Eddi Reader

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Peacetime, Eddi Reader's sixth solo album, follows one of the most successful records of her near-quarter century career. Though she has always dipped into traditional song - The Blacksmith from her beautiful debut solo record Mirmama; I Loved A Lad; Ay Fond Kiss and Jock O'Hazeldean with Fairground Attraction, the band that made her a star - this was something different: an album of songs by Robert Burns that came about almost by accident , became a word-of-mouth hit and soundtracked her long-come return home to Scotland.

She smiles: "Aye, it was great. I used it to get me out of London. I'd left Scotland years ago 'cos I was brought up in a quite macho - how can I put this; we're 'schemies' [families who lived in council housing 'schemes']... It doesn't mean that much in the sense that we're all very different and my family was very loving, but there were a lot of men, a lot of carry on... I just felt a wee bit oppressed so I moved away when I was 17, 18 - ran away, really.

"Then my father died, at the end of the Nineties and I fell back in love with that little bit of Scotland... I wanted to do a traditional album that related to the Celtic and Scottish music that I'd heard bits of throughout my life, from leaving school and going to Kilmarnock folk club, through all the folk clubs in Scotland and the folk festivals to busking and street singing." To someone brought up on Elvis Presley and the Beatles, Eddi explains, that "stuff that was as exotic as it would be to someone from Norwich! It taught me stuff about Scotland I didn't know - the north of Scotland, Gaelic music, the Celties?... and the Gaelic tongue. When my dad died I gathered up all these ideas.

More though luck than planning, she found herself focussing on Burns's work. "I was asked to sing with the Scottish National Orchestra who were doing a Burns festival. So I maybe had four Burns songs, then I thought well if I had eight I could do a gig, then there were ten, then there was Celtic Connections... The songs just landed in my lap really, and I got the idea that I could do a record."

But Burns, of course, is an institution. "I was scared," Eddi admits, "'cos there's a sense in which those songs are 'owned' by traditionalists. The old 'this is how we do it and don't fuck around, don't go messing, pissing on our history' - and I didn't wanna. I'm like that with song, if I'm singing a song and I get the sense that someone isn't getting off on absolutely everything I'm doing with it then it sucks for me. I don't wanna fight anyone about anything and I just want it to flow out of me as if I was a newborn baby, as natural as that."

She was, she says "really worried" about the album. But then her unique ability to inhabit a song, to find the joy or sorrow in there and make it present, saved the day and, she laughs, "I got the sense that I was being haunted by the guy, as if he were sitting across from me going 'Fuckin' great!' You sang Ay Fond Kiss!' And I'm not saying that nobody else has done it well, but I never got the sense that it was the real sentiment of someone whose heart was breaking... That it was skin and bone and blood and flesh, [with a sense of the person] who he is and how he smells and his teeth and his rotten breath and his whisky and him wanting to shag you."

Not only was the record rapturously received, it kept selling. "I think possibly I got a good reaction 'cos I was just trying to do something beautiful. I'm not really interested in anything else other than it's beautiful, cos if it's not, I'm hiding under the bed, I can't listen to it. I've got to try and do that. And I had fun with it as well."

But what next? Happy as she was to come home to Scotland, Eddi explains, "It occurred to me I was out of my comfort zone. I didn't have Roy Dodds, my drummer, or [co-writer] Boo Hewerdine - he lives in Cambridge, he'd get the train down to London and hang out with me, or I would go round to Roy's... we'd sit and drink tea and try and come up with something..."

She had met "a whole bunch" of Scottish musicians doing the Burns album - people she'd known over the years but never played with. "It's a different world, the Traditional world," she says with a mischievous grin, "they know a million tunes that I've never heard of but I love the sound of them, it's brilliant; you can stay up all night in their company and never feel tired. You don't need drink or drugs, it's just tunes and jigs and reels and action and energy and vibe and music and no ego and it feels great."

So Peacetime was born out of the desire to pull all the disparate elements of her musical life together - the traditional musicians, her longstanding collaborators, her partner and sometime Trash Can Sinatra John Douglas - and "get a sense that it's all just music. It's not traditional or contemporary or singer/songwritery or anything... It's this beautiful wee photograph of people playing this idea on that day. I love it when you walk through life for about three years and one day you'll meet a song that just throws you and it could be something from 1938 or it could be from tomorrow."

Two Ayrshire rivers run strong through Peacetime. The Afton gives its name to a song by Johnny Dillon from the band Heirloom, "A brilliant wee poet from Ayrshire, he looks like Robert Burns! Then there's Ye Banks And Braes O'Bonnie Doon, an old, old song Eddi describes as "very hoary. I wanted to strip away the scum that covers songs sometime and get to what's beautiful about it." John McCusker brought Eddi Baron's Heir. When I'm singing it I feel like Dusty Springfield, she laughs. "It's bizarre, but I inhabit this space for the few minutes of the song, and it's Dusty Springfield, with this amazing traditional music..."

Old songs, but the themes, of course, are current as they ever were. Which is why it's not such a leap to a song like the heartbreakingly lovely Safe As Houses, written by Eddi and Boo after the London bombings - a terrible situation in which simple human imperatives assert themselves.

"If I played the fiddle, I'd play the fiddle to break your heart. But I can't - I sing words, and I like to think I can get you further than the fiddle: the fiddle can get you on a level, can be amazing, but the human voice... I certainly feel very powerful when I do it. My mother loved to sing. Loved to sing. Loved. Loved song. She doesn't even know it, but how much she taught me, and I mean, how do you teach that - how to feel something."

"It's the same as Fairground Attraction to me, the same as busking: if you're playing a good tune and you feel really good about it, you can't help but attract people to it. If I was on a street corner singing and I felt really tired, I couldn't be arsed, people would walk past not looking at me. Then a good night's sleep and a song I really fell in love with, I'm on the same corner and I'll have 200 people in front of me. It's a wee magic trick."

Courtesy of www.eddireader.co.uk

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