Friday, 29 October 2010

INTERVIEWED: Edwyn Collins for The Daily Telegraph

Edwyn Collins has a honking great laugh that is impossible to convey fully on the page. To try and describe it — like a cross between an ecstatic seal, say, and an unruly bicycle horn — is to do it an injustice.

Luckily, Collins has plenty to laugh about. Miraculously, he is about to embark on a European tour, five years after a stroke led to two brain haemorrhages that nearly killed him and left him in hospital for six months. In September, he released his seventh solo album, Losing Sleep, his first collection of new songs since the ordeal.

The record is a joyful ride, his most pop-sounding in over a decade. He attributes the directness of his new material to his struggle with language, due to dysphasia, a product of his stroke. “Before my stroke, on my last album Home Again, I was clever-clever,” he explains, sitting on a sofa in the studio that he shares with Seb Lewsley, his best friend and producer. “Now my songs are direct and clear enough to focus on what the struggle of life is about. I can get to the root of things.”

It plugs straight back into the rich vein of warm, slightly wobbly pop and fresh, soulful sensibility which has been his trademark since the group that he made his name with, Orange Juice, released its first single, Falling and Laughing, in 1980.

The subject of a soon-to-be-released major retrospective box set, Orange Juice were at the vanguard of bands who sprang out of post-punk Glasgow. They came armed with an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop – mixing up the jangling guitars of the Byrds, the disco of Chic and the bite of punk — as well as an array of secondhand overcoats and, most importantly, bagfuls of wit. Yet, aside from the squelching disco hit Rip It Up, which reached number 8 in 1983, Orange Juice never quite scaled the heights of imitators like Haircut 100, who took the Orange Juice template of guitars, funk beats and sweaters and ran with it.

Though Collins later won some solo recognition with the global 1994 smash A Girl Like You, pop stradom eluded Orange Juice and they were dropped by Polydor in 1984 after they failed to repeat Rip It Up's sales, leading to the band splitting. But for Collins, their lack of success has turned out to be a blessing.

“I suppose otherwise you would be like ABC are now, on tour with that Here & Now show,” laughs Grace Maxwell, his wife, a fellow southern Scot and his manager for nearly three decades. “Stop it, Grace. Martin Fry is my good friend,” replies Edwyn, in a moment of quick-fire banter that has become the pair’s trademark following his stroke, since which his wife has been an omnipresent figure by his side: in the hospital as he embarked on a long recovery, at his many therapy sessions, and in the majority of interviews since.

Collins instead became a figurehead for the DIY underground music scene, a fact that was made clear to him when, before his stroke, he was confronted by three men in north London. “You’re that Edwyn Collins, aren’t you?” one said in a broad Manchester accent. “You invented indie.”

If he is an indie figurehead, he is a reluctant one. As the Eighties progressed, Collins increasingly distanced himself from the many fey indie bands who revered Orange Juice. “When Edwyn started, indie just meant his records had been independently distributed, with no majors involved, everything on the cheap,” says Maxwell. “By the mid-Eighties, it had become a genre, with an affected tweeness about it that we hated.”

While Orange Juice have enjoyed a resurgence among a generation of vintage-clothed vinyl completists, Collins is quick to quell the band’s importance, to him at least. “OJ means a lot to me, but it is in the past. I’ve got to look to the future. Back then, I was experimenting. We weren’t quite ready.”

Many of his devotees might disagree, such as the young musicians who turn up on his latest album, including the Cribs’ Ryan Jarman, Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos and Brooklyn band The Drums, who co-wrote the stunning In Your Eyes, a song filled with a twin sense of loss and hope.

It came about after Edwyn and Grace’s son William met the band at a gig. “Orange Juice made these perfect pop songs,” explains Drums frontman Jonathan Pierce, who sings with Collins on the track. “They feel so fragile, like they could fall apart at any time. There is something really human about that.”

Collins is still quite obviously impaired. Paralysed on his right side, he no longer plays guitar, but he has, incredibly, retrained himself to be able to draw with his left hand — the birds on the cover of Losing Sleep were all sketched during his recovery. Each month sees a new milestone reached.

The previous weekend was the first time he had been left overnight at home in his house in over five years as Grace travelled to her home town in North Lanarkshire to give a reading of her autobiography Falling and Laughing (named after Orange Juice’s first single), which charts Edwyn’s recovery.

Above all else, Losing Sleep is a testament to the healing qualities of music, and its profound mystery. Two days before he was due to leave hospital in 2005, the only phrases he could say were “Yes”, “No”, “Grace Maxwell” and “the possibilities are endless”, which he repeated like a mantra as part of his therapy.

Then, from nowhere, sprang a melody and lyrics — a song. That song, the acoustic ballad I’m Searching For The Truth, closes the album. “Some sweet day, we’ll get there in the end,” Collins sings in a high-pitched variant of his familiar, trembling croon. Today, you might suggest that he already has.

The Orange Juice box set 'Coals To Newcastle’ is out on Domino on Nov 8. Edwyn Collins starts his European tour at the Komedia in Brighton on Nov 4.
First published in The Daily Telegraph

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