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Edwyn Collins

An unrelenting Braveheart of Scotland’s modern-day indie-pop scene, singer-songwriter/guitarist, EDWYN COLLINS, has had more than his fare share of troubles over recent times (a double cerebral haemorrhage nearly killed him), but with great grit and determination, the former ORANGE JUICE leader was once again making records.
Born 23 August 1959 in Edinburgh, 20-year-old COLLINS made his first proper entrance into the music biz with Glasgow’s ORANGE JUICE (via early punk combo the Nu-Sonics); alongside Messrs James Kirk, Steven Daly and David McClymont, the sprightly new wave-soul outfit garnered cult fame with Alan Horne’s Caledonian indie-pop imprint, Postcard Records. From there to Polydor in 1982 for “You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever” and “Rip It Up” (the latter introducing African percussionist, Zeke Manyika, and JOSEF K exile Malcolm Ross on guitar), the rhythmatic ORANGE JUICE developed through time, only to dissolve when things were tough a few years later. The release of their swansong “third album” (which tended to ignore the mini-set, “Texas Fever”), “The Orange Juice” (1984), was a far more introspective affair which found Edwyn at a low ebb.
The singer had already released a cover of The VELVET UNDERGROUND’s `Pale Blue Eyes’ with PAUL QUINN (formerly of Bourgie Bourgie) in ‘84, before subsequently embarking on a solo career, which remained dormant for the ensuing couple of years. Now signed to Alan McGee’s side-line label, Elevation, COLLINS’ first two solo singles (`Don’t Shilly Shally’ and `My Beloved Girl’) flopped. As a result of flagging sales from other acts (including The WEATHER PROPHETS and PRIMAL SCREAM), the label went belly-up.
COLLINS finally opted for Demon Records, emerging in the summer of ‘89 with the long-awaited album, HOPE AND DESPAIR {*7}. An eclectic, rootsy affair borne of his troubled wilderness years, the record was hailed by the same critics whom so vehemently supported ORANGE JUICE. Produced by retainer Bovell (also on bass and other instrumentation), plus AZTEC CAMERA’s Roddy Frame (guitar) and Dave Ruffy (drums); Alex Grey and Bernie Clarke (on keyboards), the star-studded set was all the better for `Coffee Table Song’, `50 Shades Of Blue’ (both failed 45s) and `The Beginning Of The End’ and `Ghost Of A Chance’.
Yet despite the praise, it seemed COLLINS was destined for cult appeal; a second Demon set, HELLBENT ON COMPROMISE (1990) {*6}, failed to lift his profile, even with wistful pieces like `You Poor Deluded Fool’, `Graciously’ and the PAUL QUINN joint effort, `Means To An End’; other outsider tracks came via SMOKEY ROBINSON’s `My Girl Has Gone’ and WILLIE NELSON’s `Time Of The Preacher’.
Dropped by the label, COLLINS went to ground. Well… not completely, the singer honing his production skills for indie outfits such as A HOUSE, FRANK AND WALTERS and The ROCKINGBIRDS. The baritone-voxed singer finally re-emerged in 1994 with GORGEOUS GEORGE {*8}, the album he’d been threatening to make for years. Recorded on classic studio equipment, the set’s organic feel coupled with COLLINS’ mordant cynicism and razor-sharp songwriting resulted in a massive worldwide hit, `A Girl Like You’. With its crunching, NEIL YOUNG-like riffing and infectious IGGY POP-ish delivery, the single was initially released in Europe (the lead track on the `Expressly’ EP) and Australia, before eventually cracking the Top 10 in the UK a year on. Ditto the album. Behind the man were the capable Clare Kenny (a former ORANGE JUICE short-stop on bass) and the SEX PISTOLS’ Paul Cook (on drums), while caustic attacks on GUNS N’ ROSES on `North Of Heaven’ and other lyrical sniping on `The Campaign For Real Rock’ (featuring VIC GODARD), the US-only `Moron’ and the title track, consolidated the blue-eyed soul man’s ironic sense of humour.
Though 1997’s hep-cat lounge `The Magic Piper (Of Love)’ – from his fourth album I’M NOT FOLLOWING YOU {*7} – didn’t quite match GG’s commercial feat, COLLINS was still a-happening in the post-Britpop-addled commercial-addled music world. Willing to rein in music styles such as the eponymous `Country Rock’, 70s-esque singer-songwriter folk `No One Waved Goodbye’, skewed-disco `Seventies Night’ (featuring a cameo from The FALL’s Mark E. Smith) and cutting breakbeat `Adidas World’, Edwyn compressed a potpourri of directions under this one eclectic roof.
