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Elizabeth Fraser

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Elizabeth Fraser
Fraser in 1986
Fraser in 1986
Background information
Birth nameElizabeth Davidson Fraser
Born (1963-08-29) 29 August 1963 (age 60)
Grangemouth, Scotland
  • Singer
  • songwriter
Years active1979–present
Formerly ofCocteau Twins

Elizabeth Davidson Fraser (born 29 August 1963)[1] is a Scottish singer. She was the vocalist for the band Cocteau Twins who achieved success in the UK primarily during the fifteen years from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s. Their studio albums Victorialand (1986) and Heaven or Las Vegas (1990) both reached the top ten of the UK Album Charts, as well as other albums including Blue Bell Knoll (1988), Four-Calendar Café (1993) and Milk & Kisses (1996) charting on the Billboard 200 album charts in the United States as well as the top 20 in the UK. She also performed as part of the 4AD group This Mortal Coil, including the successful 1983 single "Song to the Siren", and as a guest with Massive Attack on their 1998 hit single "Teardrop".

When the Cocteau Twins disbanded, Fraser embarked on a moderately low-key solo career and provided guest vocals for other artists. She released some solo material, including singles "Underwater" (2000) and "Moses" (2009). Fraser has reportedly recorded enough material for a debut solo studio album; however, a release date or further information has not been published. In 2022, Fraser released the EP Sun's Signature, which includes a re-worked version of her 2000 single release "Underwater".[2] In May 2022, Fraser and former band mates Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde were awarded the Visionary Award by The Ivors Academy.[3]

Her distinctive style has received much critical praise in her four-decade career;[4] Melody Maker's journalist Steve Sutherland once described her as "the voice of God".[5] 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".[6]


Early years[edit]

Fraser was born and grew up in Grangemouth,[7] she described it as "a dark and stifling industrial town".[8] Her mother worked in a factory.[9] She was the youngest of six children. During her teenage years, she developed eating disorders and became bulimic. In 1996, Fraser said she went through incest; then she was forced to leave the family house at 16 for having a punk look.[8] Music was important and represented an escape; at that time Fraser had portraits of her heroes like Siouxsie Sioux tattooed on her arms.[10] She met her partner Robin Guthrie at 17; "What brought us together was me having no ideas and opinions of my own, and him having plenty – enough for both of us. We were attracted to each other for the wrong reasons".[8]

Cocteau Twins (1981–1997)[edit]

Fraser (centre) with Cocteau Twins, 1986

Fraser then became the vocalist and lyricist in Cocteau Twins in 1981, (a group founded in 1979 by Guthrie and Will Heggie): they spotted her dancing at a club one night and asked her to join their band.[11] 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 signing by the London-based label and a successful career in music.[12] Fraser and Guthrie formed a relationship, and in 1989 had a daughter, Lucy Belle.[13] Guthrie liberally used alcohol and drugs throughout the years they were together,[14] and Fraser had a nervous breakdown during the recording of Four-Calendar Café.[8] The couple broke up in 1993, but opted to continue a musical relationship mostly due to contractual obligations until 1998, when Cocteau Twins were finally disbanded.[15][4]

The group released Heaven or Las Vegas in early 1990.[16] The most commercially successful of their many recordings, the album reached number seven in the UK Albums Chart immediately after its release.[17] Despite the success of the record and the subsequent concert tours, not everything was well with the band. They parted ways with 4AD following Heaven or Las Vegas partly because of conflicts with the label's founder Ivo Watts-Russell, and were close to breaking up over internal problems due in large part to Guthrie's substance abuse.[18] Heaven or Las Vegas was certified Silver by the British Phonographic Industry. It eventually sold 235,000 copies by 1996, according to Billboard.[19]

