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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, April 29th 2008
Edwyn Collins
Edwyn Collins is famous for a number of things: that voice, one of the most strangely soulful in British music; a sometime questionable taste in haircuts and knitwear (and I’m not sure about the mustard coloured shoes he’s sporting tonight); being at the forefront of the musical renaissance that sprung out of Glasgow in 1980 with Orange Juice and Postcard Records; his 1994 global hit single ‘A girl like you’; and the fact that in February 2005 he suffered two brain haemorrhages, underwent major surgery and emerged alive, but speechless and without the use of much of his right side. And thinking about it, he should also be famous for the fact that just over three years on he’s here on the stage at the Shepherds Bush Empire, playing with his band to a sadly only half-full house of very loving fans. If the rest have written him off then they’ve made a big mistake.
Since his illness, Collins has released a new album (that he’d just finished recording before his two strokes) and last year performed a handful of gigs in London. Now he’s back on a short UK tour. He’s worked hard to get back the power of speech, and the ability to sing. His voice still with that unique resonating bassano boom but when he speaks he’s slower and more deliberate than his former eloquent self. But he has a lot to say – telling us about the strokes, about learning to sing again, about trying to remember his songs – all of which is punctuated by an infectious deep laughter.
Edwyn Collyns
Dave Ruffy and Edwyn Collins
And when he does sing it’s the same Edwyn Collins voice, sometimes a little flat (but wasn’t he always?) and occasionally hesitant over some of the more complex lyrics. Apart from that it’s the real thing – no sympathy votes here at all, please. And behind him is a band that will not let him fail. Unless I’m mistaken, it includes Dave Ruffy (ex Ruts) on the drums, Andy Hackett (as well known for selling guitars as playing them) on guitar, Carwyn Ellis on bass, Sean Read on keyboards (both long-time Collins collaborators), and fronting the outfit Roddy Frame on electric and acoustic guitars and banjo. Frame and Collins are very close and old friends, but even so Frame excels himself in everything he does – I’ve rarely seen a guitarist play through a set like he does.
Roddy Frame Edwyn Collins
Roddy Frame and Edwyn Collins
The set begins with ‘Falling and laughing’, ‘Poor old soul’ and ‘What presence’, a trio of Orange Juice heavyweights, before turning to Collins’ solo work with songs from the new album, ‘Home again’, One is a lonely number’, ‘You’ll never know (my love)’ (with guest vocals from Luca Santucci), ‘One track mind’ with older tunes like ‘Make me feel again’ and ‘The Wheels of love’. We got, of course ‘Rip it up’, and the set ended with a rampant ‘A girl like you’ with a simply stunning Frame solo. The band promptly left the stage, leaving Collins with his audience. Slowly and deliberately, with the help of his wife, Grace, he made his way off to the right of the stage, pausing just once to look back. Of course there’s an encore, Collins with Frame on guitar singing a new composition, ‘Searching for the truth’, which could have had everyone in tears, and then with the band ‘Blue boy’ and finally ‘Don’t shilly shally’. But before that final song, the crowd are shouting and one voice catches Collin’s attention. He looks earnest, frustrated – “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, but I don’t remember that song. It’s so difficult for me to remember …” It’s a painful narrative which earns a huge ovation, at the end of which Frame menacingly leans forward searching for the voice in the crowd – “That’ll teach you to ask for a song, you heartless bastard”.
But like everything else it’s good humoured, and what couldn’t be when Collins’ mischievous laughter drives the set on? So, alone on stage, he again makes that difficult walk, arm in arm with his wife, and again stops and turns to look back, almost quizzically, at the cheering crowd. That’s one rock and roll picture I’ll remember for ever. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Kate's Chicken Legs Weaver photo album Kate's photographs
Music: Edwyn Collins' MySpace page
Roddy Frame's MySpace page
Read also Nick's review of a Roddy Frame gig back in 2006

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