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Eddi Reader with Boo Hewerdine and Colin Reid - Cambridge Folk Festival on 27 July 2000
Although I tend to be a total goody-two-shoes, I must confess to becoming a criminal element on 27 July 2000. Yes, it's true. It involved counterfeit papers, forged documents, and sneaking past a border patrol of sorts. It wasn't my idea, either, but I was naturally thrilled in the end when a friend used various dubious methods to smuggle me into the Thursday night preview of the Cambridge Folk Festival, the night reserved for Cambridge residents only. Those terrifying moments of being bad for a change were so worth what followed.
After the grand Boo-influenced band Ezio finished playing, a roadie spent forever tuning Eddi Reader's scratched and weathered guitar, whilst Boo Hewerdine crept quietly on stage to work on his own guitar. Is this a measurement of fame? Is it because Boo does not tour with an entourage? Or does he not trust anyone else to deal with his guitar? The roadie types soon moved on to wrapping 50 feet of duct tape (don't you find that's how men wrap presents, too?) around Eddi's guitar mike, which refused to stay in place, only to have her knock it almost as soon as she came on stage later, but fortunately we could still hear her play. A small, dark, wide-eyed boy accompanied one of the roadie types in his duties and then retired to the side of the stage to watch the entire show seemingly without blinking. I was impressed by his patience, as I thought he was just accompanying the roadie with whom he was sitting who might have been a babysitting father, but at the end of the concert, the child ran eagerly into Eddi's arms, so I suspect he belonged to her.
After waiting for ages, just after 9pm the audience welcomed, at the command of tame disc jockey Richard Allinson, Eddi, Boo and--a special treat--Belfast boy Colin Reid. Colin is a hugely gifted acoustic guitarist and composer with two albums to his name, the last (live) one, Icarus, being a result of a commission in Glasgow arising from Celtic Connections involving a string quartet, I believe. If anyone recorded the television highlights of the 1999 Cambridge Folk Festival, I understand that Colin was the only artist in the acoustic tent to be featured on the programme. Go and watch it; he is remarkable. He proved this by blindly adding amazing, spontaneous solos to Boo and Eddi's songs during this show (in case someone feels the need to point out that I normally gripe about guitar solos, let me explain that I love skilled acoustic guitar solos, particularly when they lean towards classical or Spanish tones. It is the long, whiny, absurdly juvenile Spinal Tap-esque electric guitar solos that I despise). Colin has been lauded with praise from critics, including the Independent's Andy Gill, who also always does his best to promote our friend Boo, so the man has taste. Colin gained further recognition when he was one of about five people nominated for the Hot Press Music Award last year for Best Irish Musician, although he was beaten by someone like The Edge.
Boo introduced Colin and explained that they had met just one hour beforehand, and Eddi added that she had met Colin during Celtic Connections the previous year (one of the last gigs played by Brian Kennedy, by the way, before he became a Broadway baby, performing the singing part written especially for him in Riverdance. Just had to mention him lest people started to worry that I was an impostor.)
Eddi stumbled onto the stage with her arms full of a pile of various notebooks and papers as if she were a disorganised schoolmarm on her way to class. She frequently flicked through a spiral notebook during the show, apparently searching for ideas of what to play (Do those two ever have a set list? How refreshing to wander off on unmapped journeys). Once, she even seemed to read the lyrics from a book. I admire her for openly having an anti-TC Syndrome kit. Power to her.
She was wearing the usual endearingly wacko garb: a thin, short pink butterfly-covered chemise over something intimate, blue and frilly, topping off white leggings that seemed to be tie-dyed with splotches of pink and purple. Boo, I am pleased to say, was not wearing leggings or anything blue and frilly, unless it was concealed under his grey curiously almost Hawaiian tourist design camp shirt and trousers that were not splotched with any bright colours that were meant to be there, anyway. Colin (ever the man in black) was similarly sensibly dressed for a man who was not Julian Clary, and he sat between the other two, providing only guitar throughout the show whilst the other two added guitar and vocals.
Eddi launched into a song called Lucky Penny, which has not been released [it has since been released on her 2001 album Simple Soul, along with many of the songs she played at this gig] but sounded familiar to me for some reason--maybe it's just one of those catchy songs that gives you that feeling of dêjà vu. The three performers all started out rather subdued, all sitting down and playing guitar.
