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Friday 20 September 2019

The perfect troubadour

Ahead of her Wexford show at the National Opera House, Scottish singer-songwriter Eddi Reader talks to Brendan Keane about her new album, life on the road, Brexit and more

Eddi Reader.
Eddi Reader.
Reader with Fairground Attraction’s Simon Edwards and Simon Nevin in the late eighties.

The world of legendary Scottish songwriter, Eddi Reader, is an ever-changing one and that's something she embraces when working on new material or considering songs by other artists that she can put her own inimitable stamp on.

Next month she will make a very welcome return to Ireland for her 11th consecutive tour of the country and on Friday, February 15, that tour will see her wind her way to the wonderful surroundings of the National Opera House in Wexford.

The acoustic qualities of that venue should provide an exquisite setting for Reader to showcase her formidable talent as a songwriter, interpretor and, most importantly, as a live performer.

Although she first came to international prominence as lead singer in Fairground Attraction and in particular through the monster hit, 'Perfect', the reality is that for the last two decades or so she has forged a formidable solo career for herself.

Ahead of the forthcoming Wexford gig she spoke to this newspaper about her current album, 'Cavalier', and how people have to have faith in themselves and belief that what they do will sustain them through the good times and the bad - especially in the world of music.

Looking forward to her upcoming Irish tour - which is part of a wider international tour to promote 'Cavalier' - she enjoys the troubadour life that she lives as a solo artist.

'You go wherever you can and you repeat the process and return to the same locations to try and build up a fan-base because hopefully people will like what you do,' she said.

'I'm really a troubadour and I like that because you build up a connection with your audience,' she added.

'It's a tradition I embraced in the 1970s but then things changed a bit in the 1980s and 90s.'

She thinks the music industry embraced capitalism in the aforementioned later two decades, to its detriment: 'Capitalism is always a short term thing; there are no real guarantees.'

When it comes to music she said human interaction is the key to success but for Reader success is not about the number of units sold or having worldwide hit singles; instead, it's more about being real and believing in what she does.

'It's all about human interaction and trusting that what you do will sustain you and I am very grateful to be in the position I am in.'

Music trends come and go and more often-than-not those trends are manipulated by the 'industry' aspect of the music business but for Eddi Reader the quality of material and importance of people like Ella Fitzgerald, John Lennon, and Edith Piaf will always remain - even if in the background: 'How can people just stop liking things?'

She agreed that a possible reason why the music and influence of the aforementioned artists and others like them will always survive is because theirs was a natural thing: 'Yes, that's right; that hits the nail on the head; it's because their material was the result of a natural process that it will survive.'

Reader also believes the influence of our ancestors is something that is channelled through contemporary artists and the work created nowadays will influence future generations.

She chose the name 'Cavalier' for her latest album because it's similar to freedom but she said she decided not to use the word 'freedom' because: 'It would have invoked images of Mel Gibson - especially in Scotland.'

The album is an eclectic mix of material and while the overall style sits comfortably within the folk genre there is far more going on beneath the surface with influences of jazz, Ella Fitzgerald and even crooners in evidence.

'I embrace all genres and I listen to all sorts of artists so I suppose some of that will come through but that's a natural thing I suppose,' she said.

She admitted trying to turn it into two albums; one aspect focusing on the folkey side and the other on the more contemporary side, but in the end she let it become what it was naturally meant to be.

'I'm happy enough to let the songs sit beside each other as they are and I think they sit well together,' she said.

She draws in her life experiences in her work; 'Wonderful', one of the standout tracks on the album, is about her sons.

Commenting there are no definitive books on parenting she said she has learned to let go a little as her children get older.

'I think I got better as a parent when I learned to let go although it's hard to be an observer,' she said.

'The album was going to be called wonderful actually,' she added.

One of the things that is very apparent when conversing with her is that she possesses the quirky, down-to-earth and jovial personality that one would typically associate with the Scottish and Irish.

She is someone who embraces life with all its up-and-downs and lives it to its fullest.

When asked what her personal favourite songs are on 'Cavalier' she said 'Deirdre's Farewell to Scotland' is one of those at the top of the list.

Although not an original song she loved the melody of it from when she first heard it and the idea that someone was acknowledging and saying thank you to a place where she found sanctuary was something that resonated with her.

'We've seen children dying as they and their parents tried to flee conflict and seek sanctuary elsewhere,' she said, referring to turbulent conflicts in the modern world.

'Children being killed because of stupid wars and [in the song] this girl Deirdre is saying thank you [for sanctuary],' she added.

The song was recorded in one take through microphones set up in the same room as the band.

'I think that is the most organic song on the album in every way.'

She also said there is a longer ending to the track about her sons, 'Wonderful', and sometimes she is disappointed with the shorter version on the album, however, she added: 'I do have the longer ending for 'Wonderful' and we have that for EPs etc.'

She also professed a love for 'Maiden's Lament' which she admitted she'd like to hear after every song on the album.

'That is my favourite,' she said.

The power of music and songs cannot be overstated and Reader admitted that on occasion she loves just hearing the music on the album as the formidable musicians involved just get to play and express themselves.

'The ups, the downs, joy, happiness, sadness, we experience all of that and I want to experience that in music,' she said.

She agreed that sometimes songs written now will have greater resonance for the writer in the future when a certain experience or circumstance brings new relevance to the song.

'Yes, that happens a lot actually it's like sometimes you write a song now that you will need later,' she said.

She added that's what happened to her with the Fairground Attraction song, 'Fear Is the Enemy of Love', the meaning of which she only fully came to appreciate years after it was composed.

'I think at the time its full resonance may have washed over me,' she said.

Reader likes having positive people around her and said there is a lot to be gained from it because positivity is infectious.

'I think though, that when you get annoyed with people, it's sometimes because you are actually not dealing with some personal issue yourself.'

While she loves the freedom she has in life through her work she also sometimes laments the benefits of having a 9-to-5 job: 'It would nice to have your weekends and just do nothing or come home from work at 5 p.m. and just do nothing.'

'There are benefits to this [songwriter] experience but there are benefits and negatives to other experiences too.'

With a world seemingly in ever-increasing turmoil Reader feels that humanity is at a tipping point and while she professed to having steered clear of the Brexit events going on in Britain to-date she said it will have a direct impact on her in terms of travel in the event of a no-deal exit.

'I might apply for Irish citizenship through my granny who was from Tralee,' she said.

'I'm going to apply for an Irish passport.'

She said the identity issue is just one aspect of Brexit: 'I know there is the identity thing with Northern Ireland and also an identity thing with Scotland and Britain - although I think we could look after it a lot better than anyone in London.'

For Reader music is a release from every day life and she says it gives her breathing space and that's something she feels everyone should give themselves during the day,

'It's not always easy to do but I have to allow myself breathing space which I do when I wake up at 7.30 a.m. each morning,' she said.

'I value that breathing space and giving myself more of it is one of my New Year resolutions.'

Wexford People

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