Eddi Reader: The night I nearly became a ghost
Eddi Reader tells our reporter about her childhood in Glasgow and the desperate times of her past when no comfort seemed possible
You can tell a lot about someone from their earliest childhood memory.
For Eddi Reader - the ginger goddess of alt.pop folk - it wasn't playing with her Barbie doll on the front lawn while her mother made buns for tea. "I was climbing a tenement stair [in Glasgow] and my legs were too short to reach up," she says, "the stone looked like slept-in pillows.
"I also remember faking sleep in Mass so the adults would carry me home; and, the following may have been a dream but I remember floating inside a bubble which in itself was floating through a dark deep blue with twinkling occasional lights. Someone told me it was a womb memory."
You can also tell a lot about someone from the first record they ever bought. For Reader, it was The Hissing of Summer Lawns by Joni Mitchell.
"Freedom to hear melodies that didn't stick to a formula - even though I loved those old songs of my parents, aunts and uncles - Joni's creative voice," she says, "seemed to weave and duck and dive wherever the river went."
A bit like Eddi Reader, in fact.
She has a vivid imagination, with a memory to match. When I inquire about the low moments in her life, Eddi for all intents and purposes disappears into a reverie only to return five minutes later...
"I've had a look back and I remember those broken moments. I remember desperate sadness, incredibly lost and alone times when no comfort was possible. One very dark night I nearly became a ghost. My children," she says of Charlie and Sam, now 28 and 24 respectively, "were my reminder that life changes fast.
"So decisions can't be made in those desperate times. I can't go into the depth of it all but no-one reading this will be any different from me in the experience of profound sadness. I've found my escape routes to the surface. The first stone up can be a big reach and it might be disguised as mundanity, but once you start climbing you never get so low again. Simply doing the dishes or washing a step can be the first glorious medicine to the surface."
The beautiful voice of Patience of Angels - and of course that 1988 number one, Perfect with Fairground Attraction - Eddi Reader once reflected that singing was "my way out of this, my way out of the wild west Dodge that was the southern Glaswegian education system, which was very tough".
How does she look back on that time in her life?
"I reached exam age and there seemed to be no investment," she answers, "and they streamed kids into: 'high achievers', 'clueless with potential', or 'factory fodder'. Then there was the sub-section non-exam-taking 'criminally psychotic'.
"Weak teachers were locked in cupboards in those classes. The sexes were split up too. So I'm only talking about the lassies!" she laughs.
"My card was marked from being under-confident in exams. So I was dumped with the teacher-jailers in many subjects, but after I discovered that if I took my guitar to school and sang daft songs to the lassies," she continues, "then the day would end with no real problem."
Luckily, she says, a more left-wing policy was applied in the final year and all streaming was stopped: classes were of mixed abilities and gender. "Therefore criminals were out-numbered and I gained a form teacher who encouraged me to bring in my guitar and encouraged debate amongst all of us.
"She saved my education. I passed my exams. Ms Maureen Smith - form-mistress, Bellarmine Secondary, 1975, biology department and a Bob Dylan fan. I still see her."
Born on August 29, 1959, Sadenia 'Eddi' Reader is the eldest of seven children. The welder's daughter from a council estate in Glasgow was to rise to great heights - winning best single and best album at the 1989 Brit Awards, singing with Gang of Four, Eurythmics and Alison Moyet, acting in Me And Orson Welles alongside Claire Danes, being awarded an MBE, singing at the re-opening of the new Scottish Parliament building in 2004 (where she was presented to her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.)
An inspirational, quirky woman you don't meet every day (I met her in the Gresham hotel in Dublin), Eddi has been singing for her supper (and for the suppers of her two kids) for nearly three decades now. What I love about Ms Reader is that you don't know what she is going to come up with (either in person, during an interview) or in the recording studio. Not least her brilliant The Songs of Robert Burns in 2003 with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Indeed she said of the 18th century Bard of Ayrshire thus: "People didn't want their daughters anywhere near him because he was a scallywag, and he was always getting in trouble with the people in the chapel. Mostly for fornication."
Can Eddi remember the first time she sang? "I can't remember exactly the first time but I loved to do the mundane tasks I was given to the best of my ability," she says."My favourite was washing the 'close'," she says (explaining that the 'close' was "the shared stone entrance and stairwell for 8-10 families").
"I would hone my singing in those reverb-filled stairwells, singing in them sounded more powerful than singing while peeling tatties or washing or ironing or hanging out clothes," she says.
"One afternoon while singing and sloshing about with my mop and bleach-filled bucket - I would be paid to do the neighbours' 'turn' - Mrs Hosie had a visitor and when he was saying goodbye to her he turned to me and gave me some money. He said: 'Thank you for singing that lovely song'." This, she recalls, had "some mad effect on my tiny brain. I felt like a prince had showed up and given me a ticket to the palace".
What songs of hers is Eddi most proud of?
"I love many of them - some haven't been recorded yet. I don't think 'pride' is an accurate word to describe the way I feel about songs. It's too disembodied a word. I'm not outside looking in, I'm inside looking out. All the songs that occur surprise me when they arrive. I don't have a past or a future with a song," she says, "they just live in my brain constantly. They wake me up too early though. Quite cacophonous in my head at five am! Especially when they're bursting to come out if I'm recording, like this week."
How would her kids describe her, this profoundly vibrant woman?
"When they bump into me in the hall I get the feeling they would say: 'She's the one that will get me my missing whatever and give me that stuff people use to buy things, she brings up things I don't want to talk too long about, right that's enough of her, gotta go! Love you! Bye!'"
How would Eddi's partner John Douglas describe her? "I'll ask," Eddi says texting him at their home in Glasgow. [Two minutes later.] "He says: 'Beautiful'.
And her him? "He is a good man who has all the right words when talking to me!" Eddi laughs.
Eddi Reader is touring Ireland from February 12-26, including a show at Vicar Street, Dublin, on February 16 www.eddireader.co.uk