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Music

Watch TV newscasters try (and fail) to explain "Cocteau Twins fever" in 1985

@SamWKemp

By 1985, Cocteau Twins were already an important fixture on the UK circuit. John Peel’s support of the Scottish dream-pop duo’s first couple of EPs had gained them notoriety among the nation’s more left-leaning listeners; with their early EPs and albums garnering them a reputation as one of the most pioneering bands around. Meanwhile, America was still unsure of what to make of Cocteau Twins. The band’s blend of ethereal vocals and lush reverb-laden guitar parts was markedly different from the angular punk sound that even the most conservative of listeners had developed a familiarity with by that time.

This dream-pop malarky, however, was something else entirely. Punk may have been anarchic, but the songs still featured an obvious structure and lyrical content. In contrast, Cocteau Twins seemed committed to crafting formless textures without any obvious sense of purpose or progression. What was more confusing to middle America was the fact that the band had attracted such a loyal fanbase, as this pair of news reports from WBNS in Columbus, Ohio makes very clear indeed.

Sent to report on the “Cocteau fever” that the group’s arrival in Columbus – one of just five concerts they played in the US that year – incited, here we see a bumbling newscaster attempt to understand the hitherto unknown world of underground rock music. “This is one of the top bands in England. They are only playing five concerts in this country though, and they decided to come to Columbus as a favour to a man who’s been printing a fan magazine of theirs for years,” reporter Tom Burman begins, referring to Tim Anstead publisher of The Offense music newsletter.

Mr Burman, dressed in his prim white shirt, looks utterly out of place inside The Newport, where, just a few meters away, Cocteau Twins are making their way through tracks from Tiny Dynamite and Echoes From A Shallow Bay. “Cocteau fans started lining up before the doors opened to get the best seats, some coming for hundreds of miles away to get the rare chance to see this group,” his voiceover continues. “And if this is a special occasion, people dress the part. For the punk set, these clothes and haircuts are the equivalents of white tux and tails, and they say very often people get the wrong impression of what kind of people they are because of their look.”

What follows is a selection of interview cuts with spiky-haired teen punks that would make even Louis Theroux blush. “They say they try to look this way because it’s fun and different,” Burman concludes, before adding: “Many say they look normal during the day and it only takes ten minutes to change it all around. And they say anyone can do it. “I could do it to your hair too. In fact, I’d love to,” Burman is told by one young Cocteau fan. To our surprise, he emerges unscathed: “Well, I decided to leave my hair as it is, but I did get this tie [points out formal black tie] to try and fit in here. Quite an exciting night, Lou.”

Check out the full clip below, you won’t regret it.