Eddi Reader and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra Review
We couldn’t let January 25 pass without celebrating the 257th Birthday of Rabbie Burns in some way. Happily, Eddi Reader and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra were appearing at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall as part of this year’s Celtic Connections festival to do exactly that. So decibelROGUE packed a camera and went along.
Scotland has produced many fabulous female vocalists over the years and Eddi Reader is certainly up there with the best of them. Obviously best known for her breakthrough with Fairground Attraction, Reader has gone on to have an extremely successful, award winning solo career. She fell in love with Burns’ work after her family relocated to Irvine when she was young. And despite initially feeling that Robert Burns was “for the highbrow and not the likes of me, the hardly educated, council estate overspill girl” she soon realised that she was wrong, and that she was precisely the kind of person Burns wrote for.
Although the majority of last night’s songs were penned by Burns, the set started however, with a song based on a poem from another of Scotland’s finest poets, Edwin Morgan. ‘Glen of Tranquility’ really set the tone for the rest of the show and left you in no doubt that this was going to be an evening when you’d hear very familiar songs arranged and performed in a way that you’d never heard before.
Fusing Robert Burns’ poetry and jazz music doesn’t initially strike you as being a natural or obvious combination. But the arrangements were so well conceived, the musicianship so expert and Readers’ vocals so exquisite that any doubts were immediately set aside. Emotion lies at the heart of Burns’ work and it should come as no surprise that Reader’s ability to convey strong emotions through her singing ensured that her versions of ‘My Love is Like a Red Red Rose’ and ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ were nothing short of stunning.
Although Eddi Reader was the star of the show, each member of the 13-piece SNJO also had the opportunity to wow the packed audience with elaborate solos and enjoy their share of the spotlight. And as someone whose earliest music memories include listening to records by the likes of Count Basie and Duke Ellington, it was thrilling to watch such accomplished jazz musicians in full flow.
Throughout the evening Reader gave some background and context to the songs she was about to sing. My favourite anecdote was the story of how after hearing Heather Haywood perform at the Kilmarnock Folk Club, she realised that she could sing in her own accent and didn’t have to “try to sound like Sheena Easton”. Thank God for Heather Haywood! There were other amusing stories, such as how Eddie Reader’s dad used to bring the pub home on a Thursday night (payday!) so her mother wouldn’t throw the dishes at him. A party would generally ensue, and it was at one such party that she heard a toothless eighty-odd year old man sing a pub song called ‘The Glasgow Barrowlands’. A song that to this day Reader continues to sing in the hope that by keeping it alive, maybe one day folk will think it’s quite good! Her version certainly was.
Pretty soon though, Reader and the band were wrapping things up with ‘Wild Mountainside’, a song written for her by her husband John Douglas. A suitably beautiful song to end what was an absolutely stunning night of music. It was one of those concerts that you could go to and enjoy regardless of whether you’re familiar with Burns’ poetry or even if you’ve never listened to jazz music at all. And that’s simply because of the calibre of Eddi Reader and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. A brilliant way to mark the Bard’s Birthday.
Wha’s like us!
Glen of Tranquility
Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon
John Anderson My Jo
Auld Lang Syne
My Love is Like a Red Red Rose
Ye Jacobites by Name
Charlie Is My Darling
Brose and Butter
Ae Fond Kiss
The Loch Tay Boat Song
The Glasgow Barrowlands
Eddi Reader Gallery