It’s been more than seven years since Volume 1, so I think it’s fair to say that this is long overdue. Indeed, the first Edwyn Collins ICA was #2 in the series, and here we are fast approaching #300.
I think everyone who visits this corner of t’internet knows the backstory, but just in case, here’s the abridged version.
Edwyn Stephen Collins, born on 23 August 1959, first came to fame as the lead singer with Orange Juice, who began life as the Nu-Sonics in 1975, changing their name in 1979 and disbanding in 1985. Edwyn would later embark on a solo career which, until 1994, was a commercial failure in terms of hitting the charts, albeit his loyal fanbase ensured his records sold in reasonable enough numbers, all the while supporting his live shows. All that changed with the worldwide success of the single A Girl Like You, which went Top 10 in almost every European country as well as selling very well in Australia, Canada and the USA. The proceeds from the hit allowed Edwyn to invest in a studio of his own, from where he would sporadically release further new material while also embarking on a parallel career as a producer. He even found his songs appearing on the soundtracks of major Hollywood movies.
In February 2005, at the age of 45, he was in hospital, after two cerebral haemorrhages in quick succession. He suffered a stroke, was in a coma and required major brain surgery to stop internal bleeding which threatened to kill him. His recovery was then hampered by him contracting MRSA. All this was followed by a lengthy programme of neurological rehabilitation owing to right-sided weakness and difficulty with speech. The aphasia he suffered allowed him to repeat only four phrases, over and over again: “yes”, “no”, “Grace Maxwell” (his wife’s name) and “the possibilities are endless”.
Somehow, he made a remarkable recovery to the extent that he was able to take to the stage again in late 2007 and to go on tour in the summer of 2008 to promote Home Again, an album he had recorded largely in the winter of 2004 but whose mixing and completion had to await him getting over the very worst of his illness.
Since then, with the help and support of his family, not to mention the huge number of friends he has made through his work as a musician and producer, Edwyn went on to release three more albums between 2010 and 2019, including the most recent two on a new label which he owns, runs and manages. He and his wife also returned to Scotland after decades in London, making their home in Helmsdale, a coastal village about an hour’s drive from John O’ Groats, the most northerly point in the country, and where he has built a new studio and where he recorded his most recent album, Badbea, which was released in 2019.
Like many others, he’s been quiet in recent times, but he’s already announced plans to play shows in Glasgow and Edinburgh in 2022. And who know, there might well be plans in place to release some new songs written during lockdown.
These were the songs selected for ICA#2 all those years ago.
A Girl Like You; The Beatle$; In Your Eyes; If You Could Love Me; Don’t Shilly Shally; Judas In Blue Jeans; Means To An End; Keep On Burning; 31 Years; and Searching For The Truth (b-side version)
None were considered for this volume. And what follows aren’t necessarily the very best of the rest….but I do think, like some of the very best ICAs, it holds together as a stand-alone record.
Edwyn’s post-Orange Juice career began with a couple of collaborations with Paul Quinn, released on Swamplands, a label run by Alan Horne, his old sparring partner from the Postcard days, via a partnership with the major label, London Records. He was then signed by Alan McGhee to the short-lived Elevation, a joint venture between Creation Records and WEA which only lasted a year before WEA pulled the plug due to poor sales of the six singles that had been issued, two each by The Weather Prophets, Primal Scream and Edwyn. The better of these two efforts was Don’t Shilly Shally which was on the previous ICA.
So it makes sense to kick this one off with his first release for Demon Records, a label that had been founded back in 1980 by Jake Riviera, Andrew Lauder and Elvis Costello, and on which most of the latter’s 80s singles and albums had been issued (do you see what I mean about how many friends the incredibly affable and easy-going Edwyn was able to make in the music industry?)
50 Shades of Blue is a great pop song which bound along at a fair pace. Released in October 1989, it was recorded in Koln, Germany and produced by Phil Thornalley, known best at the time as a producer but past member of The Cure, playing on and producing their most unusual pop hit The Lovecats.
One of Edwyn’s oldest friends in the business is Vic Godard, who is a veteran of the punk and post-punk scene going all the way back to the late 70s with Subway Sect. Alan Horne briefly resurrected Postcard Records in the early 90s, and one of the albums to come out was The End Of The Surrey People, a solo album by Vic which was produced by Edwyn. The flop single from the album was the toe-tapping Won’t Turn Back, a song which Edwyn would later record himself as a b-side in 1996.
3. Losing Sleep
Losing Sleep was Edwyn’s seventh studio album, released in 2010 on Heavenly Records. It was the first completely new album after his illness and while it was magical and amazing to be able to see and hear him again, there was an acceptance that the brain injury meant he was now singing a bit differently than before. There is no doubt that the process of going back into the studio again was a difficult time, especially as Edwyn was no longer able to play his guitar due to a paralysis, but many friends and contemporaries offered their services to help make sure the album would be a triumph.
It was recorded in West Heath Studio, the place owned and run by Edwyn in London. The mainstay of his band were musicians who had been with him for decades, including ex-Sex Pistol Paul Cook on drums. Roddy Frame had been part of the touring band in 2007/8 and he made a guest appearance on the new album, as too did Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy (Franz Ferdinand), Johnny Marr, Ryan Jarman (The Cribs), Romeo Stoddart (The Magic Numbers) and Jacob Graham, Connor Hanwick and Jonathan Pierce, all members of The Drums and whose work on In Your Eyes was included on the previous ICA.
