Saturday, 14 July 2012

Orange Juice – Edinburgh - 1984

Falling & Laughing - Grace Maxwell

13th May 1984

Edinburgh Caley Palais

A couple of years ago I read Grace Maxwell’s book “Falling and Laughing – the Restoration of Edwyn Collins”.   A quite remarkable publication, written by an even more remarkable lady.   It told the tale of her husband Edwyn’s two brain haemorrhages in 2005, his subsequent recovery and of the effect it had upon the singer and family.

The story struck a chord with me on a number of levels; firstly I had been a huge fan of Orange Juice (Edwyn’s band) in the 1980s, and there is always something rather jarring when one is reminded of the mortality of one’s heroes.  Secondly I knew Edwyn to be only a couple of weeks older than myself – scarily young to have beeen visited by such a catastrophic event. 

And thirdly, and perhaps most relevantly, I myself had suffered a minor stroke just after turning 50.  Mine barely registered on the Richter scale – a “probable TIA” it was diagnosed as – and had (I think) no lasting effects.  Although I do nowadays occasionally find myself standing in front of open kitchen cupboards with absolutely no idea what I am looking for.  What I have come to realise is, the fact that Edwyn landed a whopper whilst I hooked a tiddler was probably down to little more than chance.

I was first exposed to Orange Juice back in 1981 when a recently appointed work colleague turned up one day with a fistful of these obscure looking singles, pretty much forcing them upon any of us who promised to take them home and listen with an open mind.  Three of ‘em there were, all on the Postcard label by a band with the unpromising sounding name Orange Juice.  But my scepticism soon turned to delight upon listening to them for the first time; each a compelling concoction of jangly guitars, witty lyrics and quite unique vocal style.  I had never imagined a Scottish band could sound like this. 

Simply Thrilled Honey was a soul-influenced ditty, featuring a quite delicious little guitar break just before each verse started.  Poor Old Soul, (I later discovered to be a wee dig at Postcard Records owner Alan Horne) rattled along, propelled by an extraordinarily busy bass line, reaching a climax with the chanted “No More Rock 'n’ Roll For You”.  My fave was the raucous Blue Boy, with its Bonanza-guitars intro and Sterling Morrison inspired guitar solos.  All in all, three quite unique gems.

Orange Juice had signed to Polydor Records by this time, and we all had to wait what seemed an age for their debut album to finally put in an appearance: You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever - the dolphins on the cover a clear homage to the banana on the first Velvet Underground release. 

 Although the collection had its flaws: second guitarist James Kirk’s singing could best be described as not quite out of tune, Untitled Melody probably should have found a home on a B-side somewhere, and someone really should have had a word with Edwyn about his unwise take on Al Green’s L.O.V.E, but overall it was a mesmeric collection – still one of the musical highlights of the Eighties. 

There was a crisp re-recording of their first ever single, Falling and Laughing, both Consolation Prize and In a Nutshell showed Edwyn’s tongue at it sharpest, whilst Felicity was a real tour de force.  I personally enjoyed the remarkably complex Tender Object and thought the wee instrumental break around 2:45 was just bloody marvellous.

The album just failed to reach the top 20, but it was a darned impressive debut showing nonetheless.  However internal ructions soon began to come to the fore and Kirk and drummer Steven Daly were invited to depart, their replacements Malcolm Ross and Zeke Manyika respectively.

This new incarnation then released in close succession two quite sumptuous singles I Can’t Help Myself and Two Hearts Together, as Edwyn led his charges away from the land of guitar jangle toward blue-eyed soul. But it was the title track from their second album Rip It Up, which finally had the lads gracing the TOTP studios.  This latter, a lilting guitar and synthesiser propelled composition, sounded miles away from those early Postcard singles - although hidden away on the rear of the 12-inch version could be found a vastly superior punk-club version, suggesting Edwyn had not totally forgotten his roots.

The Rip It Up album was perhaps a touch too smoothly produced for my personal tastes, although both Tenterhook and Mud InYour Eye were welcome additions to the Collins canon.

The same line-up recorded the fine Texas Fever mini-album, but both Ross and original bassist David McClymont were absent from the touring band Edwyn put together to promote this release, in the spring of 1984.  And it was this line-up we saw at the Edinburgh Caley Palais, the set list pretty much the same as we had witnessed in Glasgow a couple of months previous.

I struggled more than somewhat with OJ’s final studio release, entitled simply The Orange Juice.  I have revisited it a few times over the years, but am still of the opinion it contains a smattering of fine tunes (What Presence, Salmon Fishing in New York, Lean Period, The Artisans) weighed down by a welter of inferior fillers.  Perhaps, with hindsight, another mini-album would have been appropriate.

Edwyn went solo after this, and whilst his releases were never anything less than intriguing, he never truly recaptured the naïve magic of YCHYLE.  He did, of course, enjoy a huge international hit with A Girl Like You, although I always felt the sadly ignored Don’t Shilly Shally was a superior tune.

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