As a Scot, it’s an understatement to say that I am familiar with the music of The Proclaimers. They’re a real part of our national culture, and anyone who spends any length of time in the country will come to know the lyrics of songs such as ‘Throw the ‘R’ Away’and ‘Let’s Get Married’ pretty well. The Proclaimers have gone from strength to strength over the past 25 years, gaining an international audience and an incredible reputation, as well as the creation of a stage show, Sunshine on Leith, based on their work which is now being made as a film.
However, talking to Charlie Reid (“the one that strums the guitar”),it becomes clear that the bespectacled brothers never got into the music industry in order to gain fame and fortune. It was a question of necessity. Whilst they and their contemporaries were unemployed, the Reid brothers used their gigs to stay off the dole. When they started out, they found that “there was a certain amount of insecurity generally,” which gave their releases a real sense of urgency and energy.
That insecurity, however, has faded. The Proclaimers are older, wiser, and more secure in their lives than they were when they first started out. Proof of this is their new album, Like Comedy, which is by all accounts a fairly happy, if bittersweet, affair. As Reid says, “it sounds like a record made by people with an older viewpoint, which it is.” The title and the title track reflect the idea that even in tragic circumstances there is a comic element, and many of the songs are songs of contentment and devotion, rather than the angry and strident tone that they often took on in the past.
It’s a case of changing priorities. “The title track reflects a different view on life at 50 than we had at 25. The things that appeared to be really important don’t seem quite as important.” However, that is not to say that The Proclaimers have given up on their politics.
Charlie Reid remains committed to his socialist values, and the idea of an independent Scotland. Although he admits that any referendum is more likely to go the unionists’ way, he remains hopeful about the prospect of independence: “The union between Scotland and England of 1707 came to a crashing end with the election of the SNP. I don’t think it’s ever going to be quite the same again. I think there will either be an independent Scottish nation or a quasi-independent nation within a few years.”
However, Reid eschews the mainstream pro-independence arguments, castigating Alex Salmond for getting too friendly with business and for positing an independent Scotland more akin to Monaco than any northern European social democracy. He also disapproves of flag-waving patriotism and its flipside, anti-English sentiment. Indeed, he even refuses to be categorized as a nationalist. He sees himself as an internationalist who believes in responsibility and democracy. This political vision all comes back to a maxim to which Charlie has adhered since childhood: “You can’t complain then refuse to take responsibility yourself.” This attitude has been apparent in the band’s work ethic and vigorous touring schedule, and is one reason that they have built such a huge following.
There is no one quite like The Proclaimers. Between us, Reid and I found it difficult to come up with a genre that describes their music. The closest we got was Celtic Soul. They claim to be shaped by their influences; “early rock ’n’ roll, R&B, punk, New Wave, old British Pop music, the Hollies, The Beatles… country music as well.” To be honest, their music isn’t any particular genre. It’s just The Proclaimers, and it’s this which has endeared them to crowds for the last 25 years.