FEATURE EDWYN COLLINS
Poor old northern soul
After heavy rotation play on British and American radio stations, ‘A Girl Like You’ has become the sleeper hit of the year. So how did Edwyn Collins become a proper rock star after fifteen years
of trying, wonders Damien Love.
cotland’s first Fleadh, I992. While the skies lower and the crowds freeze. the second stage is hemmed in by hordes of Levellers fans, waiting for the moment when their boys arrive and bonding rites can commence in earnest.
Meantime, a tall bequiffed gent in a domino patterned shirt and frightening brown leather trousers is ‘rocking out’. First one, then both feet are on the monitors at the front of the stage. as he stands, swaying, swinging a microphone around his head. Lost in this moment of primal rock catharsis. he does a Patti Smith and goes plummeting off the edge, into the pit, only to crawl heroically back up a minute later, showing his figure-hugging hipsters off to full effect. Next, he’s on top of the drum kit, ‘ftngering’ his ‘axe’. The drums collapse under him, and he falls again. From somewhere backstage, a voice calls: ‘I’m off home. Edwyn.’
For the climax, he’s backed up by an intense, glamorously dishevellcd crooner and a smaller, wired-looking chap, both in suits. At a key moment, something is launched from a small adulatory core in the centre of the audience. Hanging, silhouetted against the sky for a moment before raining down onstage. it becomes clear the missile is a bundle of Y- fronts. All around, people with problem hair and dogs on strings have question marks forming above their heads.
It’s a mighty long way down the rock ’n’ roll road from seeing the White Riot Tour to appearing on Steve Wright’s People Show, but such is the strange parabola of Edwyn Collins’s career path. Until a few months ago, the vast majority of people were, much like the abovementioned Levellers fans, largely unaware of Collins’s existence, while a select few treasured him to knicker-throwing degrees. Now, thanks to the queer behaviour of a record called ‘A Girl Like You’ (hereafter called The Single), he’s a bona fide pop star for the first
6 The List 20 Oct-2 Nov 1995
time since Orange Juice mimed ‘Rip It Up’ on Top Of The Pops back in 1982. when the show still had a dance troupe. At the moment. The Single is the 36th-most-played song on American radio — America. mind, the Big Country — and it‘s not even been officially released over there yet. What. as Lou Reed put it, Goes On?
‘ I’m already fairly posh, so I’m not gonna affect mid-Atlantic poshness like Sheena Easton, or the Great Bard, Jim Kerr. People know that whatever I am, I’m not pretentious. ’
‘Well, I’m just locked into thinking Que Sera Sera,‘ mumbles a recently wakened Edwyn Collins from somewhere in New York. ‘It’s
become kind of a phenomenon. and it’s sort of
controlling my life, this weird chain reaction. The most annoying and frustrating question all over the world is: “So, are you the new Bowie. then?” and some of them can hear Iggy Pop in there. I have to constantly point out that nobody in fifteen years has ever said that in the UK. Actually. The Single started off as a kind of Stooges number. a more thrashy kind of guitar thing, believe it or not. What the Americans initially wanted to do was a version produced by that terrible group Offspring — or as I call them Nirvana’s Bastard Offspring — with Iggy Pop singing, but it was too late, by that time my version was already getting airplay. y’see. So, I felt very smug.’
Well. who knows, the Iggy thing might have been a goer . . . but we disagree. One of the many good things about The Single, was the subversive glee to be gained from the knowledge that there, nestling at number four in the proper charts, was a record featuring not only the Sex Pistols’ Paul Cook (‘The Ringo Starr of my generation’), but also Vic Godard —
the wired-looking chap from that Fleadh performance. It was sceing Godard’s strangely oblique Subway Sect refusing to toe any punk party line when supporting The Clash in I977, along with The Slits, that first galvanised Collins’s thinking about Orange Juice.
Eerily, it was Godard who first saw The Single’s potential and. indeed, came up with the ‘yeah — it’s alright’ coda. Collins, however. reckons any real subversion lies in the fact that Setanta, the tiny record label to which he’s signed. spent little to no money on The Single’s promotion, making it a genuinely independent hit. ‘People voted with their lugholcs, and went out and bought it,’ he says.
Then there’s The Single’s refusal to be pinned down. It’s slipping across the infamoust polarised Stateside radio stations with ease, and appears on no less than twelve compilation albums in Britain. ‘Yeah. it’s been on The Best Independent Album in the World Ever II next to Elastica and all that.’ sighs the chameleon-like one. ‘And then On A Dance Tip with Shagg I and all this stuff. then it’s on The Best Rock Ballads Album in the World alongside ‘Hotcl California’ and Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling’. Nobody can categorise it. I met the drummer from Boston, actually. and the singer from The Runaways. Oh, I’ve met all the stars.’
But hey, hang on. With all this talk of airplay charts and sexy New York parties with ‘the stars’, could it be that our Edwyn’s going to return from across the water all rockin’ airs and graces, like so many before him? Say it’s not so.
‘Well,’ he muses. ‘I’m already fairly posh, so I’m not gonna affect mid-Atlantic poshness like Sheena Easton, or the Great Bard, Jim Kerr. People know that whatever I am. I’m not pretentious. Actually, I recently saw David ‘Kid’ Jensen interviewing Jim Kerr. and there was this fantastic line. He was going (affects sincere mid-Atlantic mewling), “Initially, you know. I was talking to Charlie about resuming work on the album. Initially. I was kinda trepidatious. I just thought, have I lost it?