Orange Juice

TrackSingle / Album
Falling And Laughing (live)Ostrich Churchyard
Blue BoyPostcard 80-2 / The Glasgow School
Poor Old Soul (Part 1)Postcard 81-2 / The Glasgow School
Consolation PrizeThe Glasgow School
FelicityYou Can't Hide Your Love Forever
Wan LightYou Can't Hide Your Love Forever
Rip It UpRip It Up
I Can't Help MyselfRip It Up
Louise LouiseRip It Up
What Presence?!The Orange Juice

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Orange Juice photo 2

Orange Juice (l to r): James Kirk, Steven Daly, Edwyn Collins, David McClymont

 

Contributor: Andrew Shields

Every couple of years I go back and listen to the first four Orange Juice singles. They are just amazing … [and] totally undervalued as well. Whenever anyone’s writing any sort of rock history, these four records, in terms of their influence, their impact, their beauty, and their brilliance, are never really recorded.”

There was a Beatles ’62 thing about them. Own humour. Own dress style. Own songs and sound in the heart of a city … Onstage in Edinburgh we got the full show and it was astonishing. The best 40 minutes of rock ‘n’ roll I‘d seen… Orange Juice had clarity, which made their stinging songs and each member’s contribution all the more powerful. ‘Falling and Laughing’ sounded much better live – like a classic, in fact, but they had at least half a dozen of them … Edwyn, as leader of the group, was another revelation, one pertinent to me: you could be funny on stage without it being detrimental to the seriousness of the band.”

Robert Forster (The Go-Betweens)

 

From their very first single onwards, Orange Juice developed a sound which was utterly and uniquely their own. This was despite the fact that, throughout their existence, the band always wore their influences on their sleeve. Their interests in music were extremely eclectic, ranging from a shared enthusiasm for the music of the Velvet Underground and Jonathan Richman to an admiration for the then far less fashionable group, the Monkees. In this respect, the contemporary band they most resembled were the great Australian group, the Go-Betweens who, like them, attempted to combine what might be termed an ‘indie’ sensibility with a wide range of other influences, including classic 1960s pop and rock music. Unlike the Go-Betweens, however, Orange Juice were also strongly influenced by their enthusiasm for Motown and soul music in general and for funk and disco (particularly Chic). Indeed, to a large extent, their originality lay in their determination to combine and juxtapose those influences in new and interesting ways. From their earliest recordings onwards, it was clear that Orange Juice were one of the more appealing bands to emerge in the wake of the musical explosion that had been triggered by the Sex Pistols.

The formation of Orange Juice and the creation of their very distinctive style were also the product of that peculiar blend of happenstance and coincidence which seems to lie behind the formation of every great band. The first step in that process came through the coming together of four very talented and musically like-minded individuals from the relatively affluent Glasgow suburb of Bearsden. All four – Edwyn Collins, on vocals and guitar, James Kirk on guitar, David McClymont on bass and Steven Daly on drums – were also witty, literate, opinionated and fizzing with ideas about the type of music that the band should make. Their enthusiasm and zest for many different types of music were also to be key elements in the development of the Orange Juice sound. This air of youthful optimism also distinguished the band from many of their more sombre contemporaries.

The final piece in this particular jigsaw came from the rather unlikely Svengali figure of Alan Horne. He was known at the time as something of a provocateur and as someone with extremely strong musical opinions. He was to bring these opinions – and his characteristically aggressive style of promoting them – to bear throughout his time as manager of Orange Juice. Horne also strongly influenced the way in which the band looked and the design of its record covers. He first met them in 1978, when they were still known as the Nu-Sonics, and immediately in Simon Reynolds’ words, “detected star quality in Collins”.

Like his new protégés, Horne was also a keen fan of soul music (particularly Tamla Motown) but he also had a very detailed knowledge of 1960s pop music. Like them also, he was not particularly keen on what he saw as the ‘doominess’ of a good deal of the music made by the band’s contemporaries. Their shared spikiness and fondness for arguing meant that Collins and Horne quickly became perfect foils for one another. To quote Grace Maxwell, who knew the band from early on (and later became Edwyn’s wife), at that time both men were “overflowing … with vitality”, secure “in the invincibility of youth and the knowledge that they were in the moment”.

