Eddi Reader On Robert Burns


A years back, Features Ed Alex interviewed Scottish songstress Eddi Reader on her love for Robert Burns.

What better way to mark Burns Night than to revisit that interview here!

When Eddi Reader was growing up, Robert Burns was not a big influence.

The “Friend” was, though, as a relative used to send her the fashion ads to inspire her!

“They thought I wasn’t very fashionable, so they’d cut them out and post them to me!”

Eddi once bought three pairs of sandals from an ad in the back of the magazine, which she said lasted her well through the late Seventies.

But Scotland’s bard just didn’t seem like a relevant figure for a young Glaswegian.

“I used to be the person that would get bored.

“It would be some guy that worked with my da who would recite the whole of ‘Parnassus Hill’.

“I just really didn’t want to hear all these old archaic words that didn’t mean anything to me. I couldn’t quite get my head around it.”

It wouldn’t be until Eddi moved to Irvine in her late teens that she’d begin to warm to the poet’s work.

It felt very human

The coastal town in North Ayrshire was once a haunt of Burns. He lived in the town between 1781 and 1782.

“People at Kilmarnock Folk Club would sing Robert Burns. It wasn’t po-faced, it wasn’t ‘look how clever I am’ – it felt very human.”

“As much as I admire everyone who’s had Burns Suppers and has kept his memory alive in that way, that has not been my experience of Robert Burns.

“What’s led me to him are the actual songs sung by people who have transferred the humanity of Burns through the song right into my ear.

“For example, ‘Green Grow The Rashes, O’ is just the most beautiful melody. I heard a folk singer sing it in 1978 at a late-night party somewhere and it stuck with me.”

In the early 2000s, Eddi recorded an album of musical interpretations of Burns’s work.

“Then there was the deluxe edition that we did for his two hundred and fiftieth birthday in 2007.

“So that was everything from the first one, and then extra that we had recorded through the years.”

The first album was recorded just after Eddi returned to her homeland from a long stint away.

“I was down in London, then I was in France – twenty-eight years away from Scotland. I had an ex-pat longing for it all the time.

So doing the Burns thing brought me home in a lot of ways.

He was full of wit

“I was to play some Burns at the Celtic Connections festival, so I had eight of his songs ready.

“When they offered me the chance to do the record, it was just a case of finding four more and I would have an album.

“So that’s when I went on my journey to finding out who this guy actually was.

“I’d never been to a Burns Supper. But I realised that Robert Burns was exactly like me. The oldest of seven, his father a hard-working poor man who died at sixty.

“There was a lack of pretention that I know well from my west of Scotland family, and he was full of wit, as well, that made me smile and laugh more than I’ve ever laughed in my whole life.”

Eddi feels his poetry is as striking today as it was in its time, if you take the time to get into it.

“There’s a clever humanity to his words that just puts you into the image without you having to do any work.

“And then there’s ‘Green Grow The Rashes, O’, where Burns compares God’s nature – well, he describes God as a woman, and that was incredibly daring then, never mind now!”

“I mean, nearly three hundred years ago this guy died, in 1796! He’s been dead a long time, yet he’s not dead at all!

‘Not dead’

“I’m surprised at how ‘not dead’ he is, and he surprises me more and more every day that I step into his world and he takes me by the hand, across old bridges and rainy towns, and he shows me a side of humanity that existed then, existed before him, existed after him, exists now.”

Since those albums were released, Eddi’s been a much-requested guest at Burns events all over.

“I’m in the really luxurious position of being able to pick and choose!

“So if I want to do a charity thing, or if I want to do something for free for something that I think is a good cause, or if I want to get paid a lot of money to sing Robert Burns for a couple of minutes – I’ve been getting the offers!”

“I feel very proud of that album because there was something in me that needed to ‘big up’ a little boy who didn’t think he had anything.

“What Burns did was represent us and who we ordinary folk are.”

For more from Alex, click here to read his blog.

Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.