While he’s not a name in numerous households, Edwyn Collins has a solid band of followers in the music world and in the hearts of music lovers. The man has been pumping out soulful, Motown-tinged pop tunes for over 30 years, and is reaching new audiences as a 6 Music stalwart. Indie heroes have come and gone – but not many have careers spanning four decades. And how many own a back catalogue of ‘80s almost smash hits that can stand seamlessly together in one set with their latest radio friendly offerings?
Edwyn is a two hit wonder - as front man of Orange Juice, his ‘Rip it Up’ was a mid-80s top ten dance floor standard. ‘A Girl Like You’ charted round the world in 1995, being recently rediscovered to launch Marks ‘n’ Sparks’ autumn 2012 frock collection (it’s a song that never really went away). The downside of a worldwide hit is everybody wants a piece, and in 2009 his wife and manager Grace Maxwell took on Warner to recover the right to upload the song owned by Edwyn to his own MySpace site.
The independent state of Edwyn’s mind is further affirmed by his stubborn refusal to succumb to the massive stroke that left him hospitalised for months in 2005. Relearning the arts of walking, speaking and making music has done nothing to diminish his determination to turn his own unique take on perfect pop, and has driven his rehabilitation. Neither has it dampened demand for his production skills, working with bands including the Cribs, Vic Goddard and the Subway Sect and now Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs.
Convening for the sound check at St George’s Church, Brighton, for the last night of the UK spring tour, Edwyn‘s entourage – or rather extended network of family and friends, buzz around the grounds of the Doric building. I’m left to talk to Edwyn unsupervised by his wife and manager Grace Maxwell, a sign of ever increasing confidence in the power of an indomitable soul over unpromising odds.
Quite a few people think it’s pretty great that I’m speaking to Edwyn Collins; they love your songs on the radio now, but have no idea of your history.
I don't think many people have heard of Edwin Collins!
It’s been 29 years since I first saw Orange Juice. On the new album Understated you sing about your 31 years of rock n roll – how do you feel about making it this far in light of your health issues?
For the first six months in hospital I couldn’t say a word – just ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘the possibilities are endless’ over and over again. I persevered with drawing, using colour and singing. My speech is a little bit dodgy, slow and hesitant. I carry a book with me constantly to get my singing right, for example 'Falling and Laughing’. I practice it to get the words right every day. It’s no problem to communicate what I’m getting at now. Two years ago it was still difficult.
Along with the music, you’ve drawn the artwork on the cover of this album. Why’ve you used the salmon for this one?
The title track of the album is ‘Dilemna’. I want to experience the wonder of nature – birds, animals, man, woman. I like fish, animals, trees, birds. On the cover it’s a salmon, a male salmon. I like playing around with the pictures. In my opinion, of course, it’s a1940s style lino cut. It represents to me that I’m better inside my head and the belief that I made it. I made it through.
So is the drawing or the music more important?
They are 50:50, drawing and music. I want to amuse myself and drawing I persevered with. At first it was crude – first I drew a widgeon duck – and was shaky. Now it’s no problem for me to sketch with crayons and pastels. I use a photograph and change it. Some people say that it’s shit, but I don’t care about that.
Who says it shit?
I don’t know, some people do – on Facebook and Twitter (laughs).
I saw your son is William here, and he was on stage with you last time you played in Brighton. Will he be joining you tonight?
The first act tonight are called Bullies – that’s William’s band. He sings with me on ‘I See it in Your Eyes’. He also sings on ‘Too Bad (That’s Sad)’ – kind of like a Motown feel and Freda Payne Northern Soul idea. I love northern soul, punk and soul
Talking about punk, you had a bit of a rant on some of your 1990s songs, like 'Adidas World'?
That was a joke – ‘Adidas World’ – that was a joke. ‘The Campaign for Real Rock’ is not a joke though, I’m ranting alright. I can’t remember the words; they’re too long for me with the verse and chorus “yes yes yes it’s the summer festival, the truly detestable summer festival”. I liked the solo I did – almost distorted. Before my stroke I could come up with a good lyric, these days it’s hard to concentrate. The chorus is a little bit easier, but the verse is harder. Take Dilemna – “Dilemna, that’s me” and the verse:
What is my world?
Is it real or fiction?
The years go by
Like a flaming ember
That’s good, but I take time to come up with the meaning. It’s tricky. I use a Sony tape recorder to record my thoughts. My music is immediate – I’m thinking about the lyrics – and the notes have got to be right.
With your commitment to keeping it real, do you have any thoughts on, or watch programmes like The Voice ?
A tiny wee bit. Some of them are good and some are bad; it’s not really for me. Simon Cowell, in my opinion, is an arrogant man.
You sometimes say you’re an arrogant man?
Yes, I do (laughs with the deep Edwyn chuckle).
You are in demand as a producer, is it harder work producing bands?
I have no problem communicating with the bands, and explaining what I want. Seb, my engineer, helps me. I just say "do that again guys" – once more with meaning – quite a few times. For instance the Cribs; I’ve been producing the Cribs for 14 years years, and am now working with Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs, watch out for them – a sort of cross with Velvet Underground. Their album is coming out soon on Heavenly. I’m producing all the time.
It sounds like you have plenty to keep you busy in London. But is it true you’ve got plans to move back to Scotland?
We’ve a house in Helmsdale, Bay View is our house, and a croft one mile away and I’m basing my studio there. It’s a nice studio, it’s on stilts quite high up a steep hill – based on the A9 and by the sea, so we hope bands will come there. Grace loves Helmsdale, my grandfather was born there, by the river; it’s on an exclusive salmon river.
Now the is tour is nearly over, are you going to have a rest?
This summer I’ve got 10 festivals I think, then in autumn time playing in France and Germany. Grace says, I must admit, “it’s time to retire Edwyn”. But I don’t want to retire.