Music review: The Proclaimers, Playhouse, Edinburgh

The Proclaimers at Edinburgh Playhouse
The Proclaimers at Edinburgh Playhouse
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“The first time we came here was to see the Jam,” we were told, as the Proclaimers returned to Edinburgh for a typically well-received hometown show. “We were right up the back of the balcony there, all we could see were the top of Paul Weller and Bruce Foxton’s heads.” Charlie and Craig Reid’s perspective on the Playhouse has changed significantly in the past four decades, and the most striking point to make about their career to date is that they could have filled the venue at almost any other time during those years.

The Proclaimers, Playhouse, Edinburgh ****

While the success of the Sunshine on Leith musical based on the brothers’ songs has brought them wider prominence in recent years, their fanbase has remained solid and devoted, particularly in Scotland.

Essentially, you know what you’re getting from a Proclaimers show, yet the bargain involves much more than simply an impressive selection of fondly-remembered songs.

There are big hits like the song which broke them in 1987, Letter from America, and the almost unnaturally successful (I’m Gonna Be) 500 Miles; there are songs which are perfectly designed to commemorate big life events in eloquent and relatable terms, among them Let’s Get Married, Life With You and And Then I Met You; and the occasional but fully committed foray into the political, particularly Cap in Hand’s support for Scottish Independence.

Yet what’s really impressive is how keen a songwriting ear the pair retain for new music of equal quality.

This tour is in support of their recently-released eleventh album Angry Cyclist, a top 20 hit in the UK, and the songs from it are strong indeed. Among them, the title track bemoans the state of politics in 2018 as a metaphorical cycle ride on treacherous roads, Streets of Edinburgh is a tender love letter to this city, and The Battle of the Booze nails down the middle ground between bleary-eyed drinker’s nostalgia and alcoholism.

“We’re happy people, we don’t have many songs in the minor key,” we were told before the atypically downbeat Restless Soul, a sound which suits them in its recall of Northern Soul’s groove. In their plain jeans and T-shirt, with their humour as wryly masked as only people partly raised in Fife can manage, the Reids still haven’t learned how to act like stars.

Yet when they led the audience in a roaring singalong of Sunshine on Leith, or careened through Joyful Kilmarnock Blues by way of a finale, their abilities as songwriters and performers of heart and quality remained transcendent. - David Pollock