Edwyn Collins Biography
"The chorus I got in an instant," the 50-year-old Scottish musical legend remembers of Losing Sleep, the invigorating title track of his new, seventh solo album. "And the verse is dodgy. What to do? I know: try oo-oohs. Singing oo-oohs. And so on. I tried mucking about with the verse. And I thought, Seb will help me with the verse. And, no bother."
Seb would help him. And so, it transpired, would Franz Ferdinand, The Drums, The Cribs, Johnny Marr, The Magic Numbers and Roddy Frame. Just some of the artists who've been inspired by the godlike Edwyn Collins, whether as leader of Orange Juice or as solo artist. Losing Sleep had lift off.
"Fast and quick and speedy," says Edwyn. That's how he wanted – needed - his seventh solo album to sound.
Seb is engineer and producer Sebastian Lewsley. He and Edwyn have been working together since 1992. They met in Sonet studio in Chiswick. Seb was the studio assistant and Edwyn was producing former Subway Sect frontman Vic Godard's album The End Of The Surrey People. Edwyn and Seb bonded over a shared disregard for recording convention. That is, neither liked to muck about, both liked old gear, and neither had time for fussy musicians who endlessly faffed about trying to get their guitar sounds just-so.
Soon Edwyn and Seb were working together on a Frank & Walters album. And soon they had set up shop in Edwyn's own studio, West Heath – where incidentally the first thing they recorded was Edwyn's album Gorgeous George, which featured A Girl Like You. And they recorded together happily ever after...
When, in October 2008, Edwyn decided he wanted to make his first album since his catastrophic illness in 2005, Seb was the obvious right-hand man.
They recorded Losing Sleep first, quicksmart: two/three mics on the drumkit, Little Barrie on guitar, Paul Cook (ex-Sex Pistol) on drums, Edwyn doing a guide vocal.
"And that," says Seb, "was basically the sound that the song is now. A big, roomy drum sound, northern soul-like. Each song has a certain amount of human errors."
"There's momentum going on," nods Edwyn.
The template for the album was set.
"It was the same no matter who came in – we did each song in a day," says Seb, "and a day consists of about four hours. So there's a real expediency about how it's recorded. The whole attitude of the album is just doing that. Not indulging anyone. Not having any band sitting round for days and days. 'Have you got a guitar part yet? No? Just do it. You've got a coupla hours.' They all looked quite petrified but they did it."
"The spontaneity flows," adds Edwyn.
Beginning in May 2009, Edwyn and Seb began hosting visits from various musician pals to West Heath Studios. Ryan Jarman from The Cribs – Edwyn produced their 2005 album The New Fellas – came in early on. He and Edwyn co-wrote the buzzsaw pop of I Still Believe In You and What Is My Role?, with Jarman also supplying characterful Yorkshire-accented vocals on the latter.
The lyrics: "sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down, sometimes I wonder what is my role... I can't walk in character, I can't act in any way" – what do they refer to?
"Firstly, I had a stroke to deal with," says Edwyn. "Sometimes I'm down, sometimes I'm up. But I'm not certain. I'm not sure that I'm having these emotions clearly. And succinctly. And what is my role? I'm not sure what to do, what to say."
At home in Kilburn, northwest London, on the evening of Sunday 20th February 2005 – sometime around Antiques Roadshow and midway through boiling the potatoes for dinner – Edwyn Collins suffered a stroke. Five days later he suffered a second stroke.
This singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, musical legend, accomplished wildlife artist and father-of-one was only 45.
Later, Edwyn had an operation to replace the panel of skull bone that had been removed to allow the neurosurgeons to operate. This operation resulted in him contracting the 'superbug' MRSA.
Edwyn spent six months in hospital. As his partner Grace Maxwell put it succinctly in 2007: "The part of Edwyn's brain that controls speech and language was very badly hurt."
That is: he couldn't speak, read, write. Nor, initially, could he sit up. Nor walk. He lost movement in his right side. He couldn't feed himself. When he returned home to Kilburn in September 2005, the only words Edwyn Collins could say were "Grace", "Maxwell", "yes and 'no'.
By early summer 2007, he – they – had been undergoing daily, arduous rehabilitation therapy for two intense but ultimately rewarding years. Rewarding because Edywn came back from, if not death, then something that had seemed at times hellishly close to that.
