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Falling and Laughing but still singing like an angel – Edwyn Collins – Shepherds Bush Empire
By Paul Cunniffe
You know sometimes there is a gig that just grabs you, well this one did me. Edwyn Collins was playing in London. The boy from Edinburgh, ex – lead singer of Orange Juice and solo artist, formerly signed up to Postcard and later Polydor was touring. So, here we go, another early 1980`s artist is trying to move in on the late 30 early 40 something’s who fancy a night out reliving yesteryear with their wives, partners or mates; well not quite.
Maybe Edwyn was actually continuing the pursuance of artistic need.
The truth is Edwyn Collins was re-constructing his life.
When Collins had fronted Orange Juice and crooned, he had met with critical acclaim, but when in 1982 he sang “Rip it up and start again” he didn’t know just how much these lyrics would come back and haunt him. Back then, Edwyn Collins was just another good looking boy from Scotland, along with the late Billy Mackenzie and Roddy Frame
However, in February 2005 Collins suffered a Cerebral hemorrhage, followed quickly by another before an operation was carried out, which no doubt saved his life.
In short Edwyn Collins had suffered two major CVA`s (Cerebral Vascular Accidents), bleeds, strokes, call them what you like, but more importantly he had survived and now he was performing again.
What should not be underestimated is the determination, pain, fears, anxiety, resilience and most importantly courage, to actually re- build a shattered life and career.
In the mid 1990`s I suffered three strokes myself and knew what Collins had gone through to rebuild his life. Although I had three bleeds and Edwyn two, I had actually been luckier than him, the bleeds had been on the right hand side of my brain, affecting the left hand side of my body. This is important, because although I had lost the use of my left arm I had no problems with speech. Ask any Neurologist what the most important bodily function is and no, I don’t just mean sense, I mean bodily function, they will say “speech”.
Sadly Edwyn Collins has suffered damage to the left hand side of his brain and his speech has been affected, but perversely not his singing, which is obviously a massive plus; because the man can sing like an angel.
The Shepherds Bush Empire stalls were full, the lights went down and the spotlight went up, as on walked a cool looking man with a black cane, black jacket with white shirt and a little assistance. He sat down in front of a song sheet, and opened up with “Falling and Laughing”, personally I love an opening song of quality and he didn’t fail to deliver.
Between songs Edwyn talked to the audience, his speech has been severely impaired. I knew the hours of speech therapy would and could never be appreciated by the audience, but the man can still perform. I mean he really can, “Poor old Soul”, “Rip it up” and a “Girl like you” as well as a few new ones, he had no problem.
Sometimes you still need your mates and he had them in abundance. Guitar, Roddy Frame, drums Dave Ruffy and bass Campbell Owens. Throughout the set Frame’s guitar was paramount, it was like Aztec Camera at times with Collins on vocals, but to be fair at no time did Roddy Frame endeavour to steal the limelight. A playful few chords of “Oblivious” when he was introduced, which brought a cheer but nothing more.
There’s always one who thinks it’s a request evening and on one occasion there was a quite vociferous request from a member of the audience, but Edwyn replied by saying “I don’t remember, I did have a stroke you know?” (Nice one Mr. Collins, keep it up)
No doubt Edwyn Collins has a set in front of him and he can’t just “wing it” like most artists; cognitively he’s not in that position. The hours of preparation are no doubt endless and this will continue. It’s all about learning and relearning and then repeating. Imagine not been able to come back with a quick one liner or not being able to argue your point, frustrating is not the word.
I can only draw on personal experience. I had been discharged from a neurological rehabilitation clinic in January 1997 and in September 2000 I walked into the Nou Camp in Barcelona to watch Leeds play F.C. Barcelona in a Champions League game. I could have cried that night as I looked around me. All I could think about was I nearly didn’t make this.
The 4-0 defeat was irrelevant, Michael Duberry played, enough said. He even collided with Lucas Radebe who was stretched off with concussion and rushed to hospital for a brain scan, the irony was unreal.
When Edwyn Collins first sang again he must have nearly been in pieces. To walk on stage for the first time again was no doubt more nerve racking than when he did it as a self assured young man. The sense of achievement must have been immense because of what he and his family have gone through.
He has come a long way and I get the feeling this is not a one off. He is a creative individual and will no doubt be inspired by what he has achieved in the last three years. Edwyn Collins’s battle is not over, because every morning he will wake and shake hands with his permanent disability. Any man who has come this far will know that he doesn’t want to go back. He will never forget what he has been through, truth is he can’t, nor should he.
But when he performs again near me I just might be there. Not out of pity or empathy but because the man is a class act and sadly nowadays there aren’t many of them about.
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