I know this version has never appeared again, which is a pity as the sound quality on this cassette is not the best, sadly – which is not to knock it, by any means, no doubt a low budget labour of love, I dare say.
13th January 1984 saw the band debut on The Tube, with live versions of ‘From The Flagstones’ and ‘Musette and Drums’. View on YouTube.
Old Grey Whistle Test TV appearance – featuring ‘The Spangle Maker’ and ‘Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops’, the first television appearance for Simon Raymonde as part of the band, I think – aired late evening, Friday 24 February 1984 on the UK channel BBC 2. View Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops on YouTube | View ‘The Spangle Maker’ and ‘Pearly-Dewdrops’ Drops’ on YouTube.
John Peel session – once again the band recorded a session (recording date 29th August 1984) which at time of broadcast on 5th September 1984, previewed tracks from the yet to be released ‘Treasure’ album – and they had different titles at that time too! What be me ‘Ivo’ on the album was originally called ‘Peep Bo’, while what would become known as ‘Beatrix’ was originally ‘Whisht’.
10th December 1984 was when I managed to see the Cocteau Twins play live, with a gig at the Edinburgh Usher Hall, along with my good friend and frequent contributor, Lieutenant 030 – what a great day and night it was. Some official merch tour badges picked up that night can be seen in a previous article, ‘Button badge goodness: Cocteau Twins‘.