The scene is so humdrum...

Orange Juice existed in a surprisingly lengthy time frame. It comes as a shock when perusing their new box set 'Coals To Newcastle' to find out that they actually split in 1985, leaving behind them a back catalogue which stretches far beyond the initial indie pop template. With a huge range of releases, styles, band members and more to be covered, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

You must think me very naive...

Orange Juice are not and never have been nationalistic. It’s not accurate to use the band’s output as the signal for a uniquely Scottish pop – pop music in Scotland existed before and after Orange Juice. Edwyn Collins did not lead Runrig. Rather, the band are the product of a uniquely individual imagination, which happened to come of age in Scotland. The placing does, however, remain important. When Edwyn Collins sighs ‘me and you downtown’ on the band’s sole majestic hit ‘Rip It Up’ he is mocking the machismo culture of Glasgow, but in a manner which every young person could understand.

The subversion of masculinity plays a massive part in this. Forming as The Nu Sonics the band attempted to join The Velvet Underground and Chic – two groups with links to sexuality out-with the missionary position. Never a gay group, Orange Juice had an eloquent but not exactly old fashioned attitude to sex. Respect, for sure, but not at the expense of a bit of fun.
Orange Juice are men, but not manly – at least, not in a traditional sense. The band strip back masculinity in a way that The Sex Pistols threatened but never achieved. Their songs embody the same shimmering playfulness which fed the femininity of The Slits, defining a new way of connecting men and rock ‘n’ roll. Which is perhaps why women has found such a prominent role in the groups they inspired – Edwyn Collins is beautiful, but in an approachable way. The eloquent yet bumbling male counterpart to ‘Gregory’s Girl’.

Orange Juice - Blue Boy

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It’s often forgotten how funny Orange Juice were. Back in the late 70s Glasgow wasn’t a particularly funny place, mired as it was in heavy industry and sectarian difficulties. Equally, Britain as a whole was fairly unhip with jokes about black and Irish immigrants fairly commonplace on national television. What Orange Juice combated this with was a sharp wit, a knowledge of pop culture which – when taken en masse – could seem formidable. In ‘What Presence!?’ Collins mocks his own fringe, lambasting himself for trying to look like Roger McGuinn. In the middle of the punk wars, with the Futurists leading the way, it can’t be forgotten how daring this was. Or how daring it remains – how many new groups reference The Byrds?

Orange Juice, and their myriad of pop references, make more sense in the current decade than the 80s. In the post-internet age The Byrds entire back catalogue can be downloaded within an hour, while their greatest moments can be streamed on YouTube. Yet in 1979 the group were forced to hunt down a spare VHS, recorded from a derided ‘Golden Days Of Pop’ documentary. Orange Juice took the difficult road, which was to forego Futurism in favour of personality. Amidst the maelstrom of noisy post-punk the band spotted that the individual had been lost. All rock ‘n’ roll frees the individual, allows them three minutes to express themselves through someone else’s art.

Which is why Orange Juice succeed where the worst aspects of post-punk fail. There is no
hectoring tone, there is no refusal: in the world of Orange Juice everyone is permitted if they want to. And if they don’t – fine.

Orange Juice - I Guess I'm Just Too Sensitive

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Orange Juice were never perfect. The band rose up in an era of ‘perfect pop’ where the witticisms of Duran Duran could be endlessly dissected. But the group were never ‘perfect’ nor strictly ‘pop’ – one hit a career doth not make. Orange Juice remain enticing because they never reached their true potential, the band’s back catalogue becomes an inspiring series of possibilities, a collage of aborted starts and false endings. It became easy to pick up where they left off, because the band themselves stopped in so many places. The angular proto-indie of ‘The Glasgow School’. The slick white boy funk of ‘Rip It Up’. The confused Americana of ‘Texas Fever’. The gesture of defiance that was ‘The Orange Juice’.

Ultimately what counts isn’t record sales, but lives touched. Up until the release of ‘Coals To Newcastle’ the legacy of Orange Juice had been badly handled. Now fans can consume their entire output in one package. Yet releases come and go, and soon ‘Coals To Newcastle’ will drift out of print, the preserve of record geeks with large budgets and eBay accounts. What matters is how many people drift away inspired. How many people have their minds changed. How many people laugh, and wonder why they are laughing. Orange Juice remain important because they allow people to find a space which they can call their own.

Maybe that’s true... I fell for you and no one else....

Orange Juice - Coals To Newcastle is out now

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