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Concert Review by Nick Morgan


Shepherds Bush Empire, London, February 16th 2010

I was musing on sparrowhawks.  Reminiscing about the scene in my very urban West London garden on 26th December last, when we watched one make a festive breakfast of a blackbird in a tree we normally call ‘the tree of life’.  Not on that occasion.  And why?


Because in my mind’s eye  was Edwyn Collins’ most recent album, Losing Sleep, whose cover is adorned with closely-observed illustrations of birds drawn by Collins.  Always a ‘nature punk’, he began this work as he was in the early stages of recovery from the two massive strokes he suffered in 2005. “I think my real recovery began with my first bird drawing” he said a few years later, when the collection was first put on show in London and cities around the UK. He’s still drawing, an updated exhibition is currently doing the rounds again and there’s a published volume of prints too. They are pretty good: not a sparrowhawk amongst them as it happens, although there is a very vicious-looking and wonderfully detailed  hobby (remarkably, we get those in London too, in the summer).  Frankly, this ornithological train of thought was really a way of ignoring the fact that not only was the 94 bus empty, but also the favoured Shepherd’s Bush Thai restaurant and, worst of all, my second  home on the first floor of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.  It’s not just because the Photographer is missing, hors de combat at home, chewing dry toast.  Or because everyone’s in the bar: that’s empty too. The place is just deserted.  The reason?   The populus of the Metropolis is either still at home, or in the pub, watching the Alsatian’s Arsenal take on Barcelona in the European Championship.

So apart from a few noisy chums there is almost no-one there to see openers The Maxwells play a rather nervous debut performance, fronted by a somewhat stage-struck Will Collins (son of Edwyn), or Two Wounded Birds, with Margate’s particular (and quite pleasing) answer to California’s surf guitar sound.   But somewhere around 9.30, just as Mr Collins’ band take the stage, the theatre fills up as if by magic, to give a warm ovation to Collins as he walks across and perches himself carefully atop a large bass speaker cabinet. 

Edwyn Collins
Edwyn Collins

The band - sometime Sex Pistol Paul Cook on drums, Rockingbirds’ Sean Read on keyboards and Andy Hackett on guitars, Pretender James Walbourne on bass and acoustic guitar, and Tom Edwards on guitar - are really excellent, and good-naturedly endure Collins’ impatience as he rushes them through a long set at break-neck speed.  It opens with the title track from Collins’ rightly highly-regarded new album: a soulful and painfully autobiographical account of his  recovery from illness.  Other songs from the new album saw a queue of guests join the stage.  The Magic Numbers’ Romeo Stoddart sang on  ‘It dawn’s on me’, the Cribs’ Ryan Jarman sang on ‘What is my role?’ and Nick McCarthy sang and played keyboards on the driving ‘Do it again’, whose catchy chorus shows the influence of McCarthy and fellow Franz Ferdinand member Alex Kapranos, who co-wrote the song with Collins.  There were two other highlights from the new record.   Firstly, Hackett’s neat guitar solo and feedback control on ‘Humble’; the guitar in question was, I think, a solid-body Gretsch 6121 (Hackett, as you may know, runs vintage guitar dealers Angel Music)  and you can hear him play it on the record.  And then Walbourne playing a very melodic acoustic guitar as Collins sang ‘Searching for the truth’: one of those life-affirming music moments.


In between the new stuff was a clutch of Collins’ classics and if you haven’t listened to these recently, you should, because there is some outstanding material which easily stands the test of time.  From the Orange Juice days  he played ‘What presence’, ‘Consolation prize’, ‘Rip it up’ and ‘Falling and laughing’ (which Collins claimed as the first song he ever wrote, not a bad start).  There was also more recent solo material like ‘Home again’ and of course the multi-million selling ‘Girl like you’, which guitarist Edwards played with considerable gusto as Collins stood at the microphone to sing.  And I should mention that young Master Collins, possibly the worse for a couple of shandies and boasting a little prematurely of Arsenal’s victory over Barca, joined his dad  at the end for ‘In your eyes’.

This was a wonderful performance, by a great band and an inspired writer and singer.  And as I said, pretty life-affirming too. - Nick Morgan

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