You get one of two responses when you tell people you’re going to see The Proclaimers. There’s those who benevolently chuckle, pleased that those novelty twins who had the huge one-hit wonder I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) are still touring.
And then there are those who have seen them before.
I’m in the latter camp. The Proclaimers were the first live concert I saw after emigrating to New Zealand in 1989, in Dunedin no less. That and the fact I lived in Edinburgh’s Leith for a late 1990’s spell has left a large soft spot for them in my heart.
Auckland’s Powerstation has room for both camps tonight. This is an extra date added when the original show sold out, so while it’s full enough there’s room to sit if you’re one of the older, long-time fans, room to dance if you first came to this band through Shrek, and room to wave the Saltire if you’re, well, Scottish.
Brett Adams and Dianne Swann have been waving the flag for NZ music for nearly as long as the headliners have been around, and as The Bads they open the show to an enthusiastic and growing crowd, before the Proclaimers casually take the stage.
Craig and Charlie Reid are hard to miss. The trademark glasses and tidy haircuts, the brotherly vocal harmonies, and the thick Scottish accents have barely changed over the years. (Just to be clear, Charlie is the one with the guitar). Backed by a terrific band, they proceed to spend the next ninety minutes disproving that one-hit wonder label, song by glorious song.
With 12 studio albums to draw on, they open with the title track from 2022’s Dentures Out and march through a range of styles from punk-folk to blue-eyed soul. There are plenty of “oh, that was them too?” moments for the uninitiated – I’m Gonna Be, Over and Done With, Let’s Get Married, Then I Met You – and an easy mix of more recent releases.
Outside of Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue, is there a better working-class love song than Sunshine on Leith? Leith in the 1980’s was a grim place, far from the gentrified waterfront Edinburgh ward it is today. Remember, this was the setting for Trainspotting. Sunshine, literally or figuratively, was in short supply.
That song is key to a trick the Proclaimers have been pulling off their entire careers. Beneath the singalong party tunes lies a deep blue-collar ethos where politics and irony stand shoulder to shoulder on the picket line. The lyrics to In Recognition, Role Model, Angry Cyclist and more, seethe. Cap In Hand provided a recent career revival when it was adopted as an anthem of the Scottish Independence movement, and even Letter To America is about two of the defining tragedies of Scottish history; the Highland Clearances and the de-industrialisation of the North. The Proclaimers music is purely Celtic, not just in the accents it’s sung in or some of the more idiosyncratic language, but in its roots within the ceilidh tradition of facing adversity by throwing a party.
The Reids themselves perform like the duo they originally were. Craig simply stands and delivers, occasionally adding in some tambourine, maracas, handclaps and a brief taste of tin whistle, while Charlie plays acoustic guitar throughout, oddly so far off to one side of the stage that he’s almost in the wings. The showmanship is left to the rest of the band. Guitarist Zac Ware windmills and thrusts, clearly having a ball; keyboardist Steve Christie bulks out the sound whilst quietly adding some virtuoso fills. Garry John Kane has the laid-back casualness that only great bassists can pull off, sharing eye contact and a private joke with the front few rows and happily singing along to most of the songs, while drummer Clive Jenner keeps things rock solid throughout before absolutely unleashing on the final encore The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues.
That word – joyful – is apt here. This is a party band powered by politics, and by the time they reach the end of their main set with (what else?) 500 Miles, it’s not hard at all to see how two slightly awkward twin brothers went from playing this mother of all shout-along songs in grey Scottish pubs to the mainstage at Glastonbury and around the world. The only surprise, for those who haven’t seen them live, is how many highlights there are in the miles that lead them here.