Eddi Reader biography, up to 2000

“There’s more to life than my life story”
lyrics to Dear John

Sadenia Reader was born and spent her formative years in Glasgow. Contrary to much published information, her birthday is August 29th (not the 28th). Various years have been quoted, particularly when her ‘pop’ profile was high, but 1959 seems to be correct. The first of seven children, her father Danny was a welder and home was a two-roomed flat. She was known in the family as ‘Edna’ and nicknamed ‘Eddi’ at school. With a growing family, Danny, his wife Jean and the children were re-housed in Irvine on the Ayrshire coast, but Eddi lived in Glasgow again in her mid-teens, with her grandmother, studying for school qualifications.

Early musical influence came from her parents’ love of Elvis Presley and from her mother’s singing. At age 10, Eddi was given a small guitar for Christmas and, making the best of cramped housing, she practised on it in a cupboard! During her time back in Glasgow, she sneaked off to busk in Sauchiehall Street, but was spotted by an aunt who ‘reported back’. This didn’t put her off however, and later she busked her way around Europe. Another outlet was a folk/blues inspired trio, getting to grips with Matty Groves and covering Robert Johnson and Joni Mitchell numbers.

After her European trip, Eddi became a backing vocalist for Gang of Four, a politically aware punk band, and accompanied them on a trip to America. On their return, she gravitated to London and picked up work recording adverts and singing sessions, most notably as backing singer on tours for the Eurythmics and for Alison Moyet. Another of the media myths has it that her willingness to accept almost any offer of work led to her being nick-named ‘Ever-ready’ in the music business.

As one of three vocalists on a demo for a disco orientated outfit rejoicing in the name Outbar Squeek (!), Eddi was surprised when EMI would only sign the band if she was included. To this she somewhat reluctantly agreed and she appears, looking very new-wave on the cover, on at least one of their two known twelve-inch releases.

About the same time she was teamed up with song-writer and guitarist Mark E. Nevin to record a couple of his songs for a Compact Organisation (label) sampler. Subsequently they formed their own band Fairground Attraction with Simon Edwards (acoustic bass guitar) and Roy Dodds (drums). Signed to RCA, the jazzy acoustic sounds of the single Perfect gave them a UK number 1 hit in May 1988 and both this single and the subsequent platinum-selling album The first of a million kisses garnered ‘best-of-year’ at the Brit awards in 1989 (the one with the [in]famous ceremony co-hosted by Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood).

At this time Eddi had her first child, Charlie, with her French-Algerian partner Milou – in fact the Top of the Pops television appearance for Perfect required careful choice of clothes – and the career took a back seat for a while. Moreover Eddi felt under pressure from Mark’s continual perfectionism (pun not intended!) in the band. So when he stormed out of a recording session for a second album one day in November 1989, Fairground Attraction split, with only a later compilation album of singles’ b-sides and live tracks as a farewell.

After a family holiday in Ireland to get away from it all, Eddi returned to live in Scotland and regroup. While working up her own material, she appeared in the BBC TV comedy-drama series Your cheatin’ heart written by maverick Glasgow playwright and poet John Byrne and based on the Country and Western music scene in Scotland. He had heard her on BBC Radio 4’s magazine programme Woman’s hour and thought she would be ideal for the insensitive, self-absorbed singer and accordionist Jolene Jowett. Strangely, the title-song had been the first thing Eddi had busked all those years before in Sauchiehall Street.

With a young child to look after, Eddi took preparations for a solo career slowly, recording demos with Roy Dodds at the Kilmarnock studios of her brother Frank’s band the Trash Can Sinatras. There were personal problems too, as Eddi left her husband for while but then they re-united and had another son, Sam.

Back in London, Eddi and Roy worked on the demoed tracks with Neill and Calum MacColl, forming with Phil Steriopoulos (bass) a backing band The Patron Saints of Imperfection. With investment by RCA, Fairground Attraction’s label, to whom she still owed money, an album was recorded for about £100K. Although they liked the results, RCA wanted a couple of singles so, with a further £30K, the band spent two weeks of September 1991 in Jools Holland’s Helicon Mountain studios, south-east London and produced a virtually new album of stunning originals and covers entitled Mirmama, released in spring 1992. Despite excellent reviews and steady sales, Mirmama failed to achieve the level of RCA’s expectations – perhaps not surprisingly after all that investment! – and Eddi later signed to Blanco y Negro, a Warner Brothers’ ‘independent’ subsidiary, run by Geoff Travis (owner of the Rough Trade shop and record label), for a follow up.

