The Proclaimers are nothing if not a mass of contradictions, is what The Duke has deduced from years of committed fandom.
To wit; Two blokes who look like the least likely rock stars one could envision, simultaneously become among the most recognisable examples of such to have been spawned in the last two decades. Blonde haired, industrial-strength glasses, identical twins.
They yack on, in their delightful Scottish brogue-infected harmonies, about reform, progression, and yet the emotional core of their material is often defiantly traditionalist, conservative even, by God.
Their first album starts with a song about how much of a pain in the filth-spheres it is when folks yack on about they have to tone down their accents, and yet those same accents propelled I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) to the top of the charts from, well, Wester Ross to Nova motherfucking Scotia.
They are among the most parodied acts in popular culture, not least in the form of the astounding Drunken Oral Sex Blues over on some site by the name of Mondo Irlando, run by some foul-mouthed motherfucker from The Northern Irelands, and yet, the consistent quality of every one of their albums renders any jibe-flinging irrelevant. Like Billy Bragg or Shane MacGowan, those other British lyrical geniuses what soared to prominence in the early 80’s after serving time in a number of punk outfits, The Proclaimers are easy targets for caricature, but when you sit down and listen to that music, man, it’s enough to give a motherfucker a severe dose of the “awe”.
After flinging a reputedly terribly-recorded demo in the direction of The Housemartins’ guitarist Stan Cullimore, and finding an influential advocate in Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners, the duo were booked to appear on Channel 4’s pop-music extravaganza The Tube, hosted by Paula Yates, and Jools Holland, later to have his own show with the BBC’s highly regarded Later… With The Keyboardist From Squeeze.
Couple months after that amazing televised performance, the pair went into a studio for 9 days and knocked out their debut, This Is The Story. Few weeks later the thing was in the stores. That’s a bafflingly quick turnaround for something as consistently magnificent as the first Disc De Proclaimers.
Stan Cullimore tells a story about how the fellas hid in a large cupboard during a party at the Chrysalis Records offices, then jumped out once everyone was sufficiently plastered. They played their set, the gin-giddy execs adored them, and signed them there and then.
Fuck knows if such a story is true, but why would he lie, man? What would he have to gain from that kind of motherfucking fabrication?
Anyway, being something of a renowned critic of cultural motherfucking affairs, I felt it my duty for to offer a history of these Proclaimers cats via a detailed intellectual critique of each of their recordings.
Which is why we start with This Is The Story, being chronologically first in line.
Maybe Tarantino wants to screw with the narrative and have album 3 coming first, like that Goddard cat from the films about the French, but The Duke is gonna go out on a limb, and spit in the face of general consensus and so on, and take this motherfucker from A to B in an organised manner.
This Is The Story has no truck with the “band” carry-ons. There’s no drum-rolls to speak of, other than a tambourine shake here and there, and if you were thinking maybe there’d be a bass line like what Flea from the Really Hot Chillies would batter out, then you’d be 60 miles north-west of correct. There’s just acoustic guitars and those glorious, intertwining, utterly captivating vocal harmonies.
Or at least, that is, until the end, when somebody decided the thing to do would be to fling on a “band-version” of Letter From America, which manages to make the sublime seem utterly brash and nauseating. The track is co-produced by Gerry Rafferty, one half of the second greatest Scottish band ever, The Humblebums (the other half was Billy Connolly), and later the writer of the song about Stuck In The Middle what a fella cut a cops ear off because of, which makes it even more mystifying as to why it sounds so awful.
In fact, so out of place does the thing seem, that you’d be wishing some more Reservation Dogs or whatever would get all scalpel-happy and cut the ears off of your own damn head, that you might not have to listen to such a cannibalistic atrocity.
Fear the fuck not, though, since you can program that son of a bitch the hell out, and make do with the beautiful acoustic version.
The album establishes the themes that would preoccupy Craig and Charlie Reid for the rest of their career. Scottish Pride (Throw The “R” Away, Letter From America), The God Affair (Sky Takes The Soul), the songs about childhood (Over And Done With), and also, the sex, love etc (Make My Heart Fly).
There’s also much debating on the “Social Situation” and what-not.
The Proclaimers are as unique a band as The Pogues, what have been certified as The Duke’s Favourite Band Of All Ever, and, indeed, they share several characteristics with that majestic squad of prodigious fiddle-fondlers.
Besides the visually striking nature of the outfits, both groups were also grudgingly British, and spent most of the time talking about the ties between their official nationality and their home. Although Shane MacGowan was born in Kent, his childhood was spent in Ireland, and thus his odes to the country are nostalgic, romantic, possibly factually dubious.
The Proclaimers also romanticise their home-land, in this case Scotland, so much so that it’s hard to imagine anywhere else producing them. The backstreets of Edinburgh, the waters of Leith, the remote beauty of the Highlands, these external concerns are as important to their art as anything internal.
Again, though, the contradictions. Nationalism rarely breeds anything worth bothering with, and yet here these motherfuckers go, making records that could bring tears to even a stone-cold son-of-a-bitch like The Duke, even though I couldn’t care less for the geography. If it was empty patriotic mouthing then one would tire fairly quickly, but there’s a hell of a lot more to it all than that.
Letter From America, for instance, whilst rooted in Scottish experience, manages to coax that whole “universal” thing from its themes. Anyone who has experienced the leaving of a loved one can easily relate to that defiantly elating yet strangely mournful plea about “When you go, will you send back a letter from America?”
You don’t need to have been raised in The Grassmarket to identify with a lyric like “Sometimes I feel like my sex life’s all history.” Maybe it helps, but I’m guessing there are folks in Philadelphia that could probably hear a line like that and sigh and say about shit, man, proclaim to me about it.
A song like Throw The R Away, which is about making your accent more acceptable to the rest of civilisation, also manages to punch a personal fist in the Psyche De Duke. Here in The Duke’s Hometown, we yack in a fairly-impenetrable Scots-Ulster manner, something which the rest of the country seems baffled by. How many times has a motherfucker told The Duke about “Your diction is such a disgrace“? About forty six times or so, is what I would estimate.
But fuck the thematic concerns, man, if it didn’t sound so gorgeous you wouldn’t give a mouldy turd on a summer’s eve.
Fact is, though, even if the lyrics are clumsy on occasion, everything these cats say sounds like the most uplifting shit you ever did hear. It’s those voices man. If I ever get terminally ill, I want the doctor to tell me in the same way these fellas sing. I think I’d walk out of that office whistling and smiling if he told me I had a fatal tumour of the face in such a delightful manner.
The rest of the albums, to be discussed in due course, left behind the acoustic intimacy for the most part, opting instead for a fuller sound, and whilst it certainly worked, The Duke still feels a bit sad that they don’t do this kind of shit more often.
Because of the familiarity and what-not, it’s easy for someone listening to this now to miss how fucking original it is. I’m guessing that the first time anyone heard one of these here tracks, they probably spat out at least 57% of whatever fluid they were consuming. Even now, there’s nothing that sounds like this. It’s been kind of overlooked in favour of the follow-up, Sunshine On Leith, the one with the song about walking a thousand miles and so on, and for sure, that second album is stunning, but it’s a damn shame there aren’t more copies of this in bedrooms and basements, sitting right next to the stereo on account of even though this is 15 years old, it still sounds fresher than most shit you might want to purchase today.
I could also tell you a thing or two about how you don’t know a damn thing about the value of money, you motherfucking juvenile tearaways.
Show some fucking respect, you teenage psychopaths.
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