Thursday, September 24, 2009

Journeys Via Music Part 1: The Proclaimers

You know how hearing music can take you back to a certain time or place in your lifetime?

This post isn't about that.

But it would be a good topic some time; must file that for future reference.

This is more about how music can take you to places and times you've never been.

Last night, Professor X and I took the children out for some cultural edification. The marvelous Scottish band The Proclaimers was in town at the Aladdin Theatre, and we were ready for some fun rock and roll. We weren't disappointed.

I was thinking about how some of the songs they played took us on a little travel through time and space. Yes, of course there's the obvious one: I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), in which they sing those memorable lyrics
da da da (da da da)
da da da (da da da)

Da Da Da Dun Diddle Un Diddle Un Diddle Uh Da

But also those surprisingly romantic ones

And if I grow-old,(When I grow-old) well I know I'm gonna be
I'm gonna be the man who's growing old with you

But I would walk 500 miles
And I would walk 500 more
Just to be the man who walks a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

At the heart of The Proclaimers are identical twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid. The pair began playing in punk bands whilst they were in school, and formed The Proclaimers 26 years ago at the tender age of 21. A cursory search about their personal life yielded a reference to the fact that they are each married and have seven children between the two of them. Hmm. Let me clarify that. The two of them didn't have seven children together. The article didn't say how many children Craig had with his wife and how many Charlie had with his. Just that there were seven offspring. Oh, for God's sake, you knew what I meant.

Anyway, they seem to be solid family men who are comfortable with their middle age status, who plan to grow old with their prospective spouses, which is a lovely thing. Don't think they're just boring goody two shoes, (or should I say goody four shoes?) though. One of the twins replied to an interviewer who asked "What would you walk 500 miles for?"

I loved the response: "To be in the Scottish cup final (laughs) or any of my kids, my mum, family, anything that you love! I actually like walking, but I don’t like it that fucking much."

Another site describes them as carving "out a niche for themselves in the netherworld where pop, folk, new wave and punk collide. Singing in regional accents about Scotland - its emigration and its politics, the band became a phenomenon overnight after signing to Chrysalis in 1987." Those "regional accents" are something else again. Often, when one of them spoke during last night's concert, we strained to understand them. Here's an interview with them - tell me if you don't find it a challenge as well. But it's worth the effort to listen. They have lots to say. And their music is great.

Their look is sort of a timeless one - geeky boys in glasses with guitars. They covered a hit that dated back to when the Reids were mere toddlers, King of the Road. Now that's a travelin' song! I love their pronunciation of some of the words. It cracks me up. We couldn't remain in our seats for that one. Fortunately, the Aladdin had anticipated the audience's need to bop to the music, so we scooted up by the stage and wiggled in time to the wonderful tune.

We traveled all over the Whole Wide World with the band, and then reflected on the link between their native land and ours with the lovely, haunting Letter from America. To be sure, these men are more than just good musicians who write love songs. They're political. We Forrests like that. The Guardian observed that Letter from America
is as sure-footed a treatise on patriotism as Billy Bragg ever conjured, its protagonist wondering as to the fate of transatlantic Scots émigrés while the country's industrial towns (Irvine, Linwood, Motherwell, etc) close down around him. It's that misty-eyed romanticism/bitter reality juncture that every Scots lyricist from Rabbie Burns to Bobby Gillespie knows well.
I only understand part of those references, but I think it's cool. I like political music. There's a great piece in The Telegraph about Craig and Charlie by Craig McLean. He writes:

...they're fiercely opinionated and, like any siblings, merrily diverge and bicker over the most minor points. I know this because a long time ago, I was their assistant manager.

And when I went to see the Sunshine On Leith musical in Edinburgh, I was powerfully reminded of Craig and Charlie's political, social and cultural convictions (they're socialist republicans who believe in an independent Scotland).

The musical, which may well play in English theatres next year, is nothing like the Queen, Madness or Boney M theatrical frivolities. It tells the story of two soldiers rebuilding their lives after returning from Afghanistan to Leith, the port area of Edinburgh to which the teenage Reids relocated after leaving their home in the Fife village of Auchtermuchty.

"Hearing your own songs being sung by different people was the most surreal thing I've ever experienced," says Craig. "And it was emotional a couple of times, thinking about writing the songs. But I genuinely thought it was great."

On Life With You, easily the best Proclaimers album since 1988's Sunshine On Leith, the twins' lyrical brio is undimmed. In Recognition lays into supposedly Left-leaning artists who accept honours from Queen or government.

Craig doesn't want to name any names, but then can't help himself: "Harold Pinter. Says he takes it because it's off a Labour government - what difference does that make?" he spits. "A Labour government that went to war." Charlie adds: "And he already called Tony Blair a war criminal, which I think is legitimate to say, and he takes an honour!"

Iraq also looms large on S.O.R.R.Y. (a disgusted reflection on a warmongering media) and The Long Haul (a rejection of the idea that "the war on terror" has to last for decades). But Life With You is no dour polemic: the tunes are as robust and inspirational as the Proclaimers ever were.

