|Birth name||Elizabeth Davidson Fraser|
|Born||(1963-08-29) 29 August 1963
|Associated acts||Cocteau Twins, This Mortal Coil, Massive Attack, Peter Gabriel, Yann Tiersen, Craig Armstrong, Jeff Buckley|
Fraser has a soprano vocal range. She is as well known for her perfectionism and reclusive nature as she is for her voice. She was described by critic Jason Ankeny as “an utterly unique performer whose swooping, operatic vocals relied less on any recognizable language than on the subjective sounds and textures of verbalized emotions”. Fraser’s distinctive singing has earned her much critical praise; she was once described as “the voice of God.” Her lyrics range from straightforward English to semi-comprehensible sentences (glossolalia) and abstract mouth music. For some recordings, Fraser has said that she used foreign words without knowing what they meant – the words acquired meaning for her only as she sang them.
Fraser and Cocteau Twins
Elizabeth Fraser was the vocalist and lyricist in Cocteau Twins, a group founded in 1979 by Robin Guthrie and Will Heggie. In 1981, Guthrie and Heggie spotted Fraser dancing at a club one night, and asked her to join their band. At the time, she was 17 years old, and had never thought of herself as a singer. After an on-off phase, the band recorded some tracks which were sent as demos to John Peel and Ivo Watts-Russell of 4AD which led to their being signed by the London-based label and a successful career in music.
Fraser and Guthrie formed a relationship, and in 1989 had a daughter, Lucy Belle. Guthrie liberally used drugs and alcohol throughout the years they were together, and Fraser suffered a nervous breakdown during the recording of Four-Calendar Café. The couple broke up in 1993, but opted to continue a musical relationship until 1998, when Cocteau Twins were finally disbanded.
Fraser had an intense personal relationship with singer Jeff Buckley and recorded a duet with him, “All Flowers In Time Bend Towards The Sun”, written by Buckley but never released commercially. She speaks about their relationship in the BBC documentary, Jeff Buckley: Everybody Here Wants You.
Cocteau Twins were due to perform for the North American Coachella Festival on 30 April 2005, but cancelled on 16 March 2005. The decision to cancel was taken by Fraser reportedly because of the emotional distress the putative reunion and pressure to perform caused her. Her former Cocteau Twins bandmate Simon Raymonde has since talked publicly about the decision saying that while he respected it, he regretted not being able to walk away with “£1.5 million ($2.5 million) tax-free.”
Collaborations and guest appearances
While working as part of Cocteau Twins, Fraser also collaborated with numerous artists. She appeared on 4AD house band This Mortal Coil‘s first release (along with her Cocteau Twins bandmates) where her contributions included a cover version of Tim Buckley’s “Song to the Siren“. She provided one-off vocals for acts such as Felt (Primitive Painters), Dif Juz (Extractions LP), The Wolfgang Press, and Ian McCulloch (Candleland and Mysterio).
Since the breakup of Cocteau Twins in 1998, Fraser has sporadically collaborated with a range of performers, including The Future Sound of London (Lifeforms EP), Elliot Goldenthal, Craig Armstrong (The Space Between) and Peter Gabriel (the millennium project OVO). Apart from her Cocteau Twins work she is probably best known for her collaborations with Massive Attack, having recorded three songs for the band’s Mezzanine album in 1998 (including the international hit single “Teardrop“) and subsequently toured with the band in 2006. She has also contributed to the soundtracks of several films including In Dreams, Cruel Intentions, The Winter Guest, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (also uncredited in the soundtrack of the Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition DVD), and occasionally appeared as a guest artist on other musicians’ projects. In 2005, she appeared on Yann Tiersen‘s album Les Retrouvailles, singing on two pieces: “Kala” and “Mary”.
Aside from her work with other artists, Fraser’s solo career has been quiet. In 2000, a white label recording, “Underwater”, was released in a limited edition of 200 copies. She contributed a cover version of “At Last I Am Free” (originally by ’70s band Chic, covered by Robert Wyatt) on the 2003 album Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, a celebration of 25 years of Rough Trade Records. In 2004, Fraser was invited to participate in an audio exhibit, Shhh…, at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum for which she produced a piece called “Expectant Mood”, which has not been made commercially available.
Fraser is reportedly signed to Blanco y Negro Records. In December 2006 NME magazine reported that Fraser’s solo album was due for release in early 2007. The album would have contained eight tracks, one of which was to be a cover version. No titles were announced and the album was not released in 2007 as suggested. In June 2012, extracts from Fraser’s as yet unreleased album were played on BBC Radio 4.
