Interview: The Proclaimers

Written for ELECTRIC BANANA, 2nd August 2012

The Proclaimers, the legendary Scottish band composed of twin brothers Charlie and Craig Reid, recently released their ninth studio album ‘Like Comedy’ on the influential Cooking Vinyl record label.

Charlie spoke to Electric Banana and answered our questions on their new album, cross-dressing, the joys of touring, Matt Lucas, and the possibility of film super-stardom!

1. Your latest album is called ‘Like Comedy’. Where does that name come from?

I think there’s a good mixture of material on the record and I think some of the songs certainly reflect maybe a slightly older person’s view towards life where things were perhaps very serious at the time, but don’t seem quite so serious as you get older. Things that seem tragic or very sad that there’s still some level of humour to be had from them. So I think that’s one of the key songs on the album (the title track). Hopefully it reflects the kind of mood throughout the album.

2. When you started writing and recording the album, or any album, do you just set out to make a good album, or is there more to it? Do you try and outdo yourselves?

I think that if you try and outdo yourself you try and do that every time you write a song. I mean, I’m not obviously saying that we do that, but we’re always trying to aim to write something that says… I mean there’s only a few subjects that most people write about. I guess there’s four or five subjects that we come back to time and time again, but with a different kind of attitude towards it. Giving it a twist. Something that’s not been said before, or at least we haven’t said before. So yeah, I think it’s something you do from album to album is approach it song-by-song. Then hopefully, the overall performance grows organically. That’s what we aim for.

3. Your latest single, ‘Spinning Around in the Air’, has a rather interesting and funny video. How much convincing did it take for you to dress up as an old lady?

I’d like to say it took a lot, but it didn’t. We kind of settled on the idea when we spoke to Matt (Lucas, director of the video, star of Little Britain), and Matt had a couple of ideas for the video, and we kind of decided that that was the strongest idea. And once he suggested the idea of two old ladies mixing punch, it probably wasn’t that big a step to ‘why don’t you two dress up as old ladies?’. When a guy who’s made a living from dressing up as a female, and suggests that you do the same, it seems kind of foolish to turn it down.

4. If that was the strongest idea, dare I ask what else you were toying with?

I think another one we were talking about was something taking place on a train. But this was the one. I think we made the right choice.

5. The new album has got quite a bit of praise. Have you been complemented by anyone who has really surprised you? Now or over the years?

I don’t know. I mean… we’ve had people over the years who have said some nice things about us. It’s not really a matter of what they do, whether they’re involved in music or not, whether they’re public figures or not. That doesn’t really bother me. I like it when people like what we do. We’ve had a lot more commercial success than we envisaged when we started. And when we signed in ’87 to Chrysalis Records, towards then we only had the idea of making an acoustic record. It was just the two of us and a guitar. And so, we took it from there and we never expected any commercial success. We didn’t think we’d get played on radio. And the fact that we’ve had two or three songs that get regular play on radio in Britain is a big surprise to us. We also did commercially better than we expected from the start. You do what you want to do, and if people like it, be it someone in the public eye or someone who works down the street in the chemist, it doesn’t really bother me. The main thing is you still do gigs, you can still work in clubs or theatres. That’s the most important thing, that we can keep playing live.

6. Your last couple of albums have been accompanied by very big tours with over 100 dates, all around the world. What keeps you going? I think I would lose my will to live after that long.

There are two types of person who play in a band. There’s the type of person who tries to, and the person who embraces it. I think when we were younger and the kids were younger, I think it was a kind of mixture in between the two. Not that we didn’t love playing live, we always did, but not the stuff that went with it, the traveling, being away from home. I think that what we both learned to do was have a different frame of mind. If you go for two or three months on the road without a break, as we have done on a regular basis over the years, or go on a tour off-and-on for eighteen months or more, you have to go in with a different mindset. I’m not saying it’s enjoyable getting up at four-in-the-morning to catch a flight somewhere to make a connection to go somewhere else, and it’s certainly not when you’re doing it on a regular basis. The stuff that goes with it is just part of the job. There’s a lot of traveling involved. So I think you have to go into a different mindset. I think if people don’t do that, they will struggle.

7. Do you plan to do the same with this album?

Yeah… well, the thing is we’re both 50 this year, so I think possibly we’ll cut it a little bit. I won’t say cut it in half or anything like that, but maybe, you know, not tour quite as hard, but still tour hard. I mean, we’ll be out until the end of this year around Britain, and then next year we’ll do Canada and the US. Places like that, so there’s a lot to get done, and then more gigs in Britain next summer. I think we might do a little less than we’ve done over the last few years. I think we’ve probably pushed it a little too hard over the last two records. But it won’t be much less. Maybe twenty-percent less.

8. A few weeks ago it was announced that Sunshine on Leith (a stage musical using The Proclaimers’ body of work) is going to get the Mamma Mia! treatment, and it is going to be a film. Are you involved in that project at all?

Not really. It’s been a stage musical for about five years now and it’s done very well. We were skeptical when it started and didn’t think it would ever take off, but it’s done several runs that have done extremely well so. The difference with the movie is that they’re going to have to cut quite a bit of the show, because the show ran for over two hours. The only involvement we’ve really had was endorsing the use of the songs, and there was a couple of lyrical changes we agreed to on a couple of songs, but that’s about it. We’re just spectators, but very avid spectators obviously. We really want to see how it turns out.

9. From the start were you comfortable with them with working with so much of your music?

I think so. I have to say that some musicals I think look a bit slapdash, and look like it’s just been a case of ‘let’s put that song in here’ and looks a bit grafted on. I think the way he (Stephen Greenhorn, playwright and screenwriter) treated the music as a theatrical project was to start by listening to the music and that was the starting point, and then to weave a story, an interesting story. I think he’s really done that. It’s been crafted rather than just put all together.

10. If The Proclaimers were in that film, who would you like to play you?

[Laughs] I don’t know. I really don’t know who would play us. I’m sure you could come up with a few names quicker than me!

11. I did listen to another couple of Proclaimers interviews, and you were asked amidst giggles how you two first met. Have you ever been asked things like that seriously?

Oh yeah, a couple of times. We did all these Saturday morning TV shows. Swap Shop or whatever it was at the time, and there was once a little girl who phoned up and asked us that. But there was once a guy in a radio station in Stoke, who shall remain nameless, who asked us if we were related. That guy had just spent thirty minutes with us!

There have been a couple of people over the years who were a little confused that we were brothers. It was certainly a lot of people who were confused that we are twins! You would have thought that it was somewhat obvious!

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