The Proclaimers:
walking 1,000 miles

An interview by Tom Knapp,
November 1994

Craig and Charlie Reid never expected a hit single. They certainly never thought they'd see the same song climb the pop charts twice. But the Proclaimers, a Scottish rock band fronted by a pair of spectacled, nerdy-looking brothers, has based its fame on the success of a single song.

Many people don't even know the name. But start singing the words to "I'm Gonna Be" and a lot of folks will smile and join in the refrain: "Oh, I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more, Just to be the man who walked 1,000 miles to fall down at your door."

Sound familiar? The irreverent love song, appropriately subtitled "500 Miles," hit the charts after the release of their 1988 album, Sunshine on Leith. Then, after a successful world tour, the furor died down and the Proclaimers disappeared from view. They shot back into the limelights in 1993, not because of a new recording, but because their five-year-old hit rocketed back onto the charts after appearing in the movie Benny and Joon.

"You couldn't have scripted" that kind of repeat success, said Charlie a few months later, while promoting their follow-up album, Hit the Highway. "It was a total surprise to us and, I'm sure, to the record company as well." Although Hit the Highway was the band's third album, they are still known mostly for that one song. But Charlie said that doesn't really bother them much.

"It's better that people know us for something than they don't know us at all," he said, philosophically. Still, he said, they wouldn't mind another trek up the charts. And the band didn't spend the intervening years waiting for good luck to happen. Charlie said they were about to go back into the studio to record Hit the Highway when the unexpected stroke of luck sent them back out on the road for another "500 Miles" promotion tour. Once that was out of the way, they produced the next album, which includes some quirky, signature tunes including the title track, "Let's Get Married" and "Don't Turn Out Like Your Mother."

"It's been quite a strange way of doing things, because it's been so long since we put Sunshine on Leith out," Charlie said. "We definitely went back into the studio more optimistically."

But if greater fame is in their future, they want it to be for creating something new, not for a carbon copy of Sunshine or another "500 Miles."

"We want to be successful at what we're doing, but we want to do it on our own terms," Charlie said. "Musically, I think the new album has a harder edge," he said. Sunshine on Leith had more of a country/folk influence. Hit the Highway is rockier, more up-tempo." The subject matter is also more personal, he said. For instance, "What Makes You Cry?" is a poignant, yet witty treatment of Charlie's divorce.

The band has also stressed religious themes with songs like "The More I Believe," "The Light" and a cover of a 40-year-old gospel tune, "I Want to Be a Christian." It's a marked change from the band's earlier work, which focused more on light-hearted love and politics.

Charlie agreed that religion is more overt in the new album. The Reids have never tried to hide their religious tendencies, he said, even choosing a name that seems more appropriate to a gospel group than a rock band. "It's a strong name, and it has certain gospel overtures to it as well," he said. "Not that we set out to be a gospel band. We certainly didn't."

Charlie describes the Proclaimers' sound as pop music or folk pop. The unusual blend of whimsy and introspection in their lyrics is not an intentional gimmick, he said. "There's no hidden agenda. It's just the way it comes out. The songs are mainly autobiographical, so it's going to reflect the way we are. ... Sometimes it's troublesome. It's hard to say what you want to say simply."

The important thing, he said, is finding an audience for the music. "It's written to be heard," he said. "It's not just for someone to listen to sitting in a coffeehouse or some pub."

Afterword: In the years since this interview was completed in 1994, the Proclaimers have been unable to recapture the kind of attention they received with "I'm Gonna Be." After Hit the Highway stalled in sales, the band faded back into obscurity.

[ by Tom Knapp ]