After that, Eddi informed us that Boo was going to sing Joke (I'm Laughing) on behalf of the Women's Institute [this was one month after Prime Minister Tony Blair received a hostile reception at the Women's Institute for making a long, over political speech]. As beautiful as Eddi's voice is, I was thrilled that she left it to Boo to sing his version of this song. She, of course, always provided backing vocals for his songs, as he did for hers, and she sometimes played guitar, other times stood and danced, although her freestyle arm-waving antics are a lot more restrained these days.
When Boo finished, Eddi said 'this is called Wolves' and did a bit of howling à la Warren Zevon. Rather than being the novelty you might expect, this was a lovely song including the refrain, 'Is that all I'm here for?' The audience all joined in with their own howling at the end, which was quite fun and could make the song a concert favourite for her for years to come.
Boo then performed Butterfly (presumably to match Eddi's outfit), a cracking song that he simply must release on his next album, which he simply must release! There are so many magnificent new songs kicking about, looking for a home--all of our happy homes. I finally heard the girl band version of this and it is a completely different song, a curious cover really. Not that the arrangement is vastly different, just that the power pushed through Boo's vocal chords changes the meaning from that conveyed by the light and fluffy froth of a group of young pop-focused females.
When Eddi began the Boo-penned Please Don't Ask Me To Dance, people in the audience were talking so loudly that she seemed to try to wave away the noise with her hands, as if she had magical powers, but it was a long while before the crowd quietened down. I suppose that sort of thing is inevitable at a festival when not everyone is there to see the performer who is on stage at the time, and people are standing around an open tent with alcohol in their hands. To top it off, someone's mobile phone went off near the end, and she kindly chastised the culprit playfully. Colin added a truly wonderful solo to this tune.
Boo then cheerfully announced that Colin was about to play a song that he had never even heard, which did not seem to phase Colin in the slightest, and Boo launched into his classic 59 Yards, with Colin following along as if there were no challenge involved. Eddi stood and danced most of the time, and Colin added some astounding guitar solos once again.
After that, Eddi sat with her guitar and looked through her notebook until Boo suggested something they could perform, and they all began to play the Mark Nevin song The Right Place, one I always liked from her self-titled album. Eddi seemed to read the last verse from her notebook, and it all came off well.
For the second of a trio of Eddi songs (or songs sung by Eddi, anyway), Patience of Angels was announced, with Eddi encouraging the audience to provide the backing vocals on the 'There's a door...' part near the end. Those who could sing (not me) were all geared up to join Eddi but Eddi did not join in herself. Sweetly, she kept looking at Boo and Boo kept looking back at her, each waiting for the other to do something, so Eddi rushed to Boo, leaned towards him and flung her arms around his neck whilst she whispered in his ear, and he set her straight with whispered sound advice and she returned to her place. She explained her lack of familiarity with her biggest solo hit by saying 'Boo Hewerdine wrote this song, everybody,' with Boo immediately adding '...and Eddi Reader forgot it.' That won over the eager choir and they added fairly decent vocals to those projected from the stage.
The three guitarists then started strumming rapidly and Eddi began singing another Boo song, Hummingbird (which almost counts towards the theory once discussed on Boo's discussion list after someone suggested that Boo sings about insects a lot, because those birds sure are small and rapid, hovering flyers, like big bees).
It was getting later and we had been warned that the entertainment licence was only until 10pm, so I was concerned to see an official step up to speak quietly to Boo. Fortunately, it must have been good news, as the three musicians carried on performing.
Boo has a habit of mumbling inaudibly into his microphone. I think it's a sign of greatness, as Van Morrison is another who never ever says anything that anyone can understand between his songs (though some people often laugh, just in case it was a joke). On this occasion, Boo mumbled that he was going to play a new song, and it sounded as if he said that it was called 'For What It's Worth.' Everyone around me said, 'What? Pardon?' I wondered if he was about to treat us to a bizarre Buffalo Springfield cover, but instead what he actually muttered must have been something like 'this song is called Extras, for what it's worth.' Eddi joined the boys on guitar for this new one, another brilliant song that I hope to see on that longed-for Boo album soon (thought I'm not holding my breath), along with Soul and Butterfly. [Extras, at least, ended up on Boo's next album, Anon.]
With the three still seated with their guitars, Eddi announced that they were about to perform a Ron Sexsmith song. I wished it would be On A Whim, off Eddi's previous album, but assumed it would be Child Star. Instead, she surprised me by playing Lebanon, Tennessee from Ron's first album. It is a wonderful song but not one of my Ron favourites, and I am always curious as to how they come to choose which ones they perform.
