The Possibilities Are Endless


Last night I was lucky enough to be part of a sold out audience at the Glasgow Film Theatre for a preview screening of The Possibilities Are Endless, a documentary that tells the remarkable story of how Edwyn Collins survived two brain haemorrhages, a coma and MRSA and went on, against the odds, to re-establish his reputation as one of the country’s finest songwriters, releasing acclaimed new albums and touring extensively in Britain and abroad.

Opening with a clip of Collins performing on American chat show staple Late Night With Conan O’Brien, at a point when his biggest solo hit, A Girl Like You was climbing pop charts around the planet, the documentary quickly swerves off in a more experimental direction using fragmented voice-overs from both Edwyn and his wife, Grace, who explain the circumstances of his devastating health problems.

It’s a technique that cleverly mirrors the jumbled mind of Edwyn at the time – his memory had been just about erased in the wake of the strokes and he could only utter a couple of words, yes and no; a name, Grace Maxwell; and one phrase: ‘the possibilities are endless’, a line from the Velvet Underground song Some Kinda Love, that somehow lodged in the singer’s brain (without him recognising the source) and which he kept repeating while hospitalised.

There’s some stunning, sometimes almost abstract cinematography in this section of the documentary, much of it shot in and around the small coastal village of Helmsdale in the far north of Scotland, where Collins’ family have owned a home for generations and where Edwyn and Grace are now living.

Here the skies are often grey and the winds harsh but the landscape always remains beautiful. At one point a tree falls in the middle of a small forest for little discernable reason, a direct reference perhaps to the apparent randomness of what happened to Edwyn.

The Possibilities Poster

Encouraged every step of the way by Grace, Edwyn slowly – sometimes agonizingly slowly – relearns how to walk and to draw, how to read and write, how to sing again and even how to compose new songs – and it truly is amazing that he’s not only remastered the art of writing pop tunes like Down the Line from last year’s album Understated (which also crops up in the soundtrack here) but that he’s also composed much of the wonderfully atmospheric score of The Possibilities Are Endless.

Images of present day Edwyn and Grace are accompanied by sequences of a young couple played by Edwyn’s son Will – a dead ringer at times for Edwyn in his early Orange Juice days – and Yasmin Paige, the star of Richard Ayoade’s 2010 film, Submarine and, as Edwyn pieces together more and more of his past, we increasingly see more and more archive footage of an impressively quiffed ‘Pop Star’ Edwyn.

Interestingly, the documentary eschews the talking heads approach but is content to proceed at a relatively slow pace throughout to better reflect the very gradual improvements in Edwyn’s health. It also seldom strays anywhere near sentimentality, Grace, for instance, admitting that sometimes she misses the old Edwyn, explaining there’s no point denying the fact, and here I should say that Grace is an absolutely integral part of the film.

Inevitably, you’ll find yourself wondering how you would cope in a similar situation to Collins. Hopefully if you ever do have to deal with relearning walking, talking, reading and the rest, then you’ll have a Grace too.

A Q&A followed the screening, with playwright David Grieg also interviewing Edwyn and Grace (a fantastic double act) and one of the directors, Edward Lovelace. My favourite question being from a guy who asked Edwyn how sore was it when Grace cut his nails. The answer being: ‘Very sore.’

You have to have seen the film. Honestly.

Edwyn then performed a short set of four songs which included Home Again and Don’t Shilly Shally, ending the evening on a perfect note.

The singer obviously has close links with Glasgow – the Art School, where Orange Juice played their first ever gig is only a minute’s walk from the GFT and the old home of Postcard Records in West Princes Street is just a relatively short walk away too and yes, there’s busloads of goodwill towards Edwyn just now and a lot of old pals had trooped along to see the film; everybody desperately wanted to enjoy it, in fact, it received two rounds of applause before it even started, one just prior to when some assumed it was about to begin and then one for Stephen Pastel’s introduction. Almost inevitably, it received another during its end credits too but it did definitely deserve it.

