Orange Juice

From the tear-stained faces that greeted the announcement of their dissolution at London’s Brixton Academy on 19 January 1985, it was clear that Orange Juice had commanded a rare devotion.

Beginning as the punk-inspired Nu-Sonics in late 1976, the band which eventually comprised Edwyn Collins (guitar / vocals), James Kirk (guitar), Steven Daly (drums) and David McClymont (bass) became Orange Juice in early 1979, adopting the name and a collectively fey demeanour as a reaction against the machismo into which punk had degenerated. It was still as a Nu-Sonic though, that Collins befriended a young botany student by the name of Alan Horne, whose enthusiasm for the band was not only to keep them together through the troubled times of their rebirth as Orange Juice, but also to provide them with an outlet for their music through the founding of the Postcard Records label.

Initial releases on the new Glasgow-based label proved to be a shared triumph of vision over both musical ability and financial resources. ‘Falling and Laughing’ recorded for under £100, and with an initial pressing of 1000, reaped immediate critical acclaim, as too did the subsequent singles ‘Blueboy’, ‘Simply Thrilled Honey’ and ‘Poor Old Soul’. However, although Postcard was eventually to establish itself an impressive roster of acts that included Aztec Camera, Josef K and the Go-Betweens, the label imploded with the loss of Orange Juice to Polydor in 1981.

It was an advance from Polydor which enabled them to complete the recording of their debut, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever (1982), an album which for many served as a negation of the purity of vision which had characterised the band’s previous output and the whole Postcard ethos. In retrospect it retains an enduring naiveté, exemplified by a rather ambitious rendition of Al Green’s ‘L.O.V.E’. Notably, though, the album featured guitar work from Malcolm Ross (ex Josef K) whose inclusion into the band’s line-up was to force a split with Kirk and Daly (who left to form the less-than-successful Memphis). Daly was replaced by Zimbabwean refugee Zeke Manyika, an altogether more accomplished player but one whose presence closed the door on all foreign touring options because of his then status as an illegal immigrant.

Presumably this was considered a price worth paying as Manyika’s rhythmic mastery undoubtedly enabled Collins to better realise his pop / funk aspirations. Certainly, the Rip It Up album (1982) proved an altogether more purposeful affair, despite its odd shifts of pace, veering from the uplifting, African-influenced ‘Hokoyo’ to Velvets-inspired ballads such as ‘Louise Louise’. It also delivered the band’s one UK Top 10 single, by way of the title track, a catchy slice of pure pop tomfoolery built around an elastic toe-tapping bassline.

Yet the album itself failed to better the No 21 chart placing attained by its predecessor and when subsequent singles failed to chart, Polydor’s commitment to the band began to waver. Indeed, relations between Collins in particular and Polydor, were fast reaching an impasse, and to make matters worse the group fragmented again in mid-1983, with McClymont and Ross decamping in pursuit of their own projects (Ross eventually resurfacing in Aztec Camera), though not before the recording of a six-track mini-album with reggae producer Dennis Bovell. Though brief, Texas Fever (1984) was far from insubstantial, with Bovell’s dubby production showcasing to great effect the fast-maturing songwriting talents of Collins and the confident musicianship of the band.

Down but not quite out, Collins fulfilled touring commitments with a makeshift band before returning to the studio to record The Orange Juice (1984), a dark, brooding classic in which his songwriting was by turns, wry, downbeat and disarmingly autobiographical – its most upbeat number proclaiming he was ‘going through a lean period’.

Polydor not surprisingly showed little interest in the work, and when the two singles ‘What Presence’ and ‘Lean Period’ stalled, the label acted to terminate Collins’ contract. Curiously, Manyika was retained as a solo artist, whereupon he gained a degree of critical favour but little in the way of commercial success. Edwyn Collins meantime, pursued a solo career, which has at last blossomed, into chart success.

Originally published in the first edition of The Rough Guide to Rock edited by Mark Ellingham & Jonathan Buckley (Rough Guides / 1996)