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Eddi Reader, Boo Hewerdine & Colin Reid - Cabot Hall, Docklands on 11 July 2001

A friend and I decided to take the afternoon of 11 July off to travel to the Docklands—which were much more interesting and accessible than expected—and brave the hideous weather: cold, extremely windy and wet with more threatening clouds hanging tauntingly over London. We were still determined to go, in hopes that the sun would miraculously appear by 1pm, when the Eddi Reader, Boo Hewerdine and Colin Reid gig was meant to begin.

Sure enough, by the time we arrived at Canary Wharf, Britain's tallest building, and stopped briefly in the busy shopping centre to pick up some lunch to eat whilst enjoying the concert in Cabot Square, the sun was beaming down on us, and we headed gleefully towards the exit as we could not wait to get outside. As we approached the shopping centre’s exit, with lovely Cabot Square, full of fountains and sunshine, in our view, we noticed a small plain sign saying ‘Eddie Reader concert’—yes, Eddie with an ‘e’—pointing towards a long, unmoving queue of people that snaked up some indoor stairs and out of view. Feeling somewhat discouraged, we were heartened to be faced with the unusual sight of friendly and informed security staff on either side of the queue, telling us that the organisers had been forced to move the concert inside at the last minute owing to the adverse weather (well, it had only just turned nice a few minutes before, to be fair) and reassuring us that we would not be kept waiting long while they set up some chairs in the hall. We patiently waited for a bit, while some sad looking souls had to leave the queue, presumably forced to return to work after having run out of time.

Eventually, we were let into the shiny new modern Cabot Hall, a small squeaky clean and brightly lit auditorium surrounded by white walls with numerous wood panels, except for mid-way up, where there was a level that had no panels but instead seemed to open onto some sort of office corridor, through which the odd employee would occasionally pass. The ceiling contained windows leading into an empty roof space, some of which were empty. The Hall was comfortable enough, but we had low expectations for the acoustics.

Only guitars and empty chairs sat on the stage, and we grabbed a seat on the side nearest the biggest guitar, assuming that the performer with the biggest fingers would use that one, and we were right. Boo, Eddi and Colin came out at about quarter past one and sat in that order before us.

Boo, looking suitably shorn, was wearing a long sleeved black top with the sleeves pushed up and jeans, Colin was sporting his usual (gentle) Man in Black look, and Eddi—wow, Eddi looked gorgeous and was dressed more normal than I have ever seen her look! In fact, I did not recognise her when she first came out, without her usual eccentric outfits. Is this her day look? She wore an elegant sleeveless top with casual tailored trousers, and her hair was shorter, looking almost auburn with highlights. She was truly striking.

Eddi began the set by apologising for taking us out of the wind and announced that they would start with Semi Precious, a song for their children. The gorgeous acoustic guitars of Boo and Colin led us gently into the song, Colin apparently sucking on a section of orange, which on second glance was revealed to be an orange guitar pick, which he held in his mouth for several numbers. The fact that they were all seated did not prevent Eddi from launching into some serious arm-dancing, as usual.

Introducing the next song, Eddi said it was another for their children and declared the day to be Children’s Day as a result. Boo seemed to suggest that Eddi join the boys on guitar, which she did, and they treated the audience to a wonderful Honeychild, with Boo’s fabulous backing vocals and wonderful harmonies captivating our attention. Boo’s left leg began jiggling and eventually erupted into a downright stomp, and Colin began subtly bouncing about so much that I worried that he’d swallow that orange pick. The only shame about this marvellous performance was that Colin tried to play one of his famed solos at the end, or presumably he actually did play it as all sorts of fancy moves were taking place on the frets, and Boo and Eddi even turned respectfully toward him just before he began. Sadly, the sound mixing was a bit off and everything was drowned out by Eddi and Boo’s loud rhythm guitars, but at least Colin’s solo looked impressive. Fortunately, Eddi asked the Sound Chaps after the song to turn up Colin’s volume; they had hardly had time for a sound check, to be fair.

