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Bite the power

Still railing against the powers that be, 80s duo The Proclaimers- brothers Craig and Charlie Reid- are back with a new album Dentures Out. They talk Brexit, Scottish independence and the new British PM…

The Proclaimers, twins Craig and Charlie Reid, 60 – formed in Thatcher’s Britain in 1983 to ‘get off the Dole’ and in the nearly forty years since have become one of the most distinctive and popular bands to come out of Scotland.

Traversing roots, alternative and folk – via country and punk – their hits include belters Letter from America, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) and Sunshine on Leith.

Their concerts sell out instantly, as anyone who has tried to buy tickets will tell you.

Dentures Out, their 12th studio album, is a scathing attack on today’s Britain.

It follows 2018’s Angry Cyclist which took aim at Brexit and Donald Trump.

This new album’s title track characterises Britain as an old woman looking back on long gone glory days – that may never have existed.

Craig told The Irish World: “We’re very proud of it. It is the first Proclaimers album which has a theme running through it.

“The theme is the past, that makes it unique in a Proclaimers record.

“It’s what we’re about now. It says what we think now, that’s all we can do.”

It is 35 years since the release of their landmark debut album This Is The Story, and 34 years since their breakthrough international hit, the album Sunshine On Leith.

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That second album was successfully adapted into a film and for the stage. Their new album examines the weaponising of nostalgia by populist politicians and the cynical commodification of heritage and culture.

The World That Was, the single that provided the first taste of the album, looks at how nostalgia was exploited during the pandemic with allusions to ‘warm’ wartime memories.

The theme is further explored on the title track, Dentures Out – an anti-nostalgia song.

As mentioned, it portrays Britain as a diminished country, clinging onto former, vanished glories.

“It’s saying that Britain is a country which appears to be in terminal decline, a backward looking country, a country obsessed with nostalgia, and which I think there is no doubt has diminished in its own eyes, whether people admit it or not.

“It’s certainly diminished in the eyes of the rest of the world – obsessed with the past, not living in the present.

“Brexit was a symptom of that malaise, it wasn’t the malaise itself.

“Brexit is probably the greatest democratic mistake since the second world war. I’m almost certain it is.

“It happened despite the fact that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay.

“We made the mistake of not voting for independence two years before that.

“If you’re accepting that someone else is making your decisions for you, there’s no point in saying, ‘Scotland should stay in the Single Market’.

“The hard Brexit that has been pursued is an absolute disaster.

“One day, they’ll have to re-join at least the Customs Union, if not the Single Market, but I don’t think there is any prospect of Britain going back into the EU.

“An independent Scotland (however) – there is a very large chance that that would happen.

“But as regards Britain, they’ll have to unravel some of it in the future – but it will not be in the near future, which is so sad.”

Craig says many who voted against Scottish independence because of the uncertainty about it only to then face the uncertainty of Brexit feel cheated.

“The main reason a lot of people voted to remain in the UK was because they were assured that by remaining in the UK, they would remain in the EU – the opposite has proved to be the truth.

“They were also told that Britain would never vote for Brexit. Well, England and Wales voted for it.

“They were also told that Boris Johnson would never be Prime Minister – he became Prime Minister.

“The circumstances have totally changed. There SHOULD be another (Scottish in[1]dependence) vote but I don’t think there will be anytime soon because I think David Cameron graciously deigned to give us the vote because he thought that independence would lose by a mile.

“Independence got a lot closer than I think most people thought it would, and with the polls basically 50/50 for the last two, three years, they will not risk giving another independence vote, certainly not on the terms they did in 2014.

“A lot of people who voted ‘no’ now bitterly regret it. I’ve met loads of them.

“It’s tempting for people like me to go, ‘Well, I told you. If we didn’t grasp the opportunity we had, we would be dictated to later on, and things would get worse’.

“They’ve got a lot worse than even I thought, I have to say, a lot worse.

“But Scotland is in a state of paralysis.

“The majority of seats will still go to the SNP. Labour might make some comeback, or they might not, but the parties who want independence will still prevail in Scotland for the next few years.

“But as I say, I don’t think there’ll be a vote. They’re gonna have to look for another way to get through.” Wales’ Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield is a guest on the album playing on the title track and Things As They Are. The twins have been vocal about Welsh independence as well.

“If I were in Wales, I would want independence.

“I would look at Wales and I’d look at the situation that was happening and I would say, ‘We have no prospect of getting the governance we want unless we get independence’.

“I believe that, obviously, for Scotland, but the independence movement in Wales is well behind what it is in Scotland, and I don’t know if they’ll ever achieve majority.

“It is not up to a Scotsman to say, ‘Wales, you must vote for independence’.

“But what I would say is, were I Welsh, I would vote for independence, I would be pressing for independence.”

Have you been taking an interest in the effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland including the current debate about a united Ireland? “Great interest. I always take an interest in what’s happening in Ireland.

“A united Ireland is not an inevitability, like an independent Scotland is, but is very likely. I think an independent united Ireland is very likely.

“What they’re trying to do now with the Protocol is anti-democratic, they’re tearing up treaties that they themselves signed.

“They don’t want to play straight – and they’re amazed that Europe is standing there and saying, ‘No, you signed this, we assumed that you were going to abide by it and we’re not going to reopen it. We’re not going to renegotiate it’.

“They shouldn’t.

“The people of Ireland, north and south, are being used in what is a decades-long civil war in the Tory party.