More than a few tears were shed by some across its eighty two mesmerizing and moving minutes, believe me, but afterwards I’m sure that the abiding feeling for a big majority of the cinema-goers as they stepped out the foyer into a damp Glasgow night was one of optimism and amazement at the resilience of the human spirit.

It’s obviously a must-see for Edwyn and Orange Juice fans and indie fans generally but should surely also speak to a much wider audience. Along with All This Mayhem, it’s a contender for my favourite documentary of the year.

Here’s Edwyn, with an ex-Pistol on drums, performing A Girl Like You on the Conan show mentioned earlier:

The Possibilities Are Endless is due for release by Pulse Films in UK cinemas on 7th November 2014, although it can be viewed before there on iTunes.

For more on the film click here.
And for more on the film and Edwyn generally, visit his AED label here.
For his Facebook page click here.

The Glasgow Mix Tape

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Did anybody watch the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games?

Events like this really aren’t ‘my thing’, I’ve always been impressed by Danny Boyle’s films since Shallow Grave but despite him being appointed artistic director of the Olympics bonanza a couple of years ago, I just couldn’t muster the necessary enthusiasm to watch a single moment of the extravaganza he put together to kick off London 2012.

Being a Glaswegian, though, curiosity did get the better of me on Wednesday night so around nine o’clock I switched on my TV and settled down to see what sort of spectacle would be on show at Celtic Park.

Unusually the city was bathed all day in sunshine, the temperature reaching as high as 25 degrees C – the only thing higher being the price of drinks inside the stadium: £20 for four pints with shorts even pricier. Hopefully bucketloads of bevvy wouldn’t be required by spectators to enjoy the evening ahead.

We’d been promised the ceremony would be ironic and subversive so when Karen Dunbar and John Barrowman appeared first up with a dreadful song and dance number written especially for the show, I thought maybe it was a joke and that after somebody like the Krankies were introduced up next that maybe Ewan McGregor would quickly appear to recreate his ‘It’s shite being Scottish’ rant from Trainspotting and that things could actually get very interesting.

Okay, I didn’t really think this and the much touted potential audience of one billion plus was down by at least one within minutes. Time for some of Scotland’s national drink.

When I did flick on my remote back I caught a silver suited and more than slightly hoarse Rod Stewart croaking his way at times through Rhythm of My Heart and then Susan Boyle, a woman whose popularity has always remained an absolute mystery to me, performing what seemed like a shortened version of Mull of Kintyre which just wasn’t short enough.

Apparently I missed a giant kilt, hordes of people dressed as Tunnock’s tea cakes, loads of chairs being moved around by dancers along an old Andy Stewart tune and the aforementioned Ewan McGregor starting the ball rolling for some charity fundraising for Unicef.

In retrospect a better idea than my Mark Renton one. And if you’d like to donate five pounds to that appeal text FIRST to 70333.

My TV did go back on again an hour or so later and before I’m dismissed as a ‘detractor’ I’m happy to admit that things had improved. The athletes all seemed to enjoy parading round the multicoloured track (a little Jim Lambie-esque) and taking selfies. The English team arrived to a genuinely warm applause – so much for the Telegraph’s predictions that they might be booed and the stadium went berserk for the Scots, who arrived to The Shamens’ Move Any Mountain in their apparently controversial team outfits, which looked fine and dandy to me. Not that you’re likely to see me dressed in any garb like that the next time I make my way down London Road or Sauchiehall Street.

Billy Connolly, via a recorded message, told the story of Glasgow signalling the city’s support for the campaign to free Nelson Mandela by renaming St George’s Place to Nelson Mandela Place, a decision devised to cause maximum embarrassment to the South African consulate housed there.

Then it was time for the great and the good (I’m guessing) to spout clichés and (I’m guessing) engage in some political point scoring during (I’m guessing again) some very long winded speeches.

TV back off and onto Soundcloud for me where I listened again to the three tracks on new Glaswegian band Lola in Slack’s demo produced by former Simple Mind Mick MacNeil. Much more like the thing.

the Glasgow Mixtape

The bill for the Glasgow Mix Tape event taking place on this Saturday (2. August) is also much more to my taste than anything I witnessed at Parkhead on Wednesday night.

