Haverin Next to You

DÉJÀ VU is a concept which could have been invented for The Proclaimers. It's not just that I find myself sitting in the same venue, at the same table, with Craig and Charlie Reid four years after I last interviewed them, marvelling once again at how seamlessly conversation weaves from one identical twin to the other. It's because 18 years after the brothers from Auchtermuchty unleashed their unique sound on a startled but intrigued world, they have resisted all attempts to change them.

In the mercurial world of popular music - where reinvention is a form of oxygen - this constancy has its own novelty value. Like a compass always drawn to magnetic north, the Reid brothers haven't deviated from an identity forged in the heart of Fife. But there are subtle changes. Like a vintage port laid down for a couple of decades, there is a richness and depth to their music and a mellowness to their personalities.

There are not-so-subtle changes, too. Today, Charlie is wearing contact lenses; Craig has swapped his NHS glasses for designer frames. But it would always be easy to tell them apart. They insist there isn't a dominant twin, but Craig is the more forceful and passionate of the two. "I take after my dad," says Craig. "Charlie is more like our mum."

It's hard to imagine two people more comfortable in their own skins. So comfortable, in fact, that they suggest we meet in the coffee lounge of the Sheraton Hotel, which is about as rock 'n' roll as Keith Harris and Orville.

It is the first clue that it is substance, not image, that matters to them. In a world of cloned and manufactured pop, the brothers from Fife have broken the mould. Their inimitable mix of politics, empathy and humour has produced songs - such as Letter From America and I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles) which have attained the status of Scottish anthems. At a time when popular music has largely sold out and turned in on itself, The Proclaimers still have something fresh and meaningful to contribute.

Despite being one of the most important bands ever to emerge from Scotland, the brothers have spurned all attempts to write their biographies. Now on the eve of the release of their new album, Restless Soul, they have given The Scotsman their most intimate and revealing interview to date.

IIT STARTED IN THE EASTERN GENERAL hospital on the edge of Leith on March 5, 1962. Charlie is the elder twin by 30 minutes. "Our mum, Sheila, worked at the Eastern General," says Craig, nursing a cup of tea. "She left as a nurse on the Friday night and ended up as a patient on the Monday. Our parents lived in Dean Park Street in Stockbridge at the time and so we should probably have been born at the Simpson."

That they weren't is the sort of serendipity that has been a leitmotif of their 43 years. Without it, Sunshine on Leith, their second album, might have been very different. "We both have a really strong affinity with Leith," says Charlie.

They have no other siblings to dilute the intensity of their relationship. "Our mother, Sheila, is incredibly soft-hearted," says Charlie. "She has the sort of belief in us that mothers have for their kids, bordering on the lunatic." But it was their father Ian, who died in 1997, who was the driving force behind their ambition. They both agree that he had the most profound influence on their lives and music. "We wouldn't have done this if it hadn't been for him," says Craig.

Ian Reid was an authoritarian father who wanted his sons to do well and be dependent on no-one. "He'd been a sergeant in the Scots Guards and he was exceptionally strict," says Charlie. "He'd lost his dad at the start of the war and he'd grown up without a father. I think that formed his character. By modern standards he would be considered almost Victorian, but he was very fair-minded. You got one warning and if you did it again, that was it."

Craig's earliest memory is of his father. "It must have been Christmas 1965, and I remember finding a little packet of five cigars that my father had been given. Charlie and I opened the packet, took out the cigars and broke them in half to see what was inside and I remember our father coming down and smacking us both."

Charlie says: "There weren't beatings as such but there were certainly smackings. He had a strong presence. He used to say that he didn't want us to grow up being scared of him but he was the one person who could really frighten us. We loved him too. As soon as we moved away from home we got on really well with him. Our father had the traditional Scottish view that we should get an education and better ourselves, which we completely failed to do." Craig: "Our dad had a strong belief in personal responsibility. He believed if you could do something for yourself, you should."

In 1969, following a family holiday to Cornwall, Ian and Sheila Reid decided to make a new life for the family in the little hamlet of Gwinear, near St Ives. "My mum's dad had just died and they were fed up being in Edinburgh," says Craig. "We lived in a row of tin miners' cottages. It was an incredibly happy time, mostly spent outdoors. Plus, we had a dog."

