Scottish singer-songwriter Eddi Reader has a long music career such as her work – including singing number one single Perfect – with Fairground Attraction, solo albums and showcasing the songs of Robert Burns – earning her an MBE in 2006.
Eddi has also won three BRITs and topped both the album and singles charts.
Here, she answers some questions from Margaret Chrystall about her career, before her appearance on Sunday at the new AmaSing festival in Strathpeffer
1 I am intrigued to discover that your first name is Sadenia – the Googlesphere can’t help! What does it mean – is it songwriter or something spookily relevant? Do you think of yourself as Eddi?
I changed my name to Eddi when I was 14-15. I grew up in the 70s, I was a feminist child. Equal to all men.
I am my mother and father’s eldest, (of seven). Tradition was that your first-born girl was named after your father’s mum – my gran Reader.
Her name was Sedania but they called her "Deena". She had a girl, before my dad, who died aged three and she was called Sedania too and they shortened that to "Edna". It was also my great-gran’s name.
When I came along, mum and dad at the registrar’s got the spelling mixed up. Drink? Daft? That’s why you can’t find it on Google.
Mum went along with me getting her mum in law’s name, but she worried it would get shortened to "Sadie".
My grandad started calling me "Edna" when I was very little. It stuck and I didn’t like it in 1975, so it got turned to Eddi.
I love all three "me’s".
Eddi – my presented self, Edna – my inner child, Sadenia (see the "a" and "e" mixed up?) that one is my real name, who I REALLY am. It caused a fuss in school.
Apparently Roman soldiers used it to describe "a woman of Sedonia" a town in the Lebanon. My great gran was Sedania Evans from Oswestry. How she got it, I don’t know.
2 You seemed so courageous and focused about your music as a teen ie busking on Sauchiehall Street. Was it gloriously liberating or a bit scary – or both? And when did you first start to sing?
Scary and liberating. Better than drugs. Better than sex. All nurturing and a great companion for an awkward girl.
I started taking singing seriously very early, between five to 14, teaching – forcing – my poor little sisters and brothers to sing harmonies to everything!
3 People possibly know you best these days for Fairground Attraction, your work with Robert Burns songs and your collaborations with other artists. But I’d love to know more about your earliest days in music ...
There’s quite a few who weren’t born that don’t have a knowledge of that band! But the song Perfect has hung around. The guy who wrote it makes a healthy living from selling it to adverts, and why not? I’m glad I fell in love with it and saved it from his bin. It was that song which got me attention.
I started taking singing seriously very early, between five to 14, teaching – forcing, haha – my poor little sisters and brothers to sing harmonies to everything.
I sung all the time, then pleaded with my poor auld da for a guitar. He gave us everything we wanted, he was soft-hearted like that. Both my parents loved music and were kids who loved Elvis Presley. Music was very important to them both.
I see it in chunks of 10:
Five to 15: family singing then trying for jobs, singing answering adverts in the Evening Times "musicians wanted". I sang at the Glasgow 800 celebrations with Archie McCulloch MCing. I think it was the St Andrews Halls, can’t remember, but I remember my mum’s brother’s Transit taking us all in the back. Grannie and auntie sitting on the planks of wood on bricks in the back with the hundreds of weans. I was nervous, but I sang April Showers and Pennies From Heaven. All learned from the drunk grown-ups at parties.
15-25: I travelled first around Glasgow in a concert party singing for old folks’ homes, then we moved to Irvine and I really started learning my guitar and playing in folk clubs. I had a band with two schoolboys, Matthew and Craig.
They were older and had a record collection, played me stuff and taught me to sing Don't Think Twice. My musical taste got expanded. I then started busking, travelling with pals to France, joined up with a hippy bunch of fire-eating/juggling hippies who took me singing in markets and throughout Europe.
25-35: I came back and started "proper work"for 10 years after I’d been in London learning how to sing with others on stage and perfecting my harmony work in studios.
I sang: War (What Is It Good For) on the Ryvita TV advert.
"Higher standards lower prices, Tesco!" for a radio ad.
Millions of harmony BV (backing vocals) recordings for artists including: Billy MacKenzie (Associates), Martin Rushent (producer) Topper Headon (The Clash), John Foxx (Ultravox), Matt Fretton, A Bigger Splash (Sting produced) Louise Geffin (David Geffin /Carole King’s daughter). Tons whom I can’t remember the names of, lots of work for Ensign Records and Zomba Records.
Stage work with a multitude of bands of varying success including: The Gang of Four, the Eurythmics, Alison Moyet ...
Alison was the last thing I did before forming Fairground Attraction around 1987. We were number one in March 1988, I think it was March.
25-35: I had my two boys and was recording solo albums and was kinda stuck in London with their schooling, but exploiting the studio /production experience.
Taking on the mighty weight of success and maintaining it within the business structure of the 90s. I had a great training and background strength in my chosen career at this point, but I lacked business acumen and lost my way a bit with damaged characters who I needed not to see as my family, as this was a real trigger for me losing security.
