Just like he’s been doing for 40 years, Edywn Collins had an idea for a song. And just like he’s had to do for the past three years, given that he can no longer write on one of his treasured guitars, he got out his Sony Dictaphone.
“The chorus I got in an instant,” the 50-year-old Scottish musical legend remembers of Losing Sleep, the invigorating title track of his new, seventh solo album. “And the verse is dodgy. What to do? I know: try oo-oohs. Singing oo-oohs. And so on. I tried mucking about with the verse. And I thought, Seb will help me with the verse. And, no bother.”
Seb would help him. And so, it transpired, would Franz Ferdinand, The Drums, The Cribs, Johnny Marr, The Magic Numbers and Roddy Frame. Just some of the artists who’ve been inspired by the godlike Edwyn Collins, whether as leader of Orange Juice or as solo artist. Losing Sleep had lift off.
Seb is engineer and producer Sebastian Lewsley. He and Edwyn have been working together since 1992. They met in Sonet studio in Chiswick. Seb was the studio assistant and Edwyn was producing former Subway Sect frontman Vic Godard’s album The End Of The Surrey People. Edwyn and Seb bonded over a shared disregard for recording convention. That is, neither liked to muck about, both liked old gear, and neither had time for fussy musicians who endlessly faffed about trying to get their guitar sounds just-so.
When, in October 2008, Edwyn decided he wanted to make his first album since his catastrophic illness in 2005, Seb was the obvious right-hand man.
“We did each song in a day,” says Seb, “and a day consists of about four hours. So there’s a real expediency about how it’s recorded. The whole attitude of the album is just doing that. Not indulging anyone. Not having any band sitting round for days and days. ‘Have you got a guitar part yet? No? Just do it. You’ve got a coupla hours.’ They all looked quite petrified but they did it.”
At home in Kilburn, northwest London, on the evening of Sunday 20th February 2005 – sometime around Antiques Roadshow and midway through boiling the potatoes for dinner – Edwyn Collins suffered a stroke. Five days later he suffered a second stroke.
This singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, musical legend, accomplished wildlife artist and father-of-one was only 45.
Edwyn spent six months in hospital. As his partner Grace Maxwell put it succinctly in 2007: “The part of Edwyn’s brain that controls speech and language was very badly hurt.“
That is: he couldn’t speak, read, write. Nor, initially, could he sit up. Nor walk. He lost movement in his right side. He couldn’t feed himself. When he returned home to Kilburn in September 2005, the only words Edwyn Collins could say were “Grace”, “Maxwell”, “yes and ‘no’.
By early summer 2007, he – they – had been undergoing daily, arduous rehabilitation therapy for two intense but ultimately rewarding years. Rewarding because Edywn came back from, if not death, then something that had seemed at times hellishly close to that.
By 2009, Edwyn Collins was firmly back in the studio saddle. He and Seb rattled on with newfound – re-found – purpose.
“That conversation between Edwyn and the process of recording is coming back,” says Seb. “Which wasn’t so much there right back when we started recording. When we started mixing Home Again he didn’t want to do it. ‘Cause he didn’t understand it. Now he’s like, ‘hmmm, too much compression on that. You’re too close to the mic…’ He picks up on that now. The studio is more of an instrument again for Edwyn.”
Like the “outside” production assignments he and Seb have re-started, ‘Losing Sleep’ has also been part of his ongoing mental and physical rehabilitation.
“Yeah,” he declares, empathically, smilingly, brilliantly, “I’m back. And I like it.”