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Over the Wall – #10

August 11, 2009

This week, the second part of a look at the Postcard Records roster.

Edition #10 – Postcard of Scotland, Part 2: Orange Juice and Josef K.

Two bands, two cities, and two sides of a sound. Josef K and Orange Juice’s singles for Postcard Records constituted the bulk of the label’s output and the two groups formed an influential, yet not quite evenly-situated duo. Here, we’ll be looking at the two in the Postcard context and establishing what separated them.

When talking about Postcard Records, we need to begin with Orange Juice, who were the reason the label existed in the first place. Label owner Alan Horne co-funded the first Orange Juice single along with members of the band in 1980, beginning a happening that completely changed Scottish music at the time. That release, “Falling and Laughing” b/w “Moscow” and “Moscow Olympics” was the arrival of a whole new facet of Scottish pop. A young, wry, clean-living band, Orange Juice were an expression of pure pop, mixing together elements of the sixties and seventies into an energetic, playful, punk-infused sound which instantly stood out from much of what was going on in the UK at the time. Their Postcard sides are undoubtedly some of the most influential records ever made in Scotland, and their effect can still be seen to this day. Throughout the brief but fruitful Postcard era, Orange Juice were the focal point, the band that got it all moving, winning critics and fans over with an irresistible energy and freshness. The focal point of the band, in turn, was frontman Edwyn Collins, whose personality, lyrics, and voice were at the core of the band’s aesthetic. Orange Juice were the band for a while, at the heart of a burgeoning scene which was attracting attention from the industry in London, which hadn’t paid much attention to what was happening in Scotland up to that point, but, once Orange Juice started making waves, and a number of other groups began to emerge in their wake, it was time to start signing. Alan Horne didn’t want to play the major label game and remained dismissive, but new groups who had been inspired by his Postcard thing who had no stake in independent label ethics and therefore no qualms about signing up with a major, were doing just that, getting more attention and exposure than the Postcard groups.

Horne eventually changed his plan, and Orange Juice signed on with Polydor and released their debut LP, You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, in 1982. The record met with the same success they’d enjoyed up until that point, but it wasn’t the breakthrough they’d been hoping for. As was noted last week, the Postcard sound was infectious, but amateur, and there was barely any precedent for that sort of thing in the mainstream at the time, so, compared to other more polished bands and records, Orange Juice was getting left behind. And so, later in 1982, original members James Kirk and Steven Daly were replaced and the second phase of Orange Juice got underway with more of a commercial sound and intent, resulting in the Rip It Up LP, which spawned the single of the same name (the biggest commercial success the band would ever see). The same lineup released the Texas Fever EP in 1984 before splitting up. The final Orange Juice record (essentially just a Collins solo record), The Orange Juice, came out in 1984 to less acclaim, and remains the least-heard and least-discussed entry in their discography. Shortly thereafter, Collins broke it off and re-emerged as a solo artist a few years later. He continued on with a solo career (hitting it big in 1994 with the unstoppable “A Girl Like You“) until he suffered cerebral hemorrhages in 2005, which left him partially disabled and unable to play. His album Home Again, which was largely recorded before his illness, was finished and released in 2007, accompanied by a return to the stage, which was documented in a heartbreaking but touching BBC Documentary. Since 2007, Collins has continued his recovery and has continued performing and recording as well.

But let’s jump back to 1980, and look at Orange Juice’s Postcard counterpart, Josef K. Emerging from the Edinburgh underground around the same time as Orange Juice in Glasgow, Josef K struck up a relationship and were added to the Postcard roster early on. Their debut for the label, “Radio Drill Time” b/w “Crazy To Exist” came out alongside the second Orange Juice single, “Blue Boy” b/w “Love Sick” in 1980. Listening to the excellent one-two combination of these singles, it’s clear that Josef K were much less bubbly and playful than Orange Juice, but were nevertheless a fusion of similar pop elements. They had a lean, tight sound that was all treble and repetitive rhythmic grooves. Despite their success, however, there was something of an “other band on the label” stigma that followed Josef K. That came largely from the fact that Orange Juice was Horne’s mission, getting most of the attention and grooming label-wise, which left Josef K in second place. Their short career was boosted by instant acclaim, but also held back by bad decisions and a rocky relationship with Horne. Their sides for Postcard were well-received, though, and were set to be complimented by the label’s only LP pressing in 1981, but upon completion of the initial recordings, the band were dissatisfied with the results and canned it, opting instead to do another record from scratch. That decision would end up pretty much ruining them, as taking the time to record another album meant they missed the chance to really capitalise on the buzz they’d built with their singles, and by the time they’d completed the new recordings the label was nearly finished anyway. To add further complication, the record they eventually did deliver was deemed un-listenable by some. Intended to be a rawer record that reflected their live sound, The Only Fun In Town turned some listeners off with its ear-splitting trebly guitar sound, and despite being a great record, it wasn’t enough to keep the band going and they gave up not long after Postcard itself shut down. Guitarist Malcom Ross then went on to play with Orange Juice and Aztec Camera for periods of time and singer/songwriter Paul Haig went on to a solo career. Perhaps never meant to last, or perhaps a sadly-never-was band, Josef K left behind either way a handful of definitive sides and an LP that, over the years, did get some of its due. The first LP that was completed and scrapped in 1981 eventually emerged nearly a decade later, under its intended title Sorry For Laughing, and made listeners wonder just why it was never put out in its time. Who knows, things could have gone quite differently.

Within the span of Postcard’s year-long run, Orange Juice did five singles, and Josef K did four and an LP. Much of that material remained out of print for long periods of time, but it never went away. The Postcard scene was a huge influence on Scottish groups, and in the UK in general, but over time it’s found its way around the world, and various compilations have come and gone. What with the increased interest in the post-punk era a few years back, people came looking for Postcard again, and a bunch of early eighties Scottish groups found new audiences. One result of this was Domino Records issuing a couple of compilations, making some old unavailable stuff available once again. They did one for Orange Juice called The Glasgow School, and one for Josef K called Entomology, which collect a number of each band’s singles, the centrepieces of course being the Postcard sides.

By the way, the image at the top of the article, along with a number of other pictures of Postcard/early eighties Scots pop memorabilia, can be found here.

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