I got the word via email that my interview with Charlie Reid of the Proclaimers was on for Tues. September 6th at 4:00 pm. I was given a hotel phone number and told to call it – he’d be staying there under his own name.
My first thought was “shit, the end of the day and he’s probably going to be either completely jet lagged, or have spent the preceding hours answering questions about ‘how he likes it here in Canada’.” To make things even more inauspicious both my phone line and my ISP had chosen this moment to become infrequent fliers in the world of modern technology.
O. K. I don’t need them to do the interview, and I’ve arranged a back-up phone in case my phone line goes on the fritz again. Now all I’ve got to do is hope that the piece of $20.00 technology my wife picked up at Radio Shack (now called The Source) will actually record the call.
My short-term memory being what it is, and my penmanship being of such doubtful quality that I’ll never be able to read any scrawl I make while talking on the phone. I’ll be totally fucked if the cheap piece of plastic doesn’t work. Looking at the thing doesn’t inspire much confidence.
A one-inch rectangle with a black switch marked record or play; a headphone jack shoots off at a forty five degree angle to plug into a mic input on a tape recorder, a phone jack comes out of the top to connect to the handset, and there’s a jack receptacle on the bottom to connect the whole mess to the body of the phone
(Well the cheap piece of plastic turned what would have been a nice interview into a garbled mess, but thankfully even though the thing had passed its test I wasn’t prepared to trust it once it hit the stage. So I had pen and paper for when I made contact. Even so, I have had to recreate our conversation from tiny jottings made while talking about something else, and memory.
So what I’ve done is gather together Charlie’s answers to specific topics from all over the interview, and put them together so they look like one answer. For example, when Charlie talks about their beginnings, that’s been culled from about three questions, not just one. Poetic licence and to make the piece flow better, it hasn’t changed what he has said or contextually manipulated it to mean something else.
So grab an In-Brew, sit back and relax and enjoy a little time with Charlie Reid. (I did.)
At four o’clock, I phoned Charlie at his Holiday Inn, was passed up to his room and got a busy signal. Figuring he was probably running late with his previous call, I decided to have a smoke and try back in a few minutes. Success. After a few rings the phone was answered by a friendly Scottish voice.
We chatted a bit about how his day had been, he’d only done a few interviews, which made me feel better, and I tried to figure out a way to change a conversation into an interview without being curt. I decided to go for the tried and true; “Well I’ll try not and keep you too long…”
Can you fill in some biographical details, what part of Scotland your from, that sort of thing ?
“We were in Edinburgh until seven then moved down to Cornwall in England where my dad’s family was. A couple years later we were back in Scotland in the town of Fife just outside of Edinburgh. We stayed there until we were seventeen. Once we started getting into music, we moved back into Edinburgh.
“We were in a variety of bands until we were the Proclaimers. Like a lot of others our age we were doing the punk thing, but we wanted to do something different. Growing up we heard a lot of different music on the radio; BBC had a pop show where you’d hear anything from the Beatles and the Stones to Frank Sinatra side by side.”
“Our folks weren’t musical, but there was always a lot of music around the house, folk and stuff like that. I think that had an influence on what we decided to do in the end.”
“We chose the name Procalimers because we were looking for a good strong name. We thought about the Scottish Proclaimers, but figured everyone would know we were Scottish by our accents. We had thought about calling ourselves the Reid Brothers but we were on the dole at the time, and didn’t want anyone knowing we were bringing in extra money.”
Why music? Did you one day just decide you wanted to be Rock musicians, or was it something else?
“At the time everyone was forming bands, you know? It was the thing to do. A lot of people didn’t stick to it, and we put out our first album in 1987. It was only released back home, (This Is the Story). You find something you love doing, and you want to keep doing it.”
Did you ever get any flack about getting a real job? Something secure?
“For the first little while. That stopped after we started doing alright.”
I have to ask. The twin thing, people talk about the connection between twins, a bond of some sort. Any thing like that between you and Craig?
“Nah, nothing I’d call psychic, or any of that stuff. What we’ve discovered is that we need to have other people in the band, or a producer, any outside influence, to have a detached view of what’s going on. We tend to have the same instincts and emotional reactions to things so someone else’s perspective makes certain we don’t get stale”
The title song Restless Soul, could mean a lot of things, does it have any specific meaning to you?
“It was one of Craig’s songs, but, yeah to me it means that thing inside of you that keeps you moving, driving you forward. It won’t let you settle. Soul may not be the right word, but it works for a song, poetic like”
Interjection from me: “Sounds sort of like a vocation, a calling”
“Yeah that’s it.”
About twenty years ago, we used to think of New Musical Express (N. M. E., English music paper) as the gospel. If you weren’t in that you weren’t anything. They’re review of Restless Soul shows they’re still pretty snarky. Almost a back handed complement.
(Laughs)” Oh well you know, sometimes I think the press and all of us take ourselves a little too seriously. When you’ve been doing this for as long as we have you get to realize that you can’t change people’s opinion of you. We go out and do the best we can, and people are going to like it, or not, no matter what anybody writes.”
