Pop

Edwyn Collins The Junction, Cambridge
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The Independent Culture
It is 13 years since Edwyn Collins and his jangly Scotpop band Orange Juice performed "Rip It Up" on Top of the Pops, wearing checked shirts. Yet the twentysomething audience for the first night of his comeback tour was wearing more plaid than would be thought decent at a lumberjack convention.

Cheap shots at the crowd aside, there is a crucial difference between Collins and the rash of other Eighties acts reviving memories of the yuppie decade: unlike Nick Heyward or the Human League, for example, he has managed to eclipse his former career.

Orange Juice's pioneering blend of indie rock and dance music proved influential, but never really hit the big time. Four fine albums yielded only a handful of minor hits, like "What Presence?!" and "I Can't Help Myself". Collins's solo efforts sold even less, until this summer, when he forced his way into the new Britpop hall of fame with "A Girl Like You", a thumping hit all over Europe.

His album, Gorgeous George, demonstrates a sound grasp of the textures of classic pop - from the bumblebee, Isley Brothers guitar of that first single to the funky wah-wah of its follow-up, "If You Could Love Me". So it was a surprise when he came out carrying only an acoustic guitar, and sang four songs alone.

The pretty-boy cheekbones had filled out (he is in his mid-thirties, after all), but a new song over-crammed with words like "contemptuously" and "aspirations" confirmed this was still the same old clever-but-clumsy Collins.

When a basic band did emerge, it produced a sound far funkier and heavier than anticipated. Predictably, the loudest cheers were for the oldies: "Come with me, if you will, for a trip down memory lane," he hammed, surprisingly self-consciously. "It is kind of corny doing that song after all these years," he mumbled after "Rip It Up".

The days of independent music are gone, he told a heckler who called for something from Orange Juice's time on the indie label Postcard. "I didn't want to say this to you, but we've sold out."

Not quite. The merchandising operation was a man selling T-shirts from a cardboard box. One was a football-style skinny-rib with "E Collins" and the number three on the back. For a while, Collins was like one of those old players they describe as the greatest never to play for their country: the best Scottish pop writer never to have had a really big hit. Suddenly, he's made the team.

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