Robin Guthrie - Applying the Lumiere

I get a kick out of watching the world drifting by the window and just letting ideas come to me

Feature by Duncan Forgan | 15 Jun 2006
  • Robin Guthrie

You can't beat cheap CDs. Quick tenner withdrawal, a visit to Fopp and then, before you can say 'crikey, I've just fulfilled my role as a willing accomplice to the avarice of the record retail industry' there you are happy as a pig in shit with two classic albums tucked neatly away in your knapsack. We, the consumer, can be forgiven of course - a bargain is a bargain after all. But, what tends to be forgotten (or for the most part not known) in the rush to the check-out desk is that our fiscally prudish buying habits keep guys like Robin Guthrie trotting gamely around the globe to earn a crust despite having been in one of the most influential bands ever to have emerged from Scotland.

"You're having a fucking laugh, aren't you," says the former Cocteau Twins guitarist and sonic architect of that band's trademark ethereal sound with a good-natured guffaw of his own. "I enjoy what I do and the nature of the work is such that it does open up a number of interesting avenues, but it is definitely a job. The Cocteau Twins stuff mostly retails at mid-price and the record companies have a clause that says when an album is discounted the artist gets a reduced cut. That is why I do what I do."

What Guthrie does these days, when he is not spending time with his wife and kids at their home in Brittany - "the French equivalent of Scotland", he says - is hard to pin down, such is the wide scope of his many projects. His new album 'Continental' was released last month, he is wearing his producers' hat with a number of artists including former Ultravox singer John Foxx, and he is working with soundtrack maestro Harold Budd on a follow up to their 2005 collaboration, 'Mysterious Skin'. Describing himself as a "musical nomad", he paints a picture of a hobo-like figure, picking up ideas between every port of call; kind of like a modern-day version of his namesake Woody but with a laptop computer filling the role of a battered acoustic guitar. "I get quite a big kick from travelling on my own, especially on train journeys in the States," he says. "Just watching the world drifting by your window and letting ideas come to you naturally."

Scottish fans have already had the opportunity to hear the fruits of this inspiration in the dreamy instrumental electronica sound swathes of 'Continental', and the man from Grangemouth makes a timely return to these shores later this month, providing live accompaniment to his animated film 'Lumiere' (he really is something of a Rennaisance man) in a host of art-house picture houses across the country. It is something he is looking forward to with excitement and not a little trepidation. "I don't really know how it will go," he says. "It's just going to be me up there with a laptop, an acoustic guitar, and a few pedals doing a bit of improvising. It's going to be pretty mellow and it might put a few people to sleep but I will take that as a compliment!"

The tour will also give Guthrie an opportunity to get reacquainted with his homeland, albeit in the most prosaic way imaginable. "I'll definitely be picking up some chip shop sauce, my kids love it! It's going to be a bit of a whistle stop tour which is a shame. As an exile you do tend to get a bit misty eyed, especially about Tunnock's Tea Cakes."

Robin Guthrie plays the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh on June 3.