The Proclaimers in Leicester? Do me a favour. How unfashionable can you get? Too old. Too male. Too white. Too twangy. Too folksy. Too similar and, admit it – admit it – too Scottish. Too right, but dead wrong, as it happens. On 4 November, at the city’s De Montfort Hall, they proved they are still the best rock band around.
The boys remain in great voice. Strong and true, not quite pure but, hey, this is rock, 90 solid minutes of it, never missing a beat – even between songs, where there was no fine-tuning of strings, no little speeches, and no “glad to be here… wherever it is”. It was as if they have a pact to see how much passion they can bounce from one side of the stage to the other, Craig Reid on the left, chin up, knees together, his twin, Charlie, on the right, knees apart, shoulders hunched, like Lennon used to stand. Heavier now, they look like their audience. Indeed, their audience (or one half of it) looked so much like them I thought I’d stumbled into some weird glasses-and-T-shirt cult – until I saw myself in the mirror and realised I’d joined it too.
The band was a juggernaut – rolling out the skirling keyboards and thumping bass, the lead guitarist windmilling it like a tiny Pete Townshend in baseball cap while an avenging demon-drummer at the back was busy blurring sticks as if his life depended on it. Even so, it’s the twin voices that do the proclaiming – fast or slow, close harmony or shouts, crescendo or whoop, everyone joining in hypnotic choruses like a great working-class opera lifting the roof off. Their music has always been hard to define, but punk and post-punk are definitely in the mix, along with country and cèilidh, rock ’n’ roll, music hall and anything in between, except jazz or bagpipes.
Then the crowd. Sell-out, of course with no room to move. Immediately recognisable, these are the sort of people who watch Leicester City at the King Power Stadium: white, middle-aged, skilled, still like a drink, still like to bop, still in love with somebody, or something, and still ready to proclaim things of hearth and home, hard work, love and redemption, fun, self-mockery. Fittingly, the Proclaimers’ latest record is titled Dentures Out.
Craig and Charlie are Scottish nationalists and pro-independence, but apart from one corner of a blue saltire peeping out from under an amplifier, there was nothing here, nothing, that this audience could not cheer. Even the spinning waltz “Cap in Hand” – which includes the repeated line “But I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land” – is something we woefully misgoverned and unheeded English could be singing, and will be singing, if politics goes on as it is. Yet we joined the boys and sung it to the rafters in a hall named after the first man to raise an English parliamentary army in the field.
“Scottish music duo” doesn’t quite do it. The Proclaimers are the best (and least desperate) of British male rock singers. On they shuffle, no big deal. Off they shuffle, no big deal. Even the warm-up, provided by the excellent John Bramwell (formerly of I Am Kloot), was pushier. With the Proclaimers it’s the songs that count. They sing from the heart and it’s clear that if it was Scotland that first slapped them into life, it’s women who have made them whole: “You saw it, you claimed it, you touched it, you saved it… While I’m worth my room on this Earth, I will be with you…” We came out at the end and bounced around in a great big stupid hug. It wasn’t the drink. It must have been the joy.
What makes me cry? Probably the love songs, but I liked the songs of belonging as well. Everybody knows “Sunshine on Leith” is Scotland’s real national anthem. A man’s a man for a’ that – and I wish we Geordies had two like them.
[See also: English National Opera is a cultural lifeline – but we have been decimated by cuts]
This article appears in the 16 Nov 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The state we’re in