Debbie Kruger
Writer FREELANCE EDDI READER Interview transcripts
Eddi Reader interviews

8 September 1997
Kensington, London, over lunch in a busy café a few doors from Warner Records.

© Debbie Kruger

They find it difficult to market [me], which is very strange.

In Australia?

Anywhere. [Laughs]

I wanted to talk to you about that. I wanted to talk to you about why you’re not more famous everywhere!

I quite like it actually, it’s quite good.

You can still wander around. You wouldn’t want to be a Spice Girl.

Yeah, and my kids.

How old are your kids?

Eight and four.

Because I read that the reason why Fairground Attraction disbanded was because you wanted to go and start a family.

Oh, no.

What happened with the group?

It was just as dazzling and completely incomprehensible to me as it was to everybody else.

That it finished?

Yeah. ‘Cause I really like hiding behind people and I like, my performing thing is not about so much an exhibition as in it’s always about doing something that I really like and sneakily pushing it forward, and I don’t know why I’m like that, maybe I’m shy or whatever. So when the band split up it was very traumatic for me, but it wasn’t my decision, it was another band member’s decision, and I don’t think that he was in control of his facilities at the time, so he was young, and —

Was that Mark E Nevin, the guy who was writing most of the songs?

Yeah. I think he found it difficult, and I have no idea why. I can understand the pressure, but there was a lot of hidden tensions that I didn’t understand. I couldn’t begin to put my finger on it. I’ve had apologies and I’ve had, been taken out together and had, “Oh why can’t we be together again” and all that business. But it’s very difficult for me to make myself vulnerable again to something like that, because I depended so much on it and I loved it.

And you’ve moved on from there now.

I have moved on.

There was really just one studio album and then there was an album after that which was like a compilation of B-sides and live tracks.

Well the record company did that to make money. We wouldn’t have done that. The one that we were making at the time of the split was going to be fantastic, it really was. In fact —

Where are all the recordings from that?

Well he used a lot of the songs on the Brian Kennedy album Sweetmouth. I think that all of that was going to be… Goodbye to Songtown… I don’t think that they were as realised as they could have been. Brian’s a great singer but with music it’s such a delicate thing. It’s like anything that we do, our bodies do, our bodies have to be, you know we’re water, and everything had to be, the chemistry had to be right, and the chemistry was right with Fairground, so consequently anything after that, if someone tried to be Fairground or tried to replace any of the members, the drummer or the bass, it would have been a different feeling and it wouldn’t have been the same.

It was quite a funny story how I came across it. I was really keen on this guy who was with a record company in Australia, and he dumped me really badly and then started sending me CDs to try and make it up to me. And one of them was Fairground Attraction. He didn’t want to get back, he just felt really guilty ‘cause he was a real arsehole.

Ooh, I wish I’d had that. I just get the arseholes that don’t feel guilty! That’s great. Remorse – brilliant!

Well there was one package he sent me that I sent back ‘cause I didn’t like the CDs, and he was really upset. But one of them was Fairground Attraction, and I absolutely adored it. And my favourite song was “Whispers,” which was your only composition on it.

Ah, that was the one I was allowed!

I often wondered if you’d thought of re-recording that on one of your albums with a little bit more on it.

Yeah, probably. No, I haven’t actually sung that since Fairground, which is quite difficult.

Can you still get up there?

I think I’ve practiced it. When someone reminded me of it, and then I was worried that I couldn’t, so I went into the bathroom and, yes I can actually hit those notes.

Was that actually inspired by a friend of yours or something? ‘Cause that’s one of the most beautiful tributes to somebody.

Oh, mothers. Mother. Mother, really. The mothering instinct which I think is the life force of us all. I think we are all, from a daffodil to frogspawn to bacteria to us, we have the mothering instinct. I think as humans we have the caring thing, but so do lions and swans and, they protect, everything. And I just wonder if it isn’t quite… it’s respected in a way, but there’s a kind of twisted value to motherhood. I think men can be mothers, too, and I just… it was a song about my mother and the spiritual mother and the feminine force of the world.

I got that it was either a sister or a mother or a best friend. It was just such a beautiful tribute to another woman. And women don’t often sing about other women.

Do they not? Ani Di Franco does, I’ve heard stuff. Yes, I know what you mean, there’s not a lot of I love you-ness happening.

Yeah. Just paying tribute to somebody who is inspiring. I love that song, I absolutely adore it.

Oh, good. Good, good, it worked.

When I mention you to people – “I’m going to speak to Eddi Reader” – they immediately say “Fairground Attraction.” Does that frustrate you after three solo albums?

No, I’m scared by it. Because I think, well god, what happens when that runs out, are they going to just forget about everything else I’ve done? Which is a shame, I wouldn’t like that to happen. But I’m proud of what I did there. But I do think that what I’ve been doing since is – Candyfloss and Medicine especially, and Mirmama, which I love —

Well, when I wrote to you I said I just found it and I was just so stunned by it. The self-titled album was the first one that came out in Australia, the Eddi Reader album.

Oh yeah, that one.

I read an interview that you did where you kind of said that you really didn’t have control on that album.

No, I didn’t.

I mean, there were some nice songs on it, but when I discovered Mirmama, it was like, Ohhh!

They weren’t realised. I let it go because… I gave it to someone else. The first time. I’ve never done that, ever. But everyone, my life was in utter turmoil, so I felt helpless, and instead of saying, I’m not going to record until I feel better, which I didn’t see the end of – it could have been never – I thought I’ve got to keep going, I’ve got to keep, I’ve channelled a lot of my energy into finding songs and writing. But I was exhausted very quickly, so when I worked with the producer I tended to buckle under in an argument quicker than I ever would have before and I tended to lose my sense of instinct. You know, my instincts would be telling me one thing and then these people would be telling me that I was completely wrong. And I caved quite a lot. Which I don’t respect, and I’ve forgiven myself for it, but the result is an album which I’m not happy with.

That won your Brit Award.

The award, I know! I couldn’t believe it! I know, I had Jarvis Cocker like drunkenly leaning over me saying, “I’m really sorry I lost your award”, showing me his belligerent –

He lost your award?

He was to present me with the award and I had to sing “Patience of Angels” – which I love but it’s not realised on that record. Anyway, he gave me the award and then I had to give it back to him when I went to sing. He said he lost it, but it was a big deal. Do you know what I mean? You know when someone protests a bit too much. I kind of go, look, really, I couldn’t give a fuck about the Brit Award either, you know what I mean, Jarvis? You’re not the only one who feels like this. It just felt a bit like, at the time I was intent on getting completely bollocks drunk, and I remember at the end of that Brits Award ceremony holding my thing, and standing outside waiting for my drummer friend and his Reliant Robin, in the pouring rain, while everyone was swanning off to their luxury parties. Jarvis included. Who I admire, but, they were all going off playing that game. And I was standing in the pouring rain at the back of the Alexandra Palace. And this Reliant Robin with its flat tyre and its dodgy gearbox and its dodgy driver and his twin brother, the guitar player, to pick me up after they’d packed all their gear again. So here I was again still stuck in that place that was completely real for me. You see it’s very difficult for me to be marketed – we were talking about that – because I don’t actually believe in the hype, ever. I can’t quite get my head around it. I believe it exists but it doesn’t mean anything to me, so it’s very difficult for me to… I can enjoy myself for five minutes, like get drunk and be hedonistic or sit in a party.

How significant is an award like that in a country that celebrates artists like the Spice Girls?

But we’ve always been like that. I remember watching the Brits when I was like 10 or something, whenever it started, and I used to think, rubbish, rubbish, rubbish – everybody on it is rubbish. That isn’t the case. No-one is rubbish. But you know, the dollar and the pound are powerful motivations for everything. And I’m not being naïve, I just think that it’s fucking us up a little bit, you know.

Well I guess why I relate to your work is that you seem to be doing what you want to do and it’s very personal music, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a lushly produced song like “Town Without Pity” or whether it’s something really intimate, like “Whispers” or “Semi Precious.” It has this intimacy that kind of draws you in, and there’s a purity about it. Did you ever listen to Heart in the early days?

No I haven’t.

If you ever listen to any of the Heart albums before they became a hard rocking band, and right up to an album, particularly, called Private Audition that has a song on it called “Angels” – they used a lot of mandolins and they were very folky at the beginning. I mean, they had stuff like “Magic Man” which was more hard rocking, but they had a lot of really intimate folky stuff, and I just love that.

I’m really into the ‘70s folk stuff, early ‘70s. Harry Nilsson stuff, and… I find that it’s almost too easy for me to get someone who has an innate wonderful knowledge of loops and drum machines. I did this with a bunch called the Towering Inferno. All I had to do was sing into a DAT. Now I can do this until the cows come home and then they it away and they turn it into a piece of music. That’s so easy. But for me that wouldn’t be what I do. What I do is sitting with people and feel the guitar player hit a note that makes me sing something else, and letting my body go enough into that fearless place that I can completely express myself without worry.

On Mirmama, “Honeychild,” I just, it’s like you’re transported somewhere, you just go off. It’s gorgeous, I really love it.

