There’s a case to be made that the whole ‘indie’ movement (for good or bad) was born with these recordings.
There’s a case to be made that the whole ‘indie’ movement (for good or bad) was born with these recordings.
I’m Not Following You – The Edwyn Collins Back catalogue.
Gosh aren’t we vogue-ish? Post Franz Ferdinand and Belle & Sebastian, Edwyn’s is a name to be dropped; a name to be used thus: ‘Well, of course, such and such a band is good, but you know, I can’t help but hear echoes of Edwyn Collins and Orange Juice.’ Yeah, yeah. These are the people who only actually know him for A Girl Like You and Rip It Up. They think they know the right things to say (they generally don’t), but they have no idea why. Some of us, on the other hand, have been shouting his name from the rooftops for years, and we bloody well know why. You want some of the greatest pop music from the past twenty-five years? Well read on and take notes. Smash open your piggy banks and collect up your coppers – because you’re going to need them – there are a lot of great albums for you to buy. Indeed, one of the great things about Orange Juice is that they maintained a consistent level of artistic excellence, despite the dramatic personnel and stylistic changes the band underwent. And this excellence carried on through most of the bands’ solo ventures. So you can go and buy it all! Hooray!
Postcard Stuff (1980-1981)
The original single releases are deadly rare, especially with the hand painted postcards. Just forget trying to find Falling and Laughing with Moscow Olympics 1+2 and the Felicity flexi disc. You will waste a lot of time looking – instead purchase The Heather’s on Fire (1993). This collects up all the Postcard singles, bungs in a couple of radio sessions and includes the Nu Sonics’ (best to think of them as a kind of ur-Orange Juice) Who are the Mystery Girls? Every track is a gem, albeit an unpolished one. The early Orange Juice sound is that of four boys reaching far beyond their technical abilities and trying to make soulful punk. Or, no, more accurately, trying to make soul punkful. The highlights? Probably Falling and Laughing and Upwards and Onwards, but everything here is wonderful: youthful, witty and love-lorn. There are also Peel Sessions from 1981 and 1982 to be found on the web. Get these, as they are bloody brilliant. Diamonds abound, such as James Kirk’s You Old Eccentric, and the OJ’s Xmas Hits Medley (like Jive Bunny but surprisingly better).
The rejuvenated Postcard label actually began their series of reissues and new albums with the Orange Juice album that never was – Ostrich Churchyard (1992/1981). Of course, it’s a classic. Brilliant versions of Vic Goddard’s Holiday Hymn and Edwyn’s Louise Louise stand out. But again, everything here is wonderful; only someone with the hardest of hearts would not think it a thing of beauty, bum notes and all. And, as with The Heather’s On Fire, it has been lovingly repackaged by Alan Horne and comes complete with sleeve notes (was In A Nutshell really written for Nico?) and a Peel session recorded in 1980. You know something? There’s a case to be made that the whole ‘indie’ movement (for good or bad) was born with these recordings. It is here that the true spirit of DIY thrashy pop was born and it has, Libertines fans take note, never been done better.
The Polydor Years (1982-1985)
God, we are sounding like Simon Bates there (cue booming baritone; ‘It’s time for The Polydor Years’). Tucked away in the booklet that accompanies The Heather’s On Fire is a picture of the boys overlaid with the words ‘booked into the punk rock hotel with reservations’. Wit aside, this pretty much sums up the ambivalence that the group felt when signing to a major label. Their time at Polydor saw Orange Juice at their most polished – buffed up by the record company for the rapacious early eighties, all Day-Glo and sans-culottes. You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever (1982) was launched on the back of the singles Felicity and a cover of Al Green’s L.O.V.E. Love, (both of which grace this album) and is up there with all the truly great debut releases. Artistic and fey, but quite the opposite of vapid, it’s actually quite an extreme listen even now. It’s just so left-field. I mean, who writes stuff like Three Cheers For Our Side anymore? It never falls for the existential dullness of "classic pop" despite being a pop album through and through. The cover is a work of genius too.
But just as the critics smugly bracketed them as charming and messy Edwyn Collins shifted the direction of the band with their second album Rip It Up (also 1982). Aided and abetted no doubt by the departures (well, sackings, in truth) of James Kirk and Stephen Daly, a much slicker and more soulful sound emerged. Replacing them were ex-Josef K man Malcolm Ross and drummer Zeke Manyika. The album produced the OJ’s only chart hit, the title track Rip It Up, whilst other highlights included Hokoyo and Flesh of My Flesh. Edwyn hated Rip It Up. Dunno why. Texas Fever came along in 1984, a mini lp culled from the last sessions of the 1983 band (Ross and bassist David McClymont left soon after). Yet again there is a stylistic lurch – gone is the soul and in comes an all out guitar assault. It’s very punchy, with all sorts of influences deliberately chucked into the stew. It also has some wonderful melodic moments, such as Place in my Heart and A Sad Lament. A fantastic record.
