Twins We Like : The Cocteau Twins

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The other day Sheen and I met a young man who had never heard of the Cocteau Twins. This was perplexing because he was irritatingly cultivating what he seemed to think was an 80’s retro look (the glasses and the jacket, anyway) and he was from Edinburgh. This made us think that maybe not so many people nowadays care for what was, for us, a landmark in our musical development.

And it is therefore not only an honour but a duty to write a few lines in the hope, maybe, to reignite a spark somewhere and at the same time stake a claim for some credit to our dear friend Soraya, whose role in the success of the Cocteau Twins has largely been ignored by the mainstream media.

Cocteau Twins was – for most of their career – Robin Guthrie and Elizabeth Fraser. There was this guy Heggie who played bass for a while early on but he packed up and moved on in about 1983, which is when Soraya Campos drifted into the scene. With Heggie, Cocteau Twins made three records, of varying length and quality – Garlands, Lullabies and Peppermint Pig. Some people say they were “samey”.

In English, “samey” means they tend to sound the same. In Turkish, “samey” means “gangrenous”. You think I’m making that up, don’t you.

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Soraya couldn’t play the bass guitar out of a paper bag. On the credits for Cocteau Twins’ 1983 LP Head Over Heels, it says “Soraya Campos : Backing vocals, Cheerleading, Unwarranted percussion” which illustrates at least her enthusiasm.

She got to tour the USA with Guthrie and Fraser the following year. The LP Treasure was the band’s biggest commercial success up till then and, again, Soraya’s name is on the back of the record cover : “Special thanks to Soraya Campos”.

In 1986 Cocteau Twins recorded the LP Victorialand. While recording the song Lazy Calm, Elizabeth Fraser “came over all funny” and had to go for a bit of a lie down. Robin Guthrie, who was producing the album because they were really tightfisted and refused to pay for a proper producer, suggested to Soraya that she should take over on vocals; as it happened, she was shaking off a really shocking case of man flu (it’s a long story) so she wasn’t in the best of moods but she seized the opportunity with both horns, so to speak. Have a listen – this is Lazy Calm by Cocteau Twins and if you’ve never heard it before you are going to love it :

Well, you can imagine the state Elizabeth got into when she heard that Soraya had upstaged her. She started pulling her hair out in rage and, let’s face it, it was always a mess. “It’s that Zaragozan bitch or me”, she was heard yelling in an Airdrie nightclub The Pavement Pizza in late November 1986.

Guthrie cajoled, Campos acquiesced and common sense prevailed. Fraser and Guthrie recorded a dead boring album with some dreary American weirdo that nobody had heard of, a loser by the name of Harold Budd or something, an awful waste of time and plastic called “The Moon and the Melodies” – oh my God it is a yaaaawn – and Soraya came back to Zaragoza for a spiritual retreat.

But she was back with the band in time for their 1988 album Bluebell Knoll. By this time Frazer had become reconciled to the fact that Soraya’s vocal talents were an integral part of the band’s sound. Soraya had also learned to play the banjo during her stay in Zaragoza and urged Guthrie to incorporate it somewhere on the LP but to no avail. Disgruntled, she joined Waldo Faldo to form “The United States” – an ambitious-sounding band who recorded just one EP, aspirationally entitled “Unmitigated Triumph and Overwhelming Success”.

Cocteau Twins continued conquering new territory. Their 1990 album Heaven or Las Vegas, was their first without Soraya, and I remember refusing to buy it or even listen to it. But I did eventually, and it’s one of their best, dammit.

There were one or two minor works after that but, for me, Cocteau Twins died in 1990. They were way ahead of their time, which sort of makes it easier to remember. Hang on… does that make any sense?

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Freddie on May 2, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Is this the same Soraya Campos who has done backing vocals with Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Natalia Lafourcade, Janelle Monae, Joaquín Sabina….?


    • Posted by Selma St John on May 4, 2013 at 7:07 pm

      …and Anna Calvi, Sergio Dalma, Albert Plá, Beyoncé, Bon Jovi….?


      • Posted by zaragozatwins on May 5, 2013 at 11:29 am

        Didn’t know about the Sergio Dalma thing, but yes, that’s our Soraya! — Sheen XXX

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