The distinctions between Scotland and England may seem arcane to many Americans, but to the Proclaimers they make all the difference.
"Sunshine On Leith," the new album by these Scottish twins, includes a couple of songs protesting England's political dominance over Scotland, which merged with England in the early 1700s to form the United Kingdom. But the differences between Scottish and English character come out even in the love songs that make up most of the album.
English rockers tend to relish clever irony, subtle twists, and the droll humor that is commonly viewed as part of the English national makeup. The Proclaimers, who play tonight at the Coach House, don't go in for such artful dodges. Their music comes across with a guileless enthusiasm that would seem naive or foolishly sentimental if it were not rendered with such winning, full-bore exuberance.
In Scottish lore, the legendary 14-Century king, Robert the Bruce, had his heart cut out and embalmed upon his death so that his crusading countrymen could carry it into battle in the Holy Land. Charlie and Craig Reid, the 27-year-old Scots who make up the Proclaimers, aren't afraid to throw their unguarded hearts into a musical fray.
"It's more of a tradition in England not to take things very seriously," Charlie Reid, who plays guitar and sings high harmony parts, said Wednesday from San Francisco. The band was enjoying a break between a successful tour of Australia, where its album has gone platinum, and the resumption tonight of its campaign to win over audiences in the United States. "That's not the tradition in Scotland. Scottish people tend to take things very seriously. Along with Irish people, they definitely get more emotional about things and are more up front than English people. That influence is in the record."
While their hearts and their thickly burred accents may be Scottish, the Proclaimers draw heavily on musical styles that are American, especially country music. The brothers flavor several songs with a pedal steel guitar and they do a pretty version of Steve Earle's country ballad "My Old Friend the Blues."
"My dad had quite an extensive record collection, mainly of American music--traditional jazz, R&B and country," Charlie Reid said. "He just played that stuff in the house. We started playing instruments ourselves, and it went on from there."
At first, the Reid brothers tried to form bands, with Charlie on guitar and Craig on drums. They became an acoustic duo in 1982, after moving from their small village of Auchtermuchty to the city of Edinburgh.
Their early approaches to British record companies and music publishers were rebuffed, Charlie Reid said, partly because they sounded too Scottish.
"We got told we wouldn't get a record contract because of the way we sing. The accent was a big factor. They doubted that the accent would translate into record sales in England. But we've had hits in Britain. It just goes to show."
The Proclaimers' break came when an established British band, the Housemartins, heard one of their tapes and invited them to come along as opening act on a 1986 British tour. That stirred record company interest and led to the release of the Proclaimers' first album, "This Is The Story," in 1987.
The record, which featured the Reids as an acoustic duo without additional musicians, included a song called "Throw the 'R' Away," a celebration of the thick accent that some experts had said would hold them back.
For "Sunshine on Leith," the twins filled out their sound with studio musicians. They are touring with a four-man backing band.
Asked why they decided to expand the acoustic duo format they had pursued for more than 5 years, Charlie Reid said: "We didn't feel we were progressing as quickly, or in the way we wanted to. It got to the stage where it was getting a bit stale for us."
A combination of ambitious, catchy melody with an earthy, unbridled approach to singing helps the Proclaimers put across songs of unabashed joy such as "Sean," Charlie Reid's ode to his son, and brightly surging romantic numbers in which the brothers go to extremes in expressing their ardor.
Lines like "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," might read like the purest blarney, but the Proclaimers, in their innocent zest, have a knack for making them sound purely charming.
\o7 The Proclaimers play tonight at 9 at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Tickets: $10. Information: (714) 496-8930.