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Reviews / Beguiling show from ‘down-to-earth diva’ Reader

The Mareel auditorium was packed out for Eddi Reader's show on Tuesday night. Photo: Chris Brown
Eddi Reader at MPhoto: Chris Brown

A SOLD OUT auditorium at Mareel was the setting for a very special show on Tuesday, with the appearance of well-known Scottish singer-songwriter Eddi Reader.

With two musical heavyweights – Irish accordionist Alan Kelly and English songwriter Boo Hewerdine – in tow, Reader took the audience on a trip down memory lane with a heady mix of jazz, folk, Scots and self-penned numbers.

You might be forgiven for thinking the show was the result of a happy accident, but you’d be wrong: her relaxed delivery and easy humour are a smokescreen for brilliantly executed old-fashioned showbiz.

Eddi Reader is a down-to-earth diva: a star undoubtedly, but one who makes you feel as though you’re in her living room listening to stories of absent loved ones.

Opening with Billie Holiday’s ‘I’ll Never Be The Same’, from her latest record ‘Vagabond’, Reader displayed a vocal range unmatched by her contemporaries.

It’s clear that family, friends and heritage feature highly for Reader, with almost every song dedicated in some way to someone, be it her late Aunt Molly, whose coat and hat she was wearing following an attic trawl; to her wanderlust-struck son on ‘Sail Baby Sail’, or to homesick friend Angus on ‘My Ain Country’. These characters, though unknown to the audience, felt as familiar as our own families through the often hilarious stories and playful impressions accompanying the songs.

The jazz feel continued on the aforementioned ‘Sail Baby Sail’, and was followed by Scots ballads including Burns’ ‘My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose’ and Michael Marra’s ‘Macushla’.

The singer was flanked by Irish accordionist Alan Kelly and English songwriter Boo Hewerdine. Photo: Chris Brown

Songs written by accompanying guitarist Hewerdine, such as the beautiful ‘Patience of Angels’, or ‘Dragonflies’, dedicated to Aunt Molly, exemplified Reader’s vocal elasticity.

Reader’s Irish Granny Madge also featured heavily, and was the inspiration behind the jaunty ‘Back the Dogs’.

Throughout the tributes there was theatre, especially in her depiction of her mother at a New Year party, feigning bashfulness and being corralled into singing ‘Moon River’ (complete with requests from the audience – “gies a song, Jean!”).

On the face of it, this is the type of show I might cringe at: cameo performances, lengthy back stories – in the wrong hands, there’s the danger of it all being a bit indulgent and potentially embarrassing. But in the right hands, it sets the scene perfectly – drawing you in and connecting you to the music, adding meaning and context to the songs. And on Tuesday, they were definitely in the right hands.

Elena Piras: "easy, relaxed stage presence and witty delivery". Photo: Chris Brown

The evening felt to me like more than being entertained: being part of a journey of remembrance, of holding a mirror up to our own lives and finding the joy and humour in the everyday: celebrating seemingly unimportant people who are vital to who we all are.

Support came from locally based Sardinian singer Elena Piras, who played collection of folk songs with wide ranging origins, from Tom Paxton’s ‘Last Thing on My Mind’ to ‘The Bleacher Lass of Kelvinhaugh’, to the ‘Bressay Lullaby’.The enthralled audience sat glued to their seats throughout, ignoring warnings that they might miss ferries home, choosing to stay to whoop and cheer instead to requested hits ‘Perfect’ and ‘Wild Mountainside’.

An a cappella ‘The Burning of the Banks of Auchindoon’ made for a slightly spooky opener and she made an impact with a set which included two impressively convincing Gaelic songs.

Piras clearly has a passion for storytelling, and her songs were accompanied by an easy, relaxed stage presence and witty delivery.

Louise Thomason