DATE OF INTERVIEW:
26th July 2015
CHARLIE & CRAIG REID
Legends in their own lifetime, The Proclaimers need no introduction. With a series of anthemic hits that remain as popular today as when they were first unleashed upon the world, fans of all manner of music genres would openly admit to their adoration of these timeless compositions. And with their music now spanning twenty eight years, their songwriting prowess shows no signs of abating with the 2015 release of a brand new studio album, 'Let's Hear it for the Dogs', yet another instantly infectious collection of tracks that blends their inimitable mix of folk, rock, pop, punk and new wave. With their songs of yore and newer compositions holding an affective potency that rouses an emotional response in people en masse, The Proclaimers are loved by all, so it's with the utmost of pleasure to welcome Charlie and Craig Reid back to the pages of Metal Discovery. I met up with the Scottish twins a couple of hours before their recent sold-out show at Lincoln's Drill Hall, to discuss the new album, their enduring appeal, their recent surreal appearance on Channel 4's Greg Davies sitcom 'Man Down', and what transpired to be a triumphant return to T in the Park this year, with their festival stealing performance...
METAL DISCOVERY: You had a 19 month break from gigs before this current tour, so I’m guessing you were itching to get back out on the road a couple of months ago?
CRAIG: We were. It’s always, when you’ve done a long tour, you’re glad that it’s over. Of course, it’s physically tiring at the end of it but, a few weeks later, you want to go back out again. But that’s the thing, it’s important to have a new record every time. However well a record does or otherwise, it’s always important to have something new to play. We always want to do that, so we always take time off to make another record before we go out again.
(Craig Reid on the historic sex abuse theme of new song 'Then Again')
"I think it’s important that if you feel you can write about lots of different subjects that you try and do so. I think that subject, to me, I thought it was fairly obvious because I knew very few people would even touch it..."
Charlie & Craig Reid upstairs at the Drill Hall, Lincoln, UK, 26th July 2015
Photograph copyright © 2015 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: And there are 71 dates confirmed?
CHARLIE: Yeah, and we’ll be doing a lot more next year. We’ll probably do the US and Canada, and Australia… wherever we can get next year. So, I think we’ll probably be working until late summer next year.
MD: Are The Proclaimers a big name in those countries?
CHARLIE: Well, we do alright still. We get onto festivals and we can do theatre gigs and club gigs and whatever. In Australia, last time we went, we did a tour of wine places; vineyard type of things. That was supporting The B-52s, so if we can get something like that again…
CRAIG: It gets you around the country and it gets you around the vineyards!
CHARLIE: You can play to quite big crowds because it’s like small festivals where you get five or six or ten thousand people in, ply them with wine and food and then you go and watch two or three bands. So, you know, it can’t be bad!
MD: That sounds like the perfect festival to me!
CHARLIE: Exactly, yes!
MD: Do you find it easy to fall back into the touring mindset, being off the road for so long?
CRAIG: Yeah. You’re nervous before you do the first one but, I think, once you’ve got a couple of gigs under your belt, it’s easy enough, yeah.
MD: So, the new album, ‘Let’s Hear It For The Dogs’, you used Dave Eringa as producer, a man with quite an impressive CV…
CHARLIE: He certainly does, yeah.
MD: Were you drawn towards him based on any of his previous work in particular?
CHARLIE: Yeah, obviously the stuff with the Manics [Manic Street Preachers] way back, but it was really the Roger Daltrey and Wilko Johnson record that came out two or three years ago now that sort of brought him back to my attention. It was somebody who recommended I have a listen to it so I went out and bought the CD and thought it was fantastic. What we both wanted was something that was stripped back a bit more, like a live sound. And so, we went in with Dave, we told him that… we used a studio that we’ve used twice before, Rockfield, so we were all familiar with the studio, and we set up in the main room there and eighty per cent of what you hear was done live.
MD: A nice residential studio, isn’t it?
CRAIG: Yeah, one of the few left.
MD: There’s one in Lincolnshire actually, Chapel Studios.
CRAIG: I’ve heard of that, yeah.
CHARLIE: They’ve all but died out now, residential studios. It’s just got to the point where you can make records in your room now, in your house, but there’s nothing beats, for us, setting a band up when you just play and, of course, if you get the essence of the record and the basis of the record like that, it just sounds better.
MD: It’s a great sounding record, but did he bring to your sound what you hoped he would?
CHARLIE: Yeah, I think so, he just let us play. He didn’t change an awful lot. Some producers do very well just breaking apart the whole thing and rebuilding it, but he did a little of that but not too much. He just kind of let people play without thinking about it too much.
MD: It sounds a bit edgier on the guitar front for some of the tracks on the album.
CRAIG: There’s not more guitar, I think the guitar is just a little bit edgier on it.
MD: A bit higher in the mix, maybe?
CRAIG: I think so.
MD: So how was the photoshoot for the album’s cover? Were the dogs well behaved?!
CRAIG: They were; they’re quite lazy! They’re Scottish Deerhounds… unless they see something that they want to chase, they’re quite lazy so it was just getting the thing of making sure they were stood up long enough, you know, that they didn’t go for a sleep!
CHARLIE: The guy brought them down from up in Sutherland, I think, in the morning to do it, and it’s like a modern type hotel in Edinburgh, and I thought, “oh, this could be a disaster!” But the dogs never flinched, they didn’t pee anywhere; they were totally relaxed. It helps when… they always say, “don’t work with children or animals”!