In 2005, Cocteau Twins were offered the opportunity to reunite and headline the Coachella concert to be held in California. It was claimed that each of the Cocteau Twins – Fraser, Raymonde and Guthrie would each have received £1.5 million to perform at the concert. Speculation also began around this time that following a performance at Coachella, the band would reunite and embark on a major tour.[20] Fraser ultimately announced her decision not to take part in the reunion. She recalled in 2009 that she "didn't remember it being that much money and in any case that's not the reason" that she would agree to a Cocteau Twins reunion.[20] In 2021, Raymonde confirmed that the Cocteau Twins would "never reform" to perform or record again.[21]

Fraser had a relationship with singer Jeff Buckley[4] and recorded a duet with him, "All Flowers in Time Bend Towards the Sun", written together[22] but never released commercially. She speaks about their relationship in the BBC documentary, Jeff Buckley: Everybody Here Wants You.[23] In a 2009 interview with The Guardian, Fraser claimed that she found it "difficult" to think about her former Cocteau Twins bandmates, stating "they were my life, and when you're in something that deeply, you have to remove yourself completely".[20]

Collaborations and guest appearances[edit]

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).

Fraser has sporadically collaborated with a range of performers, including The Future Sound of London (Lifeforms EP), Elliot Goldenthal, Craig Armstrong (The Space Between Us) 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", on which she replaced the original choice of Madonna[24]), and subsequently toured with the band in 2006, and again in 2018–2019[25][26] and 2024.[27] She has also contributed to the soundtracks of several films including In Dreams, Cruel Intentions, The Winter Guest, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and occasionally appeared as a guest artist on other musicians' projects. In 2005, she appeared on Yann Tiersen's album Les Retrouvailles, singing in two pieces: "Kala" and "Mary".

Billy Howerdel envisioned Fraser as his first option for A Perfect Circle's lead singer, but she was unavailable for the project.[28] Fraser also rejected a collaboration request from Linkin Park.[29] Fraser appeared as a guest artist on folk singer Sam Lee's single "The Moon Shines Bright", released in December 2019, and subsequently on Sam Lee's album Old Wow, released in January 2020. She sings a fragment of lyrics from a traditional Scottish folk song "Wild Mountain Thyme".[30][31][32] Under the project Sun's Signature with her partner Damon Reece, Fraser was set to release a self-titled extended-play album on 23 April 2022, via Rough Trade Records.[33][34] It was later announced the album would be released on 18 June via Partisan Records, with the single "Golden Air" released on 6 April.[35]

Solo career (1997–present)[edit]

Fraser's solo career has been intermittent, featuring guest appearances with other artists, and rare solo releases and live appearances. 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, she 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.[36][37][38][39][40]

She was reportedly signed to Blanco y Negro Records.[41] In December 2006, NME reported that her 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 the as-yet-unreleased album were played on BBC Radio 4.[42] 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.[43][44] In August 2012, Fraser performed at Royal Festival Hall for two nights as part of the Meltdown Festival at London's Southbank Centre, curated by Anohni. Prior to the concerts, she 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.[45] She 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."[45] Prior to her appearance at Meltdown, she played a warm-up concert at Bath Pavilion on 4 August.[46]

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).[47][48][49][50] Sky Arts' 2016 drama series The Nightmare Worlds of H. G. Wells carried a score composed by Fraser and Reece.[51] Also in 2016, she collaborated with The Insects on the soundtrack to the BBC TV series The Living and The Dead. She could be heard singing "She Moves Through the Fair" in episode 1, and "The Lover's Ghost" over the end titles in episode 4.[52][53] The soundtrack has been made available as a digital download.[54]

Fraser made a rare appearance at the Royal Albert Hall on 23 July 2017, in conversation with John Grant. They discussed the Cocteau Twins 1988 album, Blue Bell Knoll, with all proceeds from the show going to gay rights charity Stonewall.[55][56] During the conversation, Fraser responded to a question from the audience about a possible collaboration with John Grant, saying "He doesn't need to persuade me!"[57] Speaking of her insecurity about recording and performing, Fraser said "I get it in the studio, it's a horror, but it's part of the journey ... I don't think I was confident, especially when I stopped singing. That's when the voice kicks in, really nagging you, telling you what a horrible person you are and 'what do you think you're doing'. But then you sing and it shuts up that voice, the other voice is louder … "[57] On 3 September 2018, Fraser performed an intimate invitation-only performance at the "Society of the Golden Slippers" showcase in Soho where she was joined by John Grant on harmonies for "Oh Shenandoah".[58][59]