Eddi then flicked through her Book of Ideas as people called out 'Footsteps!' 'California!' and 'Honey Be Good!' Boo just shied away with a bowed head and a smile from the latter, with which his former group the Bible had had success in the '80s. California has never thrilled me as much as it seems to thrill others, including Eddi, so I was pleased that she chose to oblige the request for Footsteps Fall. I must admit I would have preferred for Boo to sing it, but Eddi did, and beautifully, of course. Interestingly, she commented on the request before beginning, 'How do you know Footsteps Fall? It hasn't even been released yet', which does not show lateral thinking, bless her, since it is one of several outstanding tracks on Boo's best album Thanksgiving. Clearly, it will feature on Eddi's next album, too, which is fine. Actually, I could swear that a live recording (probably featuring Boo on guitar) had been released on one of the Transatlantic Sessions CDs, but not the one I have, unfortunately. She performed it wonderfully, but I hoped that Boo would at least sing one verse, and he did not.
It was late by now and surely the environmental health officers were about to pull the plug, and Boo seemed a bit concerned about the time, yet the audience kept yelling out requests and, fortunately, Boo, Eddi and Colin carried on. Boo sang another live favourite, 16 Miles, complete with offensive lyric (you would think he would edit it for my virgin ears, wouldn't you?), while Eddi stood and provided some twirling and swimming demonstrations in fun fashion. I always prefer this song live because I love the added rhythmical vocal part which I have previously spelled, no doubt accurately, as something like 'humm-nah, na-nay-ya' and will not dwell on it here as it will look like I am showing off.
When they finished 16 Miles, the musicians turned around, sadly for us, and left the stage. Then they waited for a hairy middle-aged DJ to come encourage us to invite them on again--as if we needed prompting, though we had assumed he would tell us we had to leave. The three returned and were bombarded with requests, so Eddi remarked that she could travel from tent to tent in the festival's campground and give performances catered for each one. I think she only re-negged on the idea because she realised it would be unfair to those of us who were not tent dwellers.
They settled on the magnificent Bell, Book and Candle, with Eddi singing rather than Boo, which was lovely, though again I would always prefer Boo to at least take a verse of his own song. During this number, Boo was, as he had been on several occasions throughout the night, in that chin-on-the-guitar mode where he is so lost in concentration--or perhaps so lost in a daydream--or, let's not be close-minded, perhaps so lost his neck, that he practically rests his chin on the guitar and just focuses on that at close range as he plays. It is quite charming, really, since he must be the last person in the world who has to pay attention to how he plays a guitar. Him and Colin, I guess.
Just before 10.30pm, it was all over. That was later than we had expected, so it was difficult to complain. However, although I will not say that I was underwhelmed, I did leave with the feeling that Eddi and Boo performing these days somehow seems to lack the synergy of Clive Gregson, Rob Peters (his previous touring partners) and Boo together. Seeing Boo and Eddi is always a wonderful privilege, and the addition of Colin Reid was a terrific treat, and I went away perfectly content, don't get me wrong. But I did feel that I might have been happier if I had been able to see all of the other bands that night and soaked up more of the festival atmosphere, because just the last set, although they are certainly high on my list of favourite performers, did not, uh, change my life, as Boo concerts frequently do. It was wonderful but not the level of spectacular that I have come to expect, spoiled child that I am, and that is not through anyone's fault, any error made by a musician. This is just a general feeling that I and a few others had. Perhaps we are used to sharper, more rehearsed presentations, or perhaps it comes down to the fact that we just did not see or hear enough Boo; that must be it, because the gig was really lovely.
I am absolutely thrilled that I got to be there, I really did enjoy it, and it was great to meet a few more Boo fans. Thank you so much to those of you who Jim'll-Fixed-It so I could go; I only hope the police don't burst into my home in the middle of the night to drag me off to a Colombian jail for my sinful deception.
If only I had not been asleep in the car on the way back to Kent (I was not the driver, don't worry), then I could have heard the show twice, as it was later broadcast on Radio 2, and probably would have been gushing over it as a result. But since, as predicted, my attempt to tape the radio programme failed, I sadly am relying on memories, which is never a good thing for a TC-Syndrome sufferer. The memories are lovely, actually, full of fondness and enjoyment--just not all tingly, if you know what I mean!
And with that, I think I shall leave since the men in white coats have arrived.
Copyright © 2003 by TC.
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