Orange Juice Postcard logo

The arrival of Horne on the scene also set the stage for the creation of Postcard Records, a label whose close to legendary status is in inverse proportion to the length of its existence (especially in its initial incarnation). In its early stages, the label served primarily as a vehicle for releasing Orange Juice’s singles. At the same time, he was determined that Postcard should have a range of quality artists in its stable. During its brief existence, he did manage to attract other bands of a very high calibre and these included Aztec Camera, Josef K and the Go-Betweens. Nevertheless, in its early days, Postcard and Orange Juice were inextricably linked together and the fortunes of one very much depended on those of the other.

On a broader level, Postcard also helped to set the template for later independent labels in England. In this respect, Alan Horne’s determination to aim for chart success outside of the confines of the traditional musical establishment served as a key influence on the thinking of later independent labels such as Creation Records for example. From the very beginning, Horne’s ambitions for Postcard were very high indeed (as displayed by his later adaptation of the Motown logo for its ‘Sound of Young Scotland’ motto) even If he ran the label on a shoestring basis for most of its existence.

Falling And Laughing, Orange Juice’s first single and Postcard’s debut release, is my first choice. Indeed, it set the template for the band’s later career through its juxtaposition of seemingly opposed musical styles with its disco-influenced bass line, Velvet-Underground guitar sound and general punkish feel. From its brilliant opening line (“you may think me very naïve”) onwards, it also signalled Collins emergence as a songwriter with an extremely individual style and distinctive poetic sensibility. Collins’ persona in the song (the witty bookish romantic who generally proved inept in terms of actually getting the girl of his dreams) was also one which inspired a whole generation of later indie songwriters. To add to the originality of the record, Collins’ singing style was also incredibly distinctive and had the kind of ironic quality which, as in the case of Bob Dylan and Lou Reed, gave even his most romantic songs an ambiguous quality. Although the original single version is excellent, I have chosen the live version recorded at a Peel session in December 1979 for inclusion. This version has an energy and a sting to it (to use Robert Forster’s metaphor) which the earlier version lacked.

Collins wrote my next pick, Blue Boy, the band’s second Postcard single, as a tribute to the late great Pete Shelley. It also features another of Collins’ trademark brilliant opening lines (“when he spoke she smiled in all the right places”) while musically, it blended Buzzcocks style power pop with a Velvet Underground-inspired riff. In the case of it and the following two selections, I have chosen the original Postcard versions over the smoother and slicker ones included on the band’s first major label release, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever. For me at least, the earlier renditions have a freshness and energy with which the later ones, for all of their undoubted excellence in other ways, cannot compete.

It was a wrench not to include Orange Juice’s third Postcard single, Simply Thrilled Honey, which is a very fine song. In my opinion, however, it was not quite up to the standard of their other single releases on Postcard. It did though carry on the band’s tradition of including words that are very rarely heard in rock songs in their lyrics. In this case, this included the use of the expression ‘Ye Gods’ in the chorus. Other examples of this tendency in their songs is the use of ‘consequently’ in Falling And Laughing, ‘to wit’ in Poor Old Soul, and ‘discourteously’ in Dying Day. This was also tied in with the unashamedly ‘arty’ edge to the group’s music, an edge which may well have influenced the later songwriting style of their close contemporary, Morrissey.

According to Simon Goddard, my next pick, Poor Old Soul, is a character sketch of Alan Horne (“back with a vengeance much in vogue/My friend, the Harlequin, the rogue/ befriending the meek/ his tongue tucked firmly in his cheek”). It also has a disco feel, which is largely established through the excellent bass line played by David McClymont. Sadly, it proved to be their last single for Postcard.

My final selection from the band’s time with that label, Consolation Prize, is one of their finest pop songs and its concluding section is one of the most inspired even in their superb body of work. It also features some typically brilliant waspish wit from Collins:

I wore my fringe like Roger McGuinn’s
I was hoping to impress
So frightfully camp, it made you laugh
Tomorrow I’ll buy myself a dress

It’s also well worth checking out this superb duet version of Consolation Prize by Edwyn Collins and Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera which can be heard here.

By this point, the problem for Postcard lay in the fact that while its sales levels were quite good for a small independent label, ultimately it did not have the capacity to push its acts into the pop charts. This had been both Horne and Collins’ major ambition and by 1981 both men (the former, naturally enough, more reluctantly) had moved towards the idea that Orange Juice probably needed to sign to a major label if they were to achieve that objective. The eventual upshot was that the band signed with Polydor records, a move which combined with the earlier departure of Aztec Camera, led to the rapid collapse of the Postcard label.

