Edwyn Collins on life after stroke and story behind hit Girl Like You

Former Orange Juice singer on performing hit song with Coldplay, his near-fatal stroke and why he's 'seizing the day'.

Edwyn Collins. A Scottish musician, producer, writer, occasional artist and the man behind legendary tracks Rip It Up and A Girl Like You.

Also one of the most charming, fascinating and talented men I have ever met, as I discovered when we were invited to his house and studio in Helmsdale in the north of Scotland.

We arrived at his home in the hills to be confronted with a stunning glass-fronted studio with a view out towards the sea. Think Grand Designs with an interior based around the stuff of musicians’ dreams. Guitars, mics, amps, synths, pedals and music memorabilia like I’ve never seen before.

“And that’s only some of it!” laughed Grace, Edwyn’s darling wife. More on the brilliant Grace later.

Edwyn Collins performs Girl Like You with Coldplay at Hampden

Edwyn first fell in love with music as a young boy growing up in Dundee, before moving to Glasgow.

His father was a classical music fan but, for Edwyn? He adored ukulele player George Formby.

A surprising first, for the man who later went on to form post-punk bands.

“I started the group when I was 17 – the Nu-Sonics it was called. In 1979 – I thought ‘what about Orange Juice’ as a name and the rest, they say, is history.”

It was in 1983, the group released single Rip It Up which reached number eight in the UK singles charts and is still adored to this day.

“It’s a good track. I still play that today,” the 63-year-old said.

Laughing, he added: “I ripped off Chic, Nile Rodgers with the rhythm guitar.”

Orange Juice in Camden in 1981

We’re sure he won’t mind…

Edwyn went solo in 1986 but it was in 1995 that his music went global, with the release of iconic track A Girl Like You.

“It’s about a mythical girl. I directly injected the fuzz tone,” he told me with delight.

A type of distortion in the guitar and one of the things I love about interviewing Edwyn: he’s a true music geek in the best sense of the word and comes alive when speaking about the intricacies of his tracks and the music-making process. 

Humble about the global success of the song, which was also featured in movies including Charlie’s Angels, he said: “I’m terribly lucky to have a huge hit.”

“The crowd go mad for A Girl Like You. It’s a weird experience – a good one though.”

And Edwyn got the chance to perform his huge hit at a huge show last year, when Coldplay invited him on stage to join them in a rendition of it.

“The guys were so nice to me,” Edwyn recalled, clearly relishing the memories of that moment.

Though ever the perfectionist, he was quick to put singer Chris Martin in his place when his version wasn’t quite up to Edwyn’s standards!

“Chris Martin sings a few words and then I said, ‘give me that guitar Chris. That’s wrong!’

Edwyn Collins, 1983: Orange Juice released second hit Rip It Up from their 1982 album of the same name  (Photo by Virginia Turbett/Redferns)

“He said ‘alright Edwyn, hold your horses!’ but in a nice way.”

I laughed: “Well, it’s your song so I think you had every right” and with a playful glint in his eye, he replied: “Yes and don’t you forget that Chris,” before adding: “in a nice way.”

It must have been quite a moment for Edwyn and his family, friends and fans to see him take to that stage at Hampden, especially given all he has been through.

In 2005, he had a stroke – two cerebral haemorrhages, which left him with aphasia and was gravely ill, with wife Grace warned that he might not make it.

Edwyn was only 45 years old.

“For six months in hospital I couldn’t say anything at all. Then, I am coming out of hospital and I wrote a song: I’m searching for the truth, I’m searching for the truth…”

Edwyn’s speech and mobility may have been affected but the music never left him; with the help of Grace and specialists, he got back on his feet and back ready to perform, playing at the likes of Glastonbury and T in the Park, as well as solo shows. An incredible feat.

Grace; a brilliant, formidable force was Edwyn’s rock and champion throughout his illness and recovery and seeing the pair together is something special.

The Bellshill-born music manager would shy away from any praise, I’m sure, but she’s so warm and frank – the crew and I immediately adored her.

She also put on a lovely spread of cakes and tea for which we were very grateful.

Edwyn with music manager wife Grace Maxwell

Edwyn is clearly still smitten too and when I asked if Grace is his muse, he replied: “Yes. She won’t like that but yes, in a sweet way.”

Eighteen years on from his stroke, Edwyn is recording a new album and working on perfecting his live performance skills, which he admits can still go awry.

“I sometimes f*** it up,” he said. “Don’t we all Edwyn, don’t we all,” I replied.

Edwyn and Grace left a lasting impression on me, my producer and camera man, quite unlike anyone we’ve been in the presence of before. They are just an incredible pair.

The singer rounded off our chat by saying: “Six months in hospital – I am so frightened to begin with and I’m not frightened any more.

“Life’s brilliant Laura. Seize the day, you must.” Edwyn is certainly doing that.

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