EDDI Reader was on sparkling form at Mareel on Wednesday night as she cantered through a firecracking celebration of 40 years of live performance in front of an overjoyed audience.
Needless to say the last year or so had been a lot less active than the preceding 39 for Reader – there will come a time when concert reviews can avoid alluding to the dreaded ‘C’ word, but we’re not there yet – so she clearly relished being back on stage in front of a near sell-out crowd.
It was clear from the off that an 18-month, pandemic-enforced hiatus had done nothing to dull the inimitable stagecraft of one of Scotland’s most enduring singers. “Thank you for getting me oot the hoose!” she told us.
Before that there was an astute set from resident islander Jenny Sturgeon, who gave us a 25-minute performance characterised by crystal clear vocals, deft guitar picking and wildlife samples bringing her nature-focused songwriting to life.
Particularly impressive and assured were selections from last year’s excellent The Living Mountain LP, inspired by a Nan Shepherd book about the Cairngorms, near where Jenny grew up.
Her set deservedly drew a warm reception and paved the way very nicely for Reader’s arrival before the packed auditorium.
It was as if she had never been away as the singer and her first class, four-piece band felt their way into proceedings with the Spanish-tinged Baby’s Boat, dedicated to all those seeking sanctuary in this troubled world.
Early set highlights included the Boo Hewerdine-penned hymn to the transience of life, Dragonflies. She sang it for some of the late musical greats we have sadly lost very recently (Charlie Watts, Nanci Griffith and Don Everly) and its rich melody had Reader swaying and swooping gracefully through five minutes of life-affirming beauty.
Lively traditional Willie Stewart was perhaps most notable for offering guitarist Innes White a platform to demonstrate his dazzling folk musician of the year chops on an extended outro.
There was no predetermined setlist – Reader spent part of one number frantically leafing through an already well-thumbed songbook – but whether tackling Robbie Burns, jazz-shaded show tunes, playful country stomps or her own pop hits of yesteryear, she effortlessly demonstrated an impeccable vocal range wrought full of emotion.
She left it to guitarist Hewerdine, a masterful writer who has furnished her and others with many a song down the years, to perform his own Patience of Angels. Given a muscular acoustic band-and-harmony treatment, it glistened every bit as brightly as the rest of the set.
It’s not often Mareel witnesses a bona fide UK number one single, and Fairground Attraction’s 1988 chart topper Perfect was duly delivered – Reader recalling her dad thinking she’d really made it when the song was co-opted on the football terraces as “it’s got to be… Celtic”.
There’s as much sadness as celebration in many of these songs, but her vocal prowess and renowned brand of Ayrshire humour ensure Eddi Reader gigs are very much a feel-good occasion.
A family thread ran through the evening with constant, humorous and endearing references to the formative influences of her parents and assorted aunts, uncles and grandparents.
This lent itself to an extended comedy routine transporting the audience to smoke-filled party nights in a Maryhill two-bed in the sixties. It culminated in Reader adopting the character of her mum Jean, who was always asked to sing near the end of the night, to deliver a stirring rendition of Moon River and send everyone home feeling warm, fuzzy and totally revitalised.