In consequence, the band’s first album, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, came out on Polydor. Many of the songs on it were, however, slicker re-recorded versions of songs that they had previously recorded for Postcard. As I pointed out previously, generally speaking I prefer those earlier recordings. There are a few songs though which benefit from the more refined production on that album. The outstanding example of this is Felicity, which the group had first recorded as a giveaway flexi-disc in November 1979. In its later incarnation, however, it ranks as one of their very finest achievements. In my opinion, it is one of the very best pop songs of the 1980s. It also demonstrates what a fine songwriter James Kirk was and how much of a contribution he made to the band’s early sound. It is also Morrissey’s favourite Orange Juice single.

My next choice, Wan Light, was also written by Kirk, but is a very different type of song. It has a vaguely Kinks-esque music hall feel, combined with what Kirk himself described as a ‘mid-tempo Stax-Volt’ sound. On the original Postcard version, the band does not quite have the technical capability to pull off this type of mixture of styles. By the time they made their first album, however, they had become a good deal tighter instrumentally and this later version is far more assured.

The move to Polydor also had the unfortunate effect of exacerbating some of the musical and personal tensions between the members of the band. Eventually, this led to the departure of both Kirk and Daly. To replace them, Collins brought in Malcolm Ross from the recently split-up Josef K on guitar and Zeke Manyika on drums. From that point on, the band became essentially a vehicle for Collins’ songs rather than the far more equal mixture of talents that it had been previously. In retrospect, it was also at this point that the group lost some of that magical freshness which had characterised them in the beginning. Indeed, Grace Maxwell has argued that if she had “been their manager then”, she would have “tried very hard to prevent the original members from falling apart”. She also adds that she viewed them all as “brilliant people, dazzling originals”.

Despite this, the new line-up did go on to achieve the group’s greatest chart success with the classic single, Rip It Up, the title track of the band’s second Polydor album. It was a remarkably catchy song which epitomised the new slick soul-funk sound which was the hallmark of the group in its later period. At the beginning, the song seemed to be a conventional enough ‘lost love’ song, but it then veered into a condemnation of the contemporary music scene. It was this aspect of the song which inspired Simon Reynolds to use the lyric of its chorus as the title of his excellent account of post-punk music from 1978 to 1984. As with Blue Boy, the song also gives a nod to the Buzzcocks, both through its reference to their song Boredom and by its quote from the famous (or infamous) guitar solo on it. By reaching No.8 on the British charts, it also seemed to mark the emergence of Orange Juice as a commercial force in their own right.

My next choice from Rip It Up, Louise Louise, was a song which the band had originally recorded during their time on Postcard. However, I prefer this later version in which the group combine influences from the Velvet Underground’s poppier side (as displayed in songs like Sunday Morning) and ones drawn from their admiration for 1960s folk-rock bands like the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Byrds. The result is a finely judged juxtaposition of styles which makes this one of their finest slow songs. By contrast, I Can’t Help Myself from the same album which I have also included ranks very high among their best pop-soul performances.

Even with the chart success of Rip It Up, the group found it very difficult to follow up on the commercial breakthrough it had represented. Undoubtedly, one element in this difficulty was the streak of contrariness and taste for career sabotage which had been present in the group from its earliest days. Over time, musical tensions also began to emerge within the new line-up and, by the time of their final album, The Orange Juice, the band had dwindled to a mere two members, Collins and Manyika. In these circumstances, the record’s producer, Dennis Bovell, had a considerable influence on its sound. His musical flexibility (his own background was in dub and reggae) was a perfect foil to Collins’ eclecticism and he brought a new and innovative touch to the production of the record. The gradual disintegration of the group, however, meant that many contemporary observers saw it as essentially a Collins solo album in all but name. The band finally split up in early 1985, only a few months after the album had been released.

Nevertheless, it did contain some excellent songs which provided a fitting final testament to the band’s continued musical excellence. Among the best of these were the jazz-influenced Salmon Fishing In New York and the typically witty I Guess I’m Just A Little Too Sensitive. My selection from it, however, is the moody What Presence ?! which combines elements derived from Collins’ admiration of the great Al Green but also reflects the influence of another of his great musical heroes, John Fogerty of Creedence. Here’s a live performance of the song:

Throughout Orange Juice’s existence, perhaps their greatest strength was the ability to balance opposites – romanticism/cynicism, originality/imitation, irony/sincerity, optimism/realism and so on. The question that remained, was whether in his solo career Edwyn Collins could maintain this tension of the opposites. The answer to that question, however, is another story and another Toppermost.