In 2002, his brand of humour was taken a step further via the release of DOCTOR SYNTAX {*7}, an album which saw COLLINS, for the first time, use beats and samples courtesy of Sebastian Lewsley; Paul Cook was again on sticks. The set comprised EC’s trademark guitar-led love songs, but with an edgier, personalised production. `The Beatle$’ track was an obvious direct ode to his peers, although `Splitting Up’ exemplified the singer’s songwriting abilities ten-fold. `20 Years Too Late’ employed a retro electro-synth feel accompanied by some strange rapping never before encountered on an EDWYN COLLINS record.
Just when things looked bright and promising for the brooding bard, COLLINS was nearly lost to world having suffered a couple of cerebral haemorrhages in 2005; unable to speak or function properly for several months while recovering from life-threatening brain surgery, Ed slowly but surely found the will to get his message across, and with music as his spiritual guide, he delivered “comeback” set, HOME AGAIN (2007) {*7}. Assisted by wife/manager Grace Maxwell, friends and usual suspects from his previous sets, COLLINS straddled between sultry soul and trad-roots. As if still in the realms of deepest ORANGE JUICE, `You’ll Never Know (My Love)’ is the spirit of AL GREEN personified, while Ed gets positively down ’n’ dirty on `7th Son’. The contrast of the summery `It’s In Your Heart’, the rolling and tumbling of the JOHNNY CASH-like `Superstar Talking Blues’ and the JIM MORRISON-esque `Leviathan’, were poignant to COLLINS recent rebirth of sorts.
A second set for Heavenly Records, LOSING SLEEP (2010) {*6}, drew in dotted appearances from friends old and new; Paul Cook, of course, was on board, as was Seb Lewsley and guests The ROCKINGBIRDS. This aside, star-billing had to go to guitar icon JOHNNY MARR (on `Come Tomorrow, Come Today’), RODDY FRAME (on `All My Days’), FRANZ FERDINAND’s Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy (on `Do It Again’), The CRIBS’ Ryan Jarman (on `What Is My Role?’ and `I Still Believe In You’), The DRUMS combo (on `In Your Eyes’) and The MAGIC NUMBERS’ Romeo Stodart (for `It Dawns On Me’).
UNDERSTATED (2013) {*7} once again utilized his “language of love” Motown soul, introspective rambunctious rockers, and crooning C&W numbers. The SUPREMES meets DEXYS on `Dilemma’, `Carry On, Carry On’ and `Too Bad (That’s Sad)’, but its when Edwyn gets pensive and sombre on `Forsooth’ and `It’s A Reason’, that the man is most effective.
To accompany the powerful and uplifting documentary movie of the same name by directors Edward Lovelace and James Hall, THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS (2014) {*7} incorporated the old with the new. Credited with Carwyn Ellis and Sebastian Lewsley (with Sean Read, Paul Cook and Barrie Cadogan on hand), there was even room for Edwyn’s son Will Maxwell and his Bullies band to slide in grunge-like song, `Viewed From All Angles’. Autobiographical, emotional highlights come in the shape of a 2014 versions of `Don’t Shilly Shally’ and `Closing Time At The Punk Rock Hotel’, plus the instrumental opener `Leviathan’.
With further support from wife Grace and others on his long route to recovery, further steps were undertaken to provide a solid base for Edwyn to work within. Choosing to build a studio in the Highlands overlooking the scenic views of the Moray Firth, the singer-cum-producer duly lent an inspirational guiding hand to young acts such as Hooten Tennis Club (from Liverpool), Spinning Coin, and Tracyanne & Danny (from CAMERA OBSCURA and Crybaby, respectively). Ed also began working alongside co-composers Carwyn and Sean again; in the process borrowing drummer Jake Hutton (from son Will’s band) and guitarist James Welbourne.
The tie-up provided a partly nostalgic Northern Soul-inflected COLLINS to expand on his CV by way of his third post-op set, BADLEA (2019) {*8} – uncanny when one thought of how geographically “northern” he’d become; examples: `It’s All About You’, `Sparks The Spark’, `In The Morning’ and `I Guess We Were Young’. As always amiably optimistic and enlightening, the former ORANGE JUICE crooner was, here, all things to all men/women; opting to recall punk-rock (`Outside’), whilst recounting best-forgotten times in synth-rock (`Glasgow To London’) and the art of the deep ballad, through the anchored title track.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2013-Jun2019

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