Scottish twins The Proclaimers demand that you dance, writes Lee Henry
The Waterfront Hall buzzes with expectation. Tipsy ladies trip over their long coats and men talk football. It’s a surprisingly youthful crowd here to see Craig and Charley Reid, those bespectacled masters of the two-part harmony, and the excitement is infectious.
As the support act belt out Coldplay-by-numbers, the majority of the revellers indulge in alcohol and stare at each other like bulls at red flags, daring anyone and everyone to just have done with it and strike up a chorus of ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’.
Thankfully, the crowd manage to restrain themselves and not long after 9pm the lights go down in the main auditorium and the chief roadie takes to the stage.
‘This is the band’s last gig before heading into Europe,’ he tells the audience. ‘So let’s make this a special one. And if you want to dance, there’s plenty of room at the front of the stage. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, The Proclaimers!’
A man to our left – welcoming us in a thick brogue – raises a Scottish flag and jumps up and down, his girlfriend ever-so-slightly embarrassed. It’s a shock, discovering the make-up of The Proclaimers’ fan base. They’re mad for it, like a crowd of Milwall fans circa ’87. There’s not a blue rinse in sight.
From the off the band are as tight as the proverbial duck's behind, their set washing over the Waterfront Hall like a warm bath; satisfying, welcoming, invigorating.
Watching the Reid twins sing is like witnessing a storm cloud gather pace over the choppiest mountain range only to dissipate in radiant sunshine. They have no airs and graces. They dress casual. They read out request notes before their big hits and they sing, unashamedly, in their own accents.
Strange then, in an age where the likes of Duke Special and Lily Allen are commended for doing the same, that The Proclaimers should get such bad press for their deep Scottish lilts. Not that it affects them, as a foot-stomping version of ‘Throw the R Away’ testifies - 'I'm just going to have to learn to hesitate, to make sure my words, on your Saxon ears don't grate/How dare I show my face, when my diction is such a disgrace.'
And then The Proclaimers do something that I thought impossible – they reference their religious faith in ‘Sunshine on Leith’, and I don’t feel the need to run to the nearest window and leap to my welcome death. They want to be Christian, but they don't ram it down our throats. The song is too beautiful to criticise, its writers too honest to berate.
It isn’t long before the band strike up an old favourite, ‘I’m On My Way’, and soon the groupies have converged in the aisles – women of all ages, and a few over-eager men, wiggling in reckless abandon. The head of security tells them to sit down. Murmurs of discontent begin to spread. Weren’t we told get up and dance?
With ‘Letter From America’ been and gone, it’s something of a surprise that the boys play ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)’ before the encore. Of course, it gets the biggest reaction of all, and finally the head of security gives up the ghost and crosses his hands.
They come like salmon from the sea, like bison from the plain, jigging and jiving for all they’re worth, making for the stage like an army of bridesmaids rushing for the bouquet. Scuffles break out between hardworking men, overexcited women branch out on their own, keen to show off their moves, and all the while the Reid brothers keep their harmonies solid as Mourne Granite.
Somehow the young Scottish guy has made it all the way over to the other side of the auditorium, but now it's his embarrassed girlfriend waving the flag and jumping up and down. Before they know it, The Proclaimers' hour and a half set is over, and it's time to leave.
The brothers exit stage left, adjusting their spectacles before waving goodbye. OK, so they'll never be the Gallaghers, but rest assured, The Proclaimers have soul, they have things to say and they're cooler than Dominic Kerwin can ever hope to be. Next time they're in town, why not try them out? They'll have you on your feet within four bars, and security stewards be damned.