Since his surgery for a double brain haemorrhage in 2005, Edwyn Collins has made not just a remarkable medical recovery but he seems also to have undergone a musical renewal.
His outstanding seventh solo album Losing Sleep (which was Number 18 in musicOMH’s top 50 best albums of 2010) is largely a moving – and ultimately life-affirming – account of how his near-death experience has forced him to reassess his values as he comes to terms with his more limited physical capabilities.
For the irrepressible Collins, playing live is evidently as important as recording new music. Wearing a sharp grey suit and a pork-pie hat, he walked somewhat unsteadily on stage to join his excellent band with the aid of a silver-topped cane, acknowledging the enthusiastic ovation before sitting down on an amplifier. Paralysed on his right side, he gestures a lot with his left arm to emphasize what he is singing. His voice, while not as powerful as before, nonetheless retains its distinctive character undiminished. He, as well as the audience, was obviously enjoying himself hugely.
Collins’s 80-minute set focused mainly on the surprisingly upbeat, Motown-tinged songs from Losing Sleep but also featured some from the back catalogue of his 20-year-plus solo career plus his previous incarnation in the groundbreaking 80s Scottish indie pop group Orange Juice. It confirmed him as one of our finest singer-songwriters of the last three decades, as testified by the many younger artists who cite his influence on their music – some of whom joined him on stage to perform songs on which they had collaborated on the last album.
He kicked off with the single/title track, a joyously melodic number with infectious backing vocals, and also sang a fine account of Humble, a touching tribute to the love of his wife and manager Grace Maxwell. For the sweet-sounding It Dawns on Me, he was joined by The Magic Numbers‘ Romeo Stodart, while Ryan Jarman of The Cribs (whose second album The New Fellas was produced by Collins) shared vocals on the darker, New Wave-style What Is My Role? Later, Franz Ferdinand‘s Nick McCarthy co-sang and played keyboards on a rousing version of Do It Again.
Orange Juice were represented by the likes of Falling And Laughing, their very first single from 1980, and of course their biggest hit Rip It Up, two delicious slices of funky post-punk. Before leaving the stage, Collins stood up to perform his best-known song A Girl Like You, a real crowd pleaser. Encores included, from Losing Sleep, the poignant ballad Searching For The Truth (accompanied by acoustic guitar) and In Your Eyes, a duet with his son William.
The Shepherd’s Bush audience showed their warm appreciation for such an uplifting gig from a truly inspirational character.