Edwyn Collins & Orange Juice: A Casual Introduction, 1981-2001
‘My working title was Edwyn Collins’ Greatest Hit – for the people who know me for ‘A Girl Like You’. To a certain extent, it was kind of opportunist: I’d been producing the extra tracks on The Best Of The Proclaimers in my studio, and I realised I needed to do one. I had a degree of control over the Esteemed Orange Juice, which was put out when we were still contracted to Polydor. But that’s expired now – it was a 20 year deal and we signed it in 1981 – and all the rights from that era have reverted to me.
‘I wanted to be objective – no obscurities or my favourite tracks. What would someone who was only casually interested in my music like to hear? For a non-masochistic listener, what would be a good selection? What would my son (who’s 13) like to hear? Try and integrate the old material with the new. Hence a ‘casual introduction’… It just had to be done, really.’
A Casual Introduction’s 18 tracks and Edwyn Collins’ 20 years, then: here are some of them…
1981 – ‘Falling And Laughing’, ‘Felicity’ – “that amphetaminey, frantic, punk rock thing”
‘A New York band forming in the Bearsden area. Influences Television, Talking Heads and The Voidoids.’
The advert was in punk fanzine Ripped And Torn, Scotland’s Sniffin’ Glue. It was the fag-end of the Seventies. Edwyn Collins was more into the old school New York thing, The Velvets and The Lovin’ Spoonful. But he got in touch anyway.
The band with the bag of NY influences would become Orange Juice. Along with Josef K and Aztec Camera, they were The Sound Of Young Scotland, signed to groundbreaking record label Postcard. Streaking into earshot between the dog days of punk and the early kicks of New Pop and New Romanticism, Postcard was a little revolution. Cheap ‘n’ cheerful art-indie with a manifesto. DIY fun while it lasted.
‘Falling And Laughing’ and ‘Felicity’: but two of the brace of skidding, careering, jingle-jangle pop classics the young Orange Juice recorded straight out of the traps.
‘Even though it was financed by Rough Trade and recorded for Postcard, a lot of the trainspottery fans on the internet think Orange Juice sold out when we signed to Polydor and licensed the album You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. We recorded 13 tracks in 14 days. Possibly we thought that was excessive. At Postcard, we’d book a day at a time. Josef K would go in the morning, do two tracks, and we’d go in in the afternoon and do two tracks. We still had that amphetaminey, frantic, punk rock thing. We didn’t need to do speed. Not then anyway.
1983 – ‘Rip It Up’ – “anything that was produced by the Chic Organisation”
The New Pop revolution demanded that previously shambolic bands shape up or ship out. Even though they thought early Depeche Mode were ridiculous, Orange Juice had heard Matt Bianco’s ‘Get Out Your Lazy Bed’, and ‘Just An Illusion’ by Imagination. They liked the sound of the bass synthesizer. They managed to programme that in the studio. The result was the still-distinctive jazz-funk wobble of Orange Juice’s biggest hit.
‘Even with the first line-up of the band, we’d always liked Chic, Sister Sledge – anything that was produced by the Chic Organisation. So I put the Niles Rodger type guitar on top.
Briefly, Orange Juice became pop stars. Their tour that year was full of old fans in checked shirts and floppy fringes. But crowds of teenage girls also got in, pushing their way to the front and screaming. At Newcastle Riverside, Edwyn told them to shut up. They did.
1984 – ‘What Presence?!’ – “Lloyd Cole & The Commotions are more malleable, more sensitive and they listen to us”
Edwyn Collins moves to a big Thirties house in Willesden, north-west London. There is a revolving cast of tenants, including quixotic Postcards boss Alan Horne. ‘There was always something going on, Edwyn chuckles. ‘We called it the House of Camp.’
Derek Jarman filmed the video for ‘What Presence?!’ in the house. The single reached Number 47. The writing was on the wall. By now, Polydor had new pet puppies. Lloyd Cole & The Commotions, said their mutual A&R man, ‘were a bit more malleable, a bit more sensitive, and they listen to us’. Orange Juice finally split after a Miners’ Benefit at Brixton Academy in January 1985.
1989 – ‘Hope And Despair’ – ‘fairly serious’
Edwyn’s first material post-Orange Juice had been two singles for Elevation, Alan McGee’s brief experiment on sleeping with the enemy (a major label). Primal Scream and The Weather Prophets were the other acts. Edwyn didn’t hang around for long.
‘I felt it was time to drag music kicking and screaming out of the Sixties and into the Seventies. After all, it was 1987.’
Hope And Despair was his first solo album, recorded in Cologne for a German label. ‘The fairly serious title probably summed up my career trajectory at that point.
1990 – ‘Graciously’ – ‘closure’
From the second solo album, Hellbent On Compromise, here rendered acoustically and closing our Casual Introduction. Why?
‘It’s the last song in the live set. You keep back ‘A Girl Like You’ for the end of the main set, then you come back on with another uptempo one like ‘Bridge’ or ‘Adidas World’. Then the crowd still go bananas. ‘Graciously’ is the best way to shut them up, hah hah. It’s closure.’
1994 – ‘The Campaign For Real Rock’ – ‘the truly detestable summer festival’
1992. The Reading Festival. Nirvana are top of the bill and have picked many of the acts lower down. Having produced the London cowboys’ album for Heavenly Records [TRUE?!], Edwyn was part of The Rockingbirds Roadshow. On arrival at the festival site, the first thing he saw was Andrew Eldtrich of Sisters Of Mercy in full goth regalia. The first line came to him: “don’t try so hard to be different, the cracks are beginning to show…”
‘I was trying to set up some kind of dialectic. Here’s me, this minor cult figure, and here’s this huge grunge movement coming. It was just an invective against everything I didn’t like about it.’
“Yes yes yes it’s the summer festival, the truly detestable summer festival…”
One of Edwyn’s great satirical songs (see also: ‘Adidas World’, ‘The Beatles’ and the line “too many protest singers, not enough protest songs” in ‘A Girl Like You’.)
1995 – ‘A Girl Like You’ – “hi Rod, really like the version”
Worldwide sales: two million. Number Ones: seven countries, including Belgium, the Philipines and Malaysia. Top 40: every country, including America, except Japan. Translated into: Canto-Pop version for mainland China. Sales and playlist awards from American music industry bodies: BMI and ASCAP. Famous enthusiasts: Elton John and Rod Stewart, and producers Nigel Godrich and Trevor Horn.
Covered by: Rolf Harris, The Shirehorses, Rod Stewart, weird Hong Kong handbag house merchant called Prince Paradigm.
The album Gorgeous George worldwide sales: one million. Number of requests to use song in films, TV, adverts: two or three per week. Latest request to use ‘A Girl Like You’: for American TV programme on lapdancers.
What else he got from it: his studio, West Heath, in West Hampstead. Former owner of West Heath: Alan Parsons Projects.
‘Dave Palmer, the old ABC drummer who I knew from the olden days, invited me along to see Rod at Wembley. We were in the Green Room, and Rod wasn’t receiving guests. Paul Young and Rick Parfitt – all the A-list – were stuck in the Green Room. But Dave said that Rod really wanted to meet me. So I went backstage and said, “hi Rod, really like the version.” He gave me a huge hug and said: ‘I didn’t realise you were fucking Scottish mate – that makes it even better!’
1996 – ‘Keep On Burning’ – “Austrian DJs were always into my solo stuff”
‘Number Two in the Polish charts! I’ve since had offers to produce various Polish groups, but I’ve been too busy. And they wanted me to go over, but it would have taken a couple of months. I couldn’t be bothered really. There was an Austrian dance DJ, Werner Gaya – it’s German for vulture – and he had been playing [Elevation single] ‘My Beloved Girl’. So a load of people in Eastern Europe were big fans. When we played Vienna in ’96 we had to do two shows, a matinee as well, to cater for all these Poles and Ukrainians who came to Austria to see us. Austrian DJs were always into my solo stuff! I’ve got no idea why’
1997 – ‘The Magic Piper (Of Love)’ – ‘Mike Myers was very pissed off’
In the video for which Edwyn joins cloned boy band ranks. Prosthetic masks, colourful jumpsuits and severed limbs, choreographed by Take That’s former dancing coach. A great video: watch out for it on the DVD collection next year.
See also Austin Powers: it’s the first song on the closing credits when Mike Myers does all the silly dancing.
‘The premiere was in LA, so I didn’t go. But the week the single was coming out was also the week the film was coming out, so I ended up on Channel 5 on The Jack Docherty Show with Mike Myers. But that was the week Lady Di died. Myers was very pissed off.’
2001 – ‘Johnny Teardrop’ – Doctor Syntax, Bucket Of Shit, David Dickinson and me
A new version of the track from this recent Doctor Syntax album… David McAlmont on backing vocals on new version… also, shorter by 20 seconds… rejigged rhythm track and percussion… Video features Edwyn as Johnny Teardrop: a failing old school pop TV presenter, still perched, albeit precariously, on the edge of his stool…
Song started life as flamenco, Spanish-y thing… Edwyn’s son came in crying and announced that he was ‘Johnny Sad’. This got Edwyn thinking of Frankie Teardrop… Cue Johnny Teardrop… Johnny’s look inspired by David Dickinson… Video also starring top selling nu metal group Bucket Of Shit, Milli Vanili, and someone who might be Will Young…
The compilation’s ‘lead single’. But won’t do well in this country because it hasn’t made the Radio 2 playlist.
‘And that’s all that’s left for old fuckers like me…’
2002 – ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ – badgered by the hardcore, banging with Betty Boo
‘The afficionadoes and the hardcore fans badgered my bulletin board with suggestions for material to be included. But that’s boxset territory. That’s next year. Maybe.’
When not writing and recording for himself, Edwyn Collins continues with his parallel career as producer. Current/recent clients: Playgroup, Luca Santucci, Betty Boo (aka Alison Clarkson, writer of Kylie’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’), solo album for former A House frontman Dave Couse. As Paul Morley recently wrote, ‘Collins [has] learnt to “play” the recording studio in the way that Meek, Eno, Hannett or Dre might.’
‘Robbie Williams wrote Sing When You’re Winning in my studio. I’ve got a cassette version of ‘Rock DJ’ without the rap. I’ve got his lyrics in a cupboard next to Mark E Smith’s. I’ve put some chicken bones on top and I’m trying to morph them into each other as time goes on, hah hah.’
With Edwyn Collins – scientist of sound, encyclopaedia of pop, the eclectic’s eclectic, but no longer wearing his fringe like Roger McGuinn – it was always thus.
‘This album is 20 years of… idiosyncracy that has occasionally collided with mainstream taste. I come from a different era, when people were a lot more idealistic. I can only really please myself.’