erasing clouds

Live Review: Edwyn Collins/The Alexander Brothers, Festival Club in the 'De Lust' Spiegeltent, Burns Festival, Ayr, 4th June 2004

by anna battista

"Auld Ayr, wham ne'er a town surpasses, For honest men and bonnie lasses," Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote in his famous ballad Tam o' Shanter. But nowadays, apart from "honest men" and "bonnie lassies", Ayr has become quite famous for the Burns Festival, a week of music, theatre and fun in honour of the Scottish bard. It's a shame, though, that this year a perverted mind put together on the same night The Alexander Brothers and Edwyn Collins. For those of you who ignore who the former are, I will simply say that they are probably the most kitsch band in the world. Usually dressed in kilts and singing songs about Scotland, Scotland or, erm, Scotland, brothers Tom (accordion) and Jack (vocals) have been going for more than forty years. They start their set barely ten minutes after the doors are open (you see, they have a limited autonomy time and by midnight they have to be put back in the freeze that hibernates and preserves them) and for almost 50 minutes the fans of Edwyn Collins are obliged to go through an embarrassing set complete of little dance routines and kilts flapping here and there. Though contemplating to start using hard drugs for the first time in my life to manage getting through their set, I incredibly survive this tartan tsunami of bad taste.

Edwyn Collins opens with an acoustic version of "Sitting Up", followed by "If You Could Love Me", the new track "Liberteenage Ray" and "Low Expectations", with Carwyn Ellis playing the organ. Edwyn stops playing a couple of times during this acoustic part of the show, because people in the audience (i.e. some Alexander Brothers' friends) are continuously talking, he rebukes them and tells them smiling that he's trying to be "a serious singer-songwriter". Ex-Sex Pistols' Paul Cook on drums and Andy Hackett on guitar join Edwyn and Carwyn on stage to deliver an angry rendition of "The Campaign for the Real Rock", ode against detestable summer festivals. To moderate the bitter anger of the track, Edwyn & Co. launch in "Make Me Feel Again", at the end of which all the lights on stage and one in particular which has been blinding the audience for too long, go off. Edwyn sarcastically jokes, saying he had expressly asked for all the lights to go off at the end of that particular track, "I knew the audience would love it", he adds. We laugh, but undefeated by the little accident (there will be no light for quite a while), they keep on playing. We are swept by the irresistible rhythms of "Keep On Burning", though one of the best moments comes when they play the Orange Juice classic "Falling and Laughing", followed by "Gorgeous George" and "Johnny Teardrop". At this point, Orange Juice/Collins fans start requesting songs, Edwyn very kindly accepts to play "Felicity", but he tells the guy who's requested it that he's got to go on stage and sing the refrain. Pure happiness sweeps the stage turning this track into the highlight of the night and in between a new song, "Then I Cried", and greatest hits such as "Bridge" and the triumphing "Rip It Up", and a rant against Morrissey which wins my personal applause and some booing from a guy in the front row, the gig ends with "A Girl Like You", defined by Edwyn as "a good song", no matter what people say about it.

After a two-minute break, Edwyn is called back on stage for an encore, but unfortunately, The Alexander Brothers follow him. I dread what's going to happen, but in the end they sing an exhilarating version of "Flower of Scotland", exhilarating because Edwyn admits he doesn't really know the lyrics and he's laughing behind the microphone half the time, though obviously, The Alexander Brothers seem to take things quite seriously. You see, their heart is still in the Highlands, to paraphrase Robert Burns. Edwyn Collins' heart is still, after 26 years of great songs, in good music.

Issue 24, June 2004

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All pics by Anna Battista