ONE OF Scotland’s top music talents will visit the isles this month to perform two “interesting” concerts with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.
Eddi Reader will head to Shetland once again to play at Mareel in Lerwick on 12 and 13 June as part of the inaugural Jazz and World Sounds (JAWS) festival.
The duo of gigs are entitled ALBA – Songs of Scotland and they will see the renowned vocalist and the jazz orchestra – who are led by saxophonist Tommy Smith – pay tribute to the country’s musical heritage.
“It’s going to be interesting, because the songs that I’ve been doing in a folk way are all being turned into these jazz arrangements,” Reader told Shetland News.
“And it’ll be an adventure, as although I’m quite jazz on my approach to music and singing – I don’t stick to melody lines, I venture off the path and I like to play and have fun with the musical noises that I hear – I don’t know what it’s like to be with an ensemble jazz arrangement. So it’s going to be brand new, and I’m really excited about playing with that many people. Hearing ‘Charlie Is My Darling’ and all that in a jazz format – I can’t even imagine what that would be like.”
The set will feature a number of Scots songs reworked in a jazz format, with the collaboration set to honour the likes of Gaelic singer Ishbel MacAskill as well as mining Reader’s 2003 album ‘Sings The Songs of Robert Burns’.
So why are traditional Scottish songs, in particular, so enduring? “When I go France and I hear a really old French song or German folk song from Germany…the reason they all live on is because people use them,” the MBE recipient said.
“When people use things like songs and dance and sayings and stories, and they’re passed from father to son or mother to daughter, it connects us to our DNA and connects us to the past. If you’re connected to the past, you feel rooted. You can manage whatever comes at you in the present and the future. So that’s why I think people love old things like that. It makes them feel connected. It’s the same as nature.”
Whilst roots and heritage is key, it seems Scotland – politically, at least – is currently now re-energised. So what does independence supporter Reader think of the country in 2015?
“I left Scotland in 1978 as an 18-year-old girl, and I came home in 2001. It changed enormously in that time. In that time, I lived away and I didn’t get much news about Scotland. When I came home fully, I was amazed at how independent it was, and how confident the kids were and how much more interested in themselves they were. Whereas in 1978 when I left, everyone my age was leaving for London. Or America, or Canada, or South Africa, or Australia. People were leaving Scotland.
“And now after I came home, I noticed, with or without the independence referendum, it seems like a more confident country. I noticed the folk scene was really vibrant, with the Celtic Connections festival. Scotland wasn’t just a BBC version of opera singers in kilts anymore.
“There was much more vibrancy about it. And lots of kids had grown up learning about their culture, and being proud of it. Which is really important to humanity. It’s as important to the American natives and the Maori natives. It’s as important to them in the same way as it is important to English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish people to know where they come from, and that’s why tradition is getting more important.”
Reader last played Shetland in 2014, with her first appearance coming at the isles’ folk festival a number of years ago.
And the archipelago’s remote location, aligned with its love of music, makes for an enticing prospect.
“Honestly, I love coming up there,” the Scot gushed. “The most wonderful thing about Shetland is that first of all, it has a completely different accent that takes about 15 days to get used to. And on top of that I’m interested in what it feels like to be so remote from the mainland.
“It’s kind of isolated, but it’s a very wonderful place for musicians to gather and there’s lots of information about it. I adore going to the place and noticing that there’s no trees. I find it an incredible landscape, quite remarkable. It’s like being on another planet.”
Reader’s gigs meanwhile will be two of many shows held during the first JAWS festival, which Creative Scotland has supported with a £35,000 grant.