Celebrating Orange Juice’s recent reunion to collect a lifetime achievement award, Milo McLaughlin charts their legacy and speaks to frontman and solo artist Edwyn Collins.
Scottish music industry shindig The Tartan Clef Awards, held last month in Glasgow’s Old Fruitmarket, was notable not only because of a brief on-stage appearance by rotund funnyman Peter Kay – it also marked the first time that the original members of Orange Juice had been together in the same room for 20 years. The seminal Scottish band put aside any lingering differences to receive the ‘Glasgow: Scotland with Style Life Time Achievement Award’, an event given added poignancy by the fact that frontman Edwyn Collins was able to attend at all. In 2005 he suffered a very serious cerebral haemorrhage/stroke, for which he underwent a brain operation and spent six months in hospital.
As a result of his ordeal Collins is no longer able to use his right hand and for a time couldn’t speak or even walk, but has shown remarkable bravery in regaining his strength and abilities. This inspirational courage in the face of such adversity was evident in the moving BBC Scotland documentary which followed him and his wife (also his manager) as he took his first tentative steps to recovery and incredibly, towards playing music live again.
Speaking ahead of the awards ceremony, Collins relates: “I love my life, I love to work. It’s fresh and new to me. I’m glad to be alive.” He also talks about the personal importance of the charity which the ceremony was in aid of, Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy in Scotland: “Nordoff Robbins do great things, especially with children. I’ve been involved for a long time. But I actually received help from one of their therapists, Matthew, when I was in hospital.” The awards raised £93,000 for the charity on the night.
Good cause aside, it might surprise some that a band considered to be one of the great post-punk acts of the 80s would choose to reunite at such a mainstream event, with tabloid-friendly fare like the Fratellis and Sharleen Spiteri also in attendance. But then Orange Juice and Collins himself have never had any problem with both courting and achieving mainstream popularity.
As documented in Simon Reynold’s brilliant book on post-punk Rip it up and Start Again, which takes its title from the band’s most famous and successful single, Orange Juice emerged at a time when the alternative music scene was still reeling from Ian Curtis’ untimely death. But rather than attempting to fill that vacuum with the then fashionable trend for staring-into-the-abyss existential angst, Orange Juice were the perfect antidote, combining the jaunty pop sensibility of Talking Heads with danceable rhythms which owed as much to disco act Chic as the Velvet Underground.
They soon hooked up with ambitious hipster Alan Horne who became their manager and founded the hugely influential Postcard Records, through which the band released their debut single Falling and Laughing in 1980. Horne went on to sign the Go Betweens and Edinburgh’s Josef K as well as Aztec Camera, who collectively became known as ‘The Sound of Young Scotland’. Postcard’s bands also earned themselves a reputation as ‘New Puritans’ as they had little interest in getting trashed or taking advantage of groupies, something else which set them apart from the pack.
Pop success was something that was high on the agenda for Orange Juice though. Despite gaining them critical acclaim, Postcard didn’t have the financial clout to make it happen, so they signed to Polydor. The backing of a major label and a personnel shake-up led to the band finally gaining mainstream success with their signature song ‘Rip it Up’, which utilised the new technology of a Roland 303 and slicker production values to take the Orange Juice sound to the heights of the charts in 1983.
Collins was to replicate that success as a solo artist in 1995, a decade after the band split, with the irresistible Girl Like You. The success of this saw him make a surreal appearance on Vic and Bob’s Shooting Stars performing his hit in the ‘club singer’ stylee – just in case anyone doubted that the writer of the self-deprecating classic Consolation Prize was in possession of a wry sense of humour.
Now – despite his current challenges – Collins is determined to continue with his career and maintain the connection with his fans (his son Will set up a MySpace page for this purpose). He cites this as an important part of his therapy: “It’s very important to me. More than you can imagine. Before MySpace and my letters I couldn’t read and write without a lot of help. Now I can do quite a bit myself.”
After his stroke, Collins had to learn everything again from scratch: reading, writing, even drawing. But he persevered and having his drawings of bird life exhibited in London was a major step in his ongoing recovery process. “Drawing is another important thing for me. I draw with my left hand now. Crude at first, but I’m still improving. I’m going to have an exhibition in Glasgow next year.” And as for the music? The first single released after his ordeal, though it was recorded beforehand, was the haunting and eerily appropriate Home Again. But as for any new material Collins simply says: “I’ve just started. A bit at a time.”
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