“That’s what it boils down to. “It also boils down to the, many of them overseas, owners of the popular press in Britain, for decades blaming everything on Brussels, telling pure lies about Britain’s relationship. Now they’ve got what they wanted, they’re unhappy, and still blaming other people.

“I remember them saying all these reasons why you should vote Brexit.

“And I thought, ‘There’s one reason why you shouldn’t vote Brexit – and that is Northern Ireland’.

“That – by itself – was reason for people in England and Scotland and Wales to reject Brexit if you could see what would happen.

“It was inevitable what would happen if Brexit happened – and now they’re pursuing a hard Brexit.

“I don’t know how they get out of it.

“I don’t know how they square this circle.

“As I say, one day, the United Kingdom – or what’s left of it – will have to re-join at least the Customs Union, if not the Single Market.

“But that will be done by a future generation of politicians, not by the ones who have got us into this mess.”

Do you take any hope from Boris Johnson’s removal from power? “Liz Truss is as right wing as he is. She’s trying to portray herself as a modern day Margaret Thatcher which is pathetic. It’s deeply sad.

“The economic situation now is so dire, nobody could go into governing with confidence that they could turn things around.

“She’s been given a Hospital Pass, there’s plenty of people within the Tory party who will be happy to see her as Prime Minister and fail.

“I wonder if the Tory party thinks, ‘Well, things are so bad that the next election might be a good one to lose’, give it to Labour and let them screw it up or fail to manage the situation that they find themselves in.

“I would like very much to be rid of the Tory party but I think the economic situation for the next few years is absolutely dire.

“It is (a very uncertain time), you’re right in saying that (this album) follows on from Angry Cyclist.

“Things were bad then and they are quite a lot worse now, a lot worse.

“We appear to be going into a long dark tunnel and we don’t know if or when we’re ever going to come out of it.

“You still have the nut jobs on the right who are in charge.

“We started as The Proclaimers in January or February ‘83. Early next year, we will have been going as the Proclaimers for 40 years.

“We had been in bands before. We started off with The Proclaimers when we were just turning 21.

“The only thing was to do our own music our own way. We were playing as an acoustic duo.

“We thought we could get an indie record deal and get some kind of audience playing clubs.

“That was our ambition – just to get off the Dole – and play our own music our own way.

“We made the first acoustic album in 1987, when we had just turned 25 – we’d got off the Dole.

“Our ambition was, we thought we could sell some copies of that record and just keep going and see where it would lead us with no real other thoughts and ambitions other than that record and see what we could do with it.”

Letter From America, their 1987 hit single, dealt with the destruction of heavy industry in Scotland during the Margaret Thatcher years.

Was music a ray of light for you in those dark times? “It was a way of expressing ourselves. We always loved music.

“If you’re gonna actually play music yourself and if you’re gonna write original songs, I didn’t see the point of not doing them in our own way and not doing them in our own accent, which the likes of record companies and publishers, it put them off.

“But we were determined to do it our own way, so we did.”

They have a long-running love affair with audiences in Ireland, having first gone there in the 1980s.

“It’s fantastic. We’ve always found both north and south to be very receptive to what we did.

“It’s always a pleasure to go there.

“We’re just in Belfast and Dublin this time, but hopefully maybe get back next year to do some more stuff.”

Likely to be on their setlist is a song called Irish Girls are Pretty.

“It always gets a very good reaction,” Craig laughs.

Sunshine on Leith has been adopted as a terrace anthem of Hibernian FC.

“It’s great because if it’s being sung, it means that Hibs have won, we’ve won either a final or a semi-final or a game against Hearts or something.

“So yeah, that always brings me a great deal of joy hearing that being sung by the Hibs fans.”

Has it not been known to start a fight now and then? “It generally doesn’t but I know it has in the odd pub in Edinburgh because it’s now associated with Hibernian football club.

“It can kick off, but, generally, most people accept it for what it is.”

The Reid family talent for music has passed on to the next generation with your daughter Roseanne Reid debuting as a country singer in 2019 and performing at Glastonbury this year.

“She’s got her own talent, and she works very hard at it, so I’m very proud of her.”

Do you worry about your child following you into such a financially insecure profession?

Craig says: “I never encouraged it and I never discouraged it.

“Having the success we did with Sunshine on Leith, particularly in the likes of Australia and New Zealand and then having the 500 Miles hit in the US.”

“The only thing I said to her was, ‘If you want to do it, you’ve got to do it properly and you’ve got to make it the main thing. You’ve got to work hard at it’.

“That was all I said.

“Music, to do it right, you’ve got to really, really got to want to do it.

“I said that to her, ‘Don’t approach it as something that’s a bit of a hobby. If you’re going to be serious about it, be serious about it’.

“She knew we had to work it – and we still do.”

What are you most proud of in your four decades as a band? “Probably just putting the first record out, the first acoustic album.

“That was a great achievement. “Having the success we did with Sunshine on Leith, particularly in the likes of Australia and New Zealand and then having the 500 Miles hit in the US.

“But maybe the thing I’m most pleased about is that we had a long break between ‘94 to 2001 when we put the fourth album out, Persevere.

“The amount of albums we have done since then, the amount of live touring we have done since then, far exceeds anything we did on the first three albums.

“I’m most proud of that, coming back in 2001 and keeping on going from that period.”

Dentures Out is out now.

The Proclaimers tour the UK and Ireland October – December.

For more information, go to proclaimers.co.uk.

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