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Eddi Reader: My early years with the Eurythmics on the road to Top of the Pops

Eddi Reader joined Annie Lennox on tour with the Eurythmics in 1983.
Eddi Reader joined Annie Lennox on tour with the Eurythmics in 1983.

It is the television appearance which marked the start of the Eurythmics’ trailblazing career: their performance of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) on Top of the Pops in 1983.

In the blink of an eye, Annie Lennox, orange hair cropped to within an inch of its life, knocked the song out of the park, sealing her reputation as the female heir to David Bowie.

Yet, behind her, on backing vocals, but with her own individual style, was another Scottish music luminary who went to enjoy a glittering pop career – and now, Eddi Reader has lifted the lid on the often madcap world which surrounded pop culture in the 1980s.

Signing on the dole

It was a period where young wannabes could be sleeping on friends’ floors one day and being invited to join forces with a supergroup on tour the next.

And, while Eddi had travelled across Europe and arrived in London in her early 20s, she was used to the contrast between singing in giant stadium arenas and signing on the dole when the phone stopped ringing.

She recalled: “There were a lot of us down there, chasing gigs, building up contacts and we were prepared to play almost anywhere.

“I went on tour with the Gang of Four and that helped raise my profile, but you knew when these bookings came in that you were just an employee who was being asked to do a job with a band.

“I wasn’t scared of hard work.

“In fact, looking back, I wasn’t scared of anything in these days. I was this tall Scots lass, with high heels and short skirts and I loved performing.

“When the news got back to me that Dave Stewart wanted to arrange a meeting – Annie had seen me at a gig in a small, low-ceiling venue and I must have made a positive impression – it never even occurred to me to check on who Dave Stewart was.

“He asked if I could meet him in Stoke Newington. Of course I could. Where was Stoke Newington? Well, there was always the London A-Z to help me out. You just got on with it.”

Bomb site

She trusted her instincts.

But even so, she was relieved when Dave turned out to be a kindred spirit in a flat which more closely resembled a bomb site.

Singer Annie Lennox, right, and Dave Stewart.

Eddi said: “It was one of the messiest places I had ever seen – there was stuff everywhere, but he was a nice lad and he played me the demos from the Sweet Dreams album and told me Love is a Stranger would be the first single.

“I liked the songs, they were bluesy and they had soul, they weren’t just plastic pop and they had some real emotion about them. Then it was time to meet Annie and it seemed as if she only lived about 15 steps away.

Orange cropped hair

“She was also in a flat, but it was pristine clean, as neat as you like, everything was smartly laid out….it was the polar opposite of Dave’s.

“But we hit it off at that meeting. And I remember that we went to a pub to have a drink and a chat. We were these two tall, independent women, she had her orange cropped hair and a power suit and she looked amazing.

Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart.

“Well, when we walked in the door, it was like one of those Western films where the place goes completely silent. Then, you had all these grown men tittering like schoolboys.

“Neither of us were fazed by that. Annie had removed all the female trappings, she was in charge of things, she had the power and you could tell she was going places.

“And I got the gig: I was going on tour and on Top of the Pops and The Tube with the Eurythmics. I returned home that night feeling like Pip from Great Expectations.

“I phoned my dad and told him that Love is a Stranger had got to No 179 in the charts. It didn’t go any higher, but that was just the start. Then the news came through that we were going to Germany on tour. Things started happening very quickly.”

Fairground Attraction

Eddi has proved throughout her career that she is one of the most versatile singers in the business. It doesn’t matter whether she is performing her own music, interpreting Robert Burns or Edith Piaf, or joining Phil Cunningham on the ceilidh trail.

In 1988, she was the distinctive voice of Fairground Attraction and returned to TOTP with their hits Perfect and Find My Love, which were taken from the multi-platinum-selling debut album The First of a Million Kisses.

So she had few issues adapting her style to some of the Eurythmics’ classic tracks, let alone doing them justice in a live setting as the group’s profile increased.

She said: “We had a great time playing the music. For the tour, Annie and Dave recruited drummer Clem Burke from Blondie and Mick Gallagher from Ian Dury and the Blockheads, so there was plenty of experience in the ranks, then there was me having a ball.

Problems

“Top of the Pops was something else. By that stage, Sweet Dreams was close to the top of the charts and it just kept gathering momentum. You had to be careful where some people pointed their cameras in these days, but I enjoyed it, even if I was in the background.

“A few more problems arose when Annie asked me to get some new clothes sorted out. I didn’t have a clue what I should do. I was this waif from the west of Scotland, but I wasn’t into haute couture, and suddenly there I was having to worry about wardrobes.

Annie’s style wasn’t on the same wavelength as Eddi Reader.

“With hindsight, it was actually quite funny. The first outfit I bought featured a variety of things including a sparkly top and a dirndl skirt and some gloves and I put them on and went out and showed them to Annie.

“She just looked me up and down, then said: ‘I like the gloves’.

“There was a second visit. Then a third, then a fourth. But none of it made any difference. Annie had her own unique style and appearance and there wasn’t much room for somebody with a different identity.

“It was clear enough: they needed it to be Annie and Dave, not me or Clem or Mick.

“Eventually, I was replaced by three girls in black wigs and I moved on. But I knew that was the deal from the outset and performing with the Eurythmics was definitely a highlight.”


Eddi Reader looks to the future and rescheduled tour next year

Eddi Reader has talked about working with the Eurythmics in 1983.

Lockdown has brought its challenges for all of us and musicians and singers have been among those worst affected by the closure of arts venues, galleries and cinemas for most of 2020.

Eddi had planned a Forty Years Live tour, which has been delayed until next year – and there is still no guarantee life will be back to anything approaching normal until the summer.

Festive show

But she has neither stopped working nor recording new programmes, including a festive show with her friend Phil Cunningham, which will be streamed online on December 19 and 23.

https://myplayer.uk/philschristmassongbook

Eddi said: “In some ways, it has probably been good to have a year of quiet, which has been like a reset button.

“Mind you, I don’t know if anybody will be able to get me off the stage once the concerts start up again. I love performing and have missed it, but it’s been like that for so many.

“And I won’t be the only person who is looking forward to 2021.”

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