 

“Falling & Laughing: The Restoration Of Edwyn Collins” by Grace Maxwell (Ebury Press 2010)
In February 2005, Edwyn Collins suffered two devastating brain haemorrhages. He should have died. Doctors advised that if he did survive, there would be little of him left. If that wasn’t enough, he went on to contract MRSA as a result of an operation to his skull and spent six months in hospital. Initially, Edwyn couldn’t speak, read, write, walk, sit up or feed himself. He had lost all movement in his right side and was suffering from aphasia – an inability to use or understand language. This is an intimate and inspiring account of what you do to survive when your husband is all but taken away without warning by a stroke.

Edwyn Collins has released eight solo albums, the most recent, Understated, in 2013.

James Kirk went on to practise as a chiropodist in Glasgow. He released a solo album You Can Make It If You Boogie in 2003. The band James are named after him.

David McClymont now lives in Australia and is the co-author of the “Melbourne: Lonely Planet City Guide”. He is still making music and this is his Bandcamp page.

Steven Daly lives in New York and is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. He is co-author of “The Rock Snob’s Dictionary” (2005).

Edwyn Collins official website

Coals To Newcastle – Box Set (absolutely everything Orange Juice recorded)

“Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story Of Postcard Records” by Simon Goddard (Ebury Press 2016)

Orange Juice at Discogs

Edwyn Collins Toppermost #768

Orange Juice biography (iTunes)

Andrew Shields is a freelance historian, who grew up in the West of Ireland and currently lives in Sydney, Australia. Along with an interest in history, politics and literature, his other principal occupations are listening to and reading about the music of Bob Dylan and, in more recent years, immersing himself in the often brilliant and unduly neglected music of Phil Ochs ….

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Buzzcocks, Byrds, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Go-Betweens, Kinks, Lovin’ Spoonful, Monkees, Morrissey, Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman, Sex Pistols, Velvet Underground

TopperPost #765

7 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Feb 6, 2019

    What was it about Scotland that gave us such intriguing and interesting music in the period, even up into the 90s? Big Country, Orange Juice, Texas, even the Proclaimers, and many more were able to get global prominence with great songs. And this is 10 great songs.

  2. Wally Salem
    Feb 6, 2019

    What a great post and trip down memory lane as I recall reading a small write up on Postcard Records and was very intrigued and searched for and found copies of a few of the early Postcard singles including Blueboy by Orange Juice and We Could Send Letters by Aztec Camera as well as a Go-Betweens and a Josef K single later on. I was hooked as everything on Postcard was brilliant and I tried to keep up with their releases after that. I’m looking forward to your review of Edwyn’s solo material and still try to keep up with all his releases.

  3. Andrew Shields
    Feb 8, 2019

    Wally and David, thanks for these comments.
    David – was going to add Aztec Camera and Josef K to your list of great 80s/90s Scottish groups but Wally got in there ahead of me. Could add The Associates, Paul Quinn and The Independent Group, The Bathers, The Waterboys and there are many more.
    Wally – glad you enjoyed piece. Postcard was such a great label and Orange Juice such a superb band.

  4. Dave Stephens
    Feb 11, 2019

    Another very fine introduction to a band about which I knew not much more than zero. They now have instant cred with me for managing to rhyme “my fringe” with “Roger McGuinn’s”. And I’m tempted to do some more digging.

  5. Andrew Shields
    Feb 12, 2019

    Dave, thanks for this. And agree that the ‘McGuinn’ line is one of Edwyn’s best. However, watch out for some almost equally good ones in the next Edwyn instalment.

  6. Glenn Smith
    Feb 13, 2019

    I’d forgotten this little moment until reading the topper: It’s 1984 and I walk into Phantom Records in Pitt St Sydney and bought a bunch of 45’s totally on spec, as you did in those days, total trust in the record store. In amongst that particular lot was What Presence, what the hell! That opening, the guitars and that bassline..and then Edwyn. I’d missed the earlier stuff but once I’d slapped What Presence on a compilation tape I went and got the OJ album. Andrew, I reckon if you listen to Hunters and Collectors circa 1984/85 on the Jaws of Life album you’d pick up they were huge OJ fans, the intro to 42 Wheels for example, although “I could be prone to exaggeration”..Thanks for this.

  7. Andrew Shields
    Feb 14, 2019

    Phantom Records – a bit before my time here I think – although you may enjoy this trip down memory lane. Hadn’t thought of their influence on Hunters and Collectors early on but you may well be right. Wonder if they are mentioned in Mark’s book – will check. There definitely was a back and forth influence between the Scottish Postcard bands and The Go-Betweens. And, of course, Edwyn also produced and played on one of Robert Forster’s solo albums. And, yes, ‘the lyric of What Presence’ is brilliant

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