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Eddi Reader has never been one to rest on her laurels – but as the celebrated singer releases a new album and prepares to tour Scotland with her ‘40 Years Live’ show, she reveals to Lorraine Wilson that the past two years have allowed her time to reflect as well as discover a new appetite for making music.
Perhaps more than any other home-grown musician, Eddi Reader personifies the notion of the free spirit. Whether it’s the decisions she has taken musically or her political stance, she has always been open, frank, and pretty fearless.
Still, even with a tour that celebrates “40 Years Live” performing, preparations were tinged with the uncertainty that most performers have felt after two years away from the stage.
“I’m finding that as I get older, I need to look after my voice a wee bit more anyway,” says Eddi. “Just a little warm-up every day but it bores me. It’s something that I didn’t need to do when I was younger.
“After such a long lay-off there are thoughts that creep in about whether I still have a singing voice? Can I still remember lyrics? So there is a wee bit of trepidation, but I’m not complaining. Of course everyone is welcoming being able to perform live again with open arms".
When it comes to putting a set list together, Eddi likes to keep things as loose as she can, trusting her band to join her when she decides to take an unexpected turn into a musical side alley.
“It’s about feeling part of the music. It’s getting to that point where you’re free enough of it to be able to pluck something out of the air. I’ll admit it can bring a little bit of fear … ‘OK, what’s the first line?’ But if audience members sing along, I might have to employ their services".
There has been an addition to the set list too, a new album, Light Is In The Horizon, which Eddi describes as a curio.
“There were songs that had been fully recorded and there were some that hadn’t been edited, maybe the solos were too long or the intros were too long, and I had to have a look at those. There were songs that I knew needed to have strings, so I had to put them on the backburner until I had the opportunity to get an orchestra.
“That was particularly true of the track called Light Is In The Horizon Yet, which Eddi adapted from the poem Do Not Say Life Is Waning by Irish poet Thomas Moore.
“I thought of Light Is In The Horizon Yet as something that could be cheering after what we’ve all gone through – and we’ve done it together".
There are also songs by everyone from the great American standard songwriters to long-time collaborators like Boo Hewerdine. Two tracks in particular pay tribute to much-missed Scottish songwriters.
“It was important to me to include Gerry Rafferty’s Mary Skeffington and Michael Marra’s Here Come The Weak.
“I know Gerry had commercial success and Michael had success in a different way but I still think they’re both unsung in the scale of the contribution that they made.
“Mary Skeffington is a song that Gerry wrote for his mother, so I asked my son Charlie to sing with me on it. That was special. That song feels to me like Gerry is singing to all women".
Here Come The Weak is more political, in that way that Michael Marra could be political without preaching or proselytising.
“We had just gone through the independence argument when I sang Here Come The Weak. I felt that it communicated the position that Scotland was in. It was the weak rising up and telling the big noise to shut up – we have to have our voice heard. It’s important to me to deliver Michael’s message".
Apart from the changes in the music industry, Eddi has seen those changes in Scotland and her personal stomping ground of Glasgow in particular.
“Scotland is obviously a lot more confident country than it was when I was 18 or 19,” she says. “When I moved back up to Glasgow from Irvine and started going to folk clubs, I was climbing through derelict buildings and pipes and broken garden implements and old pianos and fires … there was gang warfare. That’s what I remember about the Glasgow that I moved back to. Clearly things have changed".
Like most Scottish musicians of her generation, London was the destination at first. From the Gang of Four to singing with the Eurythmics and forming Fairground Attraction. It might seem that after years “paying her dues” that a number one single, a platinum-selling album and BRIT awards was the happy ending.
“All that stuff that I had fantasised about was coming true. However, once the machine thinks you’re successful, then it makes you feel that you’re not successful unless you do everything in your power to maintain that sort of level of popularity.
“It was a massive challenge for me, it was a massive challenge for my husband – we had been together since I was 18 and he was 22 and it meant things didn’t work out for us. It also meant the band didn’t work out.
“There was a bit of an issue with me being the focus, however much I resisted that. It was always going to happen but because I was female and I wasn’t bad looking, even although I tried to subdue that kind of energy. I had my glasses on and I tried everything. Even though we were all equal stature in the band, in every interview they were being ignored and they were concentrating on me".
That experience doesn’t mean that Eddi has turned her back on those songs and audiences can expect to hear them now. “I’m going to be quite honest in that I don’t really know what audiences want.” She adds. “It’s highly unlikely that people will leave the concert saying they didn’t recognise any of the songs. I’m tending to be more attracted to my past as I get older.
“When I started the new album there was almost a feeling that this is almost the back nine of my life. We all know people who die at my age and it isn’t really a massive shock. Well they might think it’s quite young and they just go on with their lives.
“There has been something of a change though, I’ve started to feel I haven’t even begun yet".
Eddi Reader 40 Years Live. April: Perth Theatre 1, Dunfermline Alhambra 2, Livingston Howden Park Centre 3, Stirling Albert Halls 14, Lanark Memorial Hall 15, Dumfries Easterbrook Hall 16, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall 19, Aberdeen Music Hall 21, Motherwell Theatre 22, Queens Hall, Edinburgh 23. August: Crail Community Hall 18, Eastwood Theatre, Giffnock 19. September: Beacon Arts Centre Greenock 1, Corran Halls, Oban 2, Kilmarnock Palace Theatre 3, Gardyne Theatre, Dundee 9, Stewarts hall Huntly 10, Eden Court Theatre Inverness 11, Volunteer Hall Galashiels 22.