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Devoted crowd sing hearts out for The Proclaimers

By Margaret Chrystall

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WE were only four songs into The Proclaimers’ set in the big top at Bught Park and the crowd cheers were already hitting the decibels you’d expect for the final encore of the night.

Mind you, that fourth song was Letter From America, earliest song to announce the unique power of Craig and Charlie Reid in a big way on a gobsmacked 1987, reaching number two in the singles chart.

Proclaimer Charlie Reid. Picture: Callum Mackay
Proclaimer Charlie Reid. Picture: Callum Mackay

It was a song, as Craig reminded Saturday’s 5,500-strong 2019 crowd, they had played in Inverness many years before – and as most of the crowd would have known, the city had played a crucial part in kick-starting the twins’ 32-year-and-counting globally-successful career that has followed.

Letter From America is also a song that highlights the story of Highland emigration. From the music’s birthplace in the Thatcherite 1980s it also documents the closure of much of Scotland’s heavy industry. And if you think that that political heart at the core of the Reids’ music is any less relevant now Brexit looms, you should have heard the crowd’s heartfelt ear-splittingly strong singalong to encore Cap In Hand.

But with a marathon 24-song set ranging across the Proclaimers’ career, including four from last year’s Angry Cyclist album – the title track opening their show – there were decades of songs to enjoy.

And it was hard not to listen to the responsive, all-ages crowd that stood in front of The Proclaimers, and not be aware of the breadth of the duo’s appeal – and the range of subjects, moods and musical genres the songs cover.

Proclaimer Craig Reid. Picture: Callum Mackay
Proclaimer Craig Reid. Picture: Callum Mackay

There are a kaleidescope of love songs. Tell your beloved you love them with You Make Me Happy or Make My Heart Fly, Then I Met You and Life With You. Fancy proposing? Then like one hopeful guy from Alness on Saturday, go public with Let’s Get Married. Things not going so well? What Makes You Cry? might express your pain, There’s A Touch describes what unrequited love teaches you. Or, if you have deserved love but life has denied it, at least you can comfort yourself with the wise, loving words of the Reids in Should Have Been Loved.

But injustice often inspires a song, such as Born Innocent, which also takes a wry look at human nature itself, as does the jaundiced view on contemporary life – 'Watch bigotry advance’ and ‘With fascists … we’ll dance’ in Angry Cyclist.

Yet being thankful for the simple things – birth of a child (Sean) and grateful for life (Sunshine On Leith) – is also pumping away at the core of what makes The Proclaimers who they are.

That sense of joy shared might be one of the reasons why your heart was thumping out of your chest as the set built to its climax on Saturday.

Astrid will be back playing Inverness in September.
Astrid will be back playing Inverness in September.

Astutely, a winning playlist of retro and more modern songs from DJ Tam Coyle had warmed the crowd up with everything from The Clash’s Rock The Casbah and on with singalongs to everything from The Killers’ Mr Brightside, Erasure’s A Little Respect, Johnny Cash’s Ring Of Fire to Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline with the audience even lifting and spreading their hands out at the appropriate line.

And the choice of four support acts to warm up the crowd from mid-afternoon was inspired.

The joyous harmony-powered pop of revived 90s Lewis/Glasgow band Astrid was a great way to open and gave them a chance to remind the world their much-awaited album Fall, Stand, Dance will be out when they play with Edwyn Collins on September 2 at the Ironworks, Inverness. From one of the songs from that album Chainsmoking Cigarettes, their set included older songs like High In The Morning, Modes Of Transport – ‘I wrote this 20 years ago which is a bit depressing, said Willie Campbell. Willie reminded the audience that he and Charlie Clark had been best friends as youngsters before Astrid, but now at 40 are still best friends and still songwriting together with new songs such as Poison Reaction an enticing taster of what is to come on the album. Last song Distance was dedicated by Willie to Tabs MacAskill of Inverness band The Lush Rollers, whose sudden death last week came as a shock to the North music community.

