Over 20 years since that hit, Fairground Attraction’s Eddi Reader on why life’s just Perfect
As she arrives in Northern Ireland for a series of gigs, the Scottish singer tells Matthew McCreary how music helped her out of a tough life busking in Glasgow
You can tell that Eddi Reader is the kind of performer for whom every gig, no matter how big or small, is a delight.
But the prospect of playing the Bronte Music Club, located in the heart of the paternal homeland of the famous Bronte sisters around Rathfriland, elicits an even more excited reaction from the star.
“I’m a mad fan of Wuthering Heights,” confesses the 50-year-old Glaswegian excitedly.
“I'm drawn to anything that has a little bit of artistic thought put to it!”
Next Wednesday’s gig is one of three dates she will be playing in Northern Ireland this coming week, the others being Belfast’s An Droichead centre on Friday and as part of the line-up for this year’s Celtic Fusion Festival in Castlewellan on Thursday.
Romance is an integral part of Reader’s music and, judging from our interview, her personality (indeed the Wuthering Heights references pop up periodically during our chat). It is all a long way from the tough Glasgow housing estate where she grew up in the 1960s and 70s, the daughter of a welder and the eldest of seven kids. Far from a grim childhood, however, it is one she views with a clear fondness.
“People get caught up in the kudos of being a junky or a musician or a Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker-type character,” she says.
“In actual fact my life was full of dreams and romanticism and I wouldn't have been able to compare it to anything else. A lot of it I remember as being quite healthy and full of summers and exploring my world. Sure I saw some fights and there were guys you had to be careful around, but that toughened me up as to who people were.”
That upbeat world view is borne out by her perspective on becoming a musician. While most people follow some vague but determined urge to make it and be somebody, for Reader it was more of a response to the sheer need to express her musicality. It was a drive not unlike that of fellow Glaswegian singer Lulu, who also rose from a working class background.
“I was talking to Lulu about this,” says
Reader. “She was 15 and she wanted to get this little ‘butterfly’ out of her throat and communicate it. The joy of it elevated her. It's an evangelical thing, you get uplifted by it.
“It doesn't matter what your background is or where you come from. If you have this joy, there is no boundary to it.”
Typically for a working class girl, Reader did not have the benefit of industry contacts or old school ties to help her career along and instead did it the hard way, busking and gigging. Her first ‘break’ was as a backing singer for punk group Gang of Four, before becoming the singer for the Scottish acoustic pop group Fairground Attraction.
“If you want to play music and encourage the audience you do it slowly,” she says. “You play free gigs where you can, maybe get a booking, then people turn up. I want to have a relationship with music as a fan.
“If I was starting out I would probably have the same drive as when I was 17, because what I was getting off on was the communication ability and the way that music made me feel like I was flying — I translated that to whoever was listening. Hopefully I share that with people like me.”
She is also a purist of sorts when it comes to sharing her music and sees finding an audience as an organic, naturally-occurring thing.
“If I want to go out and convince somebody that I am someone they should listen to, that's the wrong way of going about it,” she says.
“In fact when I used to busk I would never play music in front of people sitting in cafes. That meant I was forcing them to listen.
“I've never felt that I should force anyone to come to me, so with Fairground Attraction, the reason I called it that was because I wanted it to be something people come to visit or pass by. I'm not interested in bludgeoning people over the head with publicity.”
She has a similarly strident viewpoint when discussing the impact of big labels and the business-like nature of music nowadays.
“I never, ever believed that business and music should be in the same sentence,” she says. “We need people who are in favour of presenting music that isn't just for commercial gain, another Lady Gaga production.”
One might be forgiven then for thinking that the modern approach to finding the nation’s music stars — the X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Pop Idol — would be a turn-off to someone as street-hardened as Reader. But her attitude towards Messrs Cowell, Walsh and Co is surprising, if a little contradictory.
“I'm a big fan of all that,” she says
“What did we have? We had Opportunity Knocks with Hughie Green! There was nowhere you could go, or you got a job in some stupid pub band or busking.
“For me it's much healthier now when you've got the X Factor. For all those people who want to do it, just go for it!”
After Fairground Attraction broke up acrimoniously in 1989, a solo career brought further hits throughout the Nineties for Reader, notably singles such as Patience of Angels. The Noughties also saw Reader release a recording of the work and music of Scotland’s national ‘bard’, Robert Burns.
And her roots are an important factor in her make-up and self-awareness, as Reader herself discovered when she embarked on tracing her family tree.
“I just found out my great-great-great grandfather was a German musical instrument-maker,” she says.
“I was overwhelmed because everybody in my past is an iron turner or a cleaner. I'm so proud of that connection.”
“And they were all Protestants, by the way!” she adds, laughing.
“I love going up to my Celtic supporter brother and saying ‘we're all Protestants’. It makes me laugh because we believe all the bulls**t — love and life is wonderful if you just let it be.”
For details on Eddi Reader’s forthcoming Northern Ireland shows, visit www.eddireader.co.uk