Posted April 7, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

The Proclaimers: Brothers still “all in” after 30 years

The Proclaimers credit: Sol Nicol
The Proclaimers credit: Sol Nicol

Identical twins Craig and Charlie Reid have played together in bands ever since they were teens. They formed The Proclaimers some three decades ago and somehow managed to keep the group going despite the ups and downs of the music business. Their latest album, Like Comedy, is yet another stellar effort that effortlessly veers from power pop (“Whatever You Got”) to delicate ballads (“Simple Things”). During a brief transatlantic phone call, Charlie spoke about the new album and the upcoming U.S. tour.

We thought this new album might feature some stand-up comedy. How’d you end up calling it Like Comedy?
I suppose there are funny aspects to life and in the end life is both comedy and tragedy. We probably should have called it Like Comedy and Like Tragedy. But in the end, I think there’s always that element of humor in what we do. I don’t think we set out to write comedy songs, although there have been a few over the years. We basically write songs about our lives and observation. I’m always a little suspicious of bands that always write about depressing stuff. I think there are probably parts of their lives that they don’t write about. If you’re going to write about your own life, you should write about the good bits and the funny bits and the light-hearted bits and the ironic bits and the strange bits and the poignant bits, as well as the sadness.

We’ve loved the energy of the last two albums. How is it that you’ve entered such a good groove?
I think the writing has matured, at least I hope so. I think we’ve hit a rich vein over the past seven or eight years. We’re really happy with the quality of the songs. Maybe you just keep going and get a little bit better. At least you’d like to think so.

The album features such a variety of tracks. Talk a bit about the diversity.
I have the running list in front of me here and looking it I can tell you we take a lot of time to think about which song will come first and which will come last. Most musicians would say that coming out of one key and going into another works. Sometimes it’s the mood that dictates it. The title says that this album is about the things you don’t want to overlook and the sheer joy of living.

I hope we made a virtue of our defects and I hope we still do.

Were you always in bands with your brother?
Always together. We always listened to music as kids and were hypnotized by it. We turn 51 this year so we can remember late-period Beatles records and the punk explosion with the Sex Pistols and The Clash that took off in the UK and then Joy Division and stuff like that. That had a big influence. We like the idea of handmade music. The idea of picking up guitar without thinking too much about it just doing it appealed to us. I hope we made a virtue of our defects and I hope we still do.

You got your start through The Housemartins. Reflect back on that experience.
Three things happened right in a row that were very important to our development. We met our manager Ken MacDonald, who still manages us. We had our residency at a little bar in Edinboro. He met us at a bar. We got this tour with The Housemartins. There was one particular guy who got a tape to them. They put it on a nationwide radio program in the UK. Somebody else we know heard it. We went on a pub crawl with The Housemartins and they asked us if we wanted to tour and we were away. We toured for five or six weeks around the UK and Ireland and just after that, we got a break on a TV show called The Tube. That got us a recording contract. So after years of doing the same thing and getting nowhere, three things happened within a span of five months.

Were you prepared for that?
We weren’t. We never played to more than a few people. On the first night in Birmingham, we were up there in front of 2,000 people. It was scary. We just stood up there with our acoustic guitars. I think the audience was as bemused as we were. It went really well. At the end of he tour, there was record company interest. That was the tail end of 1986 and it was January of 1987 that we got the contract. It all happened in a short space of time. After years of being unemployed and working shit jobs and not getting anywhere and not getting any further, it just took off. After years of being somewhat unlucky, we got really lucky.

Do you ever get tired of playing “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”?
If it was the only song we played, we would get sick of it. Because we play a full set every night, we never get sick of it. The people want to hear it and, as they used to say in circles, the song has been very good to us. You ain’t gonna knock it. It’s taken us around the world several times. It’s one of two songs that people know. We’re happy to play it for the people.

Some of your music sounds like it could be traditional folk music. Is that an influence?
I always say traditional folk per se hasn’t been an influence. American folk and gospel and early country has been an influence. Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and stuff like that. We’re not a country band but the kind of poignancy and personal nature of those songs is an influence. We always try to keep things kind of simple, like early rock ‘n’ roll records or Waylon Jennings records or some early Beatles records—just a couple of guitars and a set of drums. We gravitate toward that type of music and it fits us like a shoe. As I’ve gotten older, more traditional Scottish folk music has been an influence.

The current tour is acoustic, right?
When we started off, we toured acoustically exclusively. In the last 20 to 25 years, it’s been mostly with a band. We’ve done some acoustic things in Britain. We did a few acoustic dates on the last tour. We want to expand it and do something like an hour and ten minutes. The acoustic show is more intense and more naked. You craft the songs to suit a club venue. We’re really looking forward to it.

To what extent do the songs on the new album lend themselves to the acoustic format?
We got three or four that really work. We’ll play those. Other ones could work. This is our 9th studio record so we try to play something from each record, even if it’s only one song. For the US tour, there will be about 17 songs. If people want us back, there will be a couple of encores. We never play the same set twice. On that UK tour, we did at the end of the last year, we had a main set and another set that we would change. We’ll do the same thing on the U.S. tour. I would reckon we’ll be able to play about 30 songs and we’ll play 18 or 19 a night. It’s good to switch it so you don’t go on autopilot. In the UK, we have people who come to more than one show; that’s the case even in the U.S. We want to do something different every night.

You’ve been around a long time. What’s the key?
We want to do it. That’s the key. Some people come into music from another career and then they go back to that career. Other people are smart people who went to university and have different options. We bet everything on doing this. This was it. It was this or bust . . . As long as we can do it justice and there are people who want to see us, we’ll carry on.

Upcoming 2013 U.S. Tour Dates















Brooklyn, NY, Bell House

New York, NY, City Winery

Natick, MA, The Center for the Arts Natick

Philadelphia, PA, Tin Angel

Alexandria, VA, Birchmere

Cleveland, OH, Beachland Ballroom

Ann Arbor, MI, The Ark

Chicago, IL, City Winery

Minneapolis, MN, Varsity Theatre

Seattle, WA, Tractor Tavern

Portland, OR, Mississippi Studios

San Francisco, CA, Great American Music Hall

Santa Monica, CA, McCabe’s

San Diego, CA, Anthology


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.