Meanwhile, the audience of about 200 people started relaxing, not just because of the brilliant music but because we were not flanked by scary bouncer types who wanted to take away our cameras or, as was the case at Ronnie Scott's, our folding umbrellas. Everyone seemed happy to welcome us there, and we were left alone to be happy that we were there, too. Our only small care in the world was evident as we all nervously checked out our neighbours and the Cranks, Pręt, Burger King, etc bags on our laps, wondering whether it would now be rude to crack open our lunches, as we’d all planned to be standing outside in the square where scoffing whilst listening is perfectly acceptable. We watched to see who would begin eating first--I don’t think anyone did, but we didn’t notice our hunger. After all, if music be the food…. (Sorry). From time to time some poor souls did have to leave to return to work, as things started a bit late, but a few others arrived later to make up for them. I suppose the biggest shame about the slight shift of venue was that people wandering past or just sitting outside to eat their lunch wouldn’t be newly exposed to this beautiful music and have their lives changed for the better, as all of ours have been.

As Eddi, Boo and Colin then began to tune their instruments for The Girl Who Fell in Love with the Moon (forgive me if I don’t use the Prince-type symbols….), a baby in the back of the hall called out playfully, and everyone on stage stopped for a moment to smile—it had been declared Children’s Day, after all--Eddi even imitating it and calling the baby a ‘good girl,’ no doubt admiring her enthusiasm for their performance. We were just as enthusiastic—but not as cute, I guess—as they pounded away at their guitars, which I must admit were still a bit too loud, as Eddi’s voice was almost obscured from where I was sitting, but that was later rectified.

When I say that we were enthusiastic, I mean, of course, that we were so internally. By law, as everyone knows, London audiences are not allowed to display their enjoyment of concerts openly, and certainly we can’t dance in the aisles. So we stuffily sat pretty still, although as they progressed through the set list (of the choose-as-we-go variety, as always with Eddi), more and more heads rebelliously began nodding to the beat, and the odd foot was spotted tapping….

Eddi then introduced the next song, Adam, as one written after she saw a couple walking down the road, with the woman giving the man hell, as he struggled with all the parcels—which bizarrely made me think of the film Green Card when Gerard Depardieu’s character says almost the same words when describing his supposed meeting with Andie MacDowell’s character—and the woman struggling to carry all the babies. Basically, Eddi said, it’s a forgiveness song. She said that she was Eve in this song about Adam and Eve, and then after thinking for a moment, referred to the men beside her on stage and added ‘and they’re Adams.’ So it’s a saucy song, she said, before shaking her head to deny that. But I’m sure it got everyone listening.

I seem to recall several people on a fan discussion list saying that this song was their least favourite on Eddi’s latest album, whereas I liked it from the beginning, but found that it didn’t wear well when played over and over again on the way to and from work. Still, it is a truly relaxing sound, and Eddi’s voice shines through it beautifully, as ever, even when played live. Colin managed to add subtle embellishments that thankfully were now audible. Just then, the guy blocking my view of Eddi from the neck down kindly left to return to work, poor thing, and I noticed that Eddi has a spiritual crystal dangling from her guitar neck, as well as some sort of bulbous object in silhouette that I couldn’t make out, and I wondered what was the story behind those.

Next, Boo, who sadly never sang more than backing vocals, led the others into a wonderful rendition of Simple Soul with a terrific introduction on his guitar, whilst Eddi lay her guitar flat on the floor, rather than in its stand, and began playing a Rob Peters-style egg shaker. The song was lovely and gentle and Eddi’s voice came through much more clearly now, with the guitars contributing beautifully to the song but no longer sounding overpowering. Boo seemed to add an Indian chant (ie what you Brits call Red Indians, what we Americans call Native Americans) as amazing backing vocals that blended in intriguingly. During that number, we were treated to a few BBGs, or Big Boo Grins, as he clearly enjoyed himself.

