Interview: The Proclaimers

Legendary Scottish folk-rock duo The Proclaimers have retained a presence on the fringe of the British music scene for over 25 years.  “You always assume that a lot of people consider you a novelty”, Charlie Reid told me; but it quickly became clear that behind the upbeat, heavily-accented pop lie more seriously minded musicians. “There’s two things you’ve got to do,” thinks Reid: “you’ve got to stay on the road; and you’ve got to write new material” – a philosophy which has ensured that in 2009, the identical twins can still pack out the Oxford Academy’s main room while on a hectic national tour.

In terms of keeping their act fresh, “we change four parts a night in every set”, Charlie explains, before his brother adds that “the live thing is the primary thing for us, by a long way.” 

Their latest album, ‘Notes and Rhymes’ reflects this focus on the live show. As a two-disc special edition featuring acoustic and live versions of their newest material, the brothers wanted “to give people as much value for money as possible” in these tough economic times, with illegal file sharing adding extra pressure on the entire music industry. It’s a strategy that seems to have worked. The new material is selling well; “it’s been well received; the reviews have been great,” glows Craig with evident pride.

His enthusiasm continues as I mention their recent cover of the Kings of Leon track ‘Seventeen’. “We were looking for a contemporary American song… we’ll do something to open up people’s ears.” The cover works well, sounding surprisingly natural considering its migration from Southern American rock to Scottish folk. This is, of course, not the only engagement that The Proclaimers have made with twenty-first century culture.

Lending their most famous tracks to movies has helped to introduce their music to new generations: “Shrek especially, [it] replenishes your audience, you do get younger people coming along”.

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These “younger people” are also notable at the summer festivals that The Proclaimers find themselves staple acts at. “We were on the bill with Glasvegas at South by Southwest,” Charlie explains, delighting in the current “golden age” of Scottish music – “between Paolo [Nutini] and Glasvegas; there’s really something going on there, culturally as well, with the accent and everything.”

Their Scottish pride is not contained to their appetite for the country’s music, however, with both brothers keen advocates of Scottish independence: “We’re not Nationalists, [but] we’ve always said it when we’ve been asked about it… it’s an economic thing, it isn’t particularly glamorous.”

This topic touches upon the political songs littered throughout the band’s back catalogue. “If you are moved to do it, do it” they say of protest songs. “If we had a whole album of political songs, we’d put it out, no problem at all”.

The lack of other politically-driven music does worry them too, “I think it’s pretty bad… maybe Thatcher won.” Songs like ‘Free Market’ on their latest album reflect this edge to the band, but the love songs and upbeat singalongs that their fan base know and love remain ever-present as well.

For the gig itself, the brothers put on a showcase of their two and a half decades in the music industry, with all the variety of their views and tastes. Epic love songs, a notable punk cover, and the crowd favourite ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ all feature, as does the friendly charm of the Scotsmen on stage. A band with depth that may well surprise the casual listener then, The Proclaimers demonstrated it all – from misery to happiness – today.