Positively Scottish

Positive Profile: Eddi Reader on Burns, Bob Dylan and conquering her nerves

Picture by Genevieve Stevenson

Singer-songwriter Eddi Reader has been entertaining music lovers with her magical vocal skills since Fairground Attraction’s First of a Million Kisses in 1988.

Today, her career is as busy than ever, and earlier this year she released a 30-track “best of” career retrospective to stellar reviews.

The gifted songstress chats to us about how singing helps her feel at ease, techniques she uses that conquer nerves, and on getting to know the cheeky bard that was Robert Burns.

What was the first record you ever bought?

There were always records around the house… Mum and Dad had Elvis ones, Aunty Marion was a massive Beatles fan and she had tons of singles. The radio was on constantly, Mum sung all the time and most years for her birthday we would save our pocket money to buy an Elvis LP for her.

Records didn’t really feature until I was earning a bit of money and then I filled my boots with all sorts.  I remember buying Never Let Her Slip Away [by Andrew Gold] from McCormack’s the record shop in Glasgow city and nearly being laughed out of the shop.

Which musicians are you a fan of nowadays?

I love hearing music played by people who love music and can pull noises out of nowhere that sound heavenly.  Danny Thompson’s bass playing; John Martyn’s voice; Bob Dylan’s words; Louis Armstrong’s love for scatter notes; Ella Fitzgerald’s sweet motherness; and Sigur Ros for other dimensions.  In every genre you will find beauty.

How often do you listen to music?

When I am alone, often. When I am in company it’s hard to do because I give it all my focus.

What fail-safe song would you sing, listen to or play to cheer yourself up?

Eileen a Ruin sung by Cathy Jordan ­– it’s the oldest song in the trad songbook, according to Bob Dylan.

Who is the best musician you have seen live lately?

The last person that blew my mind was Dezi Donnelly, a fiddle player from Manchester.

What three things really annoy you?

Being rushed, being stressed and being misunderstood.

How do you manage to see the glass half full when things are not so perfect?

By taking your ego and telling it to go talk to the cat because you’re busy listening to the birds sing and can’t be doing with the “it’s all black” story.

Can you think of any times that have been really hard and you have needed to draw on some methods to stay positive?

Yes. I learned to conquer nerves by realising that the critic in my own mind was far more sarky than the one that anyone who didn’t know me could come up with.

Do you think musicians today have a hard time in the industry and what would you recommend to them to keep a positive mind frame?

I would say to non-musicians in the “industry” to leave musicians to their journey and stop analysing why or how they are musicians. They ain’t 9-5 workers because they are 24-7 workers.  They just are musicians – employed or not.

Just keep enjoying what you do and you will attract people who feel the same way as you do about it.  It’s the laws of attraction. People love music.

What motivates you to stand strong and have a very individual identity?

I have no idea. But thank you for saying that.  I get weak and I get tired.  Singing helps me feel at ease.  I try not to expect too much… I think we are all the same: sometimes we have the energy, sometimes we don’t.

Was it harder or easier to stay positive when you were with Fairground Attraction, as opposed to going solo? 

“I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now” – that’s Dylan again. He’s a genius.  I was limited in my experience when I worked alongside those three men in Fairground Attraction who I hardly knew.  I wanted the songs and I managed to catch at least two albums worth.   I would protect that more if I was in that band now.  Today that girl doesn’t exist, except she has a strong mother looking after her – me.

Even at the height of your success, were there moments when you had to draw on inner positivity?

I was never negative around music.  Only around affairs of the broken heart would you find me sniffing and wiping my tears on the carpet.

If you had unlimited resources, what would you want to spend it on to help people keep a positive frame of mind?

Holographic moving and speaking images of past generations to keep reminding you that life is short and those worries can be parked.

Also I would love a time-machine that takes you to any musical experience that ever happened. For example, Billie Holiday in New York in 1952 or Edith Piaf in Paris in 1936.

Are there any special parts of Scotland that makes you serene and calm?

My mum’s kitchen in Irvine and the beach with the sun setting over Arran.

What are the top three things that make you happy?

My children’s and my loved ones’ happiness, a good sing-song, and collecting mussels and whelks and cooking them.

Do you practise yoga or do meditation? 

I meditate through song and sometimes prayer.  Yoga comes in and out of my life when I need to anchor myself.

Do you think as you get older your outlook on life is more or less positive?

I get more confident than I was about my own instincts. I think everybody is like that.

You showcased the works of Robert Burns, so you must feel like you know him well now… do you think he was a positive kind of guy?

Oh, I think he was a cheeky wee monkey who loved taking the piss and being in among the fun and games. I also think he was a keen observer and there is a serenity in that…a man of character…our brother.

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