ICA 57 was my stab at coming up with the perfect 10-track LP. There’s the occasional day that I think I nailed it, but for the most part I find myself wondering why certain pieces of music didn’t make it. I’ve long thought that the time was ripe for a Volume Two but I have more or less run out of superlatives to accompany the tracks. The solution? Scour the internet and find a few hundred words from someone else that have me nodding in agreement.
Here’s Alexis Petridis, with his review of the Coals to Newcastle boxset, as published in the Guardian newspaper back in November 2010.
Tucked away on this six CD and one DVD boxset, there’s a brief radio interview with Edwyn Collins. It hails from just after Orange Juice’s greatest commercial success, when Rip It Up reached the top 10. The group’s frontman seems weary and cynical, his conversation punctuated with awkward laughter. Mention of the music press-boosted New Pop movement of which Rip It Up was supposed to be a perfect exemplar – clever, radio-friendly, powered by the modern-sounding squelch of the Roland 303 synthesiser – sets him off: “Bland … insipid … vacuous … disgusting.” He sounds not like a man who’s finally claimed his rightful place on Top of the Pops, but someone who thinks he’s already blown it.
Listening to the music on Coals to Newcastle in chronological order, you can see why. The first CD contains the early singles and the unreleased debut album Ostrich Churchyard. It documents the startling 18-month period during which Orange Juice minted a sound that brilliantly connected the agitated, trebly strum of the Velvet Underground’s What Goes On to the scratchy funk guitars of disco; dragged rock music further from its primal macho roots than anyone before had ever dared; wrote a succession of staggeringly brilliant songs – Falling and Laughing, Dying Day, Consolation Prize; and singlehandedly, if unwittingly, invented what came to be known as indie music. The music press thought they’d be huge. Orange Juice had the tunes, arch, witty lyrics that could conceivably have provoked Morrissey-like devotion, and in the lush-lipped and befringed Collins a frontman who might conceivably have provoked teen mania.
Predictions of their imminent ascendancy seemed to tactfully ignore a number of facts. Orange Juice’s charm was bound up with the fact that they sounded spindly and ramshackle by comparison with most early 80s pop, and looked deeply weird in their plastic sandals, cravats and tweeds: in every sense of the phrase, they offered a kind of charity-shop Chic. Collins’s voice was an acquired taste: he sounded not unlike a tipsy man launching into an after-dinner speech with his mouth still full of port and walnuts.
They signed to Polydor, which didn’t seem to know what to do with them, beyond adding the brass section that was the 80s major label’s default answer to bridging the gulf between the indie chart and the real thing. Trailed by an audacious cover of Al Green’s L-O-V-E (Love), You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever sounded great – if you hadn’t already heard earlier recordings. But the Smash Hits audience opted instead for Haircut 100 and their David Cassidy version of Orange Juice’s sound: all the tweeness, none of the intelligence or grit.
In search of greater professionalism, Collins fired half the band, including the other songwriter James Kirk. The Rip It Up single was fantastic, but on the accompanying album, Orange Juice sounded shattered, as if they didn’t have a clue what to do now. Let new drummer Zeke Manyika write afrobeat inspired songs? Rework old B-sides in a reggae style, thus proving at a stroke that Orange Juice B-sides were desperately ill-suited to being reworked in a reggae style? Plonked in the middle of the album, an Ostrich Churchyard leftover called Louise Louise is a reminder of past glories.
It might have signalled the end, had Collins not been rather more steely than the fey image suggested. Just how steely and determined wouldn’t become fully apparent until 2005, when he battled back to health after two strokes that initially left him unable to walk, talk, read or write. Twenty years earlier, it manifested itself in rebuilding Orange Juice, with Manyika’s help, into the sleek, smart unit of 1984’s Texas Fever and The Orange Juice, where a perfect middle distance was located between the shambolic clangour of their early work and a more polished, funky sound. Collins turned his sardonic lyrical eye on his own waning commercial fortunes on the gorgeous A Sad Lament and Lean Period: “Please don’t expect consistency from me,” he crooned on the latter.
By then, of course, it was too late, as a clip of the band on Whistle Test demonstrates. As they charge through a frantic version of What Presence!?, a ticker spools along the bottom of the screen. “Also tonight! Jean Michel Jarre! Spandau Ballet! Kim Wilde’s record collection!” What price Collins’s sardonic, clever observations in that climate? They split in 1985. Incredibly, within a year, a generation of indie bands were hailing them as an influence of almost mythic proportions. Subsequently, so would everyone from Belle and Sebastian to Franz Ferdinand and Wild Beasts. The good – all of which is here, along with enough live tracks, demos and B-sides to blur the line between exhaustive and exhausting – would eventually out.
1. Rip It Up (12” version – released in 1983)
The 1983 hit single….and until the solo success of A Girl Like You, the only song likely to have generated much in the way of royalties for Edwyn Collins. Some fun facts, all of which are true:-
– it wasn’t the lead-off single from the album of the same name (released in November 1982) as that distinction went to I Can’t Help Myself
– it proved to be the first chart single to ever feature the Roland TB-303 synthesiser bassline (wonderfully reproduced in the live setting by David McClymont)
– it has a very noticeable mimic of the two-note guitar solo that was heard on Boredom, the lead song on the Spiral Scratch EP by Buzzcocks…and the mimic comes just as Edwyn is declaring it his favourite song
– it contains a backing vocal by Paul Quinn, but sadly he didn’t appear on stage during either of the Top of The Pops appearances, although Jim Thirlwell (of Foetus On Your Breath ‘fame’) did mime the sax solo contributions to great effect
2. Lovesick (released in 1980)
Often I find it hard to get through to you
Words become barbed and stick in the throat
My reasoned argument seems to be so obscure
Tripped myself up, there’s no need to gloat.
