A voice from the past may explain Eddi Reader’s love of Robert Burns’ poetry and songs.
The three-time BRIT award winner is renowned for her association with Burns, but she was not the first in her family to sing the works of the Bard in public. Her great grandfather, Charles Reader, sang in halls and lodges across Scotland and has also left a collection of songs spanning hundreds of years, some of which Eddi now hopes to record.
“I discovered this only recently and it blew my mind”, said Eddi, who will be appearing with her band at the 21st Hebridean Celtic Festival next month. “It set me thinking that my musical attractions are not just based on my experience now, but there could also be a DNA connection through the centuries.”
Charles Reader died in Glasgow in 1916 aged 36 and when his grandson passed away recently a treasure trove belonging to Charles was uncovered: “He loved singing and collecting songs. He compiled a collection of Scottish songwriters and their songs from 480AD to 1898”, said Eddi. “I now have 50-60 books on songs which are part of our cultural heritage and some of them are just beautiful.”
Although none has been played publicly yet, Eddie has recorded a demo of at least one song and says they may make it onto an album in future.
Reviving and continuing songs from the past is something she is passionate about: “A lot of the time with ancient stuff it’s like a stiff shirt, and you have to take the top buttons off and loosen the tie before it becomes more palatable to my taste and I can turn it into something of today.”
Her interest in traditional music can be traced to her first visit to the folk club in Irvine when she was a teenager: “I discovered how beautiful the culture of Scotland was and that has stuck with me since. Hearing people singing with my accent and listening to songs written by people like me was very inspiring. I also learned the importance of cultural identity and the need to retain a sense of ancestry.”
She is keen for children to learn more of their heritage by being taught traditional songs in school, not just in Scotland, but also in other parts of the UK.
“It was not given to us in history books. We were given Catcher in the Rye, not Burns, and I had to dig around for that culturally. But when I sing these songs people are amazed by them. Even people who are not Scottish listen to Ae Fond Kiss and are enchanted by it.
“I also love things like The Blacksmith, which is from Cornwall. When I was singing to some English people and said ‘guess who owns this? You’, they were amazed and also disappointed they didn’t have that connection to their own culture.
“My theory is that if you give children five songs in a cultural language background before the age of eight they have that in their palette forever.”
Eddi’s career has now spanned more than three decades and has taken her from Scotland to busking in France, to working and living in London, the pop success of Fairground Attraction, ten solo albums and an MBE and back to Scotland where she has been based since 2001.
In her first visit to HebCelt since 2011, Eddi will perform at an An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway with her band – husband John Douglas, Boo Hewerdine, Alan Kelly and Kevin McGuire. “HebCelt is a brilliant festival. We have a new line-up and I’m really looking forward to it”, she said.
Her show could be something of a surprise to the band as well as the festival audience. She has built up a considerable back catalogue of songs over the years, but has no idea which ones she will sing at the festival. “I don’t have a set list, when I get there I’ll decide on stage. The guys know me so well, they know all the stuff.”
In the past she has taken to social media ahead of a gig to ask which songs the audience would like to hear, and may use the same tactic for HebCelt: “I don’t see the problem with that. If someone reaches out to me it’s only right that I ask what song they would like. It can be exciting playing something you haven’t sung for a while, or even forgotten about.”
There is always room for new material and Eddi can find inspiration for songs in everyday situations: “I’m quite a creative person. I never put a hat on to write, it just happens as I walk through life; driving in the car, brushing the stairs, making a bed, something will occur to me.
“It’s never as simple as going into a room, shutting the door and writing something. Some people do that but I can never give myself that time, I nearly always have to steal time while I’m doing something else. “I would like the freedom to be locked away, but there is a fridge to fill, telly to watch, gardening to do and people to be nosey about. The only time I really get focused on music is on stage.”
The 21st HebCelt will be held from 13-16 July in Stornoway. Runrig will head a line-up of nearly 50 acts over the four days, including the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Hayseed Dixie, Julie Fowlis, Astrid, King Creosote and Breabach.
HebCelt has grown from a small event attracting less than 1,000 fans, to an international showpiece for roots, Celtic and traditional music, drawing an audience of around 15,000. It is estimated it has generated more than £20 million for the local economy over two decades.
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