The Proclaimers back in Dubai with soulful new songs

We catch up with Craig Reid of the duo ahead of their show at The Irish Village to talk about life on the road at the age of 57 and the track some are calling Scotland’s alternative national anthem

Craig and Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers. Seen here in studio shoot in Leith in 2018. Edinburgh, Scotland, UK  Edinburgh, Scotland UK 08/05/2018
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Edinburgh-born twins Craig and Charlie Reid, known as The Proclaimers, have been highly acclaimed for their committed live performances and passionate, socially aware songs. Their single I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), reached number three in the US in 1993 when it was re-released after appearing in the romantic comedy Benny & Joon. The group's latest album, Angry Cyclist, reached the number 17 spot in their native UK last August, giving them their highest chart-placing in 12 years.  

Craig talks to The National about the duo's life on tour.   

What are your memories of The Proclaimers’ previous shows in the UAE?

I think we've played in the Emirates maybe four, five times over the years. The first time we played in Dubai was in 2002, and the way the city has expanded since then is just mind-blowing. We get some expatriates – Aussies and Irish – coming along in Dubai, but also local people, too, which is great. Dubai is a perfect stop-off point for us before we travel on to Australia and New Zealand. We're playing a full-band show at The Irish Village, and we're getting in the day before. We should have time for a little look around.

You and Charlie are 57 now, yet you still play hundreds of gigs each year. How do you prepare for that kind of workout? 

Since January, we've been getting together three times a week to sing for a couple of hours. I wouldn't fancy singing the way we do live, taking four or five months off, and then trying to go straight back into it. That would be asking for trouble. Once we're on the road, we try not to do any more than three gigs in a row without a night off. We also try not to go to bed too late and get a bit of exercise.

You just played in Reykjavik for the first time. Wasn’t it in Iceland that ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ first went to the top of the charts?

Yes. I remember sitting in a curry house near Lancaster Gate in London one Sunday night in 1988. This beautiful blonde girl came up with her boyfriend and said, 'Oh. The ­Proclaimers. Your song is number one in my country, Iceland.' I said, ­'Really?' The record company didn't even know yet, but when they checked, it was true.  

The Proclaimers’ songs are often a careful mix of humour and social comment, and you and Charlie like to champion the underdog. Where does that impetus come from? 

I think it’s just the way we are, the way we were brought up. Plus, when we first started making records, it was a very political time, as it is again now, of course. I’d like to think that we have a good sense of what really matters in life and a good sense of humour.

Song titles don’t come much more unusual than ‘Angry Cyclist’, the title track of your latest album. What inspired that song?

I had the tune first, but I didn’t know what the song was about until I’d got the first two lines: ‘For me I feel this era has been kissed, by the aura of an angry cyclist.’ I was thinking of how, in cities like London, you see really dense traffic and cyclists weaving in and out trying to get
somewhere. They often look a little bit scared, too, because they’re hemmed-in by all these cars. To me, that’s a good metaphor for what it’s been like in many western democracies these past few years, that mix of fear and anger in society and people feeling trapped by things outside of their control.

‘Streets Of Edinburgh’, another single from ‘Angry Cyclist’, was also very well received. Some even suggested it could be an alternative national anthem for Scotland. Did you realise it was a big song when you were writing it? 

Yes. I think Charlie and I knew when we were playing it together before we'd even made a demo. And then the demo of the song confirmed how good it was. After I got the phrase Streets Of Edinburgh, I wrote the whole thing in about two weeks, which is actually very quick for me.

In 'Then It Comes To Me’ you sing: ‘Travelling a road, running through the heart of this country, I become a youth, age of 17.’ Is music still a kind of escapism for you? 

I wouldn't call it escapism. I'd call it expressing ourselves, doing what we always wanted to do. And we're better at it now than we were 10 years ago, and we're far, far better singers and performers than we were 30 years ago. We also have this awareness of time pressing and wanting to keep going. So the gigs are better, but the recovery time between tours is longer. You definitely feel your age more, especially with the travelling.

‘Sunshine On Leith’, the 2007 stage musical based on your songs, was adapted into a highly successful feature film in 2013. What impact did that have on your career? 

With the theatre show, it was great to see actors – and especially actresses – presenting our songs in a different context. The film was obviously taking it to a different level, something that far more people could see, whether at the cinema or on DVD, or on television. The film, particularly, brought a whole new audience to our music, people who, before that, might just have known I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) or Letter From America. We also started to
see a lot more younger people at our gigs. 

The Proclaimers play at The Irish Village today at 7pm