It’s just been released in America as well, Mirmama and Candyfloss at the same time, so I’m trying to get some gigs out there. ‘Cause I really think I could play some beautiful gigs in places like McCabes in LA. I’d love it. There’s nothing more satisfying than doing things like what we’ve just done, which is the Mean Fiddler, where 200 or 300 people are just jam-packed in. It’s sad because lots of people want tickets and they can’t get in, but for me that’s really what makes it all happen for me, why I really want to do it, why I wouldn’t be with my kids for a week, why I would stay up all night and think about it. I’m just obsessed with that kind of interaction between myself, a microphone and hitting somebody when I look – sometimes I don’t have to look at anybody but if I’m singing I can feel it when it’s really working and I’ve suddenly gone away from, it’s quite Shaman-like, I think, I don’t know if that’s what I’m doing or what everybody else is doing to me and making me feel free enough to improvise. And I never seem to make a mistake, which is weird. You know like, sometimes if I’ve performed when I’m tired, and I don’t have a voice, you might suspect that I’ll hit a wrong note. But there’s this place that I go into, I’ll walk on stage with a really sore throat and I can hardly sing two notes, and suddenly after the first song, for whatever reason, I’m healed completely. I’ve no idea why, because I couldn’t talk all day and I can’t talk afterwards. But just for that hour.

Well that’s about being an artist as opposed to being a marketable product, and I guess that’s where this whole marketing thing comes in because —

I will have a problem with it. I have to talk to them today, probably at some point, because on the new stuff they don’t hear singles again. That’s usually what they say. But nobody, I don’t know why they think they can hear it any time, a single, anyway. Songs are songs, they just are songs, and —

So what was released off Candyfloss and Medicine? I know “Town Without Pity” was the first single, wasn’t it?

Which was not a good idea. Gene Pitney did it originally, and it was pretty similar, we tried to get exactly the same vibe, but with me doing it.

So what else was released as a single?

“Medicine” and that was it. I think they should have released “Candyfloss” ‘cause it’s my favourite.

“Candyfloss” is so beautiful. And “Rebel Angel.” I could see that as a single.

It’s just, you know, like paranoid android, you know what I mean? It doesn’t matter.

That’s what I love about doing my radio show. I just play what I want to play. I play album tracks all the time.

Exactly. And I don’t understand why radio people don’t do that anyway more. Now, Warner Bros have a problem, they have no artists practically that can be played, no serious artists that they’ve got can be played on Radio One now. They’ve got kd lang, and they don’t even bother to invite the Radio One people to her gigs now, they just invite Radio Two. It’s bizarre. It’s like, why wouldn’t you just play something that somebody releases because you like it. With Trevor Dan, who I know, a little, I can tell that he’s sitting there eliminating stuff that he likes because he’s looking at the market, he’s looking at a certain age group and it’s a shame really, it’s fucking us all up. There are all these 17, 14, 12-year olds that aren’t going to get to hear things, you know. It’s another facism, another form of it.

I’m just glad that I grew up when I grew up in the ‘70s, when music was good.

Well I missed it, because I didn’t have any older relations.

How old are you?

36. But I didn’t have anybody above me.

You weren’t just buying records yourself when you were at school?

No, no, because I didn’t know what to buy, I had no idea, I just, I remember hearing things on the radio, and I’d be, oh that’s great! And it would be something really inane like a John Denver track or a Bread thing. Which I quite like now. I mean, I really liked it then, I was very romantic. But the first time I seriously got into something grown up was when I went to a folk club and someone introduced me to Bob Dylan. And then I heard The Hissing of Summer Lawns –

You were introduced to him personally?

No, just his music, at the Irvine folk club, which is the small Scottish town where we live, near the beach. And I went to the local folk club where it was all very traditional and I remember there being lots of tensions because people weren’t allowed to sing in an American accent, that was very important. We couldn’t sing any song beyond 1918. Any earlier was fine. Which was fine, I respected that. Touchfield Street in Kilmarnock, Kilmarnock was far the most – if you sung any non-traditional song people walked out. But in Irvine Folk Club they were a bit more loose about it. You could sing maybe a Bob Dylan song, and this is in ’78 or ’79! I had this little band with my friend from school and we learned “Donna Donna” – you know, Donovan songs – and I learned my first Joni Mitchell song from her, and I learned “May You Never” from her, Eleanor her name was, and she knew “May You Never” and she knew how to play “Blackbird,” and tunings, she knew how to do all sorts, so I learned tunings from her. And then I started buying records then. But before that it was only Gary Glitter and Slade.

Well coming from Glasgow I’m amazed you didn’t get into the Bay City Rollers!

Well I did a little bit, although I was of the type that was more inclined towards Donny Osmond! David Essex, actually.

When I was living here in 1980 I went to see David Essex in the Dominion on Tottenham Court Road, with my cousin and a bunch of her friends. He was gorgeous.

Did you meet him?

No. I was 18.

Was he greying?


He was beautiful.

It was the Silver Dream Machine. That was the concert. He came down on his silver dream machine. I’ve still got the program from the concert, and he still had all his hair colour.

Oh god. He was beautiful. He was beautiful. There’s no way that man wasn’t beautiful.

He was. He was exquisite. Well, another thing on the marketing of you, and just you as an artist. The last two or three years there’s been quite a penchant for female singer-songwriters. And particularly Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morissette, all those American angst-filled artists. And I like a lot of them, I particularly like Joan Osborne. But again, your music isn’t full of angst, and you’re not trying to get back at somebody for some horrible thing, and there’s just… Because there’s this inner peace about you and your music, do you think that that’s a disadvantage?

Maybe. [Laughs] I’ve got to be pissed off before I can earn some money.

Like, I was really disappointed that Sheryl Crow’s first album was really laid back, fun, sweet, almost folky, and then she felt she had to turn into a grunge goddess as well, and her last album was all this gut-wrenching angst-ridden stuff.

Well we’re very cynical, and I like that, I think it’s entertaining. And I think, you know I’m not disqualifying myself from the anger mob, I get really anger and I’ve been really angry and cynical on many occasion. I just, what I get from music usually is that I’m actually too angry and too cynical so when I hear a love song or something that’s about – like there’s a song by Roddy Frame called “Song For A Friend” on the album Stray. There’s a beautiful line in it about when friends fade and when people take you and devour you, and he sings it with such a sweetness that in a way you can’t get to because of the anger. You can’t get to it sometimes. Say if you’re with somebody, you really love someone, and you hate them because they dump you or they’ve abused you in some way, or abused your trust, and in a way you can’t get to the real sweetness because of the cynicism. It’s a way of not being intimate, the cynicism and the anger. And anger and all that’s really valid, but it is a way of avoiding what you really want, which is you really want to love them and you really want to be with them in a gorgeous way, in a non-conditional loving clear way. And that’s what I get out of music. So when I’m doing music, I’m always trying to reach that point where I’m just explaining what the child wants, what the baby in me would want, rather than the grown-up is pissed off about or the 13 year-old is pissed off about or the teenager in me is pissed off about. It’s more about what the truth is, which is always just a plea for love in some way. You know Alanis and her screaming out to that guy about having the other relationship when he promised himself to her, it’s great to express that, I think that’s really important, but for me I spend so much of my non-musical moments expressing that in my own head that really what I want to hear is something comforting rather than something that’s kicking the shit out of anybody.

Although I like people like Ani Di Franco, oh my god, you’ve got to hear Ani Di Franco. If you like Joan Osborne and that “One of Us” song, the definitive song is “What if No-one’s Watching?” What if when we’re dead we’re just dead. And she’s written a song called “In the Boardroom” and she’s bleeding, she’s got her periods, and she’s listening to these marketing men trying to market her. The whole song is a very forgiving song but the last line she says, “All I’ve left with you is a stain on your chair.” From her blood. She’s never had a record deal because she doesn’t believe in record deals, and she’s made about eight albums and she’s a millionaire, she’s just done it on her own, she goes around, she wears gaffer tape on her fingers ‘cause she hits the guitar so hard. She’s a fantastic writer. I think Alanis Morissette used to go and watch her play. The song is “What If No-one’s Watching.” There’s a recent one which is very angry; she’s always been very hurt by somebody or another. We don’t know who it is. She’s bi, so she writes about women and men but she’s very ambiguous about where her sexuality falls; I think she must be bi. She talks about how beautiful someone is combing her hair. One of the songs is, she’s watching a girl combing her hair for this man who’s abusing her, and she can’t believe that something as beautiful could be worried about something that ugly.

The persona that comes through in your music is very much the mother, the nurturing, the feminine. The whole Candyfloss and Medicine album, the insert, is you being totally out there feminine, that babydoll dress – where did you get that dress?

I got it made, I designed it, I had this idea for the whole thing, trousers and stuff, and then we got the trousers, and it was – I have this friend in Glasgow who makes wedding dresses so I asked her to make this thing. But you know it’s got little lights in it, so it has a battery pack and I can –

I like the image of you reaching for the child’s arm. Is that one of your kids?

No that’s her, the photographer’s kid. Genevieve – she’s a great photographer. She doesn’t use flashes and we tried to get really natural light.

I ordered it over the internet and I got it on import from Japan – it was the only place that it was available.

You should check out the American one now, because the American one I’ve taken off “Town Without Pity,” because I got pissed off with it actually. I got really pissed of with the value that the marketing people placed on it.

Something that wasn’t really relevant to what you were doing.

Yeah. It was only meant to be, it’s fine, but it’s not representative. And I took it off and I’ve put two other things on there. “Sugar on the Pill” and “Shall I Be Mother.” And “If You’ve Got a Minute Baby.”