At about this time she teamed up with Cambridge-based singer and songwriter Boo Hewerdine, founder member of critically acclaimed band The Bible. This very fruitful musical partnership encompassed, at the start, another experienced singer-songwriter, Clive Gregson (formerly of band Any Trouble and the Gregson-Collister duo). As Reader – Gregson – Hewerdine they released a single on Norwich-based independent Haven Records. Another track from this session, covering a Richard Thompson song appeared on a charity compilation.

Separated again from Milou, Eddi nevertheless asked him to look after the children while she recorded the new solo album in America with producer Greg Penny (k. d. lang’s producer on Ingenue), since she could not afford to pay for professional childcare. Milou became their ‘primary carer’ and planned to move permanently to France. This eponymously titled second album, containing quite brilliant compositions from Eddi and new collaborators Boo Hewerdine and Teddy Borowiecki and from Mark E. Nevin (any differences now being overcome), was a much more ‘mature’ album than her previous efforts, many tracks reflecting her roller-coaster emotional life and it went top 5 in the UK on its release in June 1994, while Eddi proceeded with a divorce.

Although not climbing very high in the singles chart, Patience of angels received a lot of radio-play and once again the Brit awards turned up trumps, giving Eddi the ‘Best British Female’ title in February 1995. But Eddi was probably happier that she was re-united with her two boys, having convinced the authorities that she was able both to look after them and to sustain a career.

Songs for another album were worked on at home in south London with Boo and Teddy and recorded ‘down’ the road at The Snake Ranch studios in Chelsea. The finished collection Candyfloss and medicine, released in the UK in July 1996, had a mellow feel to it and a polished surface which hid its deep emotions from most of the critics (and buyers seemingly, as it peaked at #24 in its release week).

For the b-sides on the UK singles extra, new, songs were recorded in the garden in Battersea in the weeks before touring the new album. These included Sandy Denny’s Who knows where the time goes, as Eddi was due to guest at Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival in August. But plans for her tour and festival appearance were thrown out of kilter by a bout of laryngitis, which delayed the later part of the tour till the end of August. The Aberdeen show was recorded for an hour-long TV showing in Scotland (on New Year’s day, 1997).

Work on recording a fourth solo album was completed in April-May 1997 at Chipping Norton studios. Earlier in the year, the track listing of Candyfloss and medicine was revised to include three of the UK singles tracks for a USA release, dropping Town without pity. This hit the shelves in July from the Reprise Records division of Warners. At about the same time Mirmama gained its first US release when licensed to Compass Records by BMG.

Initially it was hoped that the newly recorded album would be out in the UK in November, or perhaps January, with a supporting tour, but the label had ‘difficulty’ fitting it into their schedule. To keep the wheels spinning, Eddi and Boo undertook a joint-headlining ‘acoustic’ tour of a dozen dates in August 1997 in UK and Eire. They went on to support the Levellers on their Mouth to mouth tour. More tracks for the album and singles were recorded, too.

Angels & electricity, as the album was eventually titled, was finally released in May (Europe) and June (Japan) 1998, her strongest set since Mirmama. A handful of early evening promotions in Dillon’s bookstores in the UK were well received – Eddi said she wanted to do some ‘informal gigs which families could get to’ to launch the album. However the label could not see their way to releasing any UK singles and it was really no surprise when, in the midst of a tour of UK venues and Japanese cities in support of the release, it was announced that Warner’s had decided not to renew Eddi’s recording contract with Blanco y Negro. So Eddi entered on a period of free-lance work, under her management Sincere.

Excellent news was that Compass Records in Nashville, who had given Mirmama its belated US release, licensed Angels & electricity in the USA from Warners. They put it out in March 1999 on the same day as their issues of Boo’s latest Thanksgiving and Clive Gregson’s Happy hour. To support this trio of albums Reader – Gregson – Hewerdine took to the US road as a unit, with a programme featuring the individual and collective talents of the trio of performers. Unfortunately the last minute nature of the arrangements meant that only the East Coast was privileged to be within shouting distance.

So, at the time of writing, fans of the divine (well, semi divine anyway) Eddi await another album, which is rumoured to be complete after recording sessions in the Country Barn studio in Sussex in late spring or early summer 2000. Live appearances crop up sporadically at music festivals and events in the UK – perhaps a tour, including overseas dates, will materialise with the album? Despite threatening a move out of the ‘big smoke’ to the lowlands of Cambridgeshire, Eddi is still living in London and surely some enterprising independent label there can give her the professional support she and her gorgeous voice deserve?

© 1999-2000 Adrian Dover


Grateful thanks are offered to all artists who have contributed to compiling this summary; also to the following printed sources :

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