THE KECK Proclaimers

Bespectacled Scotch one-hitters
keep on keepin’ on in search of “the keck.”

 

By RANDY HARWARD

 

Yeah, The Proclaimers did that song from Benny & Joon. Everybody knows at
least two lines. There’s the chorus – “I would walk 500 miles” – and “If I
haver.” The latter stuck only with Americans, who puzzled over the funny
Scottish word and its definition which, incidentally, is “to babble
nonsensically.” That’s the one Proclaimers song everyone knows, because it was
in a movie five years after its initial release, and it’s all most people care
to know about them.

 

It was like this even in 1993 when twin brothers Craig and
Charlie Reid, the bespectacled Scotch Buddy Hollies that are The Proclaimers,
had their lone American hit. Sunshine on
Leith
, the record containing “I’m
Gonna Be (500 Miles),” came out in 1988. While “I’m Gonna Be” hit #11 in the
UK, and “Letter from America” (from the previous album This Is the Story) hit #3 there, the US was largely unaware of the
band until Benny & Joon. I was
lucky enough to know one American who owned Sunshine
on Leith
.

 

We worked together at a clinic in Sugarhouse, filing lab
results and dictating notes in patients’ charts. The office compromise, as far
as the radio, was a Top 40 station-meaning we heard “I’m Gonna Be” three to
four times per shift. More than once, Holly complained how this song was gonna
make the Proclaimers a one-hit wonder, thus ensuring few people would know the charms
of Sunshine on Leith, which she
delineated for me. On her recommendation, I purchased a cassette copy of the
album and took it on a morning drive.

 

It was summer, and the sky was an azure pasture in which scant
gleaming white clouds lazily grazed-Leith‘s
cover shows the Reid brothers gazing at a similar sky. The sunny hit song came
first, and playing it on purpose was much different from involuntary radio
listens; its devotional theme regained its innocence. Despite Holly’s
description, I expected more cute songs about love. Although I’d certainly get
those, and “Then I Met You” and “Sean” would impossibly match the joy and verve
of “I’m Gonna Be,” the Proclaimers weren’t lovesick, one-note chumps. Leith‘s track two, “Cap In Hand,” though
certainly poppy, was a Billy Bragg-ish protest against England’s
dominion over the Reids’ homeland and “What Do You Do” was likewise political:
“What do you do when democracy fails you?” There’s also a spot-on cover of
Steve Earle’s “My Old Friend the Blues” and the Reid’s idea of a honky-tonk
drunk-and-lonely tune, “It’s Saturday Night.”

 

When the Proclaimers came to Salt Lake City for a show at
Club DV8, Holly and I were part of a crowd that, when we didn’t sing along like
drunks in a pub, listened in silence to a band that held us in the palm of
their hand. With a brogue so heavy it doesn’t vanish, as accents typically do
in song (see Freddie Mercury, Nicolai Dunger, Elvis Costello), plus an
endearingly boyish punk sincerity, The Proclaimers had an “it” factor to
complement their masterful songwriting. They weren’t mere one-hit wonders-except
that, in America’s fickle pop-culture consciousness, they are. One song is
often plenty for most Americans. And although The Proclaimers would have minor
aftershocks with “Let’s Get Married” (from 1994’s Hit the Highway), land more songs in films (Dumb and Dumber, Shrek, Bottle Rocket, Mama’s Boy), and continue making records-six since Leith, including the latest Notes & Rhymes, they would never top
the success of “I’m Gonna Be.”

 

Unless, of course, one measures a band by the devotion of
its fans. At South By Southwest in March, the Proclaimers played at least four
shows to promote the then-upcoming Notes.
One of the gigs, in a large theater in the Austin Convention Center-at 2:00 in
the afternoon, drew 400 people-pretty good for a Convention Center show.
Fifteen years after the Club DV8 show, Craig and Charlie Reid hadn’t lost a
step. The SXSW audience, which usually has more than its share of talkers and
scene-makers, was rapt as the band played a short set that of course favored Leith tunes and included “I’m Gonna Be.”

 

Later Craig would tell me “everything we’ve done [since Leith] has been an extension of that,”
not because it was their greatest success, but because it gave the Proclaimers
a career. So the Proclaimers keep making new music, whether or not they’ll be
successful in the States, or if their new stuff will be as successful as Sunshine on Leith. They embrace the
album, which inspired a UK musical, and “I’m Gonna Be,” which has become an
unofficial Scottish anthem. “What we get out of it is the kind of kick [he
pronounces it “keck”] of knowin’ that you’re doing what you’ve always wanted to
do, and you get paid for it… It doesn’t matter how many records you sell, or
how many people think you’re great or how many think you’re shit. It’s just a
matter of the keck.”

 

[Photo Credit: Randy Harward]

 

 

Leave a Reply