That’s on the Japanese one.

It’s supposed to have strings on it. I’m really upset with it because every time I hear it I can go, no-one’s hearing these strings! But they wouldn’t give me five thousand extra to do that.

They being the record company.

Yeah, we had a fight about that. It’s very difficult for them, because I don’t make them tons of money, so it’s very difficult for them to be… I’m always in the position where they’re either chasing good after bad, in their eyes – for me it’s just a healthy presentation of an art form, but it’s difficult. It’s a very difficult… I’m in the best position I can be in, being in a big record company that has money to spare, if you like.

Well there are artists like Seal that surely can finance you a little bit.

Exactly, yeah. Come on Seal!

So have you been recording another album now?

Yes. We did it in two weeks. I’ve got it in my bag. We went to Chipping Norton which is where Fairground made the first album; it was like going back to some place special because there’s standing stones there. And it’s all very hippy and Glastonebury type. We spent one week and we did 14 songs. And then I’ve spent two weeks mixing them all.

Are these the same musicians that you worked with on —

Yeah, mostly, except the bass player’s different because he comes from here. For one song we have five different mixes of it. This is the master. But I have to actually get these and put them on one DAT format and give them to the marketing people who will discuss how old I am and how invalid I am.

When is it due for release?

There’s no release. I don’t even know if they’re going to release it as anything.

If they don’t will you send me a tape of it?

Well I’ll let you hear something if we go back to the, I want to see if they’ve got a suite in there that does copy DAT to DAT, ‘cause then I could do it all here.

So you basically, you feel ready, you have some work and you just go in and you put it down?

I have ten songs. I would like to have done another, there’s one song I didn’t get to do which is a cover of a Mississippi John Hurt track that I wanted to do because it’s just a bit more humorous, and then everything else is beautiful and all that, and I just thought if I put a little bit of this humour in then it dissipates just a little bit.

Do you like the McGarrigle sisters?

Yes I do, I love them.

I love their stuff and I discovered them through Linda Ronstadt.

Ah yes. Do you know Linda Ronstadt’s early stuff? ‘Cause I want to get some of that. I’ve not heard anything. Is it good? ‘Cause I’m very attracted to it.

I’ve got everything she’s recorded.

Oh really? I just looked her up on the internet, ‘cause I wasn’t really interested for a long time, and I looked her up and I thought, I’m really interested in this Stone Poneys thing because it fills my fantasy.

It’s very simple. A guy in Q described it as “great soundtrack for you if you’re standing in a wheat field.”

Of course journalists don’t do that kind of thing. Those NME journalists and the Q journalists are too busy reading Loaded in the bathroom.

I like listening to it in the perspective of her whole career. I love it. I particularly like the stuff that she did in the early ‘70s.

She’s got a great voice. Have you heard the Mexican stuff?

Yeah, I’ve got it all. Have you heard her lullaby album, Dedicated to the One I Love?


That was the last one. She adopted two children

Yeah I heard about this.

She never married and she’s now 51. So she’s adopted two children. And she’s at the stage in her career where she just does what she wants to do. And she decided she wanted to record pop songs as children’s lullabies. And she’s very much into — she produces herself now — and she’s very much into multi-layering and using instruments like glass armonica and things. Everything from Queen’s “We Will Rock You” to the Mamas and the Papas “Dedicated to the One I Love” and the Beach Boys’ “In My Room.” And it’s just so sweet.

Oh god, I’ve got to get it.

Particularly good if you’ve got little kids because it’s very gentle. She said, I did for my kids and here it is. But she’s actually got a thyroid disease now. She had a whole tour of the States, A mariachi tour this year, and she had to cancel it. She’s got something called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, it’s a chronic thyroid inflammation.

What happens?

It’s not only that all your thyroid points inflame, it’s actually like a chronic fatigue thing. She’s just completely debilitated. So she went home to Tucson to her family. ‘Cause she lives in San Francisco. But her early stuff is lovely.

Have you spoken to her?

That is my great dream.

Just ask her.

I would have tried this year. Like any American star she’s got a lot of management people, and I have spoken to her manager for something else — I’m a publicist back home as well as a journalist, and I was publicising a music festival that we tried to get Linda to come out to do, to sing with an orchestra, and I spoke to her manager, but she wasn’t available. So I was going to approach him about meeting her, and then I heard she’d gotten sick and I just thought there’s no point asking.

Where would I play if I came to Australia? In a small Mean Fiddler –

Yeah, you’d want small venues. There’s a venue in Sydney called the Metro which can hold anything up to a thousand but is perfectly okay with a few hundred. Do you know Tim Finn?


He does shows in there. Lisa Loeb came out and played there… and it’s usually standing only unless they put seats in especially. There are small venues. This is the thing with Australia, they’re either nice small intimate venues or 3,000-plus halls. So you wouldn’t have any trouble finding small venues. I just don’t know what’s going on with your record company back there. I rang them first before I came over to find out what plans they had to release Candyfloss and Medicine, and they didn’t know.

I’ve just got a manager, a new manager, because I didn’t have one, I was just wandering around going okay, and not answering calls, so it’s been a bit hectic. But for two years I’ve done all that. And it was my birthday the other day so I just decided to get a manager on my birthday. I said, go do my work for me, please. He’s Billy Bragg’s manager, Peter Jenner, and I’m going to see him today for the first time.

Well if that ever actually happened, that you came out, I’d love to help at that end. I’ll do the publicity for it. I’m your champion down under.

Oh great. I’ll send you a DAT copy of this if I get it working today. I’ll send you a little comp pack of things we’ve done.

Thanks! The music is just so sumptuous. I remember when I wrote to you it was like a paragraph full of all these adjectives and I thought, she’s going to think I sat here with my thesaurus trying to come up with all these words. But I’ll never forget when I sat down with Mirmama and I put my headphones on so I could just relax, and I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was just so transported.

Sometimes I get surprised too, ‘cause it’s not just me, you know, these boys that I play with, Neill’s a great player, and Calum – you know they’re Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger’s sons, you know, he wrote “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and “Dirty Old Town.”

Some of the guys you played with on Candyfloss and Medicine then went and played with kd lang on her Drag album.

No, well Teddy Borowiecki, Teddy has always played with kd. But I heard him through Jane Siberry, when I got Jane Siberry Bound By The Beauty album, and Teddy played this solo that was the most out-there solo I’ve ever heard in my life, and I don’t like keyboards that much, so I was very surprised to find myself phoning him up. And when I did the Eddi Reader album, when my head was a mess, the producer said, I’ve got this keyboard player that we can use, and it was him. And I couldn’t believe it.

There was another of your musicians —

Dave Pilch. Well, Dave is a bass player and he knew Greg Penny. You see Greg Penny knew Teddy and Dave, and he called them in when I went to LA. What was amazing was that Dave Pilch played on my most favourite album at the time which was Mary Margaret O’Hara Miss America, he played the bass on all of that. And I was in the company of the best musicians I’ve ever played with really. So I pulled them in for Candyfloss. And by the time of this new album I found a bass player in Britain that’s equivalent to Dave, so I didn’t have to get someone over from America. I’ve got Tim Harris, who plays with Steelye Span, he’s a great folk player.

It’s interesting about kd lang because I think the Drag album is the best thing she’s done in such a long time; again it’s back to the personal and the intimate, she kind of went so commercial for a while there.

Well I feel really responsible for a lot of the reasons for why she got to do “Last Cigarette,” because I was told by Teddy, who was in my house living with me, that he was doing the album with kd and she wanted to sing about addictions, cigarette addictions, and should we try and write something? And I remember thinking, immediately my attenae goes – a song about cigarettes, Boo has one already – and I called Boo up and we got a tape together and gave it to Teddy. And he went to LA and within two weeks Teddy called very nonplussed and said, oh kd recorded that song, tell Boo. Of course we were all very excited. Because we’re pretty down to earth, us, you know we’re not, I mean we have really good times, we like to live in that fantasy world that we are in amongst the stars and everyone is, but you know we don’t… What I am trying to say is that we are very romantic and we like the story behind things rather than – me, Boo, Teddy, Roy – we’re all a bit maverick I think. We’re all pretty untogether as far as being, playing the game. I don’t think we play whatever the game is.

And as you so aptly put earlier on, if you did and if you had all that hype surrounding you, you couldn’t sit in a café like this having a chat, you couldn’t walk the streets, whatever, and who needs that?

It’s very scary, all that Fairground stuff. Because when we were on Top of the Pops the next day I went out in the street and it was very scary, folk coming up asking me for autographs. And I remember someone shouting across the street, “You’re that ‘I don’t want’ girl!” – you know, which is the first line in “Perfect” – “I don’t want half-hearted love affairs.” And he called me “I don’t want” – “Look everybody, it’s ‘I don’t want’!” And that was very bizarre, and I’m not, when someone comes up and asks for an autograph I kind of go, well, why? What do you want? Do you want to talk about something? I love it when people come up and go, I really like what you did and I really think that you’re fantastic. I think that’s great when someone does that, especially when you’re maybe a bit down or something. But no, it’s no overwhelming by any stretch of the imagination. Which is great.

I found “Pefect” was a bit of an odd song out on that album, anyway.