In November 2009 Fraser released a solo single, “Moses”, available on 12″ and download through Rough Trade. The single was recorded with Damon Reece and Jake Drake-Brockman, and was a memorial to the latter.
In August 2012 Fraser performed for two nights as part of the Meltdown Festival at London’s Southbank Centre, curated by Anohni. Prior to the concerts Fraser confirmed that she had assembled an album’s worth of material and would showcase these at the event in addition to performing re-interpretations of some Cocteau Twins songs. Fraser also referred to the physical exertion involved in her singing against the wall of sound in many of the Cocteau Twins songs, of which she said it was “like an endurance test. I don’t intend to do that again. I’ve been using my voice more gently.” Prior to her appearance at Meltdown, Fraser played a warm-up concert at Bath Pavilion on 4 August.
In addition to Damon Reece on drums and percussion, Fraser’s backing band featured three other former or current members of Spiritualized – Sean Cook (guitar), Martin Shellard (guitar), Thighpaulsandra (keyboards) – and two backing vocalists (Jo Goldsmith-Eteson and Lucy Potterton, both from The Swingle Singers).
Reviews of Elizabeth Fraser’s appearance at the Royal Festival Hall were mixed. One critic noted that “her new band failed to bring intensity to the Cocteau Twins’ songs”. However, other critics praised the emotive strength of her voice, acknowledged that her “bewitching qualities remained intact”, that her new work received “as vociferous a response as any of the old stuff” and that she is “a singer in the here and now, not the celestial voice of universal truths.”
Sky Arts’ drama series The Nightmare Worlds Of HG Wells which premiered in January 2016 carried a score composed by Fraser and Reece. In late June 2016, the BBC TV series The Living and The Dead featured Fraser singing She Moves Through the Fair in episode 1 and The Lover’s Ghost over the end titles in episode 4 in collaboration with The Insects. The soundtrack has been made available as a digital download.
Fraser is also making a rare appearance at the Royal Albert Hall in July 2017 in conversation with John Grant. They will discuss the Cocteau Twins 1988 album, Blue Bell Knoll, with all proceeds from the show going to gay rights charity Stonewall.
With Cocteau Twins
- Garlands (1982)
- Head over Heels (1983)
- Treasure (1984)
- Victorialand (1986)
- Blue Bell Knoll (1988)
- Heaven or Las Vegas (1990)
- Four-Calendar Café (1993)
- Milk & Kisses (1996)
- 1983: “Song to the Siren” (as This Mortal Coil) – UK #66 – (4AD)
- 2000: “Underwater” (Blanco Y Negro)
- 2009: “Moses” – Rough Trade
|Massive Attack||Mezzanine||“Teardrop“, “Black Milk” and “Group Four”||1998||Virgin Records|
|Yann Tiersen||Les Retrouvailles||“Mary”, “Kala”||2005||EMI|
|Various artists (compilation)||Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before…||“At Last I Am Free” (originally by Robert Wyatt)||2003||Rough Trade|
|Howard Shore||The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers||“Isengard Unleashed”||2002||Warner Brothers|
|Howard Shore||The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring||“Lothlórien: The Lament for Gandalf“||2001||Warner Brothers|
|Peter Gabriel||OVO||“Downside Up”, “Make Tomorrow”||2000||EMI|
|Elliot Goldenthal; Elizabeth Fraser||In Dreams (soundtrack)||“Dream Baby”||1999||EMI|
|Simon Raymonde||Blame Someone Else||“Worship Me”||1998||Bella Union|
|Michael Kamen||The Winter Guest||“Take Me With You”||1998||Universal|
|Craig Armstrong||The Space Between Us||“This Love”||1998||Melankolic|
|The Bathers||Sunpowder||“Danger in Love”, “The Dutch Venus”, “Angel on Ruskin”, “The Night is Young”||1995||Marina|
|Moose||Live A Little, Love A Lot||“Play God”||1995||Play It Again Sam Records|
|The Future Sound of London||Lifeforms [Remixes] EP||“Lifeforms 1-5 and 7“||1994||Astralwerks|
|Medicine||Sounds of Medicine||“Time Baby 3”||1994||Beggars Banquet|
|Ian McCulloch||Mysterio||“Heaven’s Gate”||1992||Sire Records|
|Ian McCulloch||Candleland||“Candleland”||1989||Sire Records|
|Dif Juz||Extractions||“Love Insane”||1985||4AD|
|Felt||Primitive Painters/Cathedral||“Primitive Painters”||1985||Cherry Red|
|The Wolfgang Press||Scarecrow||“Respect”||1984||4AD|