Proclaimer Charlie Reid – Hibernian’s sunshine superman

For Charlie Reid, following Hibs is an emotion, not something he can explain logically but something vital nonetheless. Photograph: Rob Casey/SNS
For Charlie Reid, following Hibs is an emotion, not something he can explain logically but something vital nonetheless. Photograph: Rob Casey/SNS
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It’s not surprising to learn one of the creators of songs such as Letter From America and yes, Sunshine on Leith, is preoccupied with the notion of home.

But it does seem significant to learn it isn’t south Edinburgh, where he now lives, or even Leith, where he was born, where Charlie Reid feels a soothing sense of familiarity, and belonging, rush over him.

Neither is it Ock-Tore-Mock-ty, as the late Paula Yates once memorably pronounced Auchtermuchty on the Proclaimers’ breakthrough appearance on The Tube. This Fife village was where the Reid brothers spent their teenage years, dreaming up inspired couplets like “I can understand why Stranraer lie so lowly/They could save a lot of points by signing Hibs’ goalie.”

But home for Charlie Reid is still more specific. It’s Easter Road, the football ground you can’t quite see through the legs of the twins – poignantly, they appear to be looking for it – on the front cover photograph of the album Sunshine on Leith, released in 1988. It’s where, he says, his brother Craig and thousands of others like them still go to feel the presence of those they loved, “who stood there before them”.

Their song Sunshine of Leith seems successful in getting to the heart of this, perhaps more so than any other so-called football anthem. “It is about a relationship with a person, but it is also about a relationship with a place, and whatever you believe is a higher power,” he says, of the song written by Craig in the mid 1980s.

“Craig had the idea for the melody for about a year I think,” continues Reid. “It was when we were on the road with the first album. We were trying and trying to finish it. Eventually he got the idea for the lyrics when we were flying back from a promotional day. In those days big record companies would fly you down to London for a couple of days and fly you back again.

“There was plenty of money around, people were selling records,” he adds. “On one of those innumerable trips, the flight came back over the Forth. It was a sunny day. It was like, ‘Ah, that’s it’.

“It has nothing to do directly with the football club. But it’s certainly a love song.”

It is rare for such an eloquent expression of life, love and loss should be claimed by supporters of a football team. Perhaps saying it all about Hibs and their struggles, this song will be blasting out of car stereos en route to Hampden ahead of today’s League Cup final against Ross County. In these fans’ anxious state, it wouldn’t do to be singing “Ee-Aye-Adio We’re Gonna Win The Cup”, that’s for sure.

Knowing an actual song of theirs will be passed down generations of Hibees, from father to daughter, mother to son, the way the best folks songs are, must be incredibly satisfying for the Proclaimers.

Asked to pick what means more between having a million-selling record – the Proclaimers have enjoyed top ten hits on both sides of the Atlantic, including a No.1 in Britain – and hearing Sunshine on Leith belted out by thousands of Hibs supporters, Reid selects the latter, “without hesitation”.

“It’s something that connects you with your own culture. And that’s a very powerful thing,” he notes. He specifically dates its emergence as a Hibs song with potential to endure at the UEFA Cup clash with AEK Athens shortly after 9/11, when “emotions were high because of what had happened in America”. He adds: “Like our career, it’s been a slow burner.

“I love moving football songs, not hateful ones,” he continues. “And you know funny ones are good as well. But you can’t stop people singing – well, Police Scotland might. The punters will sing what they want to sing. I hope it [Sunshine on Leith] is life affirming because a lot of other terracing songs are not.”

No disrespect to Ross County supporters, who might have something equally heartfelt prepared in the event of victory, but it seems true many neutrals hope Hibs lift the League Cup this afternoon just for the chance to hear a rendition of one of football’s finest hymns once more.

Like the best football songs, Sunshine on Leith isn’t actually a song about football. And yet it works. It works even when Hibs have lost. It certainly works when they have won, as they did against Kilmarnock in 2007’s League Cup final in emotion drenched scenes for which the song provided a perfect soundtrack – manager John Collins had recently lost his Hibs-daft father.

It worked again last month after a Scottish Cup fifth-round win over rivals Hearts, when a clip of the fans singing the song while the players embarked on a lap of honour went viral. Plenty fans of other sides watched in envy, lamenting the absence of such a stirring tune from their own club’s songbook.

Just last week Jason Cummings, who scored the winner that night, went all Lester Bangs on us when describing the song as “an absolute anthem”. Some Hibs fans contend it should be the club’s official anthem.

But for outliers like the Proclaimers, who took pride in shaking up the pop world armed with only a guitar and tambourine, such an establishment stamp doesn’t appeal. Reid believes songs gain status “by popular acclaim”. Just hearing it sung in the stands at Easter Road and elsewhere when Hibs are playing away is enough. “Words cannot express how much that means to both Craig and I,” he says.

It reminds Reid why he got involved in various fans’ movements, from the vigorously effective Hands off Hibs campaign in 1990 to fight Hearts owner Wallace Mercer’s hostile takeover bid, to last year’s more peaceable Hibernian Supporters Limited, of which Reid is a founding director. It invited comments that someone who a few months earlier was calling for chairman Rod Petrie to resign had been pacified.

