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Music review: Edwyn Collins, Union Chapel, London


"The singing is no problem," Edwyn Collins maintains. "[But] the talking is a bit dodgy, to say the least."

The singer's gruff baritone, which has never been the most exquisite of instruments, is in remarkably good nick, given that he had two strokes in 2005, which resulted in impaired speech and an immobilised right hand (preventing him from playing guitar).

However, as he repeats, raspily, on new track "Forsooth": "I feel alive/ And I feel reborn". And the 53-year-old Scot certainly sounds like a man reborn on his compelling, soulful new album, Understated, which receives a generous airing in these rarefied surroundings.

The former frontman for Orange Juice, the hugely influential (everyone from Teenage Fanclub to Franz Ferdinand to Belle and Sebastian) but only briefly prominent Eighties indie-pop act, is one of our most unsung, great lyricists (also see Aidan Moffat, Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, Luke Haines). For example, there's the elegantly acerbic "Blue Boy", on which Collins snaps: "When he spoke she smiled in all the right places/ In her smile he saw the poison she tasted/ She wasn't listening to the sweet words/ He wasn't listening to her lying tongue." The Orange Juice track from 1980 is tonight's high spot and about as good as bittersweet pop gets.

Collins, lyrically, is again on piquant form with his latest record, particularly on the break-up tracks "Too Bad, (That's Sad)", a highlight tonight, and "Down the Line", which starts with the plea: "I wasn't there to comfort you/ I wasn't there to hold your hand/ I wasn't there to do my thing."

The material might be a tad downbeat, but this show feels celebratory. "Losing Sleep", the title track from his 2010 album, is robust and well-received. "Rip It Up", Orange Juice's jangly indie anthem and only hit, is still majestic, like a perfect blend of Eighties popsters Heaven 17, Haircut 100 and Scritti Politti. Collins follows it up with the once unavoidable (every shop, dentist surgery and radio station across the land persistently rammed this song down your throat) "A Girl Like You". Collins, as the enslaving anthem reaches its conclusion, starts to playfully twiddle his cane, which generates huge whoops from his loyal following.

The four-song encore - "Home Again", "Down the Line", "Blue Boy" and "Don't Shilly Shally" - are greeted with enormous warmth, and, at the finale, Collins triumphantly holds his cane aloft like He-Man. It's an uplifting experience.