Before the Cocteau Twins became the band you, I, and anyone with any musical taste whatsoever1 adores with their still-beating bloodthumping heart, there was a darker, stranger version. Before all the delicate chirruping, the apparently nonsense lyrics2, those chiming, echo-drenched arpeggios, that whole sonic cathedrals of sound3 thing. Before Blue Bell Knoll, Treasure, Heaven Or Las Vegas, all those stunning EP’s (the Love’s Easy Tears, in its CD form, must rank as one of the finest 14 minutes of music anywhere, ever), came Garlands. A jagged, fraught, mechanised, angry, gothic beast.
For those of you only used to the The Trees! The Flowers! Wibbly Wobbly Woo! version of Cocteau Twins, have a listen to “Wax And Wane” below. Yes, the basic ingredients are there but in a strange, twisted form. You can just tell this is a band that needed to make music, but making it was tough, and they were taking in whatever musical influences that could reach Grangemouth (The Cure, PiL, Joy Division) and churning them into something utterly unique.
And the thing about Garlands is that the bloody thing is 30 this year. Bella Union’s Twitter feed (@bellaunion – a good follow, even if they are Sp*rs fans) mentioned it earlier today, Liz Fraser’s mentioned briefly in Word magazine this month, and my brother keeps hassling me to listen to a YouTube clip of them in Brixton, so now’s a good a time to talk about them as any, frankly.
From this start they’d go on to make Peppermint Pig, something different again, and then songs like Sugar Hiccup would be the first rushing steps toward the glorious run of form from Treasure to Heaven Or Las Vegas, a seven year purple patch that few bands before or since could match. Bassist Will Heggie departed not long after the release of Garlands, forming a band called Lowlife4, and his dark and doomy and surprisingly innovative bass was replaced by the equally innovative, but somewhat less dark and doomy playing of Simon Raymonde. Garlands wasn’t the first of their records I heard (that would be, I think, something off Head Over Heels) but it was one of the first CDs I bought, and whilst I’ve pretty much ignored it for, ooh, 20 years, there’s nothing quite like a big birthday like this to make you look back and evaluate the start of a stunning band, and band who I have lived with for nearly 30 years now. Thirty bloody years old, eh? Don’t they grow up fast?
1 Here’s a test for you. Have you ever met anyone who didn’t like Cocteau Twins and wasn’t a cloth-eared, blithering baboon? Nope? Me neither.
2 Which, it may surprise you to note, were indeed only apparently nonsense; they were, by and large, proper lyrics, even if their meaning was somewhat opaque.
3 Go to Google now and type in “sonic cathedrals of sound”. See? If I can ever claim to have done anything in this world, because it certainly hasn’t been spreading joy and fucking happiness, it’s to get to the top of Google page rankings for something obscure, that will make at least two other people on this planet smile wryly and think “What a bloody fool”.
4 Who I’ll, one day, write about.