It has been, yeah, perfect, for Eddi
Life after the end of Fairground Attraction has been good for Scottish singer-songwriter Eddi Reader, particularly with her husband John Douglas by her side. writes Andrea Smith
After busking and living in a London squat for years, Eddi Reader's life changed when she hit the limelight in 1988 with the group Fairground Attraction. They enjoyed huge chart success with their debut number one single, Perfect, and their album, The First of a Million Kisses, was the only album released by the band before their break-up in 1990 and it also topped the charts.
"Having a hit really changed things," Eddi admits. "I was saving everyone's change to buy guitar strings, and suddenly we were getting cheques in the post for 20 grand. It was fantastic but there was a lot of pressure to do things like interviews at 7am all of a sudden, and I didn't understand that. It all seemed very odd and I wondered why things got worse when we were supposed to be luxuriating in a spa and have people waft us with reeds?"
She's joking, of course, because Eddi is full of fun and mischief and liable to say anything. We're chatting in a Dublin hotel ahead of her Irish tour, and the Scottish songstress is in the company of her husband, John Douglas, who plays with her and is also a founding member of The Trash Can Sinatras band.
They're clearly mad about one another, and with her trademark red hair, Eddi, who turns 60 this year, looks amazing and says she's happier than ever with her life.
Interestingly, while the rest of us might have assumed that she was on top of the world when Perfect was being played off the radio, Fairground Attraction's tenure at the top was short-lived, principally because of tensions within the band. How it all began was that Eddi was introduced to songwriter Mark E. Nevin through Anthony Thistlethwaite of The Waterboys.
"Anthony kind of fancied me and was always hanging around my prefab squat and bringing me to gigs," she recalls. "He introduced me to Mark and I sang backing vocals for him for his soul band one night in a pub in north London. Mark went to America and I wrote to him and said that I really loved his song, Heart and Soul, and asked him if he would come back and write some songs for me and he did."
Mark wrote a few songs for her, including Perfect and they made a demo, and were signed to RCA in 1987. The album came out and was a huge hit, but cracks were already forming in the band. "Some guy with a camel coat and his pal were suddenly in charge of us and it felt a little corporate," says Eddi. "Suddenly I couldn't stand in the street and observe people any more. I had become the observed."
That type of life didn't sit comfortably with Eddi, and the situation wasn't helped when she and songwriter Nevin ended up on different wavelengths. "Every day I'd go in and it would be, 'You're singing that wrong' or 'You're upsetting me'. It just all felt to be getting more and more critical, the more success we had."
Eddi tried but the relationship worsened until Nevin eventually left and the band came to an end. "We had no rights to the songs we had made, and they were sold for adverts and it all became a bit mercenary," she says. "All the good heart and the stuff we did at the beginning went into that one album, and there wasn't any way we could have gotten any more out of it."
By this stage, Eddi had married her first husband, Milou Bessa, an Algerian she met in Paris at 18, and they had their first son Charlie, now 30. "We were in love but I basically married him to protect me from the band," she admits.
"I'd say, 'You go and talk to them as I can't deal with them'. I discovered I was pregnant on the last day of recording the final song on the album. I took a test and when I peed on the stick, the light turned blue and I went, 'Oh f**k!' Becoming a mum blew my mind though, because I thought I knew what love was until my sons came out. Having a baby brought lots of luck too because the album went to number one in so many countries."
When Fairground Attraction ended, the record company was keen to continue working with Eddi and she went on to achieve great success with her solo albums and tours. She won three Brit awards and was bestowed with an MBE, and her recording career now spans 30 years.
During this time, she and Milou had another adored son Sam, now 26, and while her marriage ended fairly early on, she was delighted to have her two boys, she says. Milou went on to have seven more children through two other relationships, and all remained very harmonious and cordial between Eddi and her sons and Milou until his death in 2017.
Eddi was born in a "derelict" part of Glasgow, and her family moved to the town of Irvine when she was a teenager. She's the oldest of seven and her real name is Sadenia, after her granny, although her dad Danny called her Edna. She was "second in command" to her mum when it came to her siblings, and says that she was more of a dad's girl growing up. "I didn't want to be like my mum Jean and have millions of kids," she says.
