Interviews  |, July 2007

In A French village that he prefers not to name - all he will say is that it's near Rennes, the capital of Brittany - a forgotten Scots rock legend lives quietly. Robin Guthrie used to compose the lush soundscapes for cult 1980s dreamers the Cocteau Twins, which suggested he had exclusive knowledge of an entire other secret cosmos.

Here, though, his world is “the church, the pub and the well-worn path between them”. The farthest he ventures is the supermarket a few kilometres away. He doesn't have any French friends and, it follows, none of the locals knows about the key role he played in making Scottish pop cool after the Bay City Rollers. Guthrie, it must be said, has done an excellent job of covering his tracks.

But none of this should give the impression he is reclusive, out of work and unhappy. He shares his life with his French wife Florence and their daughter Violette. He still makes music - prolifically. And the only thing that disturbs his 45-year-old state of mind is the occasional Cocteaus anorak with an urgent question about events of a quarter of a century ago.

“There's a whole world out there,” he says, echoing a phrase he must have used back in Grangemouth when he was planning his escape from an engineering apprenticeship at the oil refinery. “And everywhere else but Britain they're interested in the music I make now. Recently I toured South America. In Lima in Peru, I got chased down the street. That hasn't happened to me since... well, you know.”

Guthrie releases records - six in the last three years; none in the UK - under his own name and with the band Violet Indiana, and he writes film scores. Most of them are recorded in his home studio, surrounded by “fields and sheep”.

I ask him to elaborate on his French exile, believing there must be more to it, and he says: “You're confusing me with someone who goes out.”

But that is his life in France. A relentless performer, he says: “I'm never happier than when I turn up in a new city, completely lost.” He tours half the year and runs through his upcoming schedule for me: “Spain, the south of France, back to Mexico, Edinburgh, Norway, Chicago, Australia, Japan...”

Edinburgh? Guthrie is playing the Festival Fringe and, briefly thinking back to the Cocteaus days, this causes him to laugh.

“When we started out we weren't from Edinburgh or Glasgow so we weren't cool, but we couldn't get gigs in either place because each thought we belonged to the other.”

So Guthrie, Will Heggie and the girl they'd recruited as singer on account of her dancing, Liz Fraser, bypassed this petty rivalry and went to London, where they were soon championed by John Peel.

It is 25 years since the Cocteaus' debut EP Lullabies, and 10 since they called it a day. In between, there were eight albums, the most successful being Heaven Or Las Vegas. Their sound had a big influence on the post-punk scene and beyond.

Guthrie has lived in his wife's native corner of France for six years. “I moved here because I wanted to bring up my family differently so they would be bilingual and enjoy a wider experience than was offered to me as a kid,” he says.

“Plus I'd got sick of London. It's expensive, dirty and English. I was there 20 years and by the end the place held too many bad memories for me.”

Guthrie associates London with the Cocteau Twins and the band with an unhappy period in his life. “Those years were about a broken relationship and me becoming a drug addict. That's why I don't dwell on them.”

The relationship was with Fraser. The girl he picked out from the crowd in the International disco in Grangemouth, then aged just 17, would become his lover. And if his music was otherwordly, then it was matched by Fraser's vocals.

The pair had a daughter together, Lucy-Belle, who latterly lived with Guthrie and his family in France but has now returned to England to study art. “The house is pretty empty without her,” he admits.

A couple of years ago, Guthrie and Fraser almost re-formed the Cocteau Twins. But a scheduled appearance at California's Coachella was called off just before the festival. This planned reunion went against Guthrie's credo of never going back, so what changed his mind? “Money, I'm afraid. The amount we were offered was unturndownable.”

Overcoming his drug addiction took three years of rehab. Guthrie counts himself lucky to have come out the other side as some friends didn't make it. Overcoming the Cocteaus has taken a little longer.

The fans are still out there. On websites, they argue over the band's greatest songs and dutifully record when they turn up on TV soundtracks or get namechecked in novels. But the devotees will have to content themselves with their memories because Guthrie hasn't played those numbers in a while, and never will.

“In all the other disciplines, if you're an author or a novelist or a painter, your career progresses and hopefully you get more respected,” he says.

“Unfortunately, if you were once in a pop group, you won't be allowed to forget it. What you did as an 18-year-old will be the constant reference point. That's Britain, I'm afraid, but thankfully the rest of the world isn't like that.”

Sounds like he wishes he was never a Cocteau Twin?

“No, not at all. I'm very proud of what we achieved. And I've got to be grateful for this: I was never a member of Spandau Ballet.”

Interview by Aidan Smith.