It’s already a minor miracle that former Orange Juice frontman and informally acknowledged national treasure Edwyn Collins is still able to walk and talk given the sudden and potentially cataclysmic brain haemorrhages he suffered eight years ago (for more information his wife Grace Maxwell’s book about the trauma and Edwyn’s recovery is highly recommended). That he’s been able to resume his recording career with albums as brilliant as Losing Sleep and the new Understated as well as putting on shows as energetic and life-affirming as last night’s might be taken as positive proof of a higher power in the universe…if you didn’t know that that’s the type of ludicrous hyperbole that would make the man in question wince. Collins’s approach is resolutely down to earth, despite his gift for disarming lyrical flourishes, and while it may be a legacy of his condition and the way his near-death experiences forced him to re-learn language from scratch that his song introductions are almost comically deadpan and matter of fact you can’t help feeling that the refreshing absence of rock’n’roll airs and graces in his presentation suits his intimate and honest material perfectly.
There are two supports, both featuring players from the main man’s backing band, and first up are Bullies, a young and almost defiantly ordinarily dressed trio. It takes a while for the penny to drop that the bassist and lead vocalist is in fact Edwyn’s son Will, and while this might seem a fairly blatant bit of nepotism I’ve got to say this band isn’t half bad: while the tempo, format and chugging basslines initially suggest a grungey Nirvana/Dinosaur Jr. influence some catchy melodies do cut through, and the guitarist is able enough to vary the sound with some jazzy chords and clearly audible riffs and picking. Will doesn’t say too much between numbers but when he sings his voice is fine, and he sensibly sticks to playing root notes while he’s doing it (how do people like Sting and Phil Lynott play the bass and sing at the same time? It’s impossible!)
It’s immediately obvious that the five-piece Colorama, on the other hand, are already highly accomplished and confident enough to swap instruments around with aplomb. The Brian Jones haircut and sharp suit sported by leader Carwyn Ellis gives you the clue as to where they’re at musically: dense, funky, psychedelic grooves topped off with electric piano and highly adept harmonies. It’s like they’ve walked straight out of a subterranean late 60s nightclub where the walls are painted purple and everything’s seen through a fish-eye lens. They’re no mere Austin Powers-style pastiche though – despite the flowery musicianship their pieces are in the main taut and disciplined, with proper tunes and only a couple of rambling instrumental interludes. The best psych-folk band to come out of Wales this century, probably.
After the break, and right on time, the main act appears, with Edwyn finding his way over to a bass amp positioned centre stage on which he perches for the duration of his set, slightly in the manner of a hip, but not to be crossed, English teacher. Without any ceremony he announces “Orange Juice. Falling And Laughing” and his band (in which Ellis reappears, this time as bassist and keyboard player) launch into a joyous version of said joyous debut single, a coup that a wilier band leader might have held back for the encore. You sense pretty quickly though that Edwyn’s not got much truck with showmanship – he’s here to play the songs he wants to play, be they over thirty years old or newly released, and in this context the songs fit together seamlessly, glorious uplifting lilting odes supported by full-bodied and vigorous arrangements that for once at The Junction are mixed so well that you can pick out every instrument. It’s a brilliant gig. Edwyn has a lectern of song lyrics by his side but scarcely glances at it, and manages to keep the crowd entertained between songs via his pithy reminisces and cheeky remarks to his wife. He brings out Will to sing back-up vocals on a couple of songs, and while the younger man’s clearly self-conscious he’s also happy to be there, and not afraid to tell his old man to get a move on when Edwyn loses the thread during one song’s introduction. There are even moments when some old school rock’n’roll grandstanding is indulged, with guitarist James Walbourne let off the leash for some full-on soloing at the end of the set, though one suspects this is cover to let the singer make a dignified exit before the rest of the band. The main set ends with Edwyn’s two big hits Rip It Up (complete with authentically squelchy keyboard sounds) and A Girl Like You (which must be the only worldwide smash ever to feature the word “allegorically”), but there’s a treat in store for the encore in the form of the two ballads Home Again and It Dawns On Me, for which Walbourne and Ellis provide accompaniment on acoustic guitars.
This was a great evening, with three bands that were all worth the time, a genuine living legend and some wonderful songs. Catch him if you can.
Setlist: Falling And Laughing, Make Me Feel, What Presence, 31 Years, Ghost Of A Chance, Understated, Dying Day, Too Bad (That’s Sad), In Your Eyes, Losing Sleep, Dilemna, Rip It Up, A Girl Like You. Encores: Home Again, It Dawns On Me, Blue Boy, Don’t Shilly Shally