In June 2022, Fraser, as part of Sun's Signature with partner Damon Reece, released the extended play entitled Sun's Signature via Partisan Records. The duo have also provided the soundtrack for Graham Duff's TV miniseries The Nightmare World of H.G. Wells.[60] The release of the EP marked Fraser's first release in thirteen years according to Rolling Stone.[61]

Artistry and legacy[edit]

Fraser's lyrics with many of the Cocteau Twins's songs range from straightforward English to abstract mouth music. For some recordings, she has said she used foreign words without knowing what they meant – the words acquired meaning for her only as she sang them.[62] She has a soprano vocal range.[63] Her vocal ability lead to her being dubbed as "the voice of God" and "the voice from another world" by The Telegraph.[20] Fraser, and Cocteau Twins, were said to be "loved" by artist Madonna, and Prince wished to sign the band to his record label.[20]

Fraser credits Nina Simone as a major influence on her career, songwriting and recording. Fraser said "Nina Simone played such a big part of my life recently. Lawrence from Felt made me a tape with "Nuff Said" on one side and "Baltimore" on the other. I thought it was brilliant then. But now I’ve developed much more, both a singer and in my own life. She’s just done so much. I don’t know much about her life but that doesn’t bother me, because I’ve learnt so much about her through her material. She’s so vulnerable. And I can really relate to that. A lot of her songs are about being fallible. She’s a really dysfunctional person. And dysfunctional people are attracted to each other. I guess that’s why I am attracted to her. We both had a rough life. She’s familiar".[64]

In 2023, the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid after her, calling it the Fraser asteroid, which is not set to collide with earth for "millions of years", and it serves no harm to the existence of humanity. The name Fraser was chosen by the union after ten years of research.[65]

Personal life[edit]

Fraser lives with her partner, musician Damon Reece (from the band Lupine Howl), in Bristol. She has two daughters, the first by her former partner Robin Guthrie and the second by Reece.[66]


Credited as Elizabeth Fraser

Credited as Cocteau Twins


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  9. ^ King, Richard (2012). How Soon is Now?: The Madmen and Mavericks who made Independent Music 1975–2005. Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0571243907. Colin Wallace, their friend, confident and roadie has come from the same background as Fraser, Heggie and Guthrie. 'Liz's mum and my mum used to work in the same factory', he says, 'and God, it was awful, and I became their roadie through default. The first Cocteaus album, Garlands, was written off in the UK as another Siouxsie copy band, and Elisabeth was a huge Siouxsie fan – she had Siouxsie tattoos which she's had lasered off since'.
  10. ^ Chapman, Rob (July 1998). "Dark Side of the Spliff: Massive Attack". Mojo. Archived from the original on 31 August 2016. Retrieved 3 June 2020. Massive Attack have always looked outside the core trio for musical collaborations with kindred spirits, not just in old grooves but also in the flesh. Former Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Frazer was one: now living in Bristol, she'd previously been sounded out before Protection but hadn't responded. Did she say why? "Have you met Liz?" 3D splutters with laughter. "She's a very excitable and quite mad in the best way. She threw a million words into the air and we tried to grab a few and work out what she meant. Me and Mush met her in Sainsbury's and invited her up to the studio. There was this nerve-wracking moment before she arrived and I said, It's really sterile in here, let's light some candles in here and make it funky for her. She loved our Siouxsie and the Banshees sample off 'Metal Postcard' — she'd just had this Siouxsie and the Banshees tattoo removed from her arm.
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External links[edit]