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This Mortal Coil Biography

Home > Music > T > This Mortal Coil > Biography

Birth Place: United Kingdom
Years Active: 1983–1991
Genres: Dream Pop

This Mortal Coil was a gothic dream pop supergroup led by Ivo Watts-Russell, founder of the British record label 4AD. Although Watts-Russell and John Fryer were technically the only two official members, the band's recorded output featured a large rotating cast of supporting artists, many of whom were signed to, or otherwise associated with, 4AD. About half of the songs released were cover versions, often of 1960s and 1970s psychedelic and folk acts, which displayed those two genres' place in the history and formation of dream pop. On each of the band's three LPs, at least one song would also be a cover of a 4AD artist, and most of the original songs were instrumentals. The name This Mortal Coil was taken from Shakespeare's “Hamlet.”

Watts-Russell had founded 4AD in 1980, and the label quickly established itself as one of the key labels in the British post-punk movement. One of the label's earliest signings was Modern English. In 1983, Watts-Russell suggested that the Modern English re-record two of their earliest songs, “Sixteen Days” and “Gathering Dust,” as a medley. At the time, the band was closing its set with this medley, and Watts-Russell felt it was strong enough to warrant a re-recording.

When the band rebuffed the idea, Watts-Russell decided to assemble a group of musicians to record the medley. He tapped Elizabeth Fraser and Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins, Gordon Sharp of Cindytalk, and a few members of Modern English. An EP, “Sixteen Days/Gathering Dust,” resulted from these sessions and was issued in 1983.

Recorded as a B-side for the EP was a cover of Tim Buckley's “Song to the Siren,” performed by Fraser and Guthrie alone. Pleased with the results, Watts-Russell decided to make this the A-side of the 7" single version of the EP, and the song quickly became an underground hit, leading Watts-Russell to pursue recording a full album under the This Mortal Coil moniker.

“It'll End in Tears,” their first LP, when released in late 1984, reached #38 on the U.K. Albums chart. It featured many of the artists on the 4AD roster at the time of issue, including Dead Can Dance, as well as key post-punk figure Howard Devoto, who sang “Holocaust,” one of two covers of songs from the “Third/Sister Lovers” album by Big Star to appear on the album. The other Alex Chilton-penned track, the album opener “Kangaroo,” was released as a single to promote the album.

A double LP, “Filigree & Shadow” followed in 1986. It reached #2 on the U.K. Independent Albums chart. The double album, “Blood,” was issued in 1991 and was the final LP in the project's history.