Back in the late 1970s, Elizabeth Fraser, the wide-eyed, waif-like wunder-vox of the Cocteau Twins, wasn’t always so mild-mannered. She used to have a Siouxsie tattoo on her arm, and was ejected from the family home aged 16 due to her punk tastes, which apparently included all the usual suspects.
“I was the sweetest punk rocker you’ve ever met,”
Born in Scotland’s heavily industrial town of Grangemouth, Fraser grew up as the youngest of six, and by the late 1970s, music had become her own personal escape pod.
Running into future band-mate and partner Robin Guthrie while dancing at a local club, and aged 17 with no previous experience, Liz became the singer and lyricist for one of post punk’s most revered and influential bands.
Whether you love the Cocteau Twins or not, it’s hard to deny that Liz Fraser stands out as one of the most original vocalists to come out of the post punk melee. She produced the kind of vocal sounds and hard to follow lyrics, that were more akin to tuning up and down the dial of a short wave radio, than a pop record. While you would occasionally hear snippets of words that you recognised, they were immediately replaced by words that still sounded a bit like words, but not in any language that you understood.
Sending their early demo tapes to both John Peel and Ivo Watts-Russell at 4AD records, their debut EP “Garlands” was released in 1982. Using a combination of drum machines, melodic bass lines and an entire swamp of guitar effects, it was Liz’s distinctive vocals that really set the band apart. Journalists initially wrangled about whether they were Goths, or if not then what on earth were they? – the combination of Liz’s vocals and the Cocteau’s trademark ethereal landscapes put them in a class of their own.
Another 4AD project, This Mortal Coil, saw Liz taking one of 4AD Ivo’s favourite songs, the Tim Buckley classic “Song to the Siren” from his 1970 album Starsailor, and making it entirely her own. The song tells of the Sirens, mythical sea Nymphs who would lure sailors towards the rocks with their songs. A few years later Liz would get even closer to the Buckley clan when she embarked on a relationship with Tim’s son Jeff Buckley.
Since disbanding in 1997, Liz has resisted the lure of the great comeback, even backing out of their much mooted Coachella appearance in 2005. The Cocteau Twins music still remains important, and Liz especially has been cited as a huge influence by fellow vocalists.