For the final OJ album, Orange Juice, The Third Album (1984) Zeke and Edwyn produced a collection of gritty and frankly weird soul songs – and it’s possibly their greatest achievement. Brilliant, passionate and urbane, with incredible lyrics… it has absolutely everything. Bridge and What Presence are lost classics. Oh, and yes, you should have guessed by now that it wasn’t really the third album (now there’s post-modern for you). And that was it: Orange Juice imploded live on a stage shortly afterwards during a benefit for striking miners. All that was left was to re-release the juiciest cuts in compilation format. First out of the traps was In A Nutshell (1985) and in 1992 along came The Very Best Of. As well as a ‘best of’, the latter also mopped up some of the tracks that OJ completists might have missed, such as You Old Eccentric from the Felicity 12".
Solo Stuff – Edwyn Collins
Edwyn’s first forays as a solo artist were tragically overlooked. The single Don’t Shilly Shally should have been a hit given the times – C86’s jangly indie pop was omnipresent in alternative land. But it disappeared and it was another three years before the appearance of his solo album, Hope & Despair (1989). By now Edwyn’s erudite and witty songs of, well, hope and despair, were lost in the rise of baggy.
The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses were where all the hipsters were at. It is worth remembering though that hipsters never actually know where it’s at – they’re generally cloth-eared sheep who follow, slack-jawed and empty headed, any old pied piper charlatan with a bad haircut and a big mouth. Which is not to say that The Stone Roses’ album wasn’t great and all that (it was), merely that Edwyn’s album was better. Yes, that’s right – better. See how the music world quakes at that declaration. There is simply no escaping it – incredible songs just LITTER this album; 50 Shades of Blue, You’re Better Than You Know – the list goes on. Amazing, warm, empathic production, an all-star cast including Dennis Bovell, Roddy Frame and Stephen Street and a collection of songs that, as a whole, Edwyn has never bettered.
All of which made his next album – Hell Bent on Compromise (1991) such a crushing disappointment. It followed a similar formula to Hope & Despair (this time Paul Quinn was involved), but it lacked that essential Collins sparkle. Flat and disappointing, the highlight – for what it’s worth – is It Might as Well Be You. Oh, and Edwyn wears a terrible pair of trousers on the cover. Gorgeous George (1993) saw Edwyn safely ensconced on a new record label and with this new start came – zounds! A hit! The Belgian nation rallied round to give Edwyn a smash hit with A Girl Like You. Millions of copies were sold around the world and the success of the song allowed Edwyn to become truly independent. The album was, not surprisingly, his biggest to date. Thankfully, it was brilliant – chock full of great tunes ranging from North of Heaven and The Campaign for Real Rock to the collaboration with Bernard Butler on the single If You Could Love Me.
1997 saw the release of I’m Not Following You. Sadly it followed the template of Edwyn’s solo career and was something of a disappointment (terrible shirt on cover this time). The Magic Piper was insanely catchy but it couldn’t replicate the success of A Girl Like You. Adidas World was a timely put down but in general the album failed to take off. Particularly disappointing is Seventies Night, featuring as it does the God-like Mark E Smith on vocals. But MES’ hearts not in it and a sludgy chug is the result (which might be the point, but then, what’s the point in that?).
Collins’ last album before his terrible stroke, Dr. Syntax, arrived in 2002 and failed to set the world alight.
Are Edwyn’s best days behind him? Certainly not. Post recovery, Edwyn has released one new LP Home Again, and is on teh brink of releasing another, both of which will be added to this retrospective very soon.
And let’s take a moment to remember, he is not only one of the greatest pop song writers of the past 25 years – and it’s worth remembering that that’s a bloody long time – he is also the finest lyricist of his generation (well, tied with Mark E. Smith, perhaps).
It is worth noting that when Postcard re-emerged in the early 90s Edwyn was on hand to produce two great albums. The best was Vic Goddard’s The End of the Surrey People (1993). An album filled with great, soulful pop, it featured tracks that in a different universe – one with rather more style and taste – would have been massive hits. Track this down if you can. Edwyn also produced Paul Quinn’s album The Phantoms and the Archetypes (1992). Quinn’s backing group included James Kirk and Alan Horne and so couldn’t really go wrong. Quinn’s deep, haunting voice dominates a set of slow, sad ballads and this too, is well worth grabbing hold of. As, incidentally, is the follow up LP, also on Postcard, that features the epic title track Will I Ever Be Inside of You, co-written with Edwyn.
Finally, you are also advised to snap up James Kirk’s LP You Can Make It If You Boogie (2003), a lovely collection of country tinged love songs, all delivered with that patented Kirk drawl. There’s also a cracking version of Felicity too. (Kirk also worked on The Future Pilot album from 2005 – check out the back issues to read a review of it). As for Zeke Manyika, painful as it is to report, all we have between us is the single Runaway Freedom Train from 1989. It’s very good.
Words: Richard Foster & Chris Dawson