On Glasgow Green that day there will be everything from the Dixieland jazz of Penman’s Jazzmen to the good time ska of The Amphetameanies but the day will mainly reflect what the organisers, the East End Social describe as ‘the city’s extraordinary heritage for independent music making’.

Highlights for me should include The Phantom Band, an acoustic set from Edwyn Collins and, headlining the Living Room stage, Lloyd Cole and The Leopards – who can be seen below on Later performing Women’s Studies:

And this is Edwyn Collins accompanied by Paul Cook on drums doing Losing Sleep, the title track of Edwyn’s seventh solo album:

Keep the faith!

For more on the East End Social click here.

For more on the fantastic Lola in Slacks click here.

Independent Scotland #1


Nothing to do with next year’s referendum but instead an occasional series that will take a look at some of the finest records released on Scottish independent labels from the 1970s to the present day. And to kick things off:



West Princes Street is situated in what is considered by many to be Glasgow’s bohemian quarter, the West End, a part of the city that almost inevitably finds the adjective trendy affixed to it. Running parallel to a section of Great Western Road dotted with pubs and only a shortish walk away from both Glasgow Uni and Charing Cross, no. 185, West Princes Street, a tenement flat rented by Alan Horne was, at the dawn of the 1980s, about to become the focal point of the independent music movement north of the border.

The first Orange Juice single Falling and Laughing had seen the band and label immediately feted by local fans and the London-based music press, well, apart from Danny Baker in NME, who accidentally reviewed the B-side, the instrumental, Moscow, calling the band ‘a lightweight brother of The Durutti Column’.

He also reviewed the debut single of another young Scottish band on the same page, deeming Chance Meeting by Edinburgh’s Josef K ‘a passable Lou Reed’. They were promptly signed by Postcard and Horne booked time at Castle Sound Studios in Pencaitland near Edinburgh, where in the space of a day both Postcard acts recorded their second singles, Orange Juice laying down Lovesick and Blue Boy in the morning with Josef K using the time remaining to record Radio Drill Time and Crazy to Exist.

2,000 copies of each 45 was pressed and to save on printing costs 4000 shared sleeves were printed up and folded over in half, one way for Orange Juice, the other way for Josef K. Horne and the Orange Juice lads then must have sent long hours personalising their batch of the Sharon Acker designed black and white sleeves.

Orange Juice Blue Boy front & back

I’ve seen a number of these with quite colourful and eye-catching artwork but my own current copy, as you can see, has only some fairly minimal interventions, some straight and some squiggly lines drawn in blue, yellow and green felt pen.

As for my first copy of the record, that went missing in action, when and where I have no idea. That cover featured a ginger cat and multi-coloured hatched lines which I decided one night to ‘improve’ on by felt penning both faces pink and adding hundreds of dots in a variety of colours all over the outside of the tilted square that contains the main illustration, so it ended up looking kind of Roy Lichtenstein meets aboriginal art. This probably wasn’t one of my more inspired ideas although at the time I thought it looked fabby.

Released in August 1980, Blue Boy and Lovesick helped send the buzz emerging around Postcard into overdrive, and two of the most influential critics of the time, NME’s Paul Morley and Dave McCullough of Sounds began an Orange Juice praisefest within the pages of their respective inkies, McCullough headed north to investigate the ‘The Sound of Young Scotland’ and returned to London proclaiming Postcard as ‘the brightest hope I have seen for a very long time’ in a two page article Postcard From Paradise, while Paul Morley met up with Alan Horne and Edwyn Collins and wrote: ‘Orange Juice compose breath-taking pop that extends the art form still further, and have the look and humour, as well as the songs, to be enormously successful.’

Needless to say, additional copies were soon having to be pressed to keep up with demand, though this time they came in a plain ‘cowboy’ style sleeve that came without the added artwork.

Orange Juice Blue Boy Version 2