“This is something I love doing, and that’s why I’m doing it. I’ve seen people get all hot because of something somebody said about them in the press, but it’s not worth it. No one is going to take away my enjoyment or love of doing this by what they write. ”
In my review of Restless Soul I called it music written by adults for adults, I hate using labels, but would you say that this is a more mature album than previous ones?
“I think as you grow older your perspective changes. I think I pretty much have stayed the same person I was when I was seventeen, at least in terms of ideals and values but things have changed. My brother’s got four kids, and I’ve got three and things look different when you have those responsibilities. You begin to realize you are connected to everything else; A link in a chain. You develop more of a worldview, (interjection by me: “part of the world instead of the world?”) “Yeah that’s it.”
People have called you a political band; I can’t really see that from this album. There’s only the one really political song, “D. I. Y.”
“I’ve always considered myself a political person. Aware of what’s going on in the world on a political level. You see how people keep getting sucked in by the same things over and over again by their politicians, lies and what ever…It’s easy when it’s a dictator to see how people are being controlled and manipulated, but it’s much harder in a democracy, and its harder for the people to admit that it’s happening… ”
(At this point I was beginning to run out of steam typing out the interview, having a hard time hearing his voice in my head. The scribbles on the paper were not quite jogging my memory like I had hoped. So I got up and plunked Restless Soul into the player to see if that would help. “That’s Better Now”)
You’ve commented on how this was the most produced album that the Proclaimers have done, and about how the producers had you guys doing stuff you hadn’t done before.
“We had rehearsed the band with all the material for some time so when we went into the studio we were ready to go…We were aiming to try and do everything in two really solid takes…We were able to do a lot of stuff almost live with only some harmony overdubs after the fact.” (Me: Yeah it had that live sound that you don’t normally associate with a studio recording)… “Right, and that’s the effect we were trying to get. That’s what was great about working in their (Mark Wallis and David Ruffy) home studio. Microphone placement is key to getting that live effect, and them working in their own place ensured it was all just right.”
There was a flow to this album, that you don’t normally see anymore. I don’t listen to too much pop music anymore, but everything seems like a collection of singles, …
“Yeah, it feels like an album… Not like there’s a theme, but cohesion…” Me: “Yeah it felt like an album used to feel in the seventies or eighties”
Complete change of topic: I heard that “I’m Gonna Be (500) Miles” was played on Mars?
(Laughs) ” Yeah I was told the same thing, that some probe or other was going to be playing it out on Mars…I don’t think I’ll be going to check out if it’s true or not. But you know it’s like the movies and the commercials, that song got so much play all over that its pretty much public domain…I figure anything that’s going to allow us to keep doing what we love doing is good…Being our own label means we don’t have the resources others do, so any publicity helps”
That’s right, you have your own label now.
“Yeah this is our third album on it” (The Persevere label)
How’s that? I had a friend who was with Island for a couple of years, and after that they came to a mutual parting of the ways… they were wanting him to be something he didn’t want to be…
“There’s a lot more freedom, that’s for sure, but you don’t have the backing that a major label can give you. The tour over here is only six weeks, and then we’re back home and go around England, Scotland, and Ireland. We may come back we’re not sure. We have to make certain it will pay off.”
Well that answers my next question. I was going to ask about the tour over here, whether there was going to be more dates added on…
“If we can see a way of making it work, yeah, we love it over here, we always have a good time, but there are so many things to consider…Right now we’re booked pretty solid up to Christmas Day.”
Thanks Charlie, this has been great, I’ll let you get back to recovering from jet lag, how long you been over here now?
“We got over yesterday, by last night I was pretty wired, but I’m feeling a lot better now (laughs)”
Good luck with the rest of the tour.
“Thanks, see you later”
Okay maybe I’m not as used to talking to rock stars as some of you are, but damn it was nice talking to someone who sounds and acts just like the image he projects. I don’t know if this interview does him justice, if not, blame me not him (or the freaking technology that almost ruined the whole piece: the Source is going to get an earful about their shitty electronics)
What sticks with me after talking to Charlie Reid of The Proclaimers is how much he genuinely loves what he does. You get the feeling he and his brother Craig are always going to be singing. Long past their record making days, they’ll be playing songs for their grandkids, maybe even inspiring another generation of Reids to go out and knock the world on its ass a little.
When he said that being able to make music to the best of his ability was what was most important to him it was with such sincerity, you knew there was no way it was just a line. There are very few pop musicians who talk like artists, they may like to be called ones but they sure don’t sound like them, but Charlie Reid is an exception. In his mouth what would have sounded clichéd from another person was genuine. It was a breath of fresh air to hear someone say that what matters is being able to do the music, not any fame or awards that might result from it.
While other people may say that, he doesn’t need to, it comes through in the passion with which he answers questions, and talks about life. I don’t know if this interview was able to convey any of that, but I hope so. It was a privilege to spend a half hour with Charlie Reid.
To read a review of The Proclaimers new CD Restless Soul click here