Heel to toe to hair and hoof and it's head over heels and it's all but an ark-lark...

“Vocal Hero: Nina Simone”

  • By Elizabeth Fraser
  • Melody Maker
  • Nov 1993

Liz Fraser talks about her favourite singers—and her one vocal hero.

“Robin was going ‘Björk! Björk! Choose Björk!” but I didn’t give in. I chose Nina Simone because she’s 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.

“Nina Simone…she’s, 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.

“I adore her versions of ‘Don’t let me be misunderstood’ and ‘Four Women’. Perhaps because I’m having a sad day. And so my favorite song is Nina Simone’s version of ‘Wild is the Wind.’ And I’ll probably play it quite a lot today. Especially the live version; this live version I’ve got is just fucking, I don’t know, I just haven’t got the vocabulary. I mostly listen to Nina Simone when I am feeling really raw. The more raw I feel, the more I relate to her.

“And when she sings, when she performs, she tends to get very caught up in what’s she’s singing about. When you listen to Nina Simone, she’s so vulnerable. And because you’re implicated in her plight, you automatically share it. I don’t really do that with people. And I want to do that, and so I guess I am using her with which to do that.

“I’d like to talk about Nina Simone’s sexuality, but I am very much out of my depth there. In fact, I think Nina Simone is going to be a way of finding out more about my sexuality, and how I fit in with other women, you know, in my world. I don’t know what kind of impact I’ve had in it. Or what kind of impact it’s had on me. But I know I get a lot of help from the experiences she sings about.

“These days, I try and communicate as well as I can through singing. Even when I am not using words, people can understand what lies beneath it. Making lyrics more audible on this album [Four-Calendar Café] was more for my benefit. To bring me closer to myself. I have to summon up a lot of courage to make records. That’s why we don’t release albums very often. I lack the courage to be more prolific. I am a perfectionist, too. That doesn’t help.

“My duets? I did ‘Candleland’ with Ian Mcculloch and ‘Primitive Painters’ with Felt. I would like to sing with everybody. ‘Primitive Painters’ came about because I knew Lawrence. I fucking think it’s…oh God! I was so young! You see, I want to get to the stage where I can really take responsibility for what I’ve done. I ought to be proud of that? Well…but I’m not! You see, I just want it all. I want to be at my most mature at any one time, rather than in the next God knows how many years.

“Someone said they could get me a duet with Van Morrison. He’s an odd bugger, through! I’d be terrified of him, even though he’s probably a teddy bear really! I’d love to sing with Jeff Buckley—Tim Buckley’s son. He is currently making his first album, and if it’s anything like a radio session I heard by him, it should be amazing. He’s written this song called ‘Grace’, which literally makes the hair on my neck stand on end. I was sweating like a fucking June bride when I first heard him. Music has never done that to me before.

“There are so many good singers about at the moment. So much good stuff out there. I love Joni Mitchell, Billie Holliday, Van Morrison, David Bowie, John Lydon, Sinatra, Tim Buckley, Bryan Ferry, loads of people! I also love ‘Creep’ by Radiohead. That guy sounds amazing! He’s really working out his anger. I really want to meet that guy and tell him to get a grip!

“Oh, and Kate Bush, too. I love her. The new album [The Red Shoes]—I’ve been overdosing on it. She’s just got a touch with this part of her that’s really kicking in, to do with her being female. This really organic thing, you know…she’s making a lot of noise, which is something else I like.

“Polly Harvey? She scares me. She goes on about sex a lot, which is another subject I don’t particularly want to tackle. It’s great that she’s allowed to do it, though. That she’s allowed to express herself. Harriet Wheeler’s excellent, too. I think she’s a great singer. I know she gets compared to me a lot, but she’s definitely got something of her own. I’ve been compared a lot to Siouxsie, and I am sure it must be there even though I can’t quite see it myself.

“Have I noticed the similarity between Cocteau Twins and Thieves? Well, I’ve heard ‘Unworthy’. Robin brought it into the studio and played it to us. It’s a gorgeous melody.

“Yeah. All in all, I’d say there’s a lot of competition about. And that’s great for all of us.” ▣