And rewarding because, in 2007, Edwyn released his sixth solo album, Home Again. It had been recorded before his illnesss, but mixed afterwards. And on Sunday 30 October 2007, at Camden Dingwalls, Edywn Collins was back on stage, performing, brilliantly.
The teenager who formed his first band – The Nu-Sonics – in Glasgow in 1976; who 'went pro' with Orange Juice when he was 19; who's been making fantastic music ever since; one of the finest lyricists of his generation – that guy wasn't going to take his stroke lying down. Even if lying down was pretty much all he could do for many long, bloody scary months.
As Grace wrote: "...Of this I was certain: if he did come back, it would be to a life worth fighting for. If he couldn't continue to be Edwyn in a way that made sense to him, he would let go. Why did I absolutely know this? I did. I just did."
Grace writes this in her book, Falling And Laughing: The Restoration Of Edwyn Collins. It's an account of the events following his stroke. It's illuminating, gripping, tender and, very often, funny. Grace's observations of the highs and lows of being in at the mercy of the NHS should be required reading for Con-Lib policy-makers. And her description of Edwyn's little-short-of-miraculous road to recovery are fascinating. Or as she once put, so much better:
"If this wasn't so shit, it would honestly be the most fascinating thing!"
But by 2009, Edwyn Collins was firmly back in the studio saddle. He and Seb rattled on with newfound – re-found – purpose. Edwyn is back playing keyboards, mouth organ and making chord shapes on the guitar (his right hand is still unable to strum the strings).
"That conversation between Edwyn and the process of recording is coming back," says Seb. "Which wasn't so much there right back when we started recording. When we started mixing Home Again he didn't want to do it. 'Cause he didn't understand it. Now he's like, 'hmmm, too much compression on that. You're too close to the mic...' He picks up on that now. The studio is more of an instrument again for Edwyn."
Franz Ferdinand's Alex Kapranos and Nick McCarthy hotfooted it into the studio direct from a US tour. Do It Again, all fizzing synths and jittery-disco zoom, is their collaboration. The sublime It Dawns On Me was written with Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers – he joined Edwyn onstage at the Edinburgh Festival last summer.
Hot-potato new American band The Drums entered the frame after meeting Edwyn and his 20-year-old son William at Brixton Academy on the NME Awards tour earlier this year – Edwyn joined The Maccabees onstage for a version of Rip It Up.
Seb: "William is our new scout."
Declaring themselves huge Edwyn fans, The Drums found time in their schedule to co-write and record the New Order-signed-to-Postcard cracker In Your Eyes.
William Collins – who only picked up the guitar for the first time during his dad's illness – plays bass on Over The Hill, an Edwyn solo composition, and drums on All My Days, a co-write with Edwyn's old Postcard mucker Roddy Frame (Aztec Camera). The latter – reflective, gentle – is one of only two slow songs on the album. For the raring-to-go team, two was enough.
The last song to be completed was the sparkling Come Tomorrow, Come Today, co-written with Johnny Marr. Smiths fans won't be disappointed.
They all got it. The result is a bracing collection of pop songs featuring an eclectic bunch of talented players. Yes, Seb Lewsley admits, he had to think about how he would yoke it all together, given the disparate musicians involved and the overall length of time required by the project.
"But the one thing I knew would tie it together was Edwyn and the immediacy of the way it was recorded. There's an exciting spirit and feel about the whole thing."
What, from Edywn's point of view, is different now about the way he works?
"That's easy," he shoots back. "I like to record fastly. But back then, before my stroke, I did slow songs. Not any more. I like fast songs! Immediate songs."
How does he find singing now?
"No problem. My voice has got better I suppose. Searching For The Truth, the single b-side version, I'm a little hesitant I suppose. Not any more, I'm sounding a lot clearer."
Searching For The Truth closes the album. It was the first song Edwyn wrote after his stroke, coming to him as he lay in hospital. A version appeared on the b-side of the single Home Again. The new, clearer, more confident version is a beautiful closer to the comeback album to end all comeback albums.
Making the energetic, full-of-life Losing Sleep, says Edywn Collins, has been a joy. Like the "outside" production assignments he and Seb have re-started (for The Cribs, amongst others), it's also been part of his ongoing mental and physical rehabilitation.
"Yeah," he declares, empathically, smilingly, brilliantly, "I'm back. And I like it."
Edwyn Collins Bio from Discogs
Born: 23 August, 1959 in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.