Pavillion Theatre, Worthing. 22.10.18

Worthing – not the first place that you might think of as a centre of culture but, given that I have now lived here for eight months, it does continue to throw up gems that I have to do a double take on when checking the listings. The Pavillion Theatre is the perfect setting for a show like this too – its faded seaside glamour quite delightful, the weird 80s seats and curtains not detracting from the beautiful old building that has been at the end of the town’s pier since 1926. Support act, Dan Whitehouse, is the latest to tread the boards. Signed to Eddi Reader’s label, Reveal Records, and hailing from the Midlands, he gives a confident rendition of his award-winning classic rock/folk/country. Using a loop pedal and guitar to create layers of sound, his voice is impressive and his song-writing charming, often musing about love and romance but occasionally about the power of music to overcome trauma. The cheerful melody of tracks like ‘Work’ are a nice contrast to the sadness of a letter to an ex-lover, ‘Why Don’t We Dance?’, showing off the range of emotions that just one man alone can convey. ‘I’m here to warm you up’, he says hopefully as he gets the audience (or at least a quarter of them) singing backing vocals for him – the house lights going up at his request so he can see who’s taking part. He definitely has his work cut out but people are smiling by the end of the set (and not just because it’s finished). Very pleasant.

Eddi Reader MBE surely needs no introduction. With a career spanning over three decades, I consider her a total living legend and, as I indicated before, I can hardly believe that she is here in Worthing. I have seen her once before and so know that this is going to be a real treat. From the much loved pop of Fairground Attraction to her classic contributions of the 90s and beyond, the iconic Glaswegian appears this evening wearing what looks like a gold tiara headdress and a sequinned embroidered jumper, her wild, red hair still just as wild and red as it ever has been. ‘I’m dressed like my Aunty Mary’, she quips, one of many stories that set the scene to the tracks she will perform. In fact, most songs have a dedication of some sort to a family member, a comfortable nostalgia to compliment much of the material from brand new album, ‘Cavalier’.

Joined by seven other musicians - including long-time collaborator, Boo Hewardine, and other world class musicians from Ireland and Scotland (not least her husband, John Douglas) – the band comprises wind instruments, a jazz pianist and an accordion, and it is an incredible feeling to see such an intimate connection between Eddi and those on stage with her. But what is really exceptional is that there doesn’t seem to be a set list. Instead, Eddi has a songbook on a music stand next to her that she proceeds to flick through. ‘I’m going to sing ‘Love is Like a Red Red Rose’, because I feel like it’, she announces of one of the arrangements from her seminal 2003 collection, ‘Songs of Robert Burns’ and the band oblige without faltering. Her vocal range is, of course, stunning and leads what is a beautiful, high-quality performance throughout.

Then, combining humour and heartache, all of a sudden she has transformed into her Mother, a routine that has been featured in other live shows but still holding an untouchable spontaneity. ‘You all need to encourage her to sing a song. Say ‘sing us a song, Jean’’, she says and the audience play along. Reader is now standing pretending to smoke a cigarette, having an imaginary conversation with Jean’s husband (Reader’s father, a self-professed ‘Elvis Presley-tarian’) who is also trying to encourage her to sing. ‘Sing us a song before Uncle Donald loses his false teeth again, hen’, she goes on. ‘Jean’ is still reluctant, though the audience continue to plead. Finally relenting, what follows is incredible; the possessed singer delivers the most perfect rendition of ‘Moon River’, belting it out for all she is worth, the theatre’s mirror ball in full swing and ‘Jean’ in full diva mode. I think for a moment that the roof might fly into the night sky; there is so much power and energy involved. It is an unforgettable moment.

Still, it is the familiarity of Reader’s new material too that makes it so enjoyable and testament to why she has become such an enduring figure in contemporary music. She likens the energetic pop rock of ‘Cavalier’s’ title track to Mud’s ‘Tiger Feet’ and even does the dance, while other songs are typically melodic and soulful, writing about the everyday in a way that makes tasks like raising teenage boys sound magical (‘Fishing’ and ‘My Favourite Dress’, for example). She also unsurprisingly celebrates traditional music (‘Old Song’, and ‘Meg O’ The Glen’), tunes begging for sing-songs with friends, a true joy in creating that only artists like this - and composers like Hewardine - can achieve. What I particularly love about Eddi, however, is her punk rock attitude alongside predominantly conventional song-writing – she takes pleasure and inspiration from the mundane and her own aging process but stamps all over anyone’s expectations of her as a performer or indeed a woman. It doesn’t matter, therefore, that there is no mention tonight of her most well-known solo offerings, though she does play ‘Perfect’ and ‘Find My Love’ (which I used to have on a cassette alongside Deacon Blue and Bros). In fact, I later meet her and tell her that I’ve loved her since I was eight. ‘Nawwwww’, she says. Yes, and I am sure I will love her for a few years yet.

Words and pix : Anna C

Thanks to Jane and Edward for allowing us to see the show. Much indebted.