While it was evident from an early age that Eddi could sing sublimely and she taught herself to play guitar at 10, as she got older, people were impressed with her amazing voice and obvious musicality.
"It felt good to be revered," she says. "I was walking around as skinny as anything, thinking I hadn't much to offer anybody, and then I'd open my mouth to sing and everyone would go 'Wow'."
After school, Eddi began busking and joined various bands like Gang of Four. She had a key to a prefab squat in London, where she lived for eight years and did session work for the likes of The Eurythmics and Alison Moyet. Then Fairground Attraction and her solo career began, and she got together with her second husband John in 2001 and moved back to Scotland.
Eddi got to know John socially as he formed The Trash Can Sinatras with her brother Frank, and she found him very gentle and encouraging. The relationship turned to love when her brother asked if John could stay the night with her in London. He ended up staying for a week and a flirtation began that blossomed into a close relationship.
"It felt very natural," says John, who first spotted Eddi in a pub in their hometown, Irvine, in the 1980s. Although he fancied her straight away, it took him 20 years to act on it. "I thought she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen," he says. "When she left, someone said she was the lassie who was off touring with Gang of Four, which had been a talking point locally."
John (55) is the second-eldest of Betty and the late Billy's four sons and he picked up a guitar aged 21. After playing with various local bands, he got together with Frank and two others to form The Trash Can Sinatras. They got a recording contract in 1986, and still come together every few years to make an album and go on tour.
John wrote a beautiful song about Eddi called Wild Mountainside when they first met, and it was a catalyst for her falling in love with him.
"It goes, Beauty is within grasp/Hear the Highlands call/If you come home/ I'll catch you if you fall," she says. "John is a wonderful writer and is so dedicated to positivity in song. At first, I thought I was more powerful than him as I was the one with the career, money, relationships, kids and all the rest of it.
He was a single guy and maybe not as experienced, but now I realise that I have found in him a real guru. He is such a gorgeous, wise, powerful, human being and he has educated me."
John says that he finds every single thing about Eddi attractive, but he has also realised over the years that they think about the world and life in the same way.
"Well I don't think about football the same way," Eddi interjects, rolling her eyes in jest. She admits to being very critical when it comes to herself, but John has shown her a more positive way to appreciate her intellect and abilities. "On top of that, I can slob about and he still thinks I'm beautiful," she laughs. "And if I make a vegetarian meal that tastes like the underside of a carpet, he'll still think it's great."
Eddi says that John is now great in the kitchen and jokes that he "thinks he's Rick Stein". She has changed her diet recently because she was finding that some foods were playing havoc with her digestive system. "You see hovercrafts and my ability to fart? They're equal!" she laughs.
"Then I discovered if I stopped having dairy and coffee it all calmed down. I think we have to watch our diets because there are so many preservatives in food."
While they very much are in tune emotionally, Eddi and John also work very well together and produced her new 16-track album, Cavalier, together. Eddi is just about to embark on a nationwide Irish and UK tour. John will join her on guitar and vocals, and she loves having him on the road, Family is very important to them both, and while she and John both lost their dads too early, they're delighted their lovely mums, Jean and Betty, are still going strong.
When she got together with John, Eddi's sons were young and it has worked out very well and they all live together in Glasgow. Charlie is an entertainment production manager and a fantastic singer, and Sam is a talented DJ and music producer. While Eddi and John also tried to have children together, sadly it didn't work out for them. They got married in 2013 and while they had been together for years, they feel it has made a subtle difference.
"There's a comfort and warmth around being able to say 'my wife'," says John. "It's an ideal relationship because we're both musicians and understand how it all works. Eddi is all about calmness and as much wisdom as you can bring to a situation, and stress isn't given any credence. And I still think she's the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."
Catch Eddi Reader live on tour from February 14-24 at the Everyman Theatre, Cork; National Opera House, Wexford; Watergate Theatre, Kilkenny; Siamsa Tire, Tralee; Town Hall Theatre, Galway; Vicar Street, Dublin; An Grianan Theatre, Letterkenny; The Crescent Concert Hall, Drogheda; and Ulster Hall, Belfast. Details at www.eddireader.co.uk
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