Edwyn Collins: An elder statesman of rock, still young at heart

There has been much talk over the past anxious year about changing priorities, enjoying a slower pace of life, taking the time to be outside and in nature.
Edwyn CollinsEdwyn Collins
Edwyn Collins

There has been much talk over the past anxious year about changing priorities, enjoying a slower pace of life, taking the time to be outside and in nature.

Tell that to Scottish indie icon Edwyn Collins – he has been living this life in the coastal village of Helmsdale in Sutherland on and off (and now permanently on) for years.

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Ask him how he has spent the pandemic and he cheerfully details that he has been “taking it easy, relaxing, enjoying the countryside in the car, chilling out, shopping in Inverness, getting my hair cut…”

What does dapper Edwyn Collins’ lockdown hair look like?

“Fine,” he says. “Grace cut it.”

Grace is wife, manager, helpmate and soulmate Grace Maxwell, his rock following two severe strokes in 2005 and his foil in an entertaining interview double act. The erstwhile Orange Juice frontman has made a remarkable recovery, releasing four more albums – the latest, 2019’s Badbea, is named after a clearance village just north of Helmsdale – but while his musical brain is in fine fettle, his ongoing aphasia means that Maxwell is often on hand to cajole and correct. Nowadays, they are a couple who really do finish each other’s sentences.

Maxwell has been particularly protective of Collins’ health at this time. Even in sparsely populated, Covid compliant Sutherland, the couple have taken no chances and are only now emerging into social settings.

“In the Highlands, everyone’s been vaccinated,” says Collins. “You must get vaccinated.”

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He has no truck with social media conspiracy theories around vaccines. “I prefer newspapers, old-fashioned newspapers,” he says, before remembering, “I like Twitter.”

One welcome habit which continued through their extended hunker-down was Collins’ daily tweet, enthusiastically punting a YouTube clip of a fave rave from yesteryear, often classic power pop, Northern soul or doo-wop to brighten the day. “It’s totally random,” he says. “I pick something every 24 hours and post it.”

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“You stay in the friendly, happy zone, you don’t go into the controversial zone,” says Maxwell. “Don’t you think you were quite patient for the whole year, Edwyn?”

“Yeah, but so what? It was a nuisance at the same time but I got on with my songs in my studio. I’ve got several new songs on the go. I’m pleased with the results and it’s going well. And loads of bands came by.”

By which Collins means local musicians such as Cromarty singer/songwriter Tamzene and Wick-based indie quintet Neon Waltz booking time in his hillside Clashnarrow Studio, where he now records all his own music.

“In theory, we don’t really run as a commercial studio,” says Maxwell. “We decided that we don’t need to and we don’t want to. But that was just recently, about five minutes ago,” she chides her husband. “We’re talking about what you did during the lockdown…

“Oh yeah, back to the point…” he shrugs.

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It remains to be seen if Collins will air any new material when he plays in acoustic trio format at his forthcoming Edinburgh International Festival show. The Neu! Reekie! curated event is one of only two gig dates in the diary for now.

“What we don’t have on us anymore is any kind of pressure,” says Maxwell. “We’re the wrong side of 60 now and it would be a bit sad if we were going, ‘but what about the career?’”

“What career?” chuckles Collins.

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“That’s the spoiled situation that Edwyn find himself in as an elder statesman of rock,” says Maxwell.

“I’m young at heart,” he protests playfully.

With practised comic timing, Maxwell finishes the thought: “..and daft as a brush.”

Neu! Reekie! with Edwyn Collins, Edinburgh Park, 12 August. www.eif.co.uk

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