When Orange Juice split onstage in 1985, first on the bill at a miners’ benefit gig in Brixton Academy, grown men openly wept. Even Smash Hits lamented the sudden passing of such a great group before the venue was even full. Thus, Glasgow’s finest band exited much like they’d arrived – under most people’s radar.
Coals To Newcastle serves to right that wrong. Its seven discs lovingly wrap up Orange Juice’s six-year recording career in meticulous detail, with remastered versions of all their albums and a host of priceless extras. Considering they paved the way for bands like The Smiths, Haircut 100, The Wedding Present, Belle And Sebastian, Franz Ferdinand and countless others, this set belatedly repays a considerable historic debt.
Formed in suburban Glasgow in 1978, few people, least of all the band themselves, suspected such a quiet revolution was in progress. Their unassumingly off-kilter clash of punk, funk, pop, soul and disco did prick up discerning ears, particularly with the club-singer soul voice of frontman Edwyn Collins, whose witty, self-deprecating lyricism pre-dated Morrissey by a good few years. Their debut single ‘Falling and Laughing’, featuring the line, “only my dreams / satisfy the real need / of my heart”, being a perfect case in point.
The Glasgow School charts their initial rise on Alan Horne’s legendary Postcard Records Of Scotland label, featuring their four early singles and unreleased debut album Ostrich Churchyard. But the band’s move to Polydor yielded their debut proper, the perfectly imperfect You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, which sounds as energetic, creative and full of melodic genius as it did in 1982. A line-up change later (they were joined by influential Zimbabwean drummer Zeke Manyika), they released the cautiously experimental follow up Rip It Up in 1983, with the enduringly brilliant title track becoming their only UK Top 10 hit. Arguably, though, the best was yet to come: both the mini LP Texas Fever and their final album The Orange Juice featured many of Collins’s strongest songs, including ‘Bridge’ and ‘What Presence?!’ – but by then Polydor’s marketing department had lost interest. The end was sadly nigh.
Frustratingly, had this collection’s stunning BBC Sessions disc been released, Hatful Of Hollow-style, in 1984, it may not have taken 30 years to award Orange Juice their proper due. A DVD disc, featuring the band’s only two promo videos, their posthumous live video Da Da With (The) Juice and excellent footage from BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test, provides a weepingly wonderful visual climax to this most underrated band’s story. Thus, Coals To Newcastle is an essential document and a perfect tribute to one of the UK’s finest ever bands. What a presence, indeed.
Stream the album here.