New Proclamations


Few bands have the staying power to release a tenth studio album, but The Proclaimers – aka Leith-born identical twins Charlie and Craig Reid – are remarkably unconcerned about that aspect of Let’s Hear It For The Dogs.

“You’re finally going into double figures – so I guess it’s a landmark, but it didn’t really feel like that,” says Craig, in their traditional Edinburgh rehearsal space. “When you get to 10 records, it’s not going to be the make or break one, is it? It’s no crucial. You just try to do the best you can. We used to laugh when you saw the old country music stars… and they’d go, this is so-and-so’s career-defining 35th album – because they’d put out about three albums a year!

“Years ago I heard Elvis Castello say that the new album was what he play on the road,” he adds. “I think that’s what we’re getting to. By the time we get into the main British tour in the autumn, there’ll probably be five, six, or seven of the new songs every night, and then we will rotate them a bit – we don’t play the same songs exactly every night, we try to make it a bit more interesting for ourselves and the audience. When you’re doing a lot of touring, as we do, a lot of people come to many shows, so you can gie them something different, whether it’s three or four different songs, each show.”

The pair are already looking forward to one gig in particular this summer – T in the Park. “The festival had been going since the mid-90s, and when we came back in 2001, I thought: Yeah, it’d be great to do it. But we didn’t think we’d be asked,” says Charlie.

They were asked, however, and 2015 will be The Proclaimers’ fifth time on a T in the Park stage, albeit in Strathallan Castle, Perthshire. “It’ll be interesting to see how the new site changes it,” says Craig. “But if you get the chance to do T in the Park, you’d be a fool to turn it down. We’re lucky still to be doing it, because there are people our age who don’t get asked to do stuff like that.”

Ah, yes. The Reid twins are now in their early 50s. Is life in The Proclaimers getting more difficult? “It should never be easy,” insists Craig, “I think we enjoy the shows more. But the recovery periods are longer. We did our first last Thursday night, in Kelso. I got back to the house about half past one, and went to bed fairly soon after. I woke up the next morning and felt absolutely exhausted.”

“You forget, when the full PA is up, and you’re on a stage, how loud it is,” says Charlie. “You forget how loud the crowd are, coming back at you; you forget how long a day it is, and what it takes out of you. So that was a bit of a shock to the system.”

“Obviously we don’t do conventional eight hour days,” adds Craig. “What we do… it’s kind of packed into maybe four or five hours. You get to the gig, do the soundcheck, do the show and then back, over maybe a five hour period. You feel there’s a lot of pressure on you, but that’s why it’s good to have a band that we enjoy working with.”

And, if the Reid boys like working with you, they stick by you. “Kenny has been our manager for nearly 30 years now,” they add. “We’ve used Bobby’s rehearsal facilities for 15-20 years. Our accountant we’ve had for 25 years. If folk are good we stick with them.”

Such loyalty, however, doesn’t stop The Proclaimers working with new people. Let’s Hear It For The Dogs is their first album produced by Dave Eringa, best known for his work with the Manic Street Preachers. “He’s a rock producer,” Charlie says. “Now, we’re definitely not a rock act, but we heard the album he’d made with Roger Daltry” – “And Wilko Johnson” adds Craig – “and the sound on that is really good. We were not looking for that sound, but we thought the sound was great, so we got in contact.”

Long story short, the new album was recorded in less than two weeks – remarkably quickly, by most modern-day standards.

“A lot of the basic stuff that you hear – all the drums, base guitar, most of the keyboards, a lot of the guitar – was all recorded live,” says Charlie. “It’s good to do it that way. Obviously you add extra guitars on top of it, and do the vocals, but if you can keep it as live as possible, it sounds more like a record. Dave didn’t change that much, he just let us play.”

“Some producers change half of the stuff or more – that’s fine, you’ve got to work with that, you’ve got to be flexible,” says Craig, “but Dave knew we wanted a live sound, and that’s what we got.”

So who, or what, are those titular dogs?

“The phrase ‘Let’s hear it for the dogs’ is a line from one of the songs, called ‘What School?’” explains Craig. “Somebody from the West of Scotland used that phrase to me, ironically, a couple of years back; they were saying about working in England and how there’s not that old ‘What school did you go to?’ way of asking ‘What religion are you?’ I’d heard that phrase down the years and built up the song around it. It’s basically comparing the way that dogs sniff each other out and the way people verbally ‘sniff’ each other out.”

It’s fair to say that even the most radio-friendly Proclaimers anthems have always been “about” something. “I think lyrics are more important to us than the music,” says Craig. “There are two or three subjects on this album that I haven’t heard anybody write a song about. If you find a subject matter that either you haven’t heard somebody write a song about, or you’ve heard very few, I think that’s always interesting.”

