Posts Tagged ‘Ostrich Churchyard’

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Even if you hate every note that Glasgow’s Orange Juice recorded in their early 1980s heyday, it would be almost impossible not to admire their guts. Scotland had caught on to punk late. When it did, audiences steadfastly clung to the troglodytic cartoon peddled by Sham 69 and Sid Vicious. Gigs were big on spitting and violence. There may have been more dangerous places to perform the songs collected on “The Glasgow School” – alternately sarcastic and romantic, invariably limp-wristed, and equipped with fruity lyrics about frolicking in the dew and doting on awfully pretty girls – but you couldn’t have reached them without joining the SAS.

Orange Juice fused new wave vibrancy with sun-dappled mid-1960s pop and disco. Under punk’s scorched-earth policy, the former was strictly verboten, but the latter constituted a flagrant incitement to public disorder. Orange Juice’s three albums, along with compilations of various shapes and sizes, have floated in and out of print throughout the years.

The four singles and unreleased debut album Orange Juice recorded for indie label Postcard in 1980 and 1981 still seem faintly miraculous. That is partly because of their remarkable musical content: there has never really been anything like it since, although not for want of trying. It is partly down to the subversive tang that clings to their greatest songs. The gleeful chant of “no more rock’n’roll for you!” on 1981’s Poor Old Soul sounds like a manifesto.

Instead, Orange Juice became, first, Britain’s hippest band, then bona fide pop stars – their big hit was 1983’s “Rip It Up” – and finally, an influence on everyone from the Smiths to Belle and Sebastian and Franz Ferdinand. The Glasgow School explains why. They were the first band to notice that the Velvet Underground’s agitated, trebly strumming bore a surprising correspondence to both the scratchy funk guitar of Chic’s peerless disco anthems and Northern Soul’s staccato chords. Both songs on their 1980 single “Blue Boy/Love Sick” sound breathlessly thrilled at this discovery: stomping Wigan Casino drums, funk basslines, piercing solos and jangling guitars all fighting for space. Even today, the excitement is infectious.

Orange Juice just couldn’t stop themselves writing gorgeous melodies. The starry-eyed swoon of Dying Day and the dizzy ebullience of Wan Light or Tender Object were strong enough to withstand the cheap studios and the band’s endearingly ramshackle musicianship. The unlikely mainstream success of Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You,” the history of post-punk, or the birth of indie pop. “The Glasgow School”, released in 2005 by Domino Recordings, contains the band’s four singles for Postcard, the bulk of Ostrich Churchyard (a disc released in 1992, containing early versions of what would become 1982’s You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever), a Stars on 45-style version of “Simply Thrilled Honey,” and a crude cover of the Ramones’ “I Don’t Care.”

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For a lot of people, the material here (dating no later than 1981) is where Orange Juice begins and ends. The band signed to Polydor soon after the latest song on this disc was recorded, and they promptly gave their sound a coat of shiny wax — so they helped invent indie pop, only to abandon it before their first album. Though the notion extends throughout Orange Juice’s discography, they were nothing if not fearless. What other way is there to describe lyrics like “I wore my fringe like Roger McGuinn’s/I was hoping to impress/So frightfully camp — you laughed,” or their wholly convincing (if occasionally gawky) way of bouncing the jangly folk-rock of the Byrds off the fat-bottomed disco drive of Chic, all the while creating an identity all their own? Both the singles and the Ostrich Churchyard takes are as crafty as they are crude, and if you can’t get past the amateurishness, there’s plenty of winsome attitude to win you over. This disc serves as proof that, along with Josef K, Associates, Altered Images, Simple Minds, Cocteau Twins, and the Scars, Orange Juice helped make Scotland a very productive resource during the post-punk/new wave era.

Weaker tunes would certainly have buckled beneath Edwyn Collins’ unique approach to vocals. A couple of months ago, the website where Grace Collins has courageously documented her husband’s recovery from a cerebral haemorrhage reported that he had been singing again, adding that “his tuning needs working on”. “Grace,” one fan gently replied, “his tuning always did need work.” In fact, you could spend all day throwing adjectives at Collins’ voice on The Glasgow School and still not come up with a satisfactory description. Occasionally, he sounded like a Caledonian Bryan Ferry attempting to croon while balancing marbles on his tongue and stifling a fit of the giggles. Usually he sounded more peculiar than that.

What should have been irritatingly affected is charming. This may have something to do with the words Collins sang. Displaying his famed capacity for candour and even-handedness, Morrissey has never conceded his debt, but he was definitely taking notes. Collins‘ lyrics are rich with the same jaded sarcasm, arcane language and rarefied romantic longing. Striking lines whizz past with startling regularity: “The fun begins as soon as you stop your whining”; “To put it in a nutshell, you’re a heartless mercenary”; “Sorry to moan but it’s what I do best”.

Inevitably, perception of The Glasgow School has been changed by Collins’ illness. For a brief and horrible moment, it looked as if an album intended to reaffirm Orange Juice’s place among the pantheon of truly great British bands might become a memorial for their former leader. Now, with Collins apparently improving, it feels like a particularly potent get well soon message. Pop music needs unique and innovative talent. As The Glasgow School proves, they come no more unique and innovative than this.

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