Reader’s Robbie

The Songs of Robert Burns (Eddi Reader)

QPAC, Concert Hall

March 16

Seeing Eddi Reader’s “The Songs of Robert Burns” is like experiencing an extended Scottish hug of storytelling and songs. The acclaimed singer and songwriter, first brought into the limelight as front woman for Fairground Attraction, is immediately very Scottish in both accent and vernacular. And her homeland inspires much of her music, particularly through her presentation of the songs of Scotland’s best-known and best-loved poet (and Johnny Depp of his age), Robert Burns, a man who at 27 years old wrote that song that makes us hold each other every New Year’s eve.

‘Auld Lang Syne’ makes an appearance of course, albeit with a more traditional, bittersweet melody that is exquisitely realised by Reader’s unaccompanied a capella introduction to awed-audience silence. However, beyond this standard, who really knows what each show will bring, as she bounces around the setlist with down-to-earth authenticity that sees her admit to wearing her glasses due to misplaced contacts and tell the audience of the story behind her boho dress (part Scotland, part cabaret).

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Reader’s genuine character continues as she invites the audience into the world of Robert Burns and her own life, through share of anecdotes about meeting the Queen and knowing when she had made it, from her father’s perspective. Indeed, family features throughout the show from an early-set share of the poignant ‘Dragonflies’ in dedication to her Aunt Molly, and later thoroughly-entertaining impressions of all range of family members.

The show, is, however, all about the music as it sees Reader and her four-piece band joined by a quintet of players from Brisbane’s own Camerata. Their plaintive rendition of the familiar classic, ‘My Love is Like a Red, Red, Rose’ is stunning in its formal orchestral arrangement and, like the later ‘John Anderson’ allows opportunity for violinist Brendan Joyce and cellist Robert Manley in particular, to shine in share of haunting, delicate string sounds that allow full focus on the eloquence of Burns’ words.

While Burns’ songs, including ones from Reader’s 2003 album of the same name, dominate, the program is peppered by other equally entertaining offerings, including the lovely linger of the timeless ‘Moon River’ and snippet of Fairground Attraction’s number one single, ‘Perfect’. There really is something for everyone as Reader assimilates a range of different musical styles into a whimsical pop/folk fusion that is quite her own. The setlist also serves to showcase Reader’s astonishing voice, from the serenity of the delightfully-operatic ‘Jamie Come Try Me’ to the bawdy boldness of the cheeky ‘Charlie is My Darling’ crescendoing into a communal clap and sing-along chorus.

From the beautiful balladry and tender vocals of many of the show’s early numbers, things jig along with many a sing-along towards the infectious joy of ‘Willie Stewart’, complete with joyous accordion accompaniment and foot-stomping akin to the atmosphere of a Celtic ceidah. This is the enchantment and charm of “The Songs of Robert Burns”; it is a show that combines so many wonderful things in creation of a memorable experience to serve as soundtrack as you plan trip to bonnie Scotland. In short, Reader’s Robbie is not be missed.

Photo – c/o Ferne Millen

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