It was with enormous personal pleasure, and not a little emotion, that I welcomed Edwyn Collins to 6 Music this morning, in my second week of filling in for Lauren Laverne (who, incidentally, gave birth to a baby which she has called Mack at close to 2am this morning, so big congrats). Edwyn was in to play a selection of tracks from his brand new album Losing Sleep, which can be listened to via the 6 Music website, if not today, then soon. The album is dressed, handsomely, in a wallpaper effect of Edwyn’s drawings of birds, which are exquisite enough, but all the more poignant as they have been – and continue to be – a major part of his rehabilitation.
It is well known that, in February 2005, Edwyn suffered two strokes, and subsequently a bout of MRSA in hospital, after which he was left paralysed and unable to speak. It was a horrible thing to happen to anyone, and the outpouring of support from his fans must have provided at least a wave of comfort, especially for Grace, Edwyn’s partner and manager, and their son William, who kept a hand on the internet rudder, and I think continues to run or oversee his father’s web operations. The whole thing was especially weird for me, as Edwyn had been a guest on my 6 Music show just two days before his collapse. He was a guest on Roundtable, and, despite complaining of nausea and vertigo – which he attributed to food poisoning – he was his usual, voluble, witty, eloquent self. Who knew that the next time I’d speak to him, five years later, he would still be recovering from that unusually cruel double blow. But, still alive. And not just still alive (the surgery he underwent was apparently pretty tricky), writing and performing. I’m sure there are other examples of this happening in terms of occupational and speech therapy, but it’s still astounding to think that while Edwyn has a lot of trouble speaking, he can sing like an angel – unchanged, in fact, from before the aneurysms. He walks with a stick, and his right hand is semi-frozen into a fist, but he music animates him and it’s a sight to behold. As well as a sound to behold.
Before 6 Music, Edwyn and I had met on many an occasion over the years, and got on very well. The first time I met him was in 1991, when he turned up at a Roddy Frame/Aztec Camera gig in Hamburg I had been sent to cover for the NME (in fact, it was Stuart’s feature, but he’d had to pull out at the last minute). Grace told me today, when I whipped out a print of this photograph, that Edwyn had been sent out to keep an eye on his pal Roddy, who was going through a “rock and roll” phase! Anyway, the pair of them formed an unofficial comedy double act, and kept me entertained long into the German night. I wish I still had the cassette.
Out of shot, because he was behaving like a misery that day, is Mick Jones of the Clash, who also guested with Roddy onstage (their song Good Morning Britain was a hit), but decided he didn’t want anything to do with the boy from the NME, and kept his distance. This only made me appreciate Edwyn and Roddy’s semi-paternal company even more. It was Tony Barratt who took this pic, by the way; I’ve had the print he kindly made me in my private collection ever since. (Will took the 6 Music shot.) It was great to be able to hand it to Edwyn, to stir up some memories, although I expect they are all the more powerful for him, as they are from his life pre-stroke. (I read in one article Edwyn’s illness described coyly as “a forced sabbatical”; I used this phrase while chatting to him on air today, and he butted in, bluntly: “I had a stroke.” He’s pragmatic about it, and I guess you have to be if you’re to claw your way back to working order and put it behind you.)
As expected, love poured in via Twitter and email and text for Edwyn, and the songs, personal of course albeit upbeat and rocking, hit the mark. I saw him play last year at the Edinburgh Festival, at the Assembly Hall, and it was moving and entertaining in equal measure – the sort of thing you never thought you’d see again during the darkest years. But something about Edwyn’s soul got him through. And those birds.
He’s off on tour. If you can, go and see him. What presence!
He kind of puts things into perspective. And I’m worried about a bit of dental work.