“It took me a long while to be convinced it was the right thing to do, but no regrets,” he says. “Ultimately, we all know we are going to disappear at some point, so I would rather help facilitate a move towards a majority shareholding owned by supporters. I suspect in a few years’ time Hibs will be majority fans owned. How it is done, Sir Tom will have his ideas, Petrie will have his ideas.

“The important thing for me is that I think Farmer has accepted the fans’ need to take control. And it means he must move aside. So after a long period that is coming to fruition. I don’t think he is being evasive about it.

“He [Farmer] has stood by us,” he adds. “But like any regime or political party, or whatever, people have a date when they should leave. To his credit, I think he has realised it. I am a reformist. I think the best way is a smooth transition to a new system. If I can play a very small part in that, I am delighted.

“I’d hope in the fullness of time the club would be 100 per cent owned by supporters. Which would give the supporters 100 per cent of responsibility, which is something we have to be aware of.”

Reid is mindful of the club’s social history. Asked where in Hibs’ history he’d most like to visit in a Tardis, he chooses not the era of the Famous Five, or even that last Scottish Cup win in 1902.

Rather, he opts for Hibs’ first Scottish Cup win over Dumbarton in 1887, a year before Celtic were even formed. He is fascinated by “the genesis of the club, the beginnings of it, the struggle of it”. He adds: “It was the triumph of a team who for social reasons felt very excluded. To have then gone on to win the Scottish Cup was a marker in Scottish society.”

In this, it seems, he is not so different to Farmer, whose Leith heritage convinced him to step in to save Hibs more than quarter of a century ago.

“He obviously has a moral, ethical agenda and that is good, the club was founded on that,” says Reid. “But I think it is always difficult when you get non-football people coming in and they are doing it for whatever reason, yet don’t get ‘it’. They don’t get football. You have to get football.

“There is no rationality in supporting a football team, certainly not a team like Hibs,” he adds. “They don’t get ‘it’, and can’t get ‘it’, because they don’t see their dad standing there long after they are gone.

“My dad was a Hibs fan, but he like a lot of the guys in the 1940s and 50s, he was into a lot of sport. He played a bit of rugby. He was in the army, he watched Hibs – but he was not a Hibs obsessive. He would go to Tynecastle as well. His favourite player was Gordon Smith. But after that it would be Dave Mackay, Willie Bauld, Charlie Tully, guys like that. He loved football.”

So too does Reid, but he doesn’t like what it sometimes does to him. He has a surprising admission to make when the conversation swings back to where he was sitting on the night of the recent Hearts match, when Sunshine on Leith moistened eyes once more. Not at Easter Road was the answer. He didn’t go to the game. He hasn’t been to a derby for as many as ten years.

“There are two teams I do not go and watch Hibs play – Rangers and Hearts,” he says. “I cannot take the feelings it stirs in me. Even Celtic, I struggle with. But I don’t go. My lads go. I am aware of what it does to me.

“It is not a question of losing, it is a question of how you feel about yourself. It never used to bother me. And then I realised it was affecting me too much. If I see Scotland playing a big football match or rugby match, I have to turn away. It gets to you.”

Such strong feelings help make him more empathetic to others. When Hearts lost the league title on the last day at Dens 30 years ago in May, he was “at an SNP thing, I think”. Someone told him what had happened. “I will be drummed out of the Brownies for this, but I felt sorry for them,” he says.

Reid knows what it’s like to have dreams dashed. He recalls feeling as bad as he’s ever done when the talented Hibs team from 2005 lost 
a Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden to Dundee United, after being 1-0 up at half-time. At least it avoided the potential, and let’s face it probable, pain of losing another final.

The Proclaimers used to tell their manager to avoid booking shows for Scottish Cup final day, just in case. Now they make a point of making sure they are otherwise engaged when this date comes around, and it’s true – when this year’s final is due to be played, the Proclaimers will be preparing to say “hello Salisbury” on the latest leg of an English tour, prior to heading to America (they open their summer and autumn series of shows with a pre-tournament gig at the Hong Kong Sevens, next month).

But Reid will be at Hampden Park today, with sons Daniel and Sean – his youngest, Michael, has been spared the Hibs affliction, and prefers drumming. Charlie doesn’t know if Craig is definitely going. But with them both having turned 54 a week ago yesterday (Charlie is the elder, by 30 minutes), it seems the perfect belated birthday present for the brothers to watch Hibs win a trophy together before joining in a few choruses of Sunshine on Leith.

Charlie debated whether to do this interview because he was worried about jinxing things before reaching the reasonable conclusion: “It’s Hibs, we’ve gone beyond that now.” He attempts to portray a man at ease with whatever happens today.

“I will try get there an hour before kick off, so no rush,” he says. “Buy a pie, cup of tea, sit down and watch the game. And because of the type of final it is, I will be able to leave the result, good or bad, and accept it. Hibs have a lot of games coming up. I hope something doesn’t give, but I worry about it, with what looks like a long play-off programme.”

Asked what are his plans in the event of victory, he says: “I am maybe a wee bit too old to go down and look for the open topped bus. I will come back here and nip to the pub and have a pint whatever happens.” He just hopes it isn’t one in which he needs to drown his sorrow… sorrow, sorrow, sorrow.