Seemingly tucked away on the b-side of Blue Boy, the second and finest of the Postcard singles., it was in fact a deserved double-A side but such was the majesty of its flip-side that it didn’t get the attention it deserved
3. Bridge (released in 1984)
From the mini-LP Texas Fever (the original vinyl release had just six tracks). It’s a record made during a time of stress with Edwyn not wanting to make an album full of Rip It Up style singles but managing to alienate bassis David and the maverick genius guitarist Malcolm Ross (the only man to be an official member in each of Aztec Camera, Josef K and Orange Juice) to the extent that the group split up with just drummer Zeke Manyika hanging around to work alongside the frontman. Like so many other albums recorded in such circumstances, it manages to be a work of wonder, tantalisingly offering up something new and different sounding from what had come before. Bridge was the single from the mini-album. It has a groove and catch that are infectious and comes with handclaps you just want to replicate when you’re moving to it on the disco floor. Only you won’t get the chance as most DJs will shun it. Au undeserved #67 flop.
4. L.O.V.E. Love (released in 1981)
The move from Postcard to Polydor didn’t overly concern me. To be fair, I was a naïve 18-year old who thought that the singers/bands/musicians could fully dictate the music that as to be released.
I hated this single with a passion when it was released. It just wasn’t Orange Juice, not with horns and soulful backing singers, whose talents particularly showed up the fragility of Edwyn’s voice as he struggled to hit the higher notes – this Al Green cover (whoever he was!!) sounded the wrong sort of song to get the most out of the band as it started to dawn on me that the record label held all the aces.
At least the consolation prizes on the b-side were listenable so buying both the 7” and 12” versions didn’t feel like a total waste of money. It took me a long time to grow up, expand my tastes and accept that this was, as Petridis says above, an audacious cover.
5. Simply Thrilled Honey (released in 1980)
Ye Gods….how did I leave this Postcard single off ICA 57?
Truth be told, it’s not up there as one of my OJ faves, but given I’m now part of a wonderful collective that has taken our name from said song, it’s a must.
1. The Artisans (released in 1984)
The final Orange Juice album could have been something that merely fulfilled a contractual obligation but instead proved to be a crowning glory that is certainly up there with the quality and consistency of the Postcard songs. In reality, it’s Edwyn’s debut solo album, shaped by Denis Bovell on the production side (and keyboards) with additional help from some old pals – Zeke on drums and Clare Kenny (ex-Amazulu) on bass. Its ten tracks enjoy a high level of quality and craftsmanship throughout, with guitar-heavy songs sitting comfortably alongside heart-wrenching and wistful ballads, whose lyrics sway from the heart-felt to the caustic, barbed and tongue-in-cheek, but at all times with a knowing sigh that it was the world’s loss that it hadn’t been remotely ready for Orange Juice. This is one of the piss-take efforts, one that has as fine a groove as any in the band or solo canon, thanks to Bovell’s contribution on the Vox Organ.
2. Holiday Hymn (recorded in 1981 – released in 1992)
Back in 1981, Vic Godard had written Holiday Hymn and performed it live with Subway Sect on only a handful of occasions. Edwyn immediately felt that it would make for a perfect Orange Juice song and so he recorded it from the mixing desk, learned the lyrics and cords, and took it into the studio for his band to learn and play. A studio version would eventually see the light of day with the release of Ostrich Churchyard
3. A Sad Lament (released in 1983)
A Sad Lament was first released as the b-side on the 12” version of the Rip It Up single (or as one side of the bonus disc in the limited edition 2×7” versions) before finding its way onto the Texas Fever mini-album the following year. It’s inclusion on the mini-LP is, I believe, an acknowledgment that it was too good a song to have simply been left as a b-side, especially when most who had bought Rip It Up, via the standard 7” version, would have only been able to play the Malcolm Ross composed track, Snake Charmer.
Long regarded as a long-lost and difficult to get hold of classic, the record label, a part of the 2002 compilation ‘Edwyn Collins & Orange Juice – A Casual Introduction 1981/2001’ decided to include A Sad Lament in the tracklist….only to butcher the track by removing part of the intro and outro and cutting off a full 80 seconds of music. Suffice to say, it’s the original you’ll find here……
4. All That Ever Mattered (released in 1984)
The weepy ballad from the final album. It may well be the sad thoughts of someone looking back as the dying embers of a once passionate relationship are finally extinguished, but it could also be the parting shot to former bandmates as, by this time, they were barely on speaking terms (thankfully they would kiss and make up in later years).
5. Lean Period (released in 1984)
This joke I’ve made at my own expense has long since been worn thin
And yet by recompense you respond with a wink and a knowing grin
None of Edwyn’s biggest fans, when listening to his resigned state-of-the-nation address in the opening track of the final album could ever have imagined he would still be making great music to entertain, enthral and enrich us 35 years later. It’s so good to have him around and to be making the quality music you’ll find on his 2019 album Badbea, in which he blends beautifully the old and the new to deliver something that still sounds and feels essential. It’s such a contrast, in particular, to one of his peers and an 80s hero who is now specialising in finding different ways to disappoint, seemingly each and every day.