The title track was also released as the advance single, and it is another foot-stomper, with a great backbeat, complete with a lyric referring to all his been through but without an iota of self-pity, which is how Edwyn has gone about his life this past decade and a half.
Casual listeners might be surprised at just how many slower songs Edwyn has written throughout his career. Sometimes they are out-and-out ballads or love songs, while at other times there’s a quirk or two, such as in North of Heaven from the 1994 album Gorgeous George in which the acoustic tale of a singer down on his luck, contains lines in which there’s a sweary dig at Guns’n’Roses.
This one is a much more straightforward effort, taken from Understated, his eighth solo album, released in 2013. It closes the album, and the guitar work is courtesy of Carwyn Ellis, who is more or less Edwyn’s right-hand man in the studio these days. The lyric? It tells of past love affairs but comes round to the fact that the protagonist is happy with his life nowadays; it really does seem to be his public thank you to his wife Grace Maxwell, who nursed him back through those very dark, difficult and painful years, and without whom there would have been no comeback.
From Badbea, the ninth and most recent album. Edwyn’s illness robbed him of so many memories, and he’s had to rebuild things in a painstaking way, often through reading old press cuttings and watching old TV appearances. He would have seen a great deal about the Orange Juice days when he and all who were part of the Postcard scene, the Sound of Young Scotland, were prepared to take on the world with youthful exuberance and supreme self-confidence. These days?
Now I note I must admit
I couldn’t give a fuck
A very autobiographical song, in which he says ‘look at the state of me’ before immediately adding ‘but I don’t mind’ and accepting that it’s all in the past.
The previous side closed with a track taken from the three most recent albums. You can get a sense of the more fragile nature nowadays of Edwyn’s voice when you compare it to the way he sounded on one of the songs recorded a few weeks before his illness. The image at the top of this posting is taken from the inner sleeve of the album Home Again, released on Heavenly Records in 2007, a full three years after most of the work had been done. It’s inside the studio at West Heath and if you look closely you’ll see Edwyn’s right fist balled up as he’s unable to straighten the arm and hand. Now look at all his guitars sitting behind him…..how hard must it have been for him to realise that he’d never be able to play any of them again nor use any of them to write songs like this.
From his most successful album, Gorgeous George, released in 1994 on Setanta. It was, of course, propelled into the charts from it having A Girl Like You on it, but aside from that, it is a consistently excellent record. The allmusic review captures it well:-
A consolidation of Collins’ skills as a songwriter, demonstrating both his vicious wit and his effortless melodicism. Working with former Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and bassist Claire Kenny, he develops the hardest-hitting musical attack of his career, but it’s also surprisingly versatile, capable not only of glam rock, but also jangle pop, folk-rock and blue-eyed soul.
I could have included any number of tracks from it, but Make Me Feel Again I reckon works best at this juncture. Great guitar work and a vocal which lives on the edge of his range….I’ve never claimed Edwyn to be one of the truly great singers of the Scottish pop world, but for some reason, even going back to the Orange Juice days, it’s when he appear to be in danger of losing it that I seem to most enjoy.
The hit single changed everything. It led to a much increased budget from Setanat for the next album, I’m Not Following You, which came out in 1997, the delay being down to Edwyn globetropping the planet to cash in on his unexpected ‘overnight’ success. He threw the kitchen sink at the new record, with brass, flutes and strings popping up in the most unexpected and delightful ways. He also paid homage to 70s disco with this appropriately named effort. Oh, and it has Mark E Smith on lead vocal while Edwyn decides to put his own voice through a vocoder. Funktastic stuff.
Edwyn was fast approaching his 60th birthday when he was recording Badbea. It’s a very reflective album in many places, with Outside really being just the one fast-paced number – and coming in at just about bang on the two-minute mark, it’s almost the most punk thing he’s done since the era of the Nu Sonics.
Hellbent on Compromise, the second solo album released back in 1990, sold dismally. No singles were taken from it and two of its eleven tracks were cover versions. A further song, A Means To An End (included on the previous ICA), was Edwyn’s take on a tune co-written with Paul Quinn who himself would slow it right down, retain part of the chorus and add his mighty vocal talents to create A Passing Thought.
So, it’s fair to say Edwyn was struggling a bit for tunes and inspiration and yet the album has some tremendous moments, including the acoustic ballad Graciously which I really should have found space for, as well as Take Care Of Yourself, a near seven-minute number in which Edwyn pleads with folk to be careful with their lives. Part anti-drugs song, part warning about AIDS, it’s a moving number in a number of ways, not least in what lay ahead for Edwyn some 15 years down the line, where even the cleanest of living couldn’t prevent a near-death experience.
I do hope you enjoy this latest ICA. It brought me great joy in that I spent days listening to the entire back catalogue again, but it also brought a great deal of angst as I anguished over what to include and how best to complete the running order. It provided a reminder as to why I don’t do so many ICAs nowadays.