"I think there will be a lot of changes in these islands over the next 10 or 20 years..." hmv.com talks to The Proclaimers
Over the last two and a half decades, brothers Charlie and Craig Reid, otherwise known as The Proclaimers, have released nine studio albums, toured the world and even had a musical written based on their songs.
Next week the Scottish duo release their tenth album, Let's Hear It For The Dogs, and we caught up with Charlie Reid to talk about working with Manic Street Preachers producer Dave Eringa, having their songs adapted for stage and screen, as well as their take on the Scottish independence debate...
You toured pretty extensively with your last album, when did you start working on the new record?
“We finished off the last round of touring around October 2013, we had a few weeks off before we started writing for the new record, then we just got on with it really. So we started some time in the autumn and just tried to get as many songs done as we could, we'd finished around August last year but it ended up being almost December before we actually went into the studio. We were down at Rockfield studios in Monmouth, I think it was all finished by about December 21st.”
You've been working with Dave Eringa as producer this time, what was he like to work with?
“He was fantastic. I'd heard all the stuff he'd done with Manic Street Preachers over the years obviously, he's kind of a 'rock' producer and we're not really a 'rock' band, you know? But we wanted a strong live sound and a friend of mine in Birmingham had suggested I listen to the Wilko Johnson album he'd done with Roger Daltrey, so I listened to that and I was really impressed. That was the deciding factor when we were thinking about producers really, I just thought the production on that record was so good, so lively. That was exactly the kind of thing we wanted.”
Where did the album title come from?
“It comes from a line in one of the songs, 'What School?'. It's a phrase that's used in Scotland – not so much now, but it used to be that when people would say 'what school did you go to?', what they really meant was 'are you a catholic or a protestant?'. So when Craig was writing the song he kind of contrasted the not-so-subtle ways that people try to work each other out with the way that dogs do it, by sniffing around each other, haha! So it's saying that the dogs' way of doing it is somewhat more honest I think!”
What kind of album is this lyrically? You're known for being supporters of Scottish independence and obviously there's been the referendum since your last LP, has any of that seeped into the writing in any way?
“You know, it really didn't actually. It's funny, we were asked to do a lot of things in the run-up to the vote and we only did one or two press things, because we did feel that if you get stuck into all of that stuff you really can't think about anything else and we knew we had to finish the record!
“So I don't think it directly leaked into what we were doing. It's ironic though that the side that lost, the 'yes' campaign, are now the ones that seem to be making political headway. But I think there will be a lot of changes in these islands over the next 10 or 20 years, so that's just one part of the process in the change in the face of British politics I think. So no, there's nothing about it on this record really, but who knows, maybe on the next one when there's been a longer gestation period!”
We did wonder if the lyrics on 'You Built Me Up' were expressing some of the frustration about the result...
“No, it was more of a personal thing actually, about a person who can lift you up out of the gloom when you're feeling down, with their presence or with their words, you know? Someone who can say or do something to elevate your mood, so it's really just a celebration of a person who can do that.”
Do you guys write together? How are the songs assembled?
“We used to write together all the time when we first started, we'd just sit in the flat we shared and just write, you know? Song ideas, chord progressions, even lyrics sometimes we'd write together. That sort of faded as we had our own families and lived apart, so these days Craig does a lot more than I do. Generally he'll bring a song in and we'll muck about with it, change a few things, key, tempo etc.
“Things evolve through the recording process too, although I have to say that was not so much the case on this record. That was one of the really great things about working with Dave, he was like 'yeah, I pretty much like all of that!'. He'd tweak the odd thing here and there, a drumbeat or a change in the rhythm or something. Pretty much every note on the backing track was recorded live, there are hardly any overdubs at all. I think there was one guitar that was added and one bass note that was dropped in, but that's it. The guys are all really great musicians, it's a touring band, so all the backing tracks were done in about five days.”
Does any sibling rivalry come into play when you're deciding which songs go on the album?
“Hahaha! Er, I think we're able to be honest enough, even if it's me and it's one of my songs, to go 'is this going to make the cut? No.'
