- 21 Jun 23
As The Proclaimers gear up for their Forest Fest performance, one half of the Scottish duo, Charlie Reid, discusses Ireland, accents, the weaponisation of nostalgia, and the special energy of a festival crowd.
Since they first rose to prominence in the late ‘80s – powered by a fiery, authentic spirit and hit singles like ‘Letter From America’ and ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ – the live element has always been crucial to The Proclaimers’ approach. As such, lockdown, and the overnight disappearance of gigs, came as a heavy blow to the twin duo, made up of Charlie and Craig Reid.
“It was a bit depressing,” Charlie tells me, reflecting on that time. “But it was frustrating more than anything. For a while, before they started coming out with the injections, you’d think, ‘Is that it for us?’ We turned 61 in March there. So we felt, ‘If this goes on for five years, that’s us finished.’ But thank God for the scientists – it’s made things a lot easier!”
The Proclaimers arrive in Ireland for their Forest Fest show this July, less than a year after the release of their lauded latest album, Dentures Out – which also happens to be their most unapologetically political project in years.
“The last few years have been so unreal, in terms of politics – from Brexit, to Trump, to the war in Ukraine,” he states. “It’s the extremities of what’s going on, and the extremities of people’s reactions. Brexit, particularly with England, has been astounding, and the complete lack of self-awareness among many people is very worrying.”
Dentures Out’s title track takes direct aim at the “weaponising of nostalgia” by conservative politicians. Charlie tells me that their anti-nostalgia sentiment was particularly triggered by the NHS Spitfires project – when a WWII-era spitfire was flown during lockdown, emblazoned with the message ‘THANK U NHS’.
“I’m glad Britain fought on the right side of the war – that’s good, and they were just to do it,” he notes. “But a spitfire was an instrument of war, and an instrument of death. It’s also ironic that the NHS was opposed by so many of the people who were warmongers in Britain – Churchill himself opposed it. It’s ironic too that the people who use it as a badge of honour now, their ancestors were dead-set against a socialised health service. And the irony of applauding nurses, and then telling them to piss off when they ask for a pay rise! I don’t know how you parody that, it’s so ridiculous.”
The Proclaimers’ message has long resonated with Irish audiences, with the band first playing these shores in the mid-’80s, while supporting The Housemartins.
“I felt a real kinship with Ireland – I always have done,” Charlie tells me. “When we went for our first few gigs doing it on our own, or coming over to play RTÉ shows or whatever, we were pretty unknown. But I’ve enjoyed every visit, both North and South. Irish people always have something to say, and they always have a point of view. I appreciate that!”
In those early days, authenticity was at the heart of the band’s mission – embracing their natural Scottish accents in their singing, at a time when many others would’ve been imitating the English or American voices that dominated the charts.
“We’ve always just tried to be ourselves,” he reflects. “People tried to change stuff about us at the start – and you can understand that. But people would also remember you, because at the time, the only person I could think of who was putting out records in their own accent was Ian Dury, with the Essex accent. There really weren’t many.
“For us, it was about writing our own songs about our own experiences growing up in Scotland, and being Scottish,” he continues. “It felt wrong to sing in any other way.”
While their own headline shows continue to draw massive, sold-out crowds, Charlie says that there’s something special about playing a festival like Forest Fest.
“Because it’s not your own audience,” he explains. “You’re playing to people who you’ve not played to before, and may never play to again. Perhaps – as many people do – they only know two or three songs that you’ve done. You get to let them hear the broader range of the material. That’s very satisfying, if you feel you’ve converted people to that degree, that they see you differently.”
And whether they’re playing Emo Village or the National Concert Hall – as they did last year – The Proclaimers still take nothing for granted.
“I don’t think you ever get used to it,” Charlie says. “And if you ever get blasé about it, then you’re a fool. When we started out, on the folk club and left-feld circuit, we just wanted to get off the dole – and travel a bit, play songs, and see what happens. So everything else has been a bonus...”
Dentures Out is out now. The Proclaimers play Forest Fest on Friday, July 21.
Read our full Forest Fest feature in the current issue of Hot Press: