Scottish musician Edwyn Collins is nothing short of an inspiration. The former front man of post-punk band, Orange Juice, suffered two devastating cerebral haemorrhages in 2005. It left him partially paralysed and he had to endure a long programme of rehabilitation in order to do the simple tasks most people take for granted (like: walk, talk and read). His speech remains a little slurred but his big, baritone voice, jovial nature and funny between-song banter blew the top off the Spiegeltent.
The show was opened by James Walbourne and Carwyn Ellis who dabble in various musical guises and projects. Initially, the night saw them playing acoustic guitars as London Mississippi. The group will soon be releasing an album on Collins’ label and this was a great little entrée of what is to come. The pair performed just two songs, the first was like a pleasant, Eagles track while the second, “Sweet Dee” had more of a blues-tinge to the overall sound.
Walbourne and Ellis would remain on-stage as they played their guitars (and Ellis occasionally swapped this for a keyboard) as they backed the evening’s star, Edwyn Collins. The artist has been named a pillar of British, indie rock and one of the UK’s national pop treasures and it’s easy to see why. Over the years Collins has written an enviable discography of fine, underground pop gems where he has taken inspiration from Northern soul, Motown, punk and The Velvet Underground, to name but a few.
The stage was all set and Collins walked on carrying a walking stick and had a huge smile on his face. The latter stayed there for the full duration of the proceedings. There was an overarching sense of sweet optimism from this deep-voiced, teddy bear. Collins was infectious in both his music and his cheery between-song patter. He has always been one to enjoy a good natter with the crowd and it’s pleasing to see that this has not changed.
The Orange Juice favourite, “Falling & Laughing” was presented acoustically with large, earthy sounds. It is one that with the benefit of hindsight shares bits in common with Collins triumphing over various issues (including taking the pleasure along with the pain). It was a different vibe to the beautiful, three-part harmonies of “Make Me Feel Again”, which was heart wrenching in its primal desire for love.
Collins is a man that knows a lot about pop and nostalgia. He takes the crowd on a romp down memory lane, back to his younger, halcyon days and with a pop soundtrack inspired by artists who have influenced him over time. “Understated” was one such one number that was set in Glasgow when he was aged 19 before the Orange Juice single, “Blue Boy” took us away and transformed things into a kind of Wild West showdown.
The sounds were all well-polished. It was also obvious that Collins shares an excellent chemistry with his younger, accompanying musicians (especially Walbourne who did an excellent job on the lead guitar). The two ably assisted him with recreating those varied sounds he has penned. “31 Years” was a passionate performance and in the middle of the song things became as light and as twinkly as a ballet dancer pirouetting in the summer rain.
The Velvet Underground was cited as artists that “Forsooth” tried to emulate. The final part of the track, however, built up with as much momentum and drive as the conclusion of The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” when the orchestra is in full swing. “One Track Mind” meanwhile, was a quieter ballad before Collins openly acknowledged that before his stroke he was depressed. He also added that he is now happy and gave us “Dilemna” to ponder over.
“Losing Sleep” was like the pop song you can’t remember the name of that gets stuck in your head (in a good way). But it was Collins’ breakout hit, “A Girl Like You” that really got everyone going. The famous riff was recreated on an acoustic guitar and his voice was probably the closest in delivery to his pre-stroke one. Collins would stand up for this and sway along as he sent shivers down peoples’ spines. It was certainly the pinnacle of the night, even though he would return for an encore which included a sombre, Johnny Cash-like, “Home Again” and the fun, “Felicity” (penned by Orange Juice’s James Kirk).
In 2005 many of Edwyn Collins’ fans would’ve resigned themselves to the fact that they’d never see him perform live again. But thankfully in 2007 he had made such leaps and bounds in recovery that he’d return to the live stage, a place he clearly relishes being. The 2014 Collins may no longer be the spry, young thing from Orange Juice or the guitar-playing God in “A Girl Like You” but what he does do is deliver raw, unequivocal honesty. In short, Collins’ set was one filled with emotion, laughs and frivolity from a man who seems truly home again.
Edwyn Collins’ Sydney set list:
1. Falling & Laughing (originally performed by Orange Juice)
2. Make Me Feel Again
4. Blue Boy (originally performed by Orange Juice)
5. Ghost Of A Chance
6. 31 Years
8. One Track Mind
10. Losing Sleep
11. Rip It Up (originally performed by Orange Juice)
12. A Girl Like You
13. Home Again
14. Felicity (originally performed by Orange Juice)
15. Don’t Shilly Shally
Originally published on 20 January 2014 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/edwyn-collins-orange-juice-james-walbourne-carwyn-ellis-london-mississippi-spiegeltent-19-01-14
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