“We're pretty honest about it really, it's more about how things sit together on the record and whether it makes sense to keep everything. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.”
What sort of stuff are you listening to at the moment? Is there anything that has had a particular influence on the new record?
“I think I've always tried to listen to a range of different music, but as I've gotten older I try to cast the net wider and wider. So there's Russian folk music, Arabic music, I've never been a big jazz guy, but saying that I like a lot of jazz tunes. Not so much hard rock or anything like that, but stuff like British R&B, Small Faces, early Stones, right through to folk music. I like things that are strong lyrically, like Ian Dury for example, anything that inspires me to think about taking the songwriting in a slightly different direction.”
What did you make of the musical based on your songs, Sunshine on Leith? How did that all come about, were you approached?
“Yeah, we were approached originally in 2006 I think by Stephen Greenhorn, who was talking about doing it at the Dundee Rep theatre. He was known for writing dramas on the BBC and various things. He just said 'I've got this idea, do you want to run with it?'
What was your reaction?
“We were like 'well, we're obviously not script writers or anything, let's see how you get on with it'. I mean, we thought it was a joke initially, right?! We were skeptical to be honest, but then our manager went up to Dundee to see it when they'd got about an hour of material together and came back going 'this is fucking fantastic!' So then it got to the stage where they did an initial run in the theatre and it sold out. Then they did another bigger one, then another, and by that point they're already talking about a film.
“Then they got Dexter Fletcher, who was a fantastic choice as a director, next they managed to get Jane Horrocks and Peter Mullan and I'm a massive admirer of both of them as actors. Peter's got an unconventional voice but Jane can really sing! It worked fantastically, as I say from day one we were skeptical and even when the film came out we were going 'will this bomb?', but it didn't. It's done pretty well, it's now getting runs in Canada, Hong Kong, all over the place.”
How much involvement did you have with the film?
“Absolutely none. I mean, that was from the start with Stephen with the theatre production and the same with Dexter on the film. We met Dexter once before the film and said 'Look, you've got carte blanche. We're not theatre people'. Obviously I knew his work as an actor and I'd seen stuff he'd worked on before, you've got to let them do it really, we don't get it visually, they do.
"The changes they made in the script for the film really worked and we wouldn't presume to know anything about how to do that, we had complete confidence in them. But also, I know what it's like when someone's breathing over your shoulder and we didn't want to do that. In an artistic sense, we just left them to get on with it.”
We know your Hibernian F.C. supporters, do the team still walk out to your songs at Easter Road?
“Yes, they sometimes have that when they win, so they don't have it that often at the moment, haha! They've been doing alright recently but got knocked out of the cup last weekend, so it's one of those things, but they use '500 Miles' at sporting events all over the world, we've been incredibly lucky with that song.”
You've got a UK tour coming up, what other touring plans do you have for the album?
"Well, we start touring at weekends from the end of May, then the main UK tour will be October, November, December. Next year with a bit of luck we might get to Australia, New Zealand and we're talking about South Africa this time as well, which we've never done before. We've always sold records there but we've never been able to put a tour together there yet, so that's quite exciting. Again, the film was shown there, so maybe we'll get a few extra people coming along expecting to see Jane Horrocks, but then, to their horror, it's just me and my brother, haha!”
What are your live sets like these days? Is it pretty much a career retrospective at this point?
“It is to a degree, but there will probably be a focus on the songs from the film that we've perhaps not played live as much before. We rotate so you never play the same set twice, that's really important to us. We have a lot of loyal fans who will maybe come and see us in Manchester, then Glasgow, then Newcastle or wherever, so it means they see something slightly different each time. It's good for us as well, it stops you switching off and ending up in nightclub territory, You should be engaged with it as a performer I think.”
Finally, will you be doing any festivals?
“Yeah, quite a few, we're doing T in the Park, V Festival, we're doing an acoustic set at Glastonbury as well I think, plus several other smaller festivals around the UK, so there's plenty of live stuff coming up!”