Not that they deliberately sit down to write songs “about” particular issues. “I’d say that eight out of 10 songs that I write probably start with the tune,” says Craig. “I’ll get either nearly all the tune or the whole tune, and sometimes it’ll be weeks or months before I start getting the lyrics. The best is when you get the lyrics and the tune at the same time – that happens occasionally, but not very often. But I won’t really know what the song’s about until I get the first line; I think first lines are crucial in songs.

“The type of stuff we do is three minute songs – sometimes four or five, but generally three minute-four minute songs. You want to get the idea over quickly. That’s the type of song we like to write; the type of song we like to listen to.”

Though that hasn’t changed, the pair are well aware how their audiences have. “In terms of demographics, it’s broadened massively over the years,” says Charlie. “We started off, I suppose, with the Billy Bragg-type of audience in the first year-and-a-half; then we started having hit records, and it broadened out into more of a teenage thing – believe it or not, we were in Smash Hits! That fades, but you keep some of that audience with you; we’ve definitely kept a lot of people of our own age.

“But we’re getting people much younger coming along. We noticed it the other night, in Perth, you know. Up in the top of the seated area, a huge number of older people; down the front mostly people in their twenties, thirties, and forties – which is young for us! We’re lucky; the demographic has always been roughly a 50/50 split between male and female.”

This hasn’t happened overnight, of course. Despite their initial chart-topping success – though, ironically enough, in the US they’re still sometimes listed as a “one hit wonder”, thanks to I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) – the Reid twins agree that their broad appeal grounded on many years of “playing a lot of different gigs in a lot of different areas”.

“2001 on has been our most productive time, by a long way, in terms of records and shows,” says Craig. “Up to the early 1990s we did loads of stuff, then we had a long break, we put a third album out, and then there was another long break – a lot of it was, you know, down to getting married, having kids, that sort of stuff. So it wasn’t really until 2001 when we came back with the album Persevere, and then Born Innocent in 2003, then Restless Soul in 2005 that we felt: ‘We’re on a roll’. Since then, we’ve been doing it the way we’ve always wanted to do it, which is to stay on the road most of the time.”

This, indeed, seems to be their time, but the Reid twins have no doubts about the challenges faced by the next generation of musicians.“When we started, we were the last generation that got ‘non-recoupable’ tour support for maybe the first couple of years,” says Charlie. “Then it was ‘recoupable’ tour support, but the record companies were still doing so well that they would give you money to go on tour. It’s very difficult now to finance a band, very difficult to keep it going, and I know that the thing is now for big showbiz-type pop acts – with those 360 degree contracts, they really have you for life.”

“I think its probably easier to make records now, but much harder to sell them,” says Craig. “I think you’d have to go with the EPs, and singles deals, and see if there’s an audience out there, and then maybe you get to make a record.”

“We’ve a bigger live audience in the UK than we’ve ever had,” adds Charlie. “In the mid-to-late Eighties, you made money on records and you lost it on the road; now it’s the reverse! Luckily, playing live was always our thing; I think people can tell, when they’re watching you – if they’re seeing you for the first time – if you actually enjoy being on stage.”

Significantly, they don’t have any intention of becoming their own tribute band, keeping just to their greatest hits. “The main thing is to keep producing new material,” says Craig. “We want to grow as performers and as writers, and to do that you need to produce fresh songs.

“If you get to the stage where you go, ‘Well, we’re not doing it justice any more,’ then that’s time to stop. but if you still want to move forward, then you’ve got to be thinking about putting new records out, you’ve got to be thinking of new shows, you’ve got to be thinking about touring to places you haven’t toured before. There’s nothing wrong with falling back on the ‘tribute act’ thing, if that’s what you’ve got and you’re happy with it. But we would not wish to ever do that.”

Of course, some of The Proclaimers’ back catalogue has found new life in the musical Sunshine On Leith, originally developed for Dundee Rep by writer Stephen Greenwood and adapted into a hit film in 2013. The pair have nothing but praise for the whole project.

“I think it’s fantastic,” says Charlie. “I think it’s probably going to help us with the audiences coming up on the next tour. Some people never go to popular music concerts; either they don’t live near a city, or it’s just no their thing. But if someone gives them a copy of the DVD, or they buy it, suddenly they get to hear what you’ve done. Done very differently, by definition, but it’s still something that we’ve done. It’s been nothing but good for us.”

First published in the July 2015 issue of The Scots Magazine.