A trick I’ve taken to when wanting to review a gig is to try and get sight of a set list. It may sound like a bit of a cheat, but so many artists seem to neglect the simple task of letting you know what they are playing. Sometimes it’s no problem, but when you’re seeing someone for the first time or on the strength of one record, a full mental database of an artists work isn’t likely to be on tap and notes on the fly leave gaps. Sometimes I’ve had to gather song names from lyrical cues, making the whole business of a write up a far more onerous task. “Tough luck!” you may well sneer.
The reason for letting this particular cat out of the bag is that Eddi Reader’s set list would have done me no good whatsoever, but then thankfully Eddi has a story for every song and the titles emerge from her monologues by default. I should emphasise that with a full band it’s not all unscripted and off the cuff, or indeed unfamiliar, it’s just that about half way through, she offers the audience a choice of two Burns interpretations, which prompts a barrage of additional requests. It’s at this point that the prescribed order of songs takes a turn towards the intuitive, the set list is abandoned and whatever feels right fits the bill, including both Charlie Is My Darling and Ae Fond Kiss.
It helps that Eddi has a considerable catalogue of songs to call on and can make each and everyone of them sound fabulous. The band are also unruffled and they too sound fabulous and so completely right for the occasion. With Ian Carr and Boo Hewerdine on acoustic guitars, Kevin McGuire on double bass and Alan Kelly on accordion, the surprise package is Gustaf Ljunggren, whose multi-instrumental skills extend through various stringed instruments, including lap steel guitar to some sinuous saxophone.
Still there is no doubting the star of the show, resplendent in a red hat, which we are assured, belonged to her aged aunty Molly, her loose, lightweight housecoat is apparently from another favoured relative. Eddi’s stories of her family will be the recurring theme of the evening and the source of much hilarity, but there is a serious side amongst the jokes as it seems that the Vagabond, the wandering minstrel feels closer to them all now than ever. Many of the new songs seem wrapped up with the importance of identity and also of place, perhaps it’s the prodigal daughter’s return to a more settled life in Scotland fuelling this.
Central to this is the recommendation that if you ever want to push your son or daughter towards a musical career then the best way to achieve this, is to thrust them into a two bedroom flat filled with as many relatives as you can squash in and get them to sing. It’s backed up with an hilarious scenario played out, but central to it is that Eddi’s mother was the best singer amongst them, however willing to take their turn they may be. As the story unfolds, Eddi somehow manages to cram several song fragments staying just the right side of harmonising with the chords the band are laying down, but when she finally breaks out into Moon River, everything resolves and hearts melt. Of course Eddi lets on that her mother secretly practiced for weeks in advance, but she seems to have both inherited the gift and the wisdom of application.
Eddi surely has that gift and knows how to use it without overplaying it. She is on sparkling form, whether determinedly trying to get the audience to sing along with a complex chorus, making fun of the somewhat moribund subject matter of most of Fairground Attraction’s songs with the exceptional and obvious ray of light, not to mention, major hit of Perfect, or even explaining how she became an Eddi, with a song that cast an eye back to the girl as she grew, Edinah.
Of the new songs, however, Baby’s Boat is possibly the most immediate and reflects the challenges that Eddi faces in dealing with her own children. Back The Dogs about her Irish Grandmother Madge leads to more tall but heartfelt and very funny tales, while Married To The Sea and Snowflakes In The Sun are also delightful.
Still the emotional sideswipe comes out of the Burns’ segment. Charlie Is My Darling and Ae Fond Kiss are stunning enough, but the sudden choice of what is apparently Ian Carr’s favourite song floors me, as Dolphins has me misty eyed to the point of having to suspend any note taking. An impromptu Dance Across The Rooftops with just sax and bass sees even the formalities of an encore abandoned in favour of squeezing an extra tune or two into the remaining minutes. Nonetheless, a finale of Fairground Attraction’s Moon On The Rain brings the audience to its feet and a standing ovation meets its conclusion.
With the news that advanced copies of the new album are on sale at the back and the promise of a meet and greet, the queue forms immediately, snaking down the isles of the Union Chapel. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with a purchase of the new album as given time it sits with the best of everything Eddi has recorded. What is unquestionable, however is the sheer privilege of being here tonight. Brilliant, brilliant stuff and set list or not, even a transport meltdown can’t deter me from sitting down to write this up as soon as I get in. It’s 2.30 AM and time for bed.
Review by: Simon Holland
Performing Live (Not Union Chapel but last week at Holmfirth)
14th Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
16th Stamford Corn Exchange Theatre
17th Bury St Edmunds Milkmaid Folk Arts Apex
18th Bingley Arts Centre
20th Stockton ARC
22nd Montrose Town Hall
23rd Dunfermline Alhambra Theatre
24th Dundee The Gardyne Theatre
26th Aberdeen Music Hall
27th Hamilton Townhouse
29th Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
30th Edinburgh Usher Hall
Vagabond is released 3 Feb 2014 via Reveal Records (unless you’re at a gig that is)