Well I knew at the time that it was definitely the single, but I knew that if we didn’t get the other stuff first then that would be it, we’d have that and then no-one would listen to anything else. That wasn’t quite what happened, but there were people that loved “Perfect” and hated the album, or hated “Perfect” but loved the album.

I didn’t hate it, I thought it was cute, I just much preferred “Smile in a Whisper” or whatever —

We used “Perfect” at the end of the set to cheer everybody up because we were because we were all full of, the rest of the songs were all full of angst and break-up and love gone wrong, so “Perfect” was thrown in at the end of the hour to make everybody dance a little bit, and it worked perfectly for that. So to make it the single was just missing the point a little bit, to make it the first single was missing the point.

Like “Town Without Pity.”

But they were right — it’s a great single, and it was fast and furious and still exists, which is great.

Do you want another coffee?

I was just thinking we should try and go next door and maybe get these, and then we can find a quieter place.

[We then went into Warner Records where Eddi played me tracks off the album that would become Angels & Electricity.]

6 December 1999
By phone — Byron Bay to London.

You do a lot of guesting on other people’s albums, don’t you.

I’m really interested in that; I really like being tested and pushed, really… learning someone else’s melodies is always really good for my brain, I think.

I get the Honeychildren list just to find out what people are saying about you.

There was an argument the other day.

So you actually get it, do you? Have you seen this guy who says he interviewed you and he’s been giving all these other people a hard time? It’s so childish.

Yeah, I know who you’re talking about. It was really strange, I did a gig in St Ives, it was such a good gig, and the band were brilliant and I felt really good about what I was doing, and I felt like the spirit of Patsy Cline and Piaf were in my body as I walked on stage, you know. And I had a great time and this guy was set up with the record company in America, Compass, so I arranged that he could come to the dressing room. And he came in and of course he’s an interviewer, and there’s this magazine he’s working on and it was all very important, so he came in and we sat down and he was going on about how great he thought the gig was, and I thought that was really nice. But he didn’t have any questions, he didn’t ask any questions. Maybe that’s his method, and I’ve never seen an article, but he didn’t ask any questions and sort of seemed to follow us around to go to the pub and everything. I just got a bit of a vibe, and the next thing I know there’s some flaming going down on the Honeychildren thing, and I thought oh my god, that’s that guy.

He’s seriously imbalanced.

I know. I think that sometimes there’s a few gaps in the veneer, in the membrane, that we shove ourselves into when we walk about our daily lives. It really freaks me out that you can stand on stage or be on the telly and then suddenly you’re inviting everyone in. It doesn’t feel like I have to but it seems to me you’re setting yourself up in a sort of way. That’s one thing that puts me off the whole fame game, I mean, I really love what I do, but the fame thing is just something literally quite frightening to me. I find anybody that’s going for that strange. And I find anyone that’s already in that world, I find that it bends their attitude to life a little bit, you know. I had Tori Amos on the telly, and I really like Tori Amos, and she’s going on, she looks beautiful and her music’s wonderful, and it’s really strong, and she’s going on about, and she’s asked – you know she went on tour with Alanis Morissette, and I’m watching it, you know I’m sanding the floor and watching telly – cause I’m doing a lot of DIY, that’s my thing now; people say have I done any work, and I say, well I kind of did the bathroom floor – I was watching her and she said, she kind of described it as the two of them on tour as a sort of two powerful strong women thing, and it sounded really good what she was saying until she totally blew it at the end – she set it all up as you know, we are two powerful individuals, we have our own thing, my crew they do this, her crew were doing that, we didn’t get up on stage and sing together because she thought that would have been wanky. Then she said something about Alanis Morissette’s bunch, she said “In my crew we had a lot of alcohol and stuff like that and Alanis Morissette’s crew had a lot of hair products.” And I just thought it might be witty and I did think it was witty, but I also thought it was very hypocritical because she was not only sitting there with lots of make-up on and her hair really done up, it was just you know, okay, if you’re going to speak truth just make sure, just check what boundaries you’re crossing. Because I think the worst thing that women can do to other women is bring them down. Who gives two monkeys whether Alanis Morissette’s crew have hairspray. It’s just about setting yourself up to be better than all the time, it’s a kind of policy, a competitive “Oh but she’s crap because she wears hairspray, so I must be great.” You know by definition you’re saying “I must be better.” And it’s all about that, and I can’t be bothered with it. It seems to permeate all aspects of the fame game, which I don’t think I’m in.

No, you’re not. I was listening back on the last interview from two years ago that we did and you were talking about the Brit Awards, and how you went home in your beat-up old Reliant Robin. And all the hoo ha with Jarvis Cocker and everything, it was quite funny. We actually got into quite some depth. But when I was mentioning before how I get the Honeychildren list, I’m always amazed by all the little things that they say that you’re doing, or the little albums that you’ve suddenly appeared on. I can’t keep up with all that stuff, I mean it’s impossible for me in Australia to access all that stuff that you’re on, so it’s really interesting. I think I emailed you, there was a concert that you did that was actually on the web, and I was able to sit here and watch the whole thing for an hour, it was really cool.

Really? Did you download it? I couldn’t find it. I’m completely bad on the computer, it’s really really frustrating.

It was really beautiful, but like you’re watching like a two-inch square video on the computer, but the audio was great. But listen, I want to ask you some questions about your songwriting, because this magazine is called Performing Songwriter; I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but it’s really nice. I just had a piece in one of their recent issues on Beth Nielsen Chapman. Do you know her?

I’ve heard of her, I haven’t got anything to listen to.

You should check out an album called Sand and Water. It’s the one that Elton John was going on about, it helped him through his grieving when Diana and Gianni Versace died, because she wrote it after the death of her husband from cancer.

Yes, I did get it, yes, it was lovely. I thought she’d come out of nowhere with this brilliant dedication to someone who’d passed.

So the editor of this magazine loves you, so I’m going to do a little piece.

When we talked about Fairground Attraction last time, you said that “Whispers” was the only song of yours that you were “allowed” to have on the album. How much were you writing back then and how frustrating was that for you to have such little control over the content on the album?

Well in retrospect I can look at it with a keener eye, and I think that, at the time, if I was to watch a film of my life I’d see that this girl came along with her insecurities and her working class-ness and just turned up in London with her amazing ability to communicate song and an amazing obsession with song and singing. And that’s what I did have, and I mean, I’m not saying I don’t have parts of that now, but I had it then to such a great extent that I would chew up everything and analyse everything and seek it out and I wanted to sing and play and write. So I wanted to do the whole thing. And a lot of what I was writing was very naïve and a lot of it was very melodically great and catchy but not very well thought out. By the time I got to do “Whispers” I was maybe hitting on something that was getting a bit more clear about how to make a song. But because I was really under-confident anyway, and really not secure that anything I did was any good – and I think lots of people are like that, I think lots of people have abilities and talents that they just don’t know, that they have a love for; if I hadn’t had the obsession I would have dropped it, got married and had seven kids at 21 and I would have lived the life my mother led – but because I had an obsession with it, it sort of fired my head to go and seek it out and theorize on it and love it. So writing was a sort of secondary aspect of it.

So when I was with Fairground I was writing and I was coming up with some lovely little ideas, and I think they were really good, and “Whispers” I really loved. But the writer, who I admired immensely and always deferred to as the “real” writer in my head – and I do that a lot with most writers because I see their craft and I love their craft, I see where they’re going with things, I see what they’re trying to say, and it’s my base materials for my thing – so I really rested a lot on this guy’s opinion. And unfortunately he wasn’t particularly developed emotionally himself, so he tended to, he’s the type of guy who tends to judge everybody else as not good enough. And that became acutely intense for me. Once I’d signed on the dotted line, I realised that most of the stuff I was coming up with I would never even begin to know how to even bring it to the table because I was in such fear of this guy’s opinion. And also I was proved to be right enough times to know that it was a dangerous area. I’ve been working with Boo Hewerdine now who’s a completely different kettle of fish; he’s some guy who will come in and I’ll have one line all week and he’ll just sit there and he’ll play it and he’ll play it and he’ll play different chords behind it and I’ll play different chords and he won’t let me leave it alone. I’ll throw something out all spontaneous and vomity and just free association, and he’ll tape it, he’ll collect it, he’ll play it back to me, he’ll go, “See? See how good it is?” So I abandon myself a lot quicker than someone like that does.

But I didn’t have that when I was with Fairground Attraction, I had someone who was really quick to bring me down. So I ended up losing a lot of confidence in my writing and with “Whispers”, I’ll tell you what the funny thing was. I was extremely Catholic, and I was really into the Madonna in Madrigorie, you know before the war in Yugoslavia, and it’s still going on now, there are six children who see a vision of what they say is the Virgin Mary, or the Mother of Jesus, Mary the Mother of Jesus, who comes to them at six o’clock every night. And I used to be obsessed with finding out about this, because I believe in something other than whatever this just is. So I was seeking it out. And I wrote “Whispers” about “mother” and the maternal, and the taking care of, and this is the right path, and “Whispers” for me became something that wasn’t written by me but something that I was helped to write because of my spirituality at the time. And so therefore when I went to the band with “Whispers” I was fighting on behalf of Mary the Mother of God! [laughs] So it was easier for me to say to everybody, look, this is really good, it’s really important, it’s really important for me, and so no matter how many times the main writer said “this is a weird song” which he did do, or “this is strange, this doesn’t work,” it really didn’t affect me because I seemed to have this faith. I mean eventually it got so bad that the guy just couldn’t stand me bringing another person’s song, never mind my own song.

