By Claire Milhench
CAMBRIDGE England (Reuters) - "This is my Aunty Molly's coat," Scottish singer-songwriter Eddi Reader, resplendent in a vintage gold-colored jacket, told the crowd at the Cambridge Folk Festival. "She was 97 when she died. I like having her on stage with me."
Reader, who played two sets at the folk festival's 50th anniversary last weekend, charmed festival-goers as much with her wit as her diverse repertoire.
Jazz standards, medieval Gaelic songs and new tracks from her latest album "Vagabond" were on the set list, as was Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic", which she performed as a tribute to one of her favorite artists. Morrison closed out the festival on Sunday.
Reader said she found the coat while clearing house after her aunt's death, along with some books and papers written by her great-uncle James Reader, who fought to help the Irish win independence and then became a founder of the abortive Scottish Republican Army.
She is now a passionate advocate for Scottish independence, having reconnected with her heritage when she returned home in 2001 after the death of her father.
"I felt a bit embarrassed that I didn't know more about my own culture, and I questioned why that was," she told Reuters backstage at the festival.
Growing up in Glasgow and Irvine, Reader performed in folk clubs in her teens before moving away for 28 years.
Her homecoming culminated in a critically acclaimed album of songs written by Robert Burns, released in 2003.
"I wanted to reconnect with myself," she said. "I started thinking of an album that was more about the stuff I'd done in folk clubs. They taught me everything about my culture, and I wanted it back."
She has now settled in Glasgow and has married John Douglas of Scottish band The Trashcan Sinatras.
Reader says the new album "Vagabond" was inspired by traveling of all kinds – geographic, social, and through time with traditional songs.
"It's about things that made me think I could go somewhere else ... and about finding my way back home with Robert Burns."
Of the 27 pieces recorded for "Vagabond," at least eight were about her personal journey from Scotland to London, Paris and Vancouver, before she returned home.
"Becoming a Scot again, I wanted to understand the journey. And now (that) I'm firmly ensconced in Scotland, I'm committed to everything my parents and grandparents were committed to, which was an egalitarian society," she said.
Reader sees the question Scots will have to answer when they vote in the independence referendum on Sept. 18 as a "no-brainer," saying Scots should manage themselves.
"You can't have a bigger nation that dominates the other three ... Let's not kid ourselves; it's not an equal union."
She is currently working on a book about James Reader, combining her great-uncle's life story with his papers and notes, collected as "The Secret Revolutionary History of Scotland".
"Like me, he was an egalitarian. He wasn't interested in political movements per se; he was interested in fairness. Living in Glasgow 100 years later, I'm equating the referendum now with the independence story then."
(Reporting by Claire Milhench; Editing by Ayla Jean Yackley and Jane Baird)