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Robert Burns Lives!
An article by Eddi Reader

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

Several years ago eminent Burns scholar and professor Kenneth Simpson contacted me about a young singer he hoped would be coming to the States. He wanted me to know how good she was and for me to be sure to attend her concert. Unfortunately, fate never decreed that I have that opportunity, but I have been able to collect her songs. That young singer Ken was telling me about is none other that the highly successful Eddi Reader. She has had a CD out on Robert Burns for a few years and has just now released it in a deluxe format including many other songs not included in the original. I look forward to receiving the newer version because I plan for the first time on Robert Burns Lives! to review her CD.

In the meantime, this talented young lady has written a great article on “What Burns Means to Me” and it is my privilege to share it with our readers. Get ready for a phrase that you probably never heard before – “Burns police”.  My advice to Eddi Reader is to be yourself! That is what has brought her to the top of her field of entertainment and that is what will keep her there. Also, as far as the “Burns police”, just remember that your interpretation of the songs of Burns is no more that what he did when he literally rewrote over 350 Scottish songs by giving them his own interpretation. Eddi, you’ll be just fine; don’t spend a moment worried about the “Burns police”. Burns had some very harsh things to say about such people. Sing your songs as songs of joy so we can celebrate Robert Burns even more.

Eddi Reader Biography

Eddi Reader grew up in Glasgow and Irvine, Scotland and it was in those towns that she learned to use music as a vehicle for communicating with others through busking and performing at the local folk clubs.  In the early 1980s, Eddi travelled around Europe with circus and performance artists before moving to London where she quickly became a sought after session vocalist.  She famously harmonized with Annie Lennox touring with the Eurythmics, after her time with successful punk outfit Gang of Four. It was the short-lived but warmly remembered Fairground Attraction that really brought her into the limelight and to the attention of a much wider audience.  The single ‘Perfect’ and parent album First of a Million Kisses both topped the British charts.

However, it was her subsequent albums which signalled her increasing ability to assimilate different musical styles and make them all very much her own.  Her unerring instinct for fine material, whether self penned, collaborative or a carefully chosen cover version resulted in Mirmama (1992), Eddi Reader (1994), Candyfloss & Medicine (1996), Angels & Electricity (1998), Simple Soul (2001)

Through these years Eddi based herself in London, but in 2001 she decided to move home to Glasgow where she recorded the classic ‘Songs Of Robert Burns’ album released to international acclaim in 2003. Awarded the MBE in 2006 for services to singing, she took her Burns songs on tour all over the world and found connections to the bard everywhere from Kolkata, India to Sydney, Australia. In 2006 she released ‘Peacetime’ on Rough Trade Records featuring the finest traditional players in the United Kingdom and produced by Folk Musician of The Year, John McCusker.  Constant touring with her band has created a magical organic chemistry between Eddi and her players and the results of this relationship can be found on her upcoming release…

‘Love Is The Way’,  Eddi Reader’s seventh solo album,  released in March 2009 on Rough Trade Records.

Produced by Eddi herself, it is her best work so far.  Recorded in a matter of days with her band in Glasgow, the record has captured the award winning songstress in her finest form.  Songs written with her long time writing partner Boo Hewerdine,  songs written with her life partner John Douglas (The Trashcan Sinatras) and a song from the magical Irish singer/songwriter Declan O’Rourke as well as a rare Brian Wilson composition,  an Eddi/Fleetwood Mac ‘mash up’, and a song from Dublin songwriter Jack Maher.

From the traditional to the contemporary, Eddi brings to joyous life all forms of song.  Her taste in co-writers,  writers,  songs and players is impeccable and anything with her name on it is guaranteed musical treasure.  Whilst the perfection of her technique is widely acknowledged,  what sets Reader apart is the depth and quality of the emotional performance;  her ability not only to move the listener but to connect her experience to that of her audience.  Her passion and instinct move people in a way reminiscent of those who have influenced her work.  Her rare blend of meltingly true vocals and towering romanticism combine with an astute and pragmatic nature to make her a unique and powerful figure in contemporary British music.  She has effortlessly developed into one of popular music’s most thrilling and affecting performers.

What Burns Means to Me
By Eddi Reader

My 2003 Burns songs album came into my world as a small idea about trying out some tunes that I grew up with, and had the opportunity to hear in the folk clubs throughout the west of Scotland, when I started singing after school. The album took a journey of its own as others became involved. Burns provided much of the music I heard growing up and gave me the words to hang my muse upon. Without those songs I would have had perhaps a less colorful experience and definitely less choice of material when developing my abilities. If I had been born in Manchester I might have missed out on that material.

Speaking as a woman Burns would have been someone to fall for, but maybe not to rely on. That kinda describes most of the men I bumped into romantically during my twenties.

He may have left us long ago, but the themes he left behind were timeless. The pictures of people he took with those writings are such accurate photographs of who we all are and the feelings we all have that his words will always be relevant.

As a teenager, I moved with my family from Glasgow to Irvine, and it was while going to school there that I first realized there was a big noise about Burns. I was from the Big City and Big Cities are full of pop culture and “the new” Irvine and Kilmarnock seemed to be holding fast to something ancient and Burns was part of that. The first experience of that was in the language the other kids, and the insistence of the school’s English department to use Burns. They thought Glasgow was exotic; I thought they were right.

I see Burns as real and walking, talking, dancing, worried, smiling human being. With all of that I empathise and it keeps me close to how he might have felt. I can share it personally.

I used to be braver about singing Burns’s words before I made the album. I would hear the words and the melody and adjust them to suit the soaring passion I felt. I was carefree with it. Now I am more careful, which can be a bad thing.

I get responses from listeners who really like it, but there are certain “iron bars” around these songs, and you have the Burns police”, who, God bless them, have maintained and cared for the Bard’s memory and probably have the same passion about these words as I have. But I am a musician first and a historian last. I get my kicks from his creativity, not from the documents.  

Burns could have been born in 1959 for all I care. When I sing Dainty Davie, for example, I am more involved in the way the line “there I’ll spend the day wi you” floats melodically over the open chord in the guitar tuning I have found, and how it makes me fill with longing for a lover, than whether I have the old melody right. If Burns was here and moaned about it I would probably let the song go. For if you can’t share the way it feels, then it’s not worth anything except as something I keep privately in my own head.  

(FRS: 2-25-09)

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