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Craig Reid of The Proclaimers: ‘Britain’s decline seems to be accelerating...’

There’s a song on The Proclaimers’ latest album, Dentures Out, titled The Recent Past which contains the cutting line: “80s pop stars who thought they would last, now at Butlin’s can be seen”.

Craig and Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers. Picture: Murdo Macleod
Craig and Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers. Picture: Murdo Macleod

Despite the enormous popularity and success they’ve enjoyed since bursting onto the scene 35 years ago – there can hardly be a person anywhere in the country who isn’t familiar with their signature tune I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) – Craig Reid doesn’t take a moment of it for granted.

“It’s double-edged that line because it’s basically having a laugh at the ’80s pop stars who are playing at Butlin’s, and knowing that one day that may be us – that’s why I put that in,” reveals the 60-year-old Scot, who is one half of the hitmaking pair with his twin brother Charlie.

Speaking to the Cambridge Independent from Edinburgh, he continues: “This tour that is upcoming is I think going to be virtually 100 per cent sold out.

“It’s probably the best-selling tour we’ve ever done but those tickets went on sale end of last year, before the fuel price hike and the war in Ukraine, so the economic circumstances have changed quite a bit since then – so no, I don’t think you can ever rest on your laurels and assume that just because you’ve sold tickets this year that you’ll be able to do it next year.”

Having watched the duo’s enthusiastically-received appearance at this year’s Isle of Wight Festival on YouTube before my interview with Craig, I don’t think the twins will be pressing the panic button any time soon... “Yeah, it was a great gig,” says the seasoned singer-songwriter.

“I think that was only the second show we’d done since we came back [after the pandemic]. We’d done Victoria Hall in Stoke the week before, so that was good getting that one under the belt. But Isle of Wight I think we were only on for 40 minutes or something – it wasn’t a long time – but when you’ve only been on stage once since your last album, going out there is a bit nerve-racking. But I think it was OK.”

Craig and Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers. Picture: Murdo Macleod
Craig and Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers. Picture: Murdo Macleod

Recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales over a three-week period in the spring of this year – and released on September 16 – Dentures Out is Craig and Charlie’s 12th studio album and their first since 2018’s Angry Cyclist.

The record is a delight from start to finish, containing 13 songs but clocking in at a very welcome 34 minutes (many albums these days seem to go on far too long). Full of masterful melodies and biting satire, Dentures Out also seems politically charged.

“It is, yes,” says Craig, who writes the majority of The Proclaimers’ material. “I think what’s been going on in the last 10 to 15 years, especially what’s been happening the last three or four years, kind of lends itself to anybody who’s writing songs or writing jokes or writing books or poetry. I think the politics of today and the unbelievability of what’s going on comes into our work.”

Dentures Out album cover
Dentures Out album cover
Craig and Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers. Picture: Murdo Macleod
Craig and Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers. Picture: Murdo Macleod

Craig notes that a couple of the songs also address issues around the pandemic. “I think Feast Your Eyes [track three] and Sundays By John Calvin [track 10] have the mood of the first lockdown, which is when they were written.

“I was determined not to write about the pandemic but I think the mood of it – especially the first lockdown – came out in both those two songs.” Sundays By John Calvin, referencing the French theologian, pastor and reformer during the Protestant Reformation, also looks at a time when Sundays were rather different to what they are now.

“It was about growing up in Scotland in the late 1960s, early 1970s,” explains Craig, a lifelong fan of Hibernian FC, along with his brother (their uplifting song Sunshine on Leith has famously become a club anthem), “and how basically there was nothing open: there was no shops, there was no professional football, and most places in Scotland tried to tie up the swings in the park so the kids couldn’t go on the swings.

“So it was a time when nobody was meant to have any fun whatsoever; you were just meant to sit and contemplate God or the Bible, and that still filters into Scotland today. I think I’ve always had a dislike of Sundays and in the back of my mind probably wanted to write a song about how much I dislike Sundays.

“So I think when the pandemic happened and every day was the same and it was quiet every day, it felt like Sunday every day. I always remember hearing adverts saying ‘Fragrance by Calvin Klein’ and I thought, ‘Well when I was growing up Sundays were about John Calvin’ so that’s where I got the title.”

Craig recalls that four of the album’s songs were written before the pandemic. On the title track – which features Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield on guitar (he also plays on the James Bond-esque Things As They Are) – he says: “Basically the song is comparing Britain to a toothless old woman who’s declining and who’s living in the past.

“It [Britain] is not unique in having nostalgia – all countries do it, all societies do it – but I think nostalgia’s more prevalent in Britain than any other country I’ve been to. And I think it’s got worse in the last 10 years or so, and for me Britain feels like a country which is in terminal decline.

[Read more: One of The Proclaimers talks to the Cambridge Independent ahead of their Cambridge gig, Review: The Proclaimers at the Corn Exchange, Cambridge – October 31, 2018]

“I don’t think anybody could seriously argue that Britain is a stronger, better or happier society now than it was 10 years ago. The decline seems to be accelerating, which is part of the feeling behind Dentures Out.”

Craig and Charlie are both long-time supporters of Scottish independence and previously made their feelings known in the song Cap in Hand off their second album, 1988’s Sunshine on Leith. Is it only a matter of time before we see an independent Scotland? “If you say it’s only a matter of time, I think that would be quite complacent,” replies Craig.

“I think Scottish independence is more likely than not, but I think it needs a lot more pushing over the next few years. I don’t think Westminster will grant a Section 30 order a second time, because I think when David Cameron did it he assumed that Scotland would reject independence overwhelmingly.

“He thought independence might get 30 per cent, it ended up getting 45 per cent – and all the polls now show that it’s 50-50. So if there was another vote, independence might not win but there’s a good chance that it would.

“But the thing is, of course, that the longer the wait... the demographics say that independence is most popular among the young and least popular among the old, so if the demographics hold as they are then independence will happen – but it is not inevitable.

“As I say, I think it’s more likely than not but I don’t think there’ll be a vote in the way there was a vote in 2014 any time in the future. I think people who want independence are probably going to have to look for another route.”

Craig and Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers. Picture: Murdo Macleod
Craig and Charlie Reid, The Proclaimers. Picture: Murdo Macleod

The Proclaimers will be appearing at the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Saturday, November 5. For more information, visit cornex.co.uk. For more on the band, go to the.proclaimers.co.uk.

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