Eddi then asked for requests, placing a priority on those from people who were just on their lunch hours and had to leave soon, but only a couple of people were decisive enough to call out, while the rest of us were still trying to behave London-style, initially refusing even to twitch or look alive. Someone called out The Right Place, which she promised to do, and then someone else requested the obvious Patience of Angels, but she didn’t seem to acknowledge that. Instead, she introduced Hummingbird, a song about being stuck in London, she said—and then quickly qualified that by saying that of course she meant that it was lovely to be stuck in London at times like now, but…. Boo had problems with his guitar then, which Eddi narrated as he tried to sort it out, but thankfully he fixed it, though for about one second near the beginning of the song, it sounded like someone else playing, or someone playing something else. The song typically was made of foot-stomping stuff, and the performers looked suitably proud of the excitement they were creating on stage. We, of course, were still pinned to our seats by the Stuffy Londoner Law, but signs of cracking were beginning to show in a few feet and limbering necks. More BBGs as Boo provided fantastic backing vocals—it was all great fun.

I noticed that Colin was busily plucking away, jiggling a bit, but that the orange pick had disappeared from his mouth, nor was it in his hand. Alarmed, I prepared to leap onto the stage and perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre if he started coughing and choking on the pick, but fortunately, he didn’t. Particularly fortunate as I never quite learned the Heimlich Manoeuvre. Nor how to spell it, for that matter.

During the vocal jam session at the end of Hummingbird, Boo’s voice was incredibly strong and Eddi—vocally, at least—seemed to turn into a large black jazz-singing woman once or twice.

Eddi then announced that she was going to do a John Douglas song, and surprised us all by addressing someone amongst the pool of our stiff heads by saying, ‘Ready John?’ and promising to get the chords right. (I later learned our fellow audience member was a member of the Trash Can Sinatras).   Eddi, Colin and Boo all engaged in an apparently complicated sequence that resulted in many entangled and perfectly sequenced notes trickling from their guitars, which was wonderful in itself, but when Eddi began singing, most people were truly transfixed. The song was a pretty, soft and subtle number called Wild Mountainside, which oddly reminded me of a cross between Enya minus several layered vocal tracks and the 1960s Skeeter Davis song End of the World (ie ‘Don’t they know it’s the end of the world, it ended when I lost your love’ or something like that). But much prettier, of course.

Behind Eddi’s little girl voice during that number, I heard a most unusual rhythm being added to the song at irregular intervals, only to learn that the creative noise was coming from another baby in the hall. The smiling embarrassed mother removed the child (clearly not yet qualified as a Stuffy Londoner) after that song, as Eddi introduced a slow and gentle Bell, Book and Candle. She began the song a cappella until the others (the ‘Adams’) joined in with their guitars. Eddi also performed her usual hand-slaps-thigh brand of percussion, so steadily and audibly throughout the song as to strike redundancy fears into the Roy Doddses of this world. Boo’s guitar playing during this number was absolutely sparkling, and his vocal harmonies were particularly amazing.

Next was Prodigal Daughter, which Boo began, and Eddi played the harmonica she was holding in her left hand whilst never missing a beat on the egg shaker in her right hand. I’ll bet she can even walk and pat her head and rub her tummy at the same time. Her voice was beautifully strong during this lovely song (co-written by Boo, like most great songs!)

Eddi then asked her Adams if they should do The Wanting Kind, which met with much approval from the restrained-but-loving-it audience, and she explained that the song was about the human condition. Lots of tuning of guitars ensued, but Colin finished super-quickly. Eddi remarked that, if they were on the island television show Survivor and had been given the task of tuning their guitars, Colin would have won. She then proceeded to ridicule the people in the programme for finding lighting a fire to be a challenge; clearly Eddi was a talented Girl Guide. Whilst they continued tuning their guitars, I noted that even that exercise sounded impressively melodic. Boo stopped playing his guitar briefly during the song, as he added his own version of hand-slaps-thigh drumming, which was great. The audience were beginning to shed their required stuffiness, as loads of heads started bobbing while feet started tapping. Before the song finished, Eddi merged into a cheerful classic: ‘Forget your troubles, c’mon , get happy….’