So it got really destructive, and therefore the very essence of why we got together was completely demolished. Because the reason why we got together was because I was very hungry to be singing, I was totally in love with Edith Piaf, I wanted to sing vignettes in waltz time. I sang Piaf in a restaurant in London and learned everything phonetically. When I met him I played him all the Piaf stuff that I knew and I wanted something like that, I wanted stuff about prostitution, I wanted stuff that was about the sort of rag and bones… all the bits that get tossed away, about, you know, palm readers, stuff that we all find tacky but has romance in it and hope in it, which is why we’re attracted to it. And I wanted all that, so that when I was travelling with Fairground and when we got together that was very important. So when it slowly became more of a fight every time I went in to suggest another kind of idea or a move to this direction or that direction, I could tell there was a power struggle that was beyond me. And my grandfather always told me never fight battles you can’t win, and I couldn’t win that one. It was like being in a goldmine without a shovel. This man, capable of writing wonderful songs that I could definitely communicate, but I couldn’t get past him to get to them.

And that’s the way it was, and it still is to this day, even 10 years later. When I did Mirmama he managed to come and camp outside my house and to cry and to moan about what he needed and what he wanted. It was like being in a marriage. And then after that when I did the Brit Award things it was all, I’d get phone calls saying, remember 90% is mine, if you get it for a song of mine 90% is mine and 10% is yours. He was just very very insecure and now even, there’s a little bit of money that I get from Fairground still, I get 12.5%, and he’s stopped that now. So even if you hear it on radio and even if people love it – and I love it still, I love it and I play it live sometimes if I feel in the mood – and I just think it’s part of my history that I was forced to move away from and so therefore, you know, when people ask me, Jesus, why did you leave that – it was so good? I kind of go look, okay, I’m actually fed up with it. The truth is it was my band, I loved it, I wanted to nurture it, I wanted to keep it, and I actually got ousted. It became a thing where if I went into rehearsal, every part of me that was creative and gorgeous was grabbed, claimed, owned by someone else and then disparaged and brought down.

You did say to me two years ago that it was devastating to you when the band broke up. Tell me do you remember the first song that you ever wrote, and when that was?

Yes, a French song… [translated as] “I’ve got a little pretty cat and a pretty bird.” I think I was about 10 or something.

So you were speaking French when you were 10?

Well I really liked French, I really liked the language, I liked the way it sounded, and we did French lessons in primary school, for some weird reason, I think it must have been a Liberal year or a Labour year.

Were you writing this on a guitar or on the piano?

No, no, no I’d just sing. Piano was really good, because my grandmother had one, and I used to do all the black notes, so I’d play, I’d call it, like “The Singing Ringing Tree” was a program that was on when I was growing up, it was like this little gnome who would cast a magic spell and this ringing tree, this tree would shake and all the bells would ring and everything would stop and he’d fix everything that had gone wrong. So I had this piano and I’d write “butterfly music.” So I’d put my elbow on the top of the black notes and then fan my arms down all the way down and then all the way back up, and I’d do it for hours and hours and hours, and my granny would get really really upset. But that was my “butterfly music” and I used to love to go to Granny’s to do my “butterfly music.” And that was my big deal. And then I wrote little tiny melodies on there. It was all by ear, never was I classically taught or any theoretic stuff that I did attempt later on, I just… My ear can do it quicker. So I know how to space bars and I know how to write chord charts, but my ear can do it quicker.

How much of Scotland and your upbringing are in your writing?

I’m not sure. I’m sure that a lot of people outside that culture could tell more than I can. When I’m improvising and I’m doing melodies a lot of people hear a lot of traditional qualities within it. Traditional melodic qualities. Usually I’ll come up with the melody first, anyway, then I’ll use parts of my life which obviously includes… like Glasgow Star is really about growing up in Glasgow, but specifically from the age of 15 through to 20, or 15 through to 18, which is when I lived there on my own, well, ish. I lived with my grandmother and did a bit of busking in town, stuff. That was my first venture into singing out loud.

You remarked to me last time that London didn’t really feel right, that you were even thinking of moving back to Glasgow.

Oh, all the time.

Do you think there’s any sense of displacement? I’m really interested in geography in terms of where somebody’s from, not only spiritually but where they actually are in the world, and if somebody’s not really where there heart is, whether that comes through in their writing.

Well I do notice that when I go home, even if it’s for five minutes, like I went to Edinburgh yesterday, I immediately felt like I was very near an electrical power supply of some kind, that sort of zonks me in the bottom of my spine and works up through to my fingers and brain, and I kind of felt that. And if I do go home I feel that, I feel that there’s suddenly space, space to write, space to be creative. And being in London I’m like a sponge, I pick up on everybody’s vibe, so the vibe here’s pretty hectic and constantly changing, so I find I’m constantly DIY-ing my house, it’s like the (?) Bridge — I start painting at one end and then by the time I’m finished I’ve got to start again. I don’t know why it’s like that. It never ever seems tidy or clear from clutter, it’s just a London vibe, and I think that’s what I like about Scotland when I go home, but I think that if I came from… it is true, I think that if you’re home-less, which is sometimes what I feel, when I’m in the right environment, when I feel I’m in a home, a more me environment, then I do get more creative, definitely.

Well, being that you work outside the mainstream, why don’t you move back?

Well, because I’ve kind of got a bit trapped. Ten years ago if you’d said to me that a little brown building with a pointy roof would have been dictating to me my every movement, which is what my sons’ school does… so I have two boys and they go to a little brown school and I have to be there at nine and I have to be there at three-thirty every day.

But there are schools in Scotland.

Well they have, but I just know that it would completely disrupt their lives. Which would mean disrupting me for a year, too, because I’ll have to be there to support them. At the moment I can go on a tour and get my mum down. And this is their home, it’s not just my home, it’s theirs now; they’ve become sentient beings, they have addresses and phone numbers, and it’s like, they have their own memories now, and I’m frightened to monkey about with that a wee bit. Although I do think that there are opportunities, like in the summer holidays, that’s always a good time for bringing out that old idea of why don’t we move, so we go up to Scotland, sometimes we look around. But then again, the other question is where is home? If it isn’t inside me, where is it?

I have that problem all the time with the triangle of Los Angeles, Sydney and Byron Bay…

If I was in your Byron Bay place I’d use it for writing a lot.

Well I think you should come visit and write.

Yeah, that sounds great. People do it to me all the time – “Just come over!” And now I’m kind of making choices, and it feels like the choices could be really drastic, like I like writing and I like singing, I love it, but I really like painting as well and I really like bringing up my kids and I really like getting my home environment… I think that’s what it is, it’s finding a home that I can love and nurture for ever and ever. And I want it to be by the beach, so figuring out what the scenery’s got to be and then maybe taking it from there.

Well Joni Mitchell did that. Joni Mitchell bought a house at Malibu and painted and made music. I don’t know if she was bringing up children.

Well there was obviously a great sense of freedom on the Mirmama album, talking about getting out of the Fairground Attraction thing. Is that still your favourite album?

Yes it is. Although I listen to Candyfloss and Medicine, the America version that doesn’t have “Town Without Pity” and I really love a lot of the work on that. I think that Teddy Borowiecki did some great piano, I just think that was mine and Teddy’s album and I love him as a musician, I’ve never heard anyone who tickles me as much as him. Jane Siberry tickles me, but I discovered that Jane Siberry’s album Bound by the Beauty, which is the one I really love, has got Teddy all over it, and then working with him, Teddy Borowiecki – him doing the Candyfloss and Medicine album was just a wonderful moment in musicality and musical education for me.

It’s interesting because Mirmama came after the whole furore with Fairground Attraction and the devastation of losing that, and Candyfloss and Medicine came after another very unsettled period when you recorded an album that you described to me as you basically handed over control because you were in too much of a mess emotionally. And it’s almost like both of those albums have a sense of joy. And on Mirmama I really really get that.

Yeah. Yeah.

They’re my two favourite albums of yours.

I think it is – it’s through the level of love you let in. I think if the level of love, if you can open up enough then it becomes really analytical. I mean, my last album Angels & Electricity, there’s a lot of really good work on it. I haven’t listened to it since we did it, which is a problem.

You haven’t?

No I can’t listen. Maybe four years or something goes by and then I’ll listen. It takes a while, it really does. It’s too, it’s too… I don’t know what it is. It’s not like I don’t like it or I don’t what to… It’s like I’ve put it away. I think maybe it’s just cause it exhausts, I exhaust so much, it’s just really full of undiluted stuff that I can’t quite listen to it until I’ve gone away and had a think about other things.

So you haven’t listened to it for a couple of years.

No, not Angels & Electricity, I haven’t listened to that. I’ve played the songs live, and then I always get surprised when I hear the recorded version, I think, oh hell, why did I do it live like that, why don’t I do it live more like this? And I forget sometimes, it sort of develops on its own. But I think that Mirmama I have listened to and I revisit it and I think, oh my god, you were great, woman! You were so good, you picked yourself up and you just went into that place and you had such a good time, and everybody was fancyable and everything was beautiful and the sun was shining and I remember just all of it being very very positive.

So you’re still too close to Angels & Electricity to be able to judge or ascertain where that sits in terms of your body of solo work now?

Yeah. Just a bit too near.

