The Proclaimers interview: Baring their teeth
By Ian Wade | November 10, 2022
The Reid Brothers return with a “don’t bore us, get to the chorus” bite on their most political album to date. “The turbulence of the times are at least as great now as they were in the late 60s or early 80s” they tell us…
The Proclaimers are angry. Fuming, in fact. They’re mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
Despite this fact, both Craig and Charlie Reid are perfectly cheery when they catch up with Classic Pop. Instead, they’ve poured all their frustration and ire into their new studio album, Dentures Out.
The twins’ 12th LP swipes at a toothless Britain in thrall to nostalgia, feckless newspaper barons, pop legends touring the Butlins circuit and gloomsome Sundays growing up with Calvinist puritanism.
It’s a furious and often hilarious blast of satire and despair clocking in at just 36 minutes. Dentures Out is their most in-your-face work, which is impressive considering they’ve never knowingly shied away from speaking their mind.
After 2018’s acclaimed Angry Cyclist album took Trump and Brexit to task, Dentures Out continues in a similar vein.
“I think it’s probably the most political record we’ve done down the years,” reckons Craig, the chief songwriter of the 60-year-old brothers. “I mean, it wasn’t designed like that. Songs just came out the way they did. I think it’s mostly political or satire, or observation of what’s going on around us just now.
“It’s probably got – for the first time on a Proclaimers record – a theme running through it, which is ‘the past’. It’s certainly an anti-nostalgia record – there’s a lot of looking back.”
Charlie agrees: “It’s about people constantly looking back and the idea of the world being better in the old days, of a different kind of Britain.”
One line that particularly stands out comes from The World That Was: “There’s been no death of satire/ There’s more, not less/ When ‘Thank U NHS’/ Is painted on a Spitfire”.
It’s one of the most astute observations of a country gone slightly mad.
“My mother was a nurse her whole working life, and the concept of a Spitfire with ‘Thank U NHS’ on it was ghastly,” fumes Charlie.
“The idea that you go and applaud people risking their lives throughout the pandemic was sick. I think nostalgia is stronger than it was when I was a child. I don’t know why the British seem so fond of the past.
“We’re not looking back nostalgically, and The World That Was is definitely an anti-nostalgia song.”
There’s only one track, What The Audience Knew, that breaks the three-minute barrier. Although not a conscious decision, Charlie summarises the album’s ethos as: “Getting in, saying what you wanted to say and then getting out.”
He continues: “This is one of my favourite records, because of the punchiness of the songs and the directness of the message.”
As Craig says: “They’re not short songs by design, but I think once you get to the stage where you’ve said what you want to say in a song, we didn’t think we needed to add anything.”
That brevity goes back to the twins’ childhood. “The first records I remember hearing as a child, very few of them were three minutes: most of them were two, two-and-a-half-minutes,” Craig recalls.
“Listening to a lot of stuff from the 50s or 60s, into the early 70s, ‘long’ meant three, three-and-a-half minutes.”
So, it’s ‘Don’t bore us, get to the chorus’? “Pretty much!” laughs Charlie.
Dentures Out was begun before the first lockdown. The Reids admit that not being able to see each other was unusual.
“There were long periods where we couldn’t rehearse at all, which was fairly difficult.” says Craig. “That was the hardest part for me,” Charlie agrees.
“It was the longest that we’ve ever spent apart. It was difficult, but we just rehearsed when we could. We observed the protocols and tried to get on with the writing process.”
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The duo’s ability to create earworms is in rude health, especially on News To Nietzsche, which manages to pack in Superman’s sexuality and allotments that grow pronouns in under three minutes.
“The song is just a collection of phrases, it isn’t actually about anything,” explains Craig. “It was the last one I wrote, and it took three days, which for me is very quick. I’d already started writing the lyrics, and saw something in the paper that said Superman was engaged in a kiss with a guy.
“I later found out from [producer] Dave Eringa that the story was actually meant to have been about Superman’s son, but the line was already on there. I was laughing when I saw it, so I stuck that in.
“As for the lines about pronouns – it’s a thing now, isn’t it? You see badges all the time and it’s become a frenzy, almost an obsession with certain members in society, which is taken very, very seriously.”
Warming to his theme, Craig continues: “It’s something that in the past, literally would have been laughed out of court.