MD: Yeah, of course. Kids probably would’ve been worse!
MD: At least the album wasn’t called ‘Let’s Hear it for the Kids’!
MD: The album’s named after a line from ‘What School?’, which I gather is a song based around a Scottish way of asking about someone’s religion…
MD: So is that traditionally used as a confrontational question?
CRAIG: No, no. Somebody used it to me over two years ago, somebody from the West of Scotland… it’s not used as much as it used to be but you still get it. But she was talking about living in England and she said, “what school did you go to?” kind of thing, and I thought, I’ll use that. It’s a phrase you used to hear a lot, you know. So I thought I could contrast in the way that humans try to sniff each other out with the way that dogs actually sniff each other out.
MD: That’s a good analogy. Do you see that as a more redundant question in today’s more secular minded society?
CRAIG: Yeah, it is. It’s not as bad. I mean, it’s still there, the prejudice is still there, but it’s not as bad as it was.
MD: The opening track, ‘You Built Me Up’ has a heavier, rocked-up dynamic, so with your roots being in punk, do you think that’s inherent within you as musicians and a little bit of that raw, punk energy will, sometimes, naturally shine through?
CRAIG: Yeah, I think it’s always been there and you can hear it more in a song like that, but I think it’s always been there.
MD: I think it was ‘The One Show’ where I saw you perform that live, and that raw punk energy really shone through even more.
CHARLIE: It’s funny because, when you’re doing live TV, you’re absolutely, completely, at the mercy of the sound people. I don’t know why but it’s a new broadcasting house and most studios you’ll get the sound that’s, maybe, next door, but this was halfway down a corridor. So I watched it back and the energy is there but the mix isn’t that great. I think the sound could’ve been much better for the band, but the energy was definitely there, yeah.
MD: The vocals were a little too high in the mix, maybe.
MD: ‘Then Again’ deals with the scarily large amount of historic sexual abuse that’s emerged in recent years in the UK. A lot of bands, particularly those who strive for commercial appeal, would shy away from such a topic. But do you think it’s important to address this kind of thing in the arts and do you see music as a good medium to be able to express your opinions and commentary on subjects like this?
CRAIG: I think it’s important that if you feel you can write about lots of different subjects that you try and do so. I think that subject, to me, I thought it was fairly obvious because I knew very few people would even touch it, so I thought that was a reason. That’s not the reason to do it but it’s a reason to do it. I think it’s an interesting subject but that song, at two and a half minutes long, or less than that, you can’t cover, in a lyric, anything like what you actually feel because you don’t really know what you feel. And it’s still uncovering now, and I don’t know how much is going to be uncovered and how much is going to be kept under, but I always think if there’s a subject that has very rarely been tackled or is almost never tackled, or one where somebody else will not tackle it, that is one of the reasons you should do it. I’m proud of the song but, as I say, you can’t put into a song that is that short exactly what you feel. You can get a part of it, and that’s all it is.
MD: Alistair McGowan recently had his Jimmy Savile show in a London theatre…
MD: …which seemed to stir up a lot of controversy before it was even staged, and it seems certain people react negatively to the subject regardless of how it’s addressed, which kind of brings to mind the ‘Paedogeddon!’ episode of ‘Brass Eye’. So have you met any kind of controversy along those lines for ‘Then Again’?
CHARLIE: I think some people will think it’s not a good subject to tackle and some people will think, as we did, that if you’re so moved to do so then you should do it. It’s not the sort of thing… you shouldn’t write a sentimental song about something like that. I think the song is written from a point of bemusement of how it could’ve happened; how could it have been hidden? I think the cynical side of us tells us how it was hidden and it was a massive cover-up on an industrial scale, going right to the top of British society; right to the top. And I’m with Craig, I don’t know if we’ll get all the truth. It’s very interesting that all the names that are thrown at us are all dead. There’s got to be some live ones.
MD: On one level, on the most despicable level, it’s the most horrific thing… celebrities or whoever’s committing those crimes but, on another level, for people of a certain generation, it’s like your childhood idols are being destroyed one by one.
CHARLIE: We were born in 1962, so watching Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile, I never remember them not being there, and they were big entertainers in the late-60s/early-70s. And I can’t help think that the reason they got away with it is that they knew other people who knew other people who knew other people. If it was not a completely organised network, then it was certainly a spider’s web which would’ve brought everybody down.
MD: Ade Edmondson said to me a couple of years ago that everything’s become far more solipsistic in songwriting where people are more obsessed with “I”. So do you think he’s right in that the 70s and 80s are a lost era of songwriting in a time where more people weren’t afraid to include a healthy dose of social commentary in their lyrics?
CRAIG: Yeah, what amazes me is how little, given that what’s happened in the last 15-20 years in the world. It amazes me how few social commentary songs there are. I would’ve thought there would be a ton and that, I think, is a bit disappointing. I don’t know why it is that there aren’t social commentary songs being written. There are, there’s plenty, but I thought there would’ve been a lot more. But, I think, the difference was in the 60s and 70s, social commentary songs often ended up being hit records, and the ones that are being written now, basically, they’re not played. So, yeah, I’m kind of disappointed that there’s not a lot more social commentary.