“Psychic Reader” —

I love “Psychic Reader.”

— which I think is one of the tracks you played me when we were up at Warner that day, you remember you played me a few tracks from the DAT. It’s really reminiscent of “Cinderella’s Downfall”, which is kind of like that whimsical free-flowing melody, and I found it really interesting that it seems to be the only song on Angels & Electricity that you wrote alone. And then again with “Whispers.” There’s something about the whimsical, that when you actually – I mean, I’m not saying that your other songs aren’t free-flowing and whimsical and beautiful – but when you actually just let go on your own it’s like your muse just takes over and it’s like fairies pick you up and carry you off.

Well I’ll tell you, it’s really really bizarre, because I’ve been doing all the DIY in here and I’ve got this eight-track DAT machine, it’s cost me £2000, and I wrote this song for a BBC TV program called "She’s a Good Girl.” The TV program was called Real Woman. And I did that, I just went in, and I was determined not, for the first time, I’ve started to feel that every time I’ve think about writing I’ve started to have rising doubt about who to bring into my house, ie nobody. Why should I bring anybody into my house to do this? I don’t want to do that. I’m starting now to feel that I really want to just sit in front of a microphone and let rip with whatever comes out, and then if it isn’t you know a technically… I think I’ve been surrounded by people who are very technically good at what they do and it can be threatening, because I make up chords. I’m like Pheobe and Friends, I sort of get finger shapes and make them up. I don’t know what the names of them are. I don’t have the energy and I don’t have the desire probably to really learn what I’m doing as far as that is concern, technically I’m not really wanting to. It wouldn’t make any difference to me if that chord was an A with a B bass or a C bass or a D with a G bass. It wouldn’t matter. Because what ultimately matters is the sound that it makes when it comes out of the plectrum. And my vocabulary is limited on guitar but what I have got is well used, and if recently I’ve been hovering around the sander it’s because I kind of don’t want to go out into the world and do what I’ve been doing in the past, which is totally rely on other writers to come and provide me with some platform. Which is why I guest on a lot of people’s stuff, cause I do like collaboration, but there is a part of me which is coming to the surface now which is saying very definitely to me that I’m letting myself down by not trusting exactly what comes out of my own brain and putting it onto paper. And I have trusted it in the past, but it’s kind of scary to have a whole album of that.

It’s really interesting to hear you talk about this now, you’ve definitely moved into a different space than you were in two years ago, because you talked a lot about the joy of writing with your boys, with Teddy and Neill and Calum, and you’ve written beautiful stuff with them, but it’s great to hear you yearning now to maybe do it on your own. Because I’ll tell you, my favourite Eddi Reader songs are the ones you’ve written on your own.

Well it would be good, and what would be really brave of me is to sort of stand up and say, by the way, this is who I am spots and all, and not worry that it’s not got the right number of chords in it or the right number of middle-eights, you know, just let go. And I think it’s partly because I wasn’t really when I was in my 20s I don’t think the climate was right for that. There’s a lot of negativity around and there’s a lot of negativity even through Fairground days and it’s all very hi-tech synthesized if you remember when Fairground came out it was quite a joke that we had skittling noises. It wasn’t taken seriously that we would use an acoustic guitar in the first place. So the climate’s got a lot better throughout the ‘90s for free form expression.

You were kind of ahead of your time.

Well I like to think so but I don’t know. I think that I was probably behind the time as well. You know it’s kind of like if time is ongoing, it’s just a case of getting on a bus and it stands outside your door, and I think the bus has been outside my door for ages, it keeps coming and going and coming and going, so I have to actually get on it and… ‘Cause I get very frustrated, too, I see people doing that, I see people just picking up their guitar. And Boo’s fantastic, he’d just say look, it’s lovely the way it is, it’s gorgeous, and I’ll be like, but it was so easy, it was so easy, it can’t be good, because it was so easy – I don’t say that to him but it feels like that. The “Good Girl” song I wrote for the BBC last month, that was, I like did it 10 minutes, I rubbed out a George Michael cassette and I put it on the back, sent it to the BBC thinking that they would say thanks but no thanks, and they just loved it. And it was exactly right for their program. And then I have to kick myself up the backside for not appreciating or not trusting my own instincts, and that’s what it’s about, it’s about learning to trust that you are right, what you are do is right, it doesn’t have to be judged by anybody, and even if it is, who cares? So it’s about that, and it’s really difficult, you can do it cogitatively, you can sort of analyse it and you can go to therapy and get it sorted out, but in essence I am a working class girl with lots of hang ups because of that upbringing in a very class oriented culture, Britain, and I am in a very class-oriented city.

Yes you are.

A lot of people go, how did you get from the slums of Glasgow to getting number ones and having record deals and singing and allowing that to happen? Because that’s what it is. And I think that was a very interesting question someone asked me, because sure, it’s about obstacles and it’s about hurdling them, and I think that if it hadn’t been for having the equipment physically – which maybe I got genetically through my mother, because she had a great voice – then I don’t think I would have pursued my creativity as much. I would have maybe done the art course and gone to art college, but I would have ultimately given up because I would not have believed in myself enough, which is what all northern working class people are taught, even now, in schools I see it even now, in inner council state schools I see a lack of belief in what they can actually achieve.

Are you a prolific writer? Is there always a song being written in your head? Or is it more disciplined?

There’s always prose and poetry, always. Always poetry happening, always.

Are you always looking for a scrap of paper to write on?

Yeah, I’ve got lots and lots of notebooks, and all of them are half full so I always buy a new one. I haven’t done it for a while actually, I’m starting to let my worry about how I’m going to finance me and my kids affect me going and buying these lovely ornate books – I used to buy these really ornate beautiful writing books, and the paper, it was like having an orgasm, all this white paper, and then a beautiful rollerball pen – and I would write just ten tons of anything. Some of it I’d look back on and think, god that was great, I don’t remember writing that. And other stuff, like for example I’ve kept my writing from the age of sixteen and it’s all nonsense, but it’s good nonsense, it’s free form funny nonsense and witty nonsense. But when I was going through ten years of absolute shake up, I was in a snow dome there with Fairground and marriage and babies and divorce and ten ton of shit, and debts and all that crap, and tax. Life was a lot simpler when I could just busk and hide from the tax man. It just seemed to all be time to grow up or something. And when I look at the writing from that period, some of it’s really vitriolic and really hateful, and other bits are really sad, you know, talking about… I don’t even know how to begin to describe it, just a lot of it was quite vitriolic, sexual anger and anger at previous beliefs, anger at god, anger at humanity, anger at who we’re supposed to be versus who we really are.

And yet you said before that when you write you start with a melody, so do you come across a great melody or create a great melody and then go to your notebooks?

Yeah, usually. I mean, or what’s happened recently is I get the words and the melody immediately at the same time. I did one yesterday which I think is called “We’ll Chart a Course” or something like that. “Small Soul” it might be called. My friend up the road, she signed on for benefits, and she did a cleaning job and she got £12 cash. I really love this woman, she’s a great woman, she’s brought up two kids on her own, and she sometimes comes down to my house and we sit and chat and she’ll help me out by looking after my kids or I’ll look after hers, whatever. It’s just weird that we’ve come from two opposite ends of experience but we end up having a very common ground, ie bringing up kids on our own. And she’s extremely wise. And some horrible person told on her to the fraud people. So then these tiny little men with their binoculars started following her for two weeks, and they noticed that she put a hoover in her car, a little cheap second-hand car that she got from her brother, and followed her and for two weeks – this is public money that’s being spent on this – and there’s big posters up saying if you know a benefit cheat phone us up, and I feel like writing to them and saying, no, but I know a lot of really rich bastards that are getting away with paying no tax, do you want me to give you their names? The ones that spend six months of the year in Bali and then come back. So her benefits have been stopped and so the kids are in jeopardy. So I went in and I wrote this song about how they made her, she looked like 13 chewing her nails, and I thought that these people, these judgements can affect you so badly that you cower and you reduce yourself cause there’s something in you that believes that they’re right, that you’re bad in some way. But the song was great because it just came from the bottom and went to the top without any structural change needed or lyrical change needed. Which totally surprised me, and I really liked it because it was all daft little guitar lines, I played about three guitar lines on it, and that was it. And it reminded me of everything I love, you know, the Tim Hardin records and some early Tim Buckley stuff, and I thought, well, why can’t I just go with that? And then that voice comes in saying, ah, but that’s too easy, it doesn’t sound, if you’ve not worked enough… But I think it’s about letting myself believe that it’s valid.

Does the quality of your voice direct the melody or the lyric writing for you? Because I get the feeling that some of your songs probably couldn’t be sung by other artists, or certainly not as well.

I don’t know. What I do get is an emotional sense of whatever it is I’m singing. That’s what happens. I’ll be singing and I’ll break my own heart, and I won’t know why. And then I have to figure out what the hell’s going on, what the hell am I thinking about when I’m singing that.

