Twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid have been two of the most instantly recognisable figures on the British music scene for more than a quarter of a century now, ever since their startling first TV appearance on The Tube in 1987. The Proclaimers’ brand of firebrand acoustic folk-rock, with its highly individual blend of politics and lyricism has led to success all over the world with tracks like songs like I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), Letter From America and Sunshine On Leith practically having earned the status of alternative Scottish national anthems. Explorer caught up with Charlie Reid before their headline appearance at this month’s Cambridge Folk Festival, to find out about their long associations with folk music, the stage play and film inspired by one of their albums, and being made to dress up as women by Matt Lucas…
Are you looking forward to playing the Folk Festival again?
“It’s one of those festivals you always want to play, it’s up there with any of them I think, because of its longevity and critical impact, and just the fact that it always has a very good reputation. We’d wanted to play for years, but I think it was about five years ago was the first time, and we’re really looking forward to playing there again.”
Would you have considered yourself a folk act when you started out in the mid 1980s?
“I think a folk-influenced act – in those days we just had an acoustic guitar and the first record and first couple of tours we went out only with an acoustic guitar. I’d say the big influence of folk music for us was through country music and r ‘n’ b, and older rock ‘n’ roll.
Do you think people’s attitude to folk music has changed in the last couple of decades, as there was a time when perhaps it was something of a dirty word almost in some musical circles…
“I think it has changed vastly, and the whole idea of what is and isn’t folk music, what is and isn’t world music, who should play what when – it’s a lot freer now. I’m less interested in purist things, than I am in things which bleed across into each other. I think the British Folk Revival, largely through Ewan MacColl I think always was very straight, and in its own way quite conservative even though in the 50s and 60s most of the guys involved in it were Communists. The whole idea that you had to be Irish to sing an Irish song, or Appalachian to sing Appalachian songs – I think that idea has gone, although it definitely helped keep alive music that otherwise might have died out.”
Do you think the revival of folk traditions in Scotland contributed to the revival of the Scottish Nationalist movement?
“I think it’s mirrored it. I’m not convinced that any music actually in itself changes anything. I think what happens is that it mirrors attitudes that have changed in society, for example if people are becoming more interested in their own history or heritage. National identity is part of what Craig and I do, there’s no doubt about that.”
You’ve got a new album out, Like Comedy, what’s the reaction been to that?
“It’s been good so far, but this is the sixth record we’ve had out since 2001. We’ve been really busy, but I think there’s been a progression on every one. I think it’s as strong a set as anything we’ve done even though we did it in a slightly different way. This time we played to computerised sounds to begin with, and gradually those sounds were replaced with acoustic instruments. I didn’t know if I was going to like this back-to-front way of doing it, but I quite enjoyed it actually!”
So how did Matt Lucas persuade you to dress up as women when he directed the video for the single, Spinning Around In The Air?
“It was always going to happen one day – you felt that day would always come! He was quite clever the way he did it. There were a couple of ideas for the video, and one was that there would be two old ladies making punch and getting drunk and getting everyone else drunk. Then of course a couple of days later he decided we should be the old ladies. It’s one of those things that you start off the day feeling odd, but by 11.00 at night I couldn’t work out why people were still staring at me!”
And there’s now a film version of Sunshine On Leith, the play based around your songs, in production. What involvement have you had with these projects?
“Not a great deal – we’re not film people or theatrical people. Our involvement has always been that when Dundee Rep Company said they were going to make a play featuring our music, with the script woven through our songs – we’ve always been very happy with it. When the public takes songs on they become to a certain degree public property, and certainly culturally in Scotland a couple of the songs have taken on a life of their own.”
Here’s the aforementioned video for The Proclaimers’ recent single Spinning Around In The Air, with Charlie and Craig as you may not have seen them before…
The Proclaimers, Cambridge Folk Festival, Thurs 26-Sun 29 July (Proclaimers play on Sat 28), Cherry Hinton Hall www.cambridgefolkfestival.co.uk