Since this post was written in May, BBC Scotland have broadcast a documentary marking the 30th anniversary of This Is The Story, the Proclaimers’ first album, narrated by David Tennant. It was a very well-done insight into the band’s career and the resonance their songs have for so many of us. It will be on the iPlayer for a wee while for those within the British Isles.
I saved it especially. A new Proclaimers album, even just a live one. It deserved special attention. So, as my train crossed the Mearns after a day trip to Dunnottar, I clicked through and found the album, recorded last year far off in California. (Live At The Belly Up is the title.) Soon Sky Takes The Soul, once my ringtone, came through my ears and I knew it was good. As the train moved south, more than once I mouthed the words and moved my head to the music as thankfully the train was quiet at that point. Yellow fields were out the window as I slid further down the seat to the tunes of Letter From America and Over And Done With. A broad smile shifted my facial muscles nearer Arbroath with Spinning Around In The Air, words of Sam Cooke’s voice and quipping of old Boston as out the window were sand dunes and the Fife coast beyond. Sean, from the Sunshine on Leith album, starts with simple guitar chords, just right for a sea as the sun set, dark, moody.
Appropriately Cap In Hand, all about an independent Scotland, came on passing through Angus, an SNP heartland, and past Buddon Ness with its signs denoting use by the Ministry of Defence. Through Dundee came the newer Rainbows and Happy Regrets, quite appropriately for the City of Discovery, and then Misty Blue as the train got busier and the light slowly left the sky, dark clouds and darker arches of the Tay Bridge as it coursed towards Fife.
Then came Sunshine on Leith, even though I was still by the Tay. The Proclaimers are both much older than they were when it was first recorded in 1990 and the older voices suited the more soulful and subdued feel. ‘While I’m worth’ was softer, the words ‘tears clear my blindness’ emphasised more than the original, making it more of a ballad in this version. Sunshine on Leith is still the best song ever written, especially with the refrain played on a mandolin instead of a fiddle in the original, and it made me gasp and tears just about came into the bargain. Wow. It felt appropriate for my mood at the end of a long day, more chilled but still unspeakably beautiful.
Hate My Love For You struck up and I sat back up in my chair, a reminder that Perthshire fields were still out the window and I had a while until the train hit Glasgow. I’m On My Way was as ever loud and celebratory, hopefully of the moment when louder folk out on the piss were to alight at Perth. As the train passed close to the Tay again, there were nice reflections of the trees on the river in the twilight. Then I Met You was more urgent and faster than normal but had a nice guitar riff. The loud folk duly left the train as the train got to Perth.
I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) is the best-known Proclaimers song so invariably it is left until nearer the end. I always say there are better Proclaimers songs but this one isn’t so bad either. Indeed I was still nearly jumping about the train even through the tiredness which was hitting me ever more as the train moved steadily south. Again Craig and Charlie sounded older but it was a nice twist on it with a softer guitar and also without the ‘da-da-da-da-da’ bit coming in too early from the crowd, a common theme through live Proclaimers performances, particularly here in Scotland.
The curtain call came with Make My Heart Fly, a gentle number from the first album ‘This Is The Story’, a gentle air with the guys in harmony, a bit of piano instead of the flute, which suited it. Life With You is always reliable, especially with added electric guitar. Then the guitar strum which led into the finale, ‘The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues’. What the Californian crowd would make of mentions of the Hibees, Wishaw and Kilmarnock bonnets, one can only speculate. It was awesome, more upbeat than the original but still a song of the night. As the guitar struck up, my hand hit my notebook in time more than once. The Proclaimers turned into rock gods at this point too, with the guitar leading into a loud crescendo, as frenzied as they get as the song and the set drew to a close. I was still in Perthshire but it was an incredible way to spend a train journey, with my favourite band in my ears and some of my favourite songs rendered anew. I certainly didn’t want for anything.