THE Proclaimers returned to their home city to unveil the big screen movie inspired by their songs – and admitted they are amazed it ever got off the ground.
Craig and Charlie Reid said they were unconvinced about the prospects of turning some of their best-known hits into Sunshine on Leith, which has been billed as Scotland’s answer to the Abba musical Mamma Mia.
The stars of the film, including Peter Mullan, Jane Horrocks, Kevin Guthrie and George Mackay, joined director Dexter Fletcher and writer Stephen Greenhorn on the red carpet at the Vue cinema in Leith Walk.
Greenhorn adapted his stage musical Sunshine on Leith, first staged by Dundee Rep in 2007, for the big screen. The film – shot in Edinburgh last autumn – follows two squaddies who return to the port after serving in Afghanistan as they struggle to cope with relationships.
Sunshine on Leith, which was being screened for the first time anywhere outside North America, was shown less than a week before the big-screen adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel Filth gets a world premiere in the city.
Meanwhile, the singing twins, who are celebrating 30 years as The Proclaimers, admitted they still see themselves as pub singers who got lucky. Their iconic hit Letter From America, one of 13 tracks in the film, was written when they were unemployed and living in the capital.
Craig said: “We actually started playing in bands when we were 15, which would have been in 1977, but we started performing as The Proclaimers in 1983. We got very few gigs in those days, but we had plenty of time to write songs and rehearse.”
Craig said that when the band’s manager, Kenny Macdonald, was approached about the prospect of a musical production they were all sceptical.
He added: “We thought it would never happen. We thought a bit of it would maybe be developed, and then it would be quietly abandoned and they would pretend it had never happened.
“But it went on and on and it got built up into a complete show, which went on three different runs. Any scepticism we had went out the window with the first show. You could then almost see it coming that a film was going to come out of it.”
Charlie added: “The film is fantastic. I was very confident I’d like it because of the quality of the writing, the director and the actors that were involved.
“It was a lot better than I thought it would be. I’ve seen it three times already and it gets better every time.”
The Proclaimers first found fame in 1986 after a fan sent a cassette tape to the Housemartins, who put an appeal out on air on Radio 1 to try to track them down. A TV spot on The Tube the following year brought them greater prominence.
Huge success in the United States came after Mary Stuart Masterson, an actress making the film Benny and Joon with Johnny Depp, persuaded the film-makers to include their song I’m Gonna Be on its soundtrack.
Another stroke of luck came eight years ago when River City creator Greenhorn dreamt up the idea of a musical.
Charlie said: “He was listening to that first album, This is the Story, when he got the idea. He was sitting having a whisky and remembered seeing us on The Tube. He wrote down ‘Proclaimers Musical’ and went to his bed and found it the next morning. It shows you should always write down your ideas!
“We do keep getting lucky, but we stay around and tour all the time. There is an old joke about the harder you work, the luckier you get, but I think there’s something in that.”
He added: “We’ll do this as long as we can. We consider ourselves as just being pub singers. We just get up and do what we always did, so that you wouldn’t mistake us for anyone else.”
Meanwhile Peter Mullan, who plays the father of one of the squaddies, said he told his agent he wanted to accept the part right away because he was such a fan of The Proclaimers.
He said: “I didn’t take any time to think about it all. I didn’t even read the script when it got sent to me by my agent. I waited half and hour and phoned to say I loved it. I would have walked onto the set holding a cup of tea.”
Writer Greenhorn, who had previously worked on episodes of Dr Who, admitted he could not imagine anyone else taking over the screenplay of Sunshine on Leith - although he admitted he doubted a big-screen version would get off the ground.
Greenhorn said he was approached by co-producers Black Camel during the final run of the stage show in 2010, which Billy Boyd was starring in at the time.
Greenhorn told The Scotsman: “There was a negotiation over the rights of the stage show, which were mine, except for the songs, which were Craig and Charlie’s, but I got the separate job of doing the film adaptation.
“I couldn’t have handed it over to someone else. When Black Camel approached me we talked about it for a little bit and I agreed to give it a go.
“I thought it was unlikely it would ever happen. I thought it was worth attempting a film, but I just thought: ‘It’s a Scottish musical, how many of those do you see on the screen?’
“It’s not exactly a genre people are queuing up to fund. I can only remember one BA Robertson was in back in the 1980s, Living Apart Together.
“I thought I could write a script and make it work. I didn’t know anything about how film finance works other than it is notoriously difficult to get.
“When Dexter came on board, they started assembling the cast, rehearsing some of the musical arrangements and ultimately when I visited the set and saw how it looked on the monitors, you could really see it all coming together. The flash mob scene at the end was just astonishing.
“I was on set on and off. My main focus was being around for the rehearsals - I was in Glasgow for most of the time they were going on.
“Once I was sure that we had sorted out the shape of the film and the script I wasn’t really worried about them going off to shoot. So when I was on set it was more like a holiday.”
Director Fletcher revealed he had virtually banned tartan, bagpipes and kilts from the film shoot around Edinburgh - to help ensure it was nothing like the infamous MGM musical Brigadoon, which was set in Scotland, but filmed in Hollywood.
Fletcher, who revealed he celebrated the new Millennium in Edinburgh, said: “Right from the beginning we wanted to keep it real and make it believable.
“The other Scottish musical that has come up is Brigadoon, which is about a million miles removed from reality. It’s very dated. There is no comparison.
“We wanted to make these characters and their world real. The thing about Craig and Charlie’s songs is they’re not particularly romanticised or saccharine or sentimental.
“It was testament to Stephen’s skills as a writer that he could take those songs and lyrics and give them a whole new context with those characters and let them tell the story.
“Edinburgh is where the film is set and is the backdrop to the story, but it was about not letting it become too far forward. We chose our locations and views very carefully, but we kept our characters front and centre.
“Occasionally we look at the city and pass through it in the film, but I think that services it more. We weren’t trying too hard or ramming it down people’s throats. I didn’t want any tartan, kilts or bagpipes on every street corner.”
Jane Horrocks, best known for her iconic role in the film Little Voice, revealed that had honed her Scottish accent for the film with the help of her son’s maths teacher, who happened to be from Leith.
She was having a meal on holiday in Greece when she got the call from co-producer Allon Reich to sound out her interest in the film.
She said: “He texted me and I had to phone him back because I was so excited about it. I actually thought it was going to be on stage at first. But I hadn’t done anything music-wise on film since Little Voice.
“I’d done a Scottish accent in a short film set in Glasgow, called Nightlife, back in the mid-1990s. I knew a could do a version of one and there’s a variety of them in the film.
“My son came in one day and said his teacher was from Leith and that she would be happy to help me practice.”