Edwyn Collins: ‘Everything changed when my stroke happened’

The singer, 59, on bad reviews, the joy of being alive, his new record and birdwatching all day

I used to be quite an angry young man. I was really opinionated – had lots to say. And I was obsessed with reading anything that was written about me. If there was anything negative I took it deeply to heart. When I was in Orange Juice I could quote you word for word anything bad that had been written about us. Our album Rip It Up got a roasting in the NME and I was so upset I refused to get on the tour bus. I was like that for a long time. And then my stroke happened. Everything changed.

Losing the ability to speak was terrifying. In 2005 I had two cerebral haemorrhages, which left me with aphasia. I was in hospital for six months and for all that time I couldn’t speak… I was just inside my mind. I was so scared. My wife, Grace, would come to see me every day, and I could tell that she knew I was scared, but I couldn’t express what I was feeling to her. Thanks to my therapist I’ve got an awful lot back that I lost. They’ve given me my life back.

Illness reworks your personality. I’m very mellow now. I look back on some things I said when I was a young man and I think they were a bit cruel. I have real peace now. Mainly because I know what’s important to me in a way that I never did. I’m grateful to be alive. I say that out loud a lot these days. I can be recording in the studio, or out walking, and I’ll actually say, “I’m so happy to be alive!” It’s a cliché, but you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Very little gives me pleasure like British birds. It’s not very rock’n’roll, but I can watch the birds flying all day. When I was six, my mum got me a present, The AA Book of British Birds. I’ve still got it, obviously. After my illness, looking at birds became a way of relaxing and working things out in my head. I like to sketch them. They’re brilliant.

I’m really interested in things that others might find haunting. My new record is named Badbea, after a ruined village on the east coast of Caithness. It’s on a clifftop and only 50 or 60 people ever lived there. It was a clearance village, where people were moved to after the Highland Clearances. It only lasted a few generations because it was such a ridiculous place to live. The weather can be so bad there that they used to have to tie ropes around children and livestock so that they wouldn’t blow away. I like that.

I love social media. It’s great for my mental health. I might be the only person who’s ever said that, right? Because of the stroke, I can’t read any more… not anything of any length, like a book. But writing a tweet, within so few characters, has done wonders for teaching me how to formulate sentences again. And losing what I lost was so isolating. Having the ability to communicate with people directly has been huge for me. I like getting feedback from people wishing me well. I think I might be a bit of a slag!

‘Badbea’ is out now on AED. Edwyn Collins is on tour in the UK during August and September (edwyncollins.com)

Contributor

James McMahon

The GuardianTramp

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