It was a short-lived idyll. Within two years the family, homesick for Scotland, had relocated to Auchtermuchty in Fife, where Sheila became a district nurse and Ian laboured on building sites. It was here that the Reid brothers' interest in music developed. "From the age of ten or 11 I just wanted to play music," says Craig. "I have a very strong memory of that."

"At one point we thought we wanted to be soldiers but our dad talked us out of that pretty quickly," says Charlie. Like most small boys, the fanatical Hibs fans wanted to be football players.

Music, however, was an escape from the sometimes brutal world of school. At Bell Baxter High School in Cupar they were put in different classes for the first time. "It was the sort of school where you could get an education if you wanted one but we didn't really want one," says Charlie. "We were always very good at English and we liked history and geography. I loved the music classes, but a lot of it was pretty wild - kids getting dangled out of windows, that sort of thing."

Craig says: "In those days they still had the use of the Lochgelly belt. People say it made a difference but I'm not sure it did. The belt didn't deter the real psychos. There were competitions based around the belt. The most I got was nine strokes in second year."

As identical twins, they were conspicuous. "People see twins and they think 'trouble'," says Craig. "I'm not saying we didn't play up a bit, but we weren't as bad as some. We were twins, we were tall and we were specky. We've always been a source of interest. When we were kids, people would come up to us on the bus and tickle us under the chin. Mum would buy similar clothes for us, but there was always a slight difference. If nothing else it helped her to tell us apart."

Charlie says: "All our lives we've been 'the boys'. We're 43 now and we're still 'the boys'." Craig: "It's never really bothered us. We've never thought the world revolved around us."

What the Reids' world did revolve around was music. "My first experience of an instrument was at school in Cornwall," says Charlie. "The teacher, Mr Beckingsdale, used to play one of these old-fashioned, jazz-type guitars. Then my dad, who was always buying stuff, bought this ukulele and I just took it up and started playing.

"Our involvement with music was a progressive thing. I can remember playing guitar and then laying it down. Then we got a drum kit. Then we saved up for an electric guitar. We never really got lessons, which in retrospect was terrible. But I think you are either drawn to music or you're not."

The soundtrack to their early years was Merle Haggard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Ray Charles. "The kind of music we like are rock'n'roll songs, folk songs, jazz songs - basic songs, with a middle eight and a little guitar break," says Craig. "My inspiration for writing songs comes from Fifties and Sixties music. The idea of a concept album is an anathema to us."

"Musically we've always been pretty similar," says Charlie. "We lived apart for a long time now, so our record collections are different, but the feeling and instinct we get with music is the same. I think if there is any deep psychological connection because we are twins, then it comes out in the music. I wouldn't say we are in any way psychic but there is a deep togetherness about the music."

"The first record I ever bought was one of these studio artists' covers of rock'n'roll songs," says Craig. "It cost 50p in Woolworths. Soon after that we started buying singles. I bought some of the early Beatles albums and listened to those up until the age of about 14. And then punk happened."

It was the raw energy of punk that attracted the brothers. "The first time I really sat up and took notice was watching Eddie and the Hot Rods on Top of the Pops in1976," says Craig. "We were 14, we'd been playing for a year or two and punk just fitted us like a hand in a glove. It was the right music at exactly the right time for us.

"The first gig we played was in Victoria Hall in 'Muchty. It was a talent competition. I remember the minister was there. We were on after a performing dog and somebody playing the accordion. Everyone in 'Muchty played the accordion [a reference to Jimmy Shand]. We have an accordion in the band now and I really appreciate it, but then it was all-pervasive. It seemed that the only suitable instrument for boys in Fife was the accordion. We got up on stage with a bass guitar and this old beat-up drum kit. I wouldn't say we were run out of town but it was a damn close thing," Charlie continues: "Music is now seen as a career option. It wasn't then. Anyone who got up on stage in Fife was clearly a homosexual, or worse, a self-promoter. Yet at the same time there was a grudging respect."

