Interview: Eddi Reader

Ex-pop star finds bliss in Scottish folk

Sometimes you have to go away to come home. That seems to have been the case for Eddi Reader, the former Fairground Attraction singer, whose solo career has taken on a new lease of life since she returned to Scotland and rediscovered the traditional folk music of her native land.

This followed her success with Fairground Attraction, who had a number one UK single with Perfect and number two UK album with First of a Million Kisses in 1988, before breaking up the next year; as well as years spent as a solo singer-songwriter in London, creating pop music, with jazz, country, Cajun and folk influences, and as a much-in-demand backing singer for bands like the Eurythmics, Big Country, and the Waterboys.

"I've always dabbled in traditional music throughout my career," the singer explained by phone from Glasgow. "On all the albums I made before, there was always at least one traditional song, even with Fairground Attraction."

But Reader's acoustic pop style changed radically when she decided that she had had enough of life in London, and returned to Scotland in 2001.

"I was bringing up my two boys on my own and I felt very isolated from my home," she recalled. "I just didn't understand the values of London, the way people have massive chips on their shoulders. There didn't seem to be a lot of kindness outside my own circle of friendships. I felt like wanting to get home and taking my children out of school. I'd rather they had values that I understood and be back in a place that was kinder and more culturally identified. The horrible fact for a lot of English people is that they have had their culture wiped out, and they don't know who they are, and it's a real shame. I'm not talking about nationalism. I'm talking about owning a tune or having a song that's part of where you come from."

Back in Scotland, she started to jam with traditional folk musicians, like the violinist and multi-instrumentalist John McCusker (ex-Battlefield Band), and the accordionist Phil Cunningham (ex-Silly Wizard).

"In Scotland I found myself in the company of folk musicians, who were really relaxed about playing music with me in my living room, or would go into a bar and invent songs while we were having a drink. I suddenly felt that that freedom that I had been looking for was right inside my front door, where I left it all those years ago."

The catalyst for the move to a more folk-oriented style in her albums, however, was the Celtic Connections Festival in January 2003. As part of this, the Scottish National Orchestra was preparing to perform songs by Scotland's national poet Robert Burns (1759 – 1796). Reader, with her reputation as a multi-talented singer, was an obvious choice to take the vocals. This led to the album Sings the Songs of Robert Burns (2003), which proved to be a great success.

Her latest album, Peacetime, released earlier this year, maintains the folk-flavored approach, alternating arrangements of traditional tunes like The Calton Weaver, a rambunctious drinking song, with recent folk or acoustic pop, like Muddy Waters, a song of temptation by her long-time writing collaborator, English singer-songwriter Boo Hewerdine.

"What I like about him is his complete lack of ego," she said. "He never makes me feel like I've got to protect him from me. If I hear something he wrote and I know I'm going to do something beautiful with it – maybe not the first three or four times I try it, but by the 10th time, when I've got it orchestrated, I've got a melody for it, and I've got the emotional content screaming out of it – he'll give me the space to do that. But with some writers, it's very difficult for them to hear that at first because they're so in love with their own thing."

Along with most of the musicians who played on Peacetime, Hewerdine will be part of the band that Reader is bringing to Japan.

Whether it's acoustic pop or folk, what distinguishes the live performances of Reader is her beautiful natural singing voice and her ability to emotionally connect with a song. So, what can fans expect at the shows in Japan?

"It'll be a mixture of every single album I've ever done if I can get away with it," she said. "I'll probably be whatever happens on the night. I've never had much luck with having a set list. We'll have the first four songs planned, but beyond that it'll be whatever we I really feel like singing that day."

Colin Liddell
International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun
6th April, 2007

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