“But now it’s very serious, and I know to a lot of people, it means a lot to them. I just thought about the idea of growing new pronouns in an allotment and it made me laugh.”
The twins’ ability to craft short, sharp songs is not averse to a bit of a flourish, pushing the boat out with a full orchestra on Things As They Are. How did that come about?
“Dave’s big on strings,” reveals Charlie. “We’re currently finding a way to play that one live, and sometimes it segues into Sunshine On Leith, because there’s a similarity in the key. They’re very different songs, but there’s a similarity in the spirit of the two.”
Things As They Are is also very angry and it’s fair to say the twins are no fans of newspaper proprietors.
“The newspaper owners and those who own the media, the way they control and set the narrative, yet pretend they’re neutral is shocking,” reckons Charlie.
“Brexit was a product, in many ways, of the right-wing press – of 30, 40 years of anti-EU stuff,” adds Craig. “Boris Johnson himself was a product of the right-wing press: The Daily Telegraph, The Spectator, they backed him all the way through. I think that the power the press still wield in this country is astronomical.
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“It’s not a thing that can make or break you straight away, but I do think that it’s a drip, drip thing. Newspapers themselves are dying on their feet, but it’s going online and people are still reading, so the press still does have a great deal of power.
“I don’t know if it’s worse in Britain than other countries, but I think they certainly have always shaped the political agenda here, and continue to do so.”
Having come out of an era when politics was never far from the charts with acts like Communards, The Housemartins and The Style Council among many others, it must surprise the brothers that there isn’t the appetite for political pop these days.
“Frankly I’m amazed,” admits Charlie. “The turbulence of the times are at least as great now as they were in the late 60s or early 80s.
“In fact, I would say probably more. The dearth of good political writing, for want of a better term, there seems to be a lack of anger.
“There’s plenty of personal anger, but in terms of the more thoughtful political songs, they’re notable by their absence.”
Craig concurs with his brother’s puzzlement, adding: “It does mystify me, why there are no more political songs in the charts. I think with what’s happened in the last probably 15 years, you don’t have to be massively engaged in politics.
“You just have to have a passing interest. I think there’s so much you can write about what’s happening right now. I think it’s going to happen for the next few years, as well. I do find it strange there aren’t more people making political songs.”
Charlie continues: “Harry Styles is going to be No.1 no matter what, but it’d be nice if people could take songwriting in a different direction.
“Not for the sake of it, just because they feel it and they allow themselves to express that, without editing themselves or worrying about what radio is going to think.”
Well aware of the irony, The Recent Past contains the line: “80s popstars who thought they would last/ Now at Butlins can be seen”. Surely the twins have been offered to play the holiday camp and nostalgia festival circuit themselves?
“We have!” acknowledges Craig. “But as I say in the song, ‘Please keep it for me’. Just because we’ve never done them, doesn’t mean we never would. It’s not something we choose to do, but you never know what’s around the corner.”
Charlie points out sagely: “It’s interesting that bands who were big at that time and thought they had longevity, a lot of them didn’t, sadly. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up doing them ourselves.”
As Praise confirms, The Proclaimers are suspicious of anniversaries. However, 2023 marks 40 years since The Proclaimers’ formation as a band. Seeing as Dentures Out has an anti-nostalgia theme, are there any plans to celebrate?
“We’re definitely aiming to tour Australia and New Zealand next year, then Canada after that,” says Craig. “We’ll be doing more stuff through the summer and autumn next year. There are no plans to be marking 40 years of Proclaimers, but we’ll certainly be working.”
Charlie is more reflective. “We don’t really mark anniversaries, we just carry on playing,” he adds. “At this age, you realise there are many more years behind you than ahead of you, so it’s good to make the most of it while we can.”
After two years of being holed up due to the Covid pandemic, The Proclaimers are itching to get back out there and see their fans again.
“The first gig we played a few weeks ago was in Stoke-on-Trent and it was really, really powerful,” Craig confirms. “I didn’t appreciate how much I’d missed it. It was quite a moving experience for me personally.”
Charlie concludes: “To us, the live thing is what it all revolves around. One, you prize it because you know you’re getting older and two, you prize it because it’s been denied to yourself.”
The Proclaimers, then: still angry, still funny and still brilliant.
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