|Birth name||Elizabeth Davidson Fraser|
|Born||29 August 1963|
|Genres||Dream pop, gothic rock, post-punk, ethereal wave|
Elizabeth Davidson Fraser (born 29 August 1963), also known as Liz Fraser, is a Scottish singer, songwriter and musician. Hailing from Grangemouth, Scotland, she is best known as the vocalist for the pioneering dream pop band Cocteau Twins. 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 artists such as Massive Attack, the Bathers, Peter Gabriel, the Future Sound of London, and Ian McCulloch.
Her distinctive style has received much critical praise in her four-decade career; she was once described as "the voice of God". 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 was born and grew up in Grangemouth, which she described as "a dark and stifling industrial town". Her mother worked in a factory. She was the youngest of six children. During her teenage years, she developed eating disorders and became bulimic. In 1996, Fraser revealed that she was sexually abused by a brother-in-law and possibly her father, and that at 16 she was forced to leave the family house for having a punk look. Music was important and represented an escape; at that time Fraser had portraits of her heroes like Siouxsie and the Banshees tattooed on her arms. 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".
Cocteau Twins (1981–1997)
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. 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.
Fraser and Guthrie formed a relationship, and in 1989 had a daughter, Lucy Belle. Guthrie liberally used alcohol and drugs throughout the years they were together, and Fraser had a nervous breakdown during the recording of Four-Calendar Café. 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.
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 him 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. Fraser reportedly cancelled 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 walking 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 1997, 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), and subsequently toured with the band in 2006, and again in 2018–2019. 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 on 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. Fraser also rejected a collaboration request from Linkin Park.
In November 2018, Massive Attack announced tour dates to mark 20 years of their album Mezzanine and confirmed that Fraser would be joining them on the tour. Reviewers had mixed views on Massive Attack, but singled out Fraser for praise, with the Financial Times referring to "the crystalline beauty of her voice" and the "achingly, cascadingly sad" cover of Pete Seeger's "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?", while The Daily Telegraph referred to "the ethereal warmth of her trippily echoed vocals at odds with the rest of the concert"; The Irish Times reviewer commented that "Elizabeth Fraser shines amid the paranoia and late-night alienation".
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".
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.
Fraser was reportedly signed to Blanco y Negro Records. 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.
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 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. 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." Prior to her appearance at Meltdown, she 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 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". 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' 2016 drama series The Nightmare Worlds of H. G. Wells carried a score composed by Fraser and Reece. 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. The soundtrack has been made available as a digital download.
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. 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!" 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 … "
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".
Fraser's lyrics with many of the Cocteau Twins's songs range from straightforward English to semi-comprehensible sentences and 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. She has a soprano vocal range.
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)
As main artist
- 1983: "Song to the Siren" (with This Mortal Coil) – UK No. 66 – (4AD)
- 2000: "Underwater" (Blanco Y Negro)
- 2009: "Moses" – Rough Trade
|Oneohtrix Point Never||Magic Oneohtrix Point Never (Blu-ray edition)||"Tales from the Trash Stratum"||2021||Warp|
|Sam Lee||Old Wow||"The Moon Shines Bright"||2020||Cooking Vinyl Ltd|
|The Insects||The Living and the Dead Soundtrack||"She Moves Through the Fair"||2016||Self Released|
|Massive Attack||Collected||"Silent Spring"||2006||Virgin Records|
|Howard Shore||The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: The Complete Recordings||"Caras Galadhon / Lament for Gandalf", "Lothlórien"||2005||Warner Brothers|
|Yann Tiersen||Les Retrouvailles||"Kala", "Mary"||2005||EMI|
|Various artists (compilation)||Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before...||"At Last I Am Free" (originally by Chic)||2003||Rough Trade|
|Howard Shore||The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers||"Isengard Unleashed"||2002||Warner Brothers|
|Peter Gabriel||OVO||"Downside Up", "Make Tomorrow"||2000||EMI|
|Elliot Goldenthal; Elizabeth Fraser||In Dreams||"Dream Baby"||1999||EMI|
|Massive Attack||Mezzanine||"Teardrop", "Black Milk" and "Group Four"||1998||Virgin Records|
|Michael Kamen||The Winter Guest||"Take Me With You"||1998||Universal|
|Craig Armstrong||The Space Between Us||"This Love"||1998||Melankolic|
|Simon Raymonde||Blame Someone Else||"Worship Me"||1997||Bella Union|
|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|
|Felt||Ignite the Seven Cannons||"Primitive Painters"||1985||Cherry Red|
|Dif Juz||Extractions||"Love Insane"||1985||4AD|
|This Mortal Coil||It'll End in Tears||"Song to the Siren", "Another Day"||1984||4AD|
|The Wolfgang Press||Scarecrow||"Respect"||1984||4AD|
|This Mortal Coil||Sixteen Days / Gathering Dust||"Song to the Siren", "Sixteen Days / Gathering Dust"||1983||4AD|
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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'.
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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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