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 Dun Diddle Un Diddle Un Diddle Uh Da
But also those surprisingly romantic ones
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.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.
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.
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.