But the direction in which the brothers were heading caused conflict at home. Ian Reid wanted his sons to go to university or start their own businesses. Instead, they left school at 16. Then, to escape the weight of parental expectations, Charlie left home at 17 and Craig followed a year later. The idea was to move to Edinburgh and continue the music, but it didn't work out like that.

"It was the early 1980s - unemployment was high," says Charlie. "It was extremely difficult to find a job. I was going for labouring jobs, hospital porter jobs, anything I could find. I worked as a door-to-door salesman for a while, rustling up business for a professional photographer. After you'd been unemployed for six months it was hopeless. There were just so many people looking for the same jobs. On and off I was unemployed for about six years."

Craig, too, was unemployed for almost the whole of that period. These were wilderness years, money was tight and the brothers moved from sleazy bedsit to grimy B&B.

"We stayed in the Angel Hotel in Leith, which is now The Malmaison and it was a dodgy place back then," says Charlie. "Eventually we got a housing association flat with the Link Housing Association."

But despite the hard times, the music continued. "Our first band was called the Hippy Hasslers," says Craig. "We loathed anyone with long hair. We hated Deep Purple. The next band was called Black Flag - at a time when we imagined ourselves to be anarchists. In Edinburgh we were in a band called Reasons for Emotion, but that split up in 1981. After that we wanted to strip it right back to a guitar and two voices."

The band's name came from a two-day brainstorming session. "We wanted something forceful, something that had a stand-up-and-shout feel to it," says Craig. "The Proclaimers was the best we could come up with. We've had all sort of spoof take-offs - the Complainers, the Procrastinators, you name it."

The melodic harmonious acoustic sound that hit the world in 1987 had been developed over four years. Craig and Charlie wrote and rehearsed endlessly. As for the image - they are the Ronseal of the musical world. There are wild birds more contrived than the Reid brothers.

"The way we presented ourselves was the way we were," says Charlie. "We used to piss ourselves laughing at Top of the Pops in those days. We just thought the acts were ridiculous. There was a purist element in us which thought, if we can do it like this, then all we will be judged on is the music.

"When we went to see publishers or agents, we were told to tone the accents down and get rid of the glasses. They were never going to be able to sell us as pretty boys but they thought they could adjust things at the margins. We just said: 'no'."

"We sent demos to everyone and got nowhere," says Craig. "We got used to failure. We were arrogant and we thought we knew better. What was important was being true to ourselves. It wasn't just that we weren't worried about what people thought; we actually got a kick out of pissing people off. But we never took ourselves too seriously."

Charlie: "There was a sense of us against the world. Anybody who came along with us, be it a manager or a wife, was going to have to accept that this was the way it was. You have to have a degree of pig-headedness to get on."

The extent of their ambition in those days was to play pubs and clubs and scrape a living. "Anything was better than being on the dole," says Craig. "I didn't believe we'd ever be at the stage where we would have hits, but I thought we could get an audience and maybe sell a few thousand albums."

But it seemed it was not to be. By the age of 24, the breakthrough still hadn't happened. Craig was on the verge of quitting the band. It looked like Proclaimers no more. "I just got to the stage where I thought we couldn't do it," he says.

The group's salvation came from a remarkable source. "It was my dad who came down to Edinburgh and talked him out of it," says Charlie. "After all these years of trying to get us to do something sensible with our lives, he was the one who kept it going in its darkest hour."

Craig recalls: "He just said: 'You've got to keep going. You've got something. Give it another try. You've got to do what you believe in.' His belief at that point was hugely important. I know that I would have come back to it. But the fact that he said that then made a big difference to us."

Within six months, The Proclaimers had made one of the most memorable television debuts in the history of pop. Wearing NHS glasses they appeared on the hugely influential music show, The Tube. Instantly, Channel 4's switchboard was jammed with curious callers wanting to find out more about these impassioned brothers, singing their hearts out in broad Scots accents about serious political issues.

Craig and Charlie Reid had finally made it, on their own terms, in their own accents, singing a song which melded the historical events of the Highland clearances with the recent factory closures in Linwood and Bathgate. By the end of the year, Letter from America was number three in the UK charts.

• On Monday in The Scotsman: The Reid brothers' own account of that iconic appearance on The Tube, plus Charlie reveals his battle with depression.