A few court dealings and lots of lawyers’ meetings seemed to be that decade’s challenge. The music was respite during that time:
Mirmama (my first solo record, also produced by me)
Eddi Reader album (good songs but production experience put me off producers!)
Angels And Electricity
Candyfloss And Medicine
35-45: I left London managers/agents/record companies and came home to help my boys finish their schooling at home. It was the best move I made, but it took me until Simple Soul to get out. Warners let me go and I thought: "OK, that’s it over." But my singing drive was still ringing its little bell and I fell in love with songs JUST the same. It didn’t get snuffed out, I didn’t die. I found Robert Burns and my folk friends had become young new pals like John McCusker and Ian Carr, Phil Cunningham. I realised that the music was vibrant at home and that I had a ready-made community which welcomed me back. I’ve been here ever since. It healed me to come home.
4 I didn’t know about your time with punk band Gang Of Four, how did it feel to suddenly be part of a band who were at the heart of the punk experience?
They were full-on from the off. It was like joining a ready-made factory and being expected to do all that they’d been doing for years.
I was dazzled and smiling all the time. Andy Gill needed to have a word: "Stop smiling in pictures so much and stop dancing so much!" He got annoyed at my How To Sing books falling out of my bags!
5 Also, with Gang Of Four you appeared on the Old Grey Whistle Test. That is such an iconic programme – which was a world away from its younger brother Top Of The Pops. Do you have any abiding memories of that experience?
It was just after the London audition and it was between me and another girl. They had both of us do the show before choosing, I was convinced they’d pick her cause she wore cool shades.
6 I just wondered what it was like being a female on tour in those days as well – maybe you were just one of the guys. Did it feel like a massive adventure? And how did the US strike you then. Was it Shangri-La or just a new place to explore!?
A BIG adventure. USA was fantastic. Weird. The smell of the place, all air con and hot sun.
Dance clubs, cocaine, speed, kaluah and coke. New York was scary, but I had to be saved when I tried walking on a wall, drunk, at a party on the 150th floor of a skyscraper. I was ROCKIN!
7 What were the most important things you learned from your time as a session vocalist in London?
How to shut up. Over singing kills.
8 I know you were doing everything from singing jingles for radio to backing Eurythmics, The Waterboys, Billy MacKenzie and Alison Moyet – all glorious sounds of the era. Was it good training – looking back – to work with bands and singers who were such iconic frontmen/performers when you came to put yourself in that position with Fairground Attraction and into your solo career?
Yes I think I learned loads subliminally...
9 You acted in John Byrne’s wonderful, ground-breaking TV drama Your Cheatin’ Heart and in 2009 in movie Me And Orson Welles. Do you enjoy acting?
I would LOVE more opportunities to act. I enjoy it and I think it’s an extension of singing. To really empathise with a song conversation, you have to know how to tap into that stuff.
10 Your career has seen a returning relationship with Robert Burns’ work. What is your earliest memory of hearing Burns’ work?
At first I heard Moira Anderson, Kenneth McKellar, Andy Stewart etc singing the classical style of Scottish song on the telly. Thingummygig was a kind of cabaret/folk programmel on STV in the 70s, a bit uncool ( I appeared on that show)... Heather Heywood sang at Kilmarnock Folk Club and she blew me away.
11 Your album in 2003 recorded with the RSNO may have seemed like a massive departure for some people. What did it mean to you at that time – was it the chance to travel a new road after returning from London?
I had not done any significant singing time in front of an orchestra before. The whole thing stumbled quickly together in a series of fortunate events which ended up with me in the bow of a giant clipper ship which is how I felt singing in front of such an organised machine, 40 people all making the one sound. It was a blessed miracle in my life.
I felt it was the most natural place to have ended up after my years away from home.
Which is your current favourite Robert Burns song?
Ach aye, of course it depends on the day and whatever the seconds bring. But I’ve a strong attachment to Ae Fond Kiss. It seems to say goodbye to many loves and I get it on many levels
12 Collaboration seems part of your musical lifeblood – what is the challenge and the joy of working with someone else?
I don’t know of any musician that works in complete isolation. Even the ones I’ve seen on their own with a guitar only do that rarely. Music is a conversation without words before you open your mouth.
We all need our tribe to talk to. Some musicians I have a terrible time being comfortable with in everyday life, but when we play together we fly like swifts!
13 What do you think about when you wake up in the morning – at home? on the road?
"How long can I get away with lying here?"
14 What was it about the AmaSing project made you interested in taking part in the brand-new festival?
Anything with "sing" in the title is gonna get my interest.
15 If it’s not giving the game away too much, what might be on your setlist for Sunday’s gig?
I generally like to be spontaneous, I let the gig atmosphere decide. Some old, some new, some borrowed, some happy, some blue.
16 What are you currently working on?
My new collection of songs is just finished. Should have some new CDs for pre-release in Oct-Nov then general release after Christmas.
Eddi Reader is headlining the second day of the AmaSing festival, at Strathpeffer Pavilion, on Sunday. There are loads of different events happening at different venues from noon each days. For full details, go to: www.amasing.co.uk