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)


James McMahon

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Lee 'Scratch' Perry: ‘My pants are telepathic. Everything I wear is telepathic’
The musician, 82, tells James McMahon about dreaming up songs, giving up drink and teaching Bob Marley how to be happy

James McMahon

06, Oct, 2018 @1:00 PM

Article image
Bootsy Collins: ‘LSD was a big part of why I left James Brown’s band’
The musician, 66, tells Candice Pires about free love, Funkadelic, coming to earthly consciousness and getting away from being Bootsy

Candice Pires

28, Oct, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
Akala: ‘I saw someone get stabbed when I was 12'
The activist and rapper, 35, on justice for Grenfell, knife crime, Shakespeare and reincarnation

Michael Segalov

23, Mar, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
Joan Jett: ‘When I’m away I FaceTime my two cats’
The singer, 60, tells Hanna Hanra about the hardcore Runaways, coming to London in the 70s and hanging out on a houseboat with Sid and Nancy

Hanna Hanra

03, Nov, 2018 @2:00 PM

Article image
Toni Braxton: ‘I regret not having more sex when I was younger’
The singer, 52, tells James McMahon about discovering her talent, meeting Stevie Wonder and the downside of her religious upbringing

James McMahon

29, Aug, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
Karen O: ‘When I fell off the stage it was time for a rethink’
The Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs singer, 39, tells Candice Pires about music, marriage, motherhood and her own mum’s rebel streak

Candice Pires

20, Jan, 2018 @2:00 PM

Article image
Trudie Styler: ‘When I feel things strongly I have to act on them'
The actor, 65, on the road accident that scarred her, following her dreams – and being with Sting for 37 years

Nick McGrath

07, Apr, 2019 @1:00 PM

Article image
Edwyn Collins | Live review
Edwyn Collins proves himself to be more than just the indie Lazarus, says Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

14, Aug, 2010 @11:05 PM

Article image
Belinda Carlisle: ‘After my cocaine use, I can’t believe I’m not dead’
The Go-Go’s singer, 58, on wanting to be the bad girl, discovering Buddhism and how her marriage survived her addictions

Ruth Huntman

12, Aug, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
Priscilla Presley: 'My fear is that people will forget about Elvis'
The businesswoman, 71, on meeting Elvis at 14, getting older and growing up in the spotlight

Shahesta Shaitly

22, Oct, 2016 @1:00 PM