Today we’d walk five hundred miles to deliver our birthday wishes. Well, perhaps not, but still a big pair of Happies go out to Craig and Charlie Reid, the twins who collectively are The Proclaimers. They turn 60 today. Big Country might have emerged first and Simple Minds might have sold more, but no band of the modern rock era epitomized Scotland more than this band. Their thick accents, even when singing, are as much their trademark as their nerdy Buddy Holly glasses.
The boys were born in Leith, a port city north of Edinburgh, to working-class parents. As much as the city and landscape influenced young Charlie and Craig, their parents did even more. Both of their folks were big music fans, and their dad had a large collection of records, mainly American jazz, R&B and country. Merle Haggard and Hank Snow were as much a part of their childhood’s as haggis and foghorns.
Although as teens they developed and interest in acts like The Clash and the Damned and tinkered around in a couple of local punk bands in high school, it didn’t really represent their musical tastes. By 1983, they’d paired up to form The Proclaimers. The name came about, as Craig recalls, “We wanted something with a Gospel feel to it, that indicated strength in vocal delivery (with) a sort of spiritual element.”
They garnered a bit of a following around their hometown and Edinburgh, playing their folkish music (their own description of their sound is “the netherworld where pop, folk, new wave and punk collide”) in various clubs, but it wasn’t until 1986 that they caught a big break. A dedicated fan sent a tape of them to The Housemartins, who were so impressed they got the Reids to open for them on a British tour that year. This in turn got them booked onto the TV show The Tube in January, 1987. Someone from Chrysalis Records was watching, and only days later they’d signed with that label which in turn sent them into the studio the very next day. A mere nine days later, they’d recorded their debut, This Is The Story. What a story it was!
While the simple, acoustic debut did OK in Britain, eventually earning them a gold record, it was the second release that put them down in music history. Chrysalis liked Charlie’s acoustic guitar and the lads’ tight harmonies well enough, but decided to bring in well-known producer Pete Wingfield and a back-up band, including members of Fairport Convention and Dexy’s Midnight Runners to fill out the sound a little. The result was Sunshine on Leith, released in the summer of ’88. The album was outstanding and again luck intervened, helping it become one of the major British cultural references of the past forty years.
Initially, it was quite well-received. The Guardian, for example, complimented their “thick but melodic Scottish accents” and “unique brand of tuneful old-fashioned pop.” Jim Sullivan of the Boston Globe compared the twins to Elvis Costello, not only because of their short hair and thick glasses but also for sharing his “knack of weaving serious trenchant lyrics into soothing, gently stinging songs.” There was something instantly catchy about tracks like “I’m on My Way” with its upbeat tempo and chipper, sing-along lyrics (“I’m on my way from misery to happiness today…”), and that song was a minor hit in the UK, as was a cover version of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” from it. One might think that there was a little bit of a travel theme going on there, and it really came to fruition with their signature tune, the album’s first single – “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”. Few songs from the Eighties have weathered as well and few people out there aren’t at least moved to tap their feet along when they here “I would walk five hundred miles/ And I would walk five hundred more/ Just to be the man who walked a thousand miles/ To fall down at your door.”
Craig had written the song while passing time waiting to go to a concert. He remembers “I knew it was a good song, maybe even a single, but I had no idea how popular it would become.” No doubt. “Popular” is a bit of an under-statement. Continue reading “March 5 – Proclaiming This Reids’ Day”