She then informed us that the next song was dedicated to the building we were in, in 200 years, when they’d be pulling it down and people would fondly remember it…presumably for fine events like today’s lunchtime concert. She paused to check the time with Boo, explaining loudly that she had to pick up her children at half past, which warmly amused the audience. The three then performed a lovely gentle version of Wings on My Heels, without such a strong emphasis on the watlz-y sound, which I felt improved matters as it was easier to enjoy the song when it wasn’t wrapped completely in nostalgia. At last, Eddi introduced her endearingly bizarre form of hand dancing that looks as though she’s trying to illustrate how the Loch Ness monster swam above and then beneath the water. Colin then finally treated us to a fabulous bona fide solo. Eddi joined him by playing violin, though of course there was no violin really—it was virtual violin—or just more creative, natural hand dancing. Boo appeared to be cheerfully enjoying himself.

Eddi then seemed quite concerned about the time, but remembered that she had promised earlier to play The Right Place when someone requested it. ‘My weens will have to take the bus’ she resolved. Then she bemoaned the fact that they hadn’t managed to play several songs that she’d wanted to, such as Wolves and, after being prompted by a member of the audience standing against the wall, Kiteflyer’s Hill.

Eddi carried on tuning her guitar whilst the others began The Right Place, but it sounded like an interesting deliberate blend. The three guitars stormed through the song beneath Eddi’s gorgeous and clear vocals. When she finished singing, the chaps carried on playing and Eddi barely paused before announcing that she was going to sing a song for Fred Neil as he had died the other day. Neil was a reclusive folk rock hero who was said to influence Bob Dylan, David Crosby and Tim Buckley, who sadly died of cancer on Saturday. Eddi began singing his most famous song, made a hit when performed by Harry Nilsson and used in the 1969 Midnight Cowboy soundtrack, called Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me.’ The quiet performance was so stunning, I truly wished I was one of those people who recorded gigs, so I could hear it again! Her voice was more suited to the song than any other I have heard perform it. The line about going ‘where the weather suits my clothes’ had me glancing around the auditorium at the mixture of freezing people in tank tops and sensibly yet depressingly dressed people wearing flannel and jumpers.

After treating us to that jewel of a performance that lasted over an hour, the three left, and got a standing ovation from much of the hall (I shall report us all to the Stuffy Police.)

Upon leaving and attempting to go for a nice walk by the river in the sun, we found that it was so windy, it was impossible to walk more than a few steps and it was difficult to hear each other. So I have to be grateful that the organisers had a contingency plan for us that allowed us to hear performances that otherwise would have been drowned out in the wind.

On the way out, we were handed a programme for the Park Live season of outdoor events at Canary Wharf, ‘a chilled affair’ and ‘a feast of entertainment for free on your office doorstep.’ Today’s concert was the first, and the blurb read: ‘One of the finest female contemporary singer/songwriters working in Britain today. Following on from her sell out concert in Cabot Hall, Eddi returns with a couple of collaborators and a special one-off set for Canary Wharf.’ The event was also written up in brief in The Wharf, the area’s weekly paper, but called her Eddie with an ‘e.’

I must admit that I had gone to the concert hoping to hear Boo play a song or two, preferably the one from Colin’s new album on which Boo sings, but that was not on the cards. I can’t complain, though, really; it was lovely. What a fabulous, stress-busting lunchtime concert—and free as well!! Just under 20 songs performed perfectly by three major talents, and all we had to do was stroll in and enjoy it. The Docklands are great. In the City, we provide lunchtime entertainment in the form of stilt walkers dressed up in Renaissance costumes and a man who crams himself in a box and then walks around with just his ankles and feet protruding from it. Different leagues, eh?

Copyright © 2001 by TC. All rights reserved.

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