...it’s an absolute privilege
Elizabeth Fraser - Live At Meltdown

The annual Meltdown festival has had many ‘no way!’ moments over the years but nothing tops this year’s curator, Anthony Hegarty’s trump card; two live performances from the reclusive Elizabeth Fraser.

Since the tricky break-up of her relationship with Robin Guthrie and the subsequent split of their band The Cocteau Twins in 1997, Fraser’s enigma has become even more prevalent. As an active unit, we learnt less about her with each release, her indecipherable lyrics was the canvas for Guthrie’s distinguished guitar work but since the split that canvas has remained blank, her post-Cocteau’s output is so small that it makes Kate Bush look as prolific as Rihanna.

Tonight, performing only her second ever solo gig, she‘s flanked with a band made up of ex members of Spiritualized including keyboard wiz Thighpaulsandra and Fraser’s partner, Damon Reece on drums who plays behind several glass screens, put there to help Fraser project her fragile falsetto without having to fight against pounding percussion.

Dressed in a white top and shiny silver frock, she immediately has the entire venue in the palm of her shaking hand. Her solo material shows an artist learning to breathe again, no longer fighting against the wall of sound of her past, the gentle acoustica and occasional trip hop beat has her settling scores with a plethora of artists from Goldfrapp to Saint Saviour including every other female artist you can apply the word pastoral to. She shows every single apparent enigmatic female artist how to achieve a performance with style, grace and a bag full of nerves which at times are at such a level it’s almost impossible to watch.

As well as the celestial solo material which sounds like it will be a stunner when finally put together and released as her debut album, she has the luxury of an absolutely essential back catalogue of indie classics which she plunders and reinterprets; ‘Cherry Coloured funk’ and ‘Pitch the baby’ are the epitome of loveliness, the Vaughan Oliver inspired backdrop of the moon and falling snow melts perfectly behind them while the glistening beauty of ‘Oomingmak’ live proves to truly be something else. ‘Frou frou foxes’ and ‘Pearly dew drops drop’ ignite the involuntary sobbing of many an audience member all of whom transmit the warmth Fraser needs to carry on.

She seems shocked when the audience melt into her warm gaze and although she barely speaks, when an audience member shouts “Where have you been?” she looks genuinely touched. After three encores finishing with a beautiful version of Tim Buckley’s ‘Song to the siren’, it’s over; the intensity of the performance is as exhausting as it is enthralling. Something this challenging to sit through must be hell for Fraser, an artist not known for her extroverted manner so when she leaves the stage holding a bunch of flowers given to her by an audience member, the relief on her face is telling.

For an artist so private, it’s an absolute privilege to be allowed such a tantalising glimpse into her world and if it’s another fourteen days or fourteen years, she will remain a beautiful outsider, an artist who will never be anything less than utterly enchanting.

Words by Chris Todd
Photo by Helen F. Kennedy

Click here for a photo gallery of the gig.

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