Erikka Askelan: Reid brothers still bring me Sunshine

The Proclaimers. Picture: Greg Macvean
The Proclaimers. Picture: Greg Macvean
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I AM sufficiently decrepit to still collect CDs. Sure, I’m down enough with the kids so that most of my music is stored on the laptop.

But it seems too ephemeral to buy only digital albums. How will visitors judge how tastefully timeless yet subtly hip you are if they can’t snoop at your collection of CDs while you refresh their drinks?

But mine is a collection with gaps, small abysses in my nostalgic personal history of musical time and taste. Which is why combining wine drinking and buying instantly downloadable music is dangerous. This is how I came to own Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, which I am not too proud to admit, and John Denver’s the Ultimate Collection, of which perhaps “proud” isn’t the right word.

But it is clearly a sign of my age that I am looking back rather than collecting the manufactured pap that accounts for most “hits” these days (I’m looking at you, One Direction).

Nevertheless, the most recent chasm that needed filling urgently was the Proclaimers’ Sunshine on Leith. Having lived near to the ancient Edinburgh port of which the Reid brothers sing for close to two years now, it seemed a massive oversight.

Listening to some albums is like sinking into a warm bath of fond memories. Listening to the songs on Sunshine, for me, was like this but with the jets turned on.

The last time I had a copy must have been the early 1990s when the album swept North America, where I grew up. Its first tune, the catchy I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), had been included in the soundtrack of a surprise hit film. But it was the whole album that we listened to all summer.

Twenty-six years since its release, some of the tunes are ingrained into the consciousness of most Scots. It has been turned into a theatrical musical, which has been adapted for a film starring Peter Mullan and Jane Horrocks to be released later this year. The first track often heralds the end of any party involving dancing, or celebrates when Scotland score a try at Murrayfield. Its title track has become the unofficial anthem for Hibs fans. And someone will do research someday on the number of times the simple but moving lyrics of the same song has accompanied the first dance at weddings. And I am sure the heartfelt Scottish nationalism of the song Cap in Hand has sentiments that even Alistair Darling, head of the No campaign, could probably agree with.

Sometimes something so familiar can breed contempt, and people say it’s boring. Or if musical snobbery is your thing, it’s too catholic. But to think like this would be to disregard the album’s role in the global influence of Scottish culture – akin to bagpipes, kilts, and Braveheart.

When I first heard the album, I had no idea where, or even what, Leith was. So, it is true some of the lyrics’ subtle ironies are lost on international audiences. But what was clear was the wry honesty of the “almost” when he sings, “when the money comes in for the work I do/ I’ll pass almost every penny on to you”. That is what makes a love song real.

I love its generosity of spirit. When so much music now seems to be about shaking booty and casual sex, there is the Reid brothers’ paean to Jean. Perhaps she is a bit of a slapper – undoubtedly, she lets him “get lucky” with the singer. But as a result, he doesn’t dismiss her as a one-night-stand, he loves her, he loves her, he loves her. That’s not what Justin Beiber says.

When I first started listening to this collection of songs, both my Mum and I shared the enjoyment, at an age where there was little else we agreed on. It is unusual for a hit record to mention God as much as Sunshine does. Having been brought up in, and abandoned, the tenets of a rather dour Protestant sect, its attitudes were a revelation to me. While my Mum, I think, appreciated its references to “the Chief”, I liked the fact that it could embrace God but still be about lust and getting pished enough to want to “scratch cars with my key again”. It seemed healthy and human.

Yet, I still don’t know what “havering” is. Not that it matters. But if Charlie and Craig want to drop me a line to explain it, then feel free.