After the show, Craig and Charlie came out to autograph the CD's they were selling and chat with fans. There was a long line, but Daring Daughter scooted out of the theatre quickly, so we were near the front. I was touched by how long the men spoke with each fan, including our family. And I was surprised by the way they marketed the new album; they offered 2 copies for $20. So we bought two and asked them to sign both to our family. I explained to the twins that someday when the kids were grown, I didn't want them to squabble over who got to have a copy.

Professor X told them that we'd last seen them in Castlebar, County Mayo, in 2006. We visited a minute more, then, mindful of the long line behind us, bid them goodbye. They genuinely seemed sorry to see us go. That human contact between artist and audience is a precious thing. The Proclaimers know how to do it right.


Becky said...

Wow, what a great experience! And I loved reading that about those guys. I have really happy memories of when that 500 Miles song came out. I was a junior in college, and it was playing absolutely everywhere.

I think I have said this before on your blog, but you guys are the Fun Parents.

Kathy Amen said...

You are so good at bringing me up to speed on cool music I haven't heard before but should have!

I agree about the Scottish accents. I love the music of Scots-speak, but can rarely understand a word.

Shana said...

You are the coolest mom. Ever. I love The Proclaimers.

Anonymous said...

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A Tired Wife said...

First off ... LOL at Star. *snicker* Like any of us are going to click on anything there.

Second ... I would walk 500 miles ... love it ... although I confess it's the only song I know of theirs.

Third ... they sound so nice and I'm glad you got the chance to talk for a moment.

I'm reminded of going to a Billy Ray Cyrus (Yes, I did) concert when he was the big thing. He turned up the house lights (at a larger large hall) and sat down on the stage to sign autographs and talk. He said he's stay until the very last person had had a chance. It was a 10,000 seat arena! I'm sure he knew that most folks would rush to get out of the parking lot ... but he made the offer and he stood by it.

Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

Your parenting makes me smile.


phd in yogurtry said...

two owls of pooshing brooms ... love their version of King of the Road. I'd love to hear them. They look like a couple of Buddy Holly's.

Barry said...

They sound like a remarkable pair of brothers, who sing the kind of music I love the best.

I will have to give them a listen.

I was surprised (pleased) to see Motherwell mentioned. My mother-in-law, who passed away at age 90 this summer) was born in Motherwell. And she was a twin.


Bee said...

I remember the 500 Miles song really well, but I didn't know that they had such a diverse output. They are also FIERCE in their political stances. Interesting that they want Scottish independence.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Don't know about them being"solid family men who are comfortable with their middle age status, who plan to grow old with their prospective spouses".

I have friends who are in a band that supported The Proclaimers on a tour when this happenend:

Anonymous said...

Damn, link didn't work.

Well, google the title of the article instead:

"Proclaimer Craig Plays On After Fan Sex Shame"

Anonymous said...

@ Bee: Why is it "interesting" that they want Scottish Independence?! After several hundred years of seeing their country's interests marginalized by Westminster, any self-respecting Scot should want independence.

Fantastic Forrest said...

Becky - Back at ya, sistah!

Kathy - I endeavor to give satisfaction. :)

Shana - Please let Daring Daughter know that. She has doubts.

star - 姫路 デリヘル to you too.

A Tired Wife - Billy Ray just went up 20 points in my book!

Lisa - :)

phD - your phonetic guide/translation is wonderful!

Barry - that's a fun coincidence. I hope you enjoy their music.

Bee - some of their politics seem a little problematic - the strange case of Kenny Richey, for example - but I'd just assumed they'd want Scots independence. After all, if Sean Connery wants it, don't all Scots follow his lead? Ha! Actually, I was surprised to learn that the Times March poll showed 53% of respondents would vote against and only 33% for independence.

petrichoric - well, that certainly burst my little bubble! I wonder if I should be annoyed that Craig didn't slip his hotel key into my hand. Ha. Given the description of his lovemaking from Ms. Kim, I don't think I missed much. You've taught me a valuable lesson about romanticizing the purity of an artist when a cursory google search didn't turn up foibles. I'd wonder if the naked bum pictures were real, except that Craig admitted it and apologized to his wife and family.

I suppose it's some consolation that he didn't claim the woman was his soul mate, ala Sanford.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I don't think you missed much by not becoming a Proclaimers groupie!

As regards Sanford, I don't know what I think about him. It certainly did seem that he was pretty infatuated by that woman, as the affair went on for a while, and their email exchanges seemed genuinely passionate. To be honest, I'm inclined to look more favourably on somebody who cheats because of a genuine emotion rather than someone who's horny and just wants a shag.

What annoys me the most about these two situations is how fucking stupid both men were. Did they really think they could get away with that kind of behaviour without the press being all over it at some point?! Spitzer was the worst, though. Going on a moral crusade and then fucking top dollar prostitutes on the side. Unbelievable arrogance!

Fantastic Forrest said...

petrichoric - agreed. The ones I detest are the hypocrites. Is it my imagination, or is that attribute weighted heavily on the right? Just sayin'...

bobby said...

I was the one who they said "if she is here", well I was in the very back, so I could just hear the music. So great that you took your kids. I have never understood the "geek" thing, "if you need glasses, wear them", Webb Wilder (youtube him). Yes, the pronounciation thing. I have told them when they can pronounce the word Dixie, get back to me. Pay attention to the words in "Notes and Rhymes" to see how they feel about their lives at this point.