I was just thinking that we did a blues the other day with Boo and Roy… that’s why I love collaborating because Boo will just come up with some brilliant chords that will free me from my own vocabulary on the chords. So it just means that I do more if I collaborate than just what I do. When I’m sitting with Roy and Boo, Boo was playing this kind of blues riff and I went, yeah, that’s brilliant, and I started singing and improvising, so we got to this thing that was obviously – it started with a Bo Diddley melody and went into a very un-blues melody, in fact it’s almost, well I don’t know what it sounded like, but I could feel what I was feeling when I was singing and making up noises. And so then I had an exercise with Boo, and I said what did you feel when you heard that, and he said that he felt this thing and I agreed that that is exactly what I was feeling. So, that’s the point where people say it isn’t me that’s writing this, cause really it is you but it’s almost directed of its own volition, it’s like a primal scream of some kind or a primal moan if you like, and it comes out and it dictates to you or is a bit of a truth, it gets through your ego and that’s what magical about it, it can actually get through your ego, and once it gets through your ego then it stands on its own in defiance and therefore it’s, it might be for example you want to sing about an extra-marital affair that someone’s having or something and you feel you can’t keep it in, it’s just there, you can’t unsing it and you can’t unfeel those feelings, they are there, so you feel them and they’re strong and are powerful and it’s really important that that is associated with that lyric then from that day forward.

Sometimes I’ll write a song and I’ll have lyrics that I really like, like in “Shall I Be Mother” on Candyfloss and Medicine. “Shall I Be Mother” I really like, but I had a whole different set of lyrics that came out very spontaneously, and I regret some of them not being in there, ‘cause even when I sing it now I’ll still sing those lyrics.

And why aren’t they in there?

Because we make a judgement, don’t we? We can edit and we get to the stage that we think for that moment anyway that that line of thought on that song, I mean sometimes an angle, you can have two, the prism of the song can shoot out many angles. In essence the song is about what it’s supposed to be about, the mother thing, where you mother somebody, like the Yoko Ono thing where you are the mother and because you are the mother you can’t be the lover and because you are the mother you can’t be in a relationship with a guy or whatever or another person. You can’t be the sexy lover and the mother, you can only be the mother because mothers can’t be sexy-ish. Do you know what I mean? So the core of the song “Shall I Be Mother” is exactly what it’s meant to be when I mumbled out the melody while Teddy was playing. But then I took it to Boo and then we collaborated on the lyric and he came up with his idea, bouncing off of what I was suggesting and then I would take on board some of that and create other stuff, so, but the very first thing that I did, which was, which I can’t remember quite now, but sometimes I’ll sing it and I’ll think, where did that go and where is it and what can I do with it now, and is it too late, or can it be… It couldn’t even belong to another song because it only belongs to that melody, to that melodic movement.

Going back to what you were talking about with Mark Nevin, although you weren’t naming him by name, that writer, you said that the relationship is still difficult, but you had “Kiteflyer’s Hill” on Angels & Electricity, which I think is a standout track. He definitely seems to know how to write for your voice quite perfectly. Was it just a case of he offered you a song, or you went to him for a song for that album?

I think without being arrogant, I’m such an obsessive, rather than he knows how to write for my voice, I think I know how to pick the songs that suit me. And that song was written in ’94 and I’ve held on to it in my head for years, it was one that I didn’t want to let go, it was one that I heard him play that I loved. You’ve got to understand that the relationship was quite, for all its insecurity and fraughtness what was really obvious, for all Mark’s bullying about my songwriting, what was really obvious was that he really depended on me to be in love with what he was doing.

To bring his songs to life.

Yeah. I had to love it first. And there were many bits of his writing that I wouldn’t be in love with. But when I heard something, it’s the same as everybody, you get a film that you love and that’s it, you love it. And that was one of the songs that I loved. It was just a matter of getting it. And if you notice on a lot of the albums, apart from Mirmama, there’s always a Nevin track I think.

That one is just such a stand-out track, it’s such a gorgeous track to open an album with.

It’s beautiful. We did KCRW in LA, when I was doing the Eddi Reader album, which was after Mirmama, I was going through a divorce and my immediate reaction was to reform Fairground, or find comfort in Mark who was not only a collaborator as far as walking through this life together, but he was part of my history, so I felt I could return to it after having my Mirmama experience, I felt like I was generous enough to say that we could do an album that’s only your stuff, if that’s what you want to do, and I can also do my work somewhere else, another album. I couldn’t quite make both of them, I couldn’t get them to not negate each other. That was what was difficult for me because he wouldn’t, he wasn’t interested in joining them. I was, but he couldn’t, so when we were doing, so do to the Eddi Reader album, which was actually called Hush, I was going to do a whole batch of his songs and one of them was “Kiteflyer’s Hill”… “Dear John”… “When I Watch You Sleeping”… “The Exception”… “Caught in the Tide” which is a wonderful one that’s gone – I can’t – it’s like this wonderful song that I cannot get my fucking hands on! It’s the best song and I know that it would relate to everybody, a million different people in many gorgeous ways, but —

What do you mean you can’t get your hands on it?

Well it’s in the grasp of the writer and there’s no way that, the only way, when you’re having to deal with people, it isn’t as simple as just doing music, you’ve got to deal with personalities. And I am totally of the opinion that everything that’s happening is right. So “Kiteflyer’s Hill” was one of the songs that I loved, so when we were doing that album, we did KCRW and we did all those songs and “Kiteflyer’s Hill” and it was beautiful, it was so beautiful. We did it with Teddy Borowiecki, favourite keyboard player, David Pilch on bass, me singing of course and Mark playing guitar and Roy drumming. It was the best, we did all of the songs, it was just so beautiful, the work, the songs that he had written and the ones that I liked, it just merged and it was wonderful and we were doing that album and the producer of that album, who was frankly just somebody who was just called in by the record company to do the album, he and Mark hated each other, I felt like I didn’t know who was the devil, because I was just getting to know mark again. I believed in the music but I couldn’t get them to record it. One wanted to use a computer, which was totally wrong, and the other one wanted to be free form but he couldn’t stay in time because he was too nervous. So I had this situation where I was paying, I was haemorrhaging record company money in Ocean Way, LA and finally Mark walked way and took his songs with him, and one of them was “Kiteflyer’s Hill” and left some of them, said but you’re not doing this and you’re not doing that because these are important songs to me and I’m not letting that guy touch them. And he was probably right, but what I was left with I had to salvage an album. So I called in Boo and I also did a bit of writing myself with Teddy and we got “Patience of Angels” together. So that wouldn’t have come out if this all hadn’t happened.

But I didn’t speak to Mark again until I was doing the last album. I didn’t speak to him because he let me down really badly. He didn’t just walk out on a producer who really isn’t anything to do with anything, he walked out on me again. So he walked out on the Fairground second album and then he walked out on us again, and he was the kind of man that would do that if he didn’t get his own way. So I was beginning to feel that I was mother and I had to go and try and coax him into believing that we all loved him, and although I didn’t mind doing that at the time I had nobody loving me so I felt really kind of crazy. And I felt abandoned and let down, so I left it. And when I was doing Angels & Electricity I called him and asked him if I could use “Kiteflyer’s Hill” and he said yes and we recorded it, I spent the money, I went into the studio, I got the record company to pay for more time, it was just before Christmas, and we put it on tape and I loved it and it was sung beautifully and played beautifully all live, and then just before Christmas we got a lawyer’s letter saying that he had withdrawn his permission. So it was just a bit like that, because I’d sung a “the” where I should have sung a something else. With Mark it’s about that, it’s about I want control, so it was a word that he didn’t approve of, “upon” instead of “up to” or something.

But we still had this beautiful track, so by this time I just told the lawyers to deal with it. So I think someone told him, look she’ll try her best to fix it, if you really want it to be changed she’ll fix it, but don’t phone her again and bugger off, quite frankly, you know, it’s just too much. A beautiful track, sounding really lovely – nobody else is singing your tunes – really gorgeous. And so I released the one that we have with a tiny alteration and you can’t hear it I’m sure, I defy anybody – it’d be a good competition wouldn’t it – find the break in that song! It was one take from start to finish but there’s one little word that’s dropped in, you have to find it, and it’s a one-syllable word.

I’ll go look for it and email you when I’ve found it.

And it’s very near the beginning.

Getting off Mark Nevin again, then, how did you get the Ron Sexmith song? Because I know when we spoke two years ago that you were raving about him, you’ve always raved about him. Did you actually ask him to write a song especially for you, or was this one that already existed?

No, I asked him. It was one of those moments that I knew that that this writing was just something that I could really wash myself in. So he started an email correspondence with me and I started to just push him a wee bit, listen have you got something that I could sing, it’d be really fun, and also we both had a couple of parties together so we got quite philosophical about everything and we seemed to have this idea that things happen quite spontaneously and it’s always like “on a whim,” which became the song. But I think it’s a really great song. I love his writing, though. I sing “Lebanon Tennessee” sometimes. I think so does Shawn Colvin. It’s funny because the one that everyone talks about, the “Secret Heart” one, it’s just not his best, there’s like tons that are just so much more…

Some of the writers we talked about whom inspire you include Ani Di Franco and Roddy Frame. What are the qualities in the work of artists like them that inspire you? Is it different in each one? Or is there a common thing that you pick up on, on a particular writer? Because they’re almost always folk writers.

Are they?

Folk singer-songwriters are mainly the ones you’ve always mentioned to me.

Well I’ve got this bizarre infatuation at the moment with Jane Siberry, and I logged on to Sheeba, which is her website, and I bought some videos, and all of her stuff is quite electronic and quite, I suppose it was in the ‘80s and stuff, and I’m never ever into that stuff, I’m not, I really am not, I can’t stand it most of the time, I find it abrasive and edgy, I can’t be bothered. But I really like what she does. I like her head. What she talks about is really important, you know, the way she’ll allude to… she’ll skip all around the point but you’ll get it through the melody, and then finally she’ll have one line that nails it and then you’ll explode. There was one song that she was singing recently at the Borderline which I’d never heard before, and my father’s just died last year, and she sung this song about, she had a dream and her dad and her mum were skipping along and her dad was falling on his ass in the snow and her sister was chatting and moaning about this, and she went on and on, and the chorus was “I had a dream, in my dream, in my dream”… Finally six minutes later you get a line saying, “And no-one is missing,” and you kind of get that she’s talking about somebody that’s not there any more. And I started weeping and I looked around and there’s at least three guys all of them sniffing and snotting, and I just thought that’s so clever that you can do that, play about with the feeling with what it is and then only identify it very briefly so that it isn’t hammered out all the time, which is what I find very tiring and tedious about the pop industry and the pop game.

So these different artists that you love, Ani Di Franco etc., is there something unique in each of them that touches you and inspires you?

Well with Jane Siberry it’s a melodic thing, but with Ani Di Franco definitely it’s a lyrical quality, she’s just very good at descriptive terms and great at making a couplet work. Tim Finn’s like that, too. Just really smart work. And Roddy Frame, too. There’s a couple of his songs, that – I just read his album covers, I don’t hardly ever listen to them, which is really daft, but I love reading his work. And my brother’s band, The Trash Can Sinatras, great poetry. John, the guitar player, he writes, and Frank my brother writes, they all write, but John’s poetry is really brilliant and so is my brother’s, but, just reading it, I don’t know why people miss it, it’s so good for the soul.

So what do you look for in another writer’s work that makes you want to cover it?

Well I only do covering if it’s related to me, I mean, only covering in so much as somebody’s is sitting in front of me and I’ll go I want to talk about that lampshade, it’s green, and that will try and get it to work, or he’ll go away, like Boo went away and wrote “Follow My Tears.” He only had the chorus and then I sung it, and I sang the melody to him and he went away, I sung a kind of groove melody, and he went to sleep and came back in the morning with all the verses of what we were talking about before, which is displacement. So, covers like “Town Without Pity” –

Yeah, and Fred Neil, that kind of stuff.

Yeah, I’ll do those older ones because they touch me in real ancient ways, I don’t know what the point is, but “Dolphins” really gets me – it gets me when he sings it and it gets me when Tim Buckley sings it, gets me when Liz Fraser sings it, so there’s something about it that’s just freeing. I haven’t heard Beth Orton’s version yet.

I didn’t know she did a version.

She did a version and I think The The did a version, so did Billy Bragg, I think it’s a well used song. I like Si Kahn’s, “What You Do With You’ve Got” the lyrics to that Si Kahn song that Dick Gaughan used to play in folk clubs, I heard that and I turned into a different melody and everything.

So that song originated as a different —

Yeah, Si Kahn. There’s a guy called Si Kahn who lyrically – he was a trade union leader in the ‘40s or something – in America, and he wrote what’s a brilliant… If I hear something — well for example “Lebanon Tennessee” — it’s just all Ron Sexsmith at the moment, I’m totally, there’s nothing, I can’t find, everything that I need to sing about at the moment is in his catalogue.

Lyle Lovett has sung that, I was just reading a review of Lyle Lovett’s new live album, he does that Sexsmith song.

Wow! Great, that’s fantastic, it’s a fantastic tune. I play it in D and I alternate the bass, and it’s just, I’ve always been in love with D, playing D, and he’s just used it really well, he’s used that chord really well.

Do you have a favourite song of your own, that you’ve written?

Well I am really fond of “Psychic Reader” actually, but, let me think… I suppose recently, I really like what I did the other day, which is called “Small Soul” I think. I’d have to have them all sitting in front of me and go, oh, that one.

But you’re not one of these people who says oh no, they’re all my children and I can’t choose one.

I just don’t remember the bloody titles! They’re moments of spontaneous gorgeousness that I’m not experiencing right now, so I experience some other kind of gorgeousness. I tend to disown them; if they are my children I’m a terrible mother ‘cause I do disown them, I just kind of move on and I can’t remember how they originated and I can’t remember if they were got together by me and Boo or if it was all of us all in the room, which I guess causes a problem occasionally when I can’t remember, you know. Like sometimes we’ll have a song, and I’ll have gone, alright, so Roy was here, Boo was here, Cal was here, and I’ve forgotten Ted was there, so I wouldn’t have written it down, and then it becomes lost in the mists of time. And Teddy goes, I was there, by the way I wrote that bit. Alright, okay, sorry.

You’ve mentioned how your record company situation, when we talked a couple years ago, was affecting you in many ways. I know you’ve got Compass in America now, but what’s your situation in the UK and internationally? How is whatever that current situation is affecting your writing, are you feeling more liberated in general?

Well I’m feeling that the pressure’s off, which is great, and I’m not really a part of something which I thought was pretty tacky. I’ve got, I’m waiting for Geoff Travis to get Rough Trade together again, which should happen in the early part of 2000, and I think I’d like to do an album on Rough Trade. It’s kind of a well respected label. I know that they had Lucinda Williams and The Smiths… and he sold off Rough Trade to various people and now he’s in the process of getting it back. And also, I want to get a kind of traditional album, but traditional in the sense that I just use traditional songs and I turn them into, you know, kind of like “The Blacksmith” …

So they’ll all be covers.

Traditional songs, ancient writing that I’ll use to sing with, I’ll use what I remember of them and then play about with the melodies, which will probably have the traditional society hating me, but I don’t really care, I just want to keep them alive in some way, songs that I think deserve to be heard still.

Is that your next project then? Will that be the next album?

No it’s just one of the… No, I think the next album will be me writing in between me sanding the floor in the back room and it will be all that emotive stuff which is from start to finish just me, and then once I’ve got that out of my system I’ll start working on the other projects.

So I guess if you don’t have a deal yet with Rough Trade you’re not actually up to a point where you want to put down this album?

No, I don’t want to do that until I’ve really got what I consider really me out there. If I’m going to release something it’s going to have to be genuinely me, I mean genuinely. I don’t have any reason to do it otherwise. I can’t think of any reason to hang on to the belief that I should just make albums willy-nilly, you know. I really have to know that what I’m doing is purposeful. I can actually go into the back room and make lots of music and have it on tape. The step from taking it from the tape recorder and putting onto a CD that is then given out to people, I have to know what the purpose of that is, and the purpose for me I think will have to be will have to be that it is a genuine communication that I want to make, a kind of thing that I want to, I want to heal in some way – not heal, that’s too pretentious – but definitely be a bit of currency to help in the positive side of the scales rather than the negative side of the scales. I want it to be positive and I want it to be joyous, I want it to make an impact on whoever listens to it, I don’t want it to be thrown away by a record company. It’s too important, you know. That’s what I don’t like about big record companies, it just becomes not important after two weeks if they’ve done their usual parties with the radio pluggers and the press people do their usual phone calls, and then it’s over for them. But it isn’t over for me and it isn’t over for many of us that write and struggle to be true. So giving it to a record company to handle and then throw in the bin when they can’t get the billion-selling platinum triple billion zillion million any kind of metal that’s much more precious that whatever I’ve just said, you know, album. If they can’t get that then they really really aren’t interested, and that’s why it’s got to change, because humanity’s humanity and we are all crying out for something fine all the time.

How important is America? Is the deal with Compass just for Angels & Electricity or is that going to be an ongoing thing?

I think it’s going to be ongoing. I really like them, they’ve got a little pink house in Nashville and they have my award for Mirmama – they got an award for Mirmama, some kind of independent release something, in 1997, which is amazing, because I made it in 1992. And there you go, it got totally ignored by the British record company and it got totally ignored by everybody except, even now, it’s what got us the gig at KCRW in LA. It’s what people like now. The energy was good so that’s the only way, you know you’re right is when the energy is good and it comes bouncing back at you.

You’ve never thought about going and spending a couple of months in Nashville writing? Which seems to be the songwriting capital of the world.

It’s just I’ve got kids, you know. Everything would be different if I didn’t have them, in a lot of ways. Like I would be able to get on the bus or the plane continuously, rent out my house, do whatever I like. You have two little beings, and like it’s not my time right now and I have to swallow that really, that’s my karma. And it’s okay, it’s meant to be. And I have brilliant times with them, and so I want to do it with them now. If we go to America I want to do it with them. I want to go to Canada, I want to live in Vancouver for six months, I want to try to get them taught in Canada, instead of smelly old here. It’s just I know that it’s a big, London is just terrible for state schools, there are so many that are bad, and the ones that are good are very far away.

Canada’s very fertile musically.

I think so and I think that I’d love to try it there, it’s just you know, the boys are 11 and 7 now, so I’m watching them grow more and more independent of me every day. And there’ll be a point where I will try that I think. I did phone up the immigration department.

Well that’s a start.

It is a start, yeah. I’ll just see. I would like to maybe get this place organised and then rent it out and just go, and it will be an adventure and it will be wonderful, and we can come back if it doesn’t work out.

© Debbie Kruger
No part of these interviews may be reproduced or transmitted in any form
without prior written permission.

Eddi Reader in concert at Guildford
Eddi Reader performing at the Guildford Summer Festival, England, July 1998

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