Zoe Graham. Picture: Callum Mackay
Zoe Graham. Picture: Callum Mackay

Zoe Graham from Glasgow’s sophisticated style with keyboards and guitar accompanying her almost jazzy-edged ‘dream-folk’was unveiled with two new songs Sleep Talking and Cocoon On The Fly – with guitar and lyrics saying “I didn’t know I was broken until now” as her voice swooped up high and sounded broken itself. Industrial Strength, Everything Changes – which is a gentle muse on absorbing what life angsts you with – and The Anniesland Tower, set the scene for EP title track Hacket & Knackered with a thanks to the crowd for coming early to support the support.

Be Charllotte (Charlotte Brimner). Picture: Callum Mackay
Be Charllotte (Charlotte Brimner). Picture: Callum Mackay

With acts like these it was no hardship. And it was good to have the chance to catch the latest incarnation of Be Charlotte (Dundee’s Charlotte Brimner), whose chameleon ability to change style now finds her channelling an inner confidence first expressed in owning the stage when she appeared. Lights came up, three-piece band got in place and we waited for Charlotte expectantly, before she strode on, arms pumping and getting straight into her music. It’s been an exciting time for her, signing to Columbia, releasing her first single Brighter Without You. She returned to playing acoustic guitar which she used for writing songs for Burning about dealing with burning out, she told us. Dreamers too had a sense of empowerment and perhaps the song’s energy makes it easy to see why it was chosen as the Under 19 UEFA Championship official theme. Throughout the set, Charlotte moved to stand at either side, filling the space with her almost defiant presence. There was certainly some of that in Never Going To Grow her last song written in reply to all the people who query Charlotte singing in her natural Dundee accent. It makes an obvious link with The Proclaimers whose first single Throw The R Away went: “… I wouldn’t know a word to say if I flattened all the vowels/And I threw the ‘R’ away’.

And it is a bit sad that musicians are still having to face this over 30 years on. Anyone in doubt of Charlotte’s stance, should listen to the lyrics: “I’m not going to change the way I am for you!”

As final support band Fatherson’s singer Ross Leighton pointed out, it’s been “so long since we played a gig in Inverness”. He was grateful, he said, that people had come along early to see them.

But for anyone who hadn’t seen them for a while, it was a jaw-dropping experience, as the songs from latest album 2018’s The Sum Of All Your Parts take both the songwriting and the intensity of the performance to new levels.

Fatherson's Ross Leighton. Picture: Callum Mackay
Fatherson's Ross Leighton. Picture: Callum Mackay

The potential was always there from the earliest days when the young alt rock band quickly became Highland favourites and played many Belladrums, shifting their way up the stages. They will return in a few weeks’ time.

With a set mostly made up of the new album’s songs (six), there’s a new intent in the three-piece’s presence on-stage (with live guitarist and keyboardist).

Bounding on and standing high at the front of the stage, the band’s palette of colour from the light show and their orange and cream plain suits unified the visual landscape as the pristine sound of their production for the triple hit of Charm School, Rain – slow, chiming drama – and Making Waves, with Ross’s voice soaring with that sob in it up to dial-11 drama.

Oh Yes fired up earwormy loop “This is a warning”, back to 2016 for Open Book and the story of heartbreak. I Am An Island’s I Like Not Knowing united the crowd in their “Oh no, oh no!” chorus. But the night ended with Always, big-hitter from Open Book opening with its hard-to-forget sinister line “Under the water I can hear you breathing”, finally exploding cymbals leaving the song and you. Wanting more…

At the end of the night, by the time the last note of the Reids’ full-on passionate singing of I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) died away, the crowd was on such a pumped-up cheering high it took a minute to remember this was the bit they were meant to start yelling for an encore.

It came anyway with the huge sound of Cap In Hand, Make My Heart Fly and The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues sung as one by all with the devotion of a gospel rally. MC

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