I’ve been a fan of Eddi Reader’s since I was sixteen years old, which - I realised as I walked into the Phoenix on the night of the 26th of August - meant that I’ve been listening to (and playing) her music for over thirty years now. Her long and impressive career, that has included three BRIT awards, an Ivor Novello and a double platinum album with ‘Fairground Attraction’, is the envy of many a female artist, particularly as - at the age of 59 - she still shows no sign of slowing down creatively. Her twelfth studio album as a solo artist - ‘Cavalier’ - is released on the 28th of September, and eager to hear a few of the new songs from it, I took my seat alongside my dad (an Eddi Reader virgin) and prepared to be dazzled. And we were not disappointed.
Wandering out onto the stage in a lime green muumuu, with a band who seem more like a group of four friends who she’s casually suggested spending a night out with, Eddi grins and jokes her way through all the introductions before revealing that there is no formal set list for the evening and that they’re ‘happy to take to suggestions from the floor at any time’.
Starting in with the gentle ‘Dragonflies’, (a song she wrote with Boo Hewerdine), she then enlists the help of acclaimed Irish piano accordionist Alan Kelly and sets the whole place clapping and stamping through ‘Charlie Is My Darling’ and ‘Green Grow the Rashes O’, both of which are tracks from her highly acclaimed 2003 album of Robert Burns’ songs. Alan Kelly’s skill on the accordion as he throws himself into a full-on Irish reel at the end of the second is something to behold, and when it finally finishes it’s to rapturous applause from the whole auditorium.
Eddi introduces the next song as the first of three from the new album, and tells the story of how she and the band adapted a 9th century Irish poem about a cat (Pangur Bán) by setting it to a traditional folk tune ‘The Primrose Lass’. The result is a quirky jaunty tune that has everyone grinning and tapping their feet, a mood which she skilfully turns with ‘My Favourite Dress’, a beautiful and deeply emotive song about a old woman losing her memory to dementia. My dad and I are still wiping tears from our eyes from that one, when the band launch into the ebullient ‘Meg O’ The Glen’ a traditional Scots jig that Alan Kelly takes into a thrilling climax that leaves us all - yet again - breathless and cheering.
True to her word, Eddi willingly takes a few requests from the floor, most of which are old ‘Fairground Attraction’ songs, although admittedly performed in a entirely different style from the originals on ‘First Of A Million Kisses’. The creepily atmospheric ‘Fairground Attraction’ - which the band was named for - is embellished with Eddi’s uncanny impression of Edith Piaf towards the end, and ‘Perfect’ (rather understandably) has everyone singing along at the tops of their voices during the choruses. It’s incredibly refreshing to hear an artist celebrate their early success and ‘popular’ hits with such pride, and I am reminded yet again why Eddi is such an enduring and positive creative force; she is always evolving and yet always simultaneously embracing her roots
In line with this ethos, the rest of the set is a fabulous mix of old favourites, incredible covers - the first of which (‘Love Is A Losing Game’) has most of us silently weeping in our seats - and new songs that feel hauntingly familiar as soon as we hear them. Eschewing the official performance finish time, Eddi declares that ‘we can fit at least two more songs in if we don’t do the whole encore thing’ before hammering her way through the Bessie Smith classic ‘Send Me To The Electric Chair’, much to my dad’s deep delight. Her final song of the evening is prefaced by a wonderful lead-in, in which she describes how family Christmas parties in her native Glasgow nearly always dissolved into drunken shouted requests for her mother Jean to ‘sing us a song’. Having enlisted the audience in her role-play, we all obligingly yell our entreaties at ‘Jean’ until she finally acquiesces - drink and invisible fag in hand - and dutifully tugs on every single heartstring with a gorgeous full-throated rendition of the ‘Moon River’.
Eddi and the band leave the Phoenix to a standing ovation, and both my dad and I are left filled with awe and (for me) a few unshed tears over the fact that my mum - with whom I’d shared my love of Eddi with my whole life - couldn’t be with us to enjoy such a memorable evening. I’d love to think that her incredible music will endure for another thirty years though, and that maybe someday I’ll be able to drag my own daughter along with me, and she will fall just as deeply in love with her voice as I once did.
Eddi Reader (vocals)
Alan Kelly (piano accordion)
John Douglas (ukelele and guitar)
Boo Hewerdine (guitar)
Kevin McGuire (double bass)
Charlie Is My Darling
Green Grow The Rashes O
Pangur Bán/The Primrose Lass
My Favourite Dress
Meg O’ the Glen
Patience of Angels
Married To The Sea
Pray The Devil Back To Hell
(Sister Goodbye - performed by Boo Hewerdine)
Love Is A Losing Game
Send Me To The Electric Chair
The Moon Is Mine
Spotify Playlist (minus the tracks from Chevalier):
Review by Law Turley
Photograph by Simon Godley