Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:10 June 2022
Glancing at a list of the top albums in Australia for 1988 it is clear that no particular musical genre dominated. Some of the decade’s prominent trends—New Wave, synth pop, glam metal—had receded and the ever fragmenting music scene meant there was little chance of a particular style remaining ascendent for long.
In the Top 10, for example, we find the polished pop-rock of INXS at the pinnacle with Kick while Jimmy Barnes purveyed his honest pub rock on Freight Train Heart. Also prominent were Kylie Minogue, George Michael and Crowded House. A re-established Pink Floyd asserted themselves after a long hiatus while Tracy Chapman’s debut caught the public’s ear. Diverse, for sure.
So perhaps it is not at all odd that a Scots folk-rock duo formed by twin brothers Craig and Charlie Reid should find success with their second album, Sunshine On Leith, released in August 1988. The lead single, "I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)", topped the Australian charts while the album made it to #2. Not bad for a couple of working class lads who began their musical journey after being gifted a second hand guitar and a battered drum kit.
The single was the lead track on the album, beginning with a muted guitar strummed to a brisk marching beat. The singers, voices superbly merged in that way only siblings can, are so obviously Scots that you are immediately transported into their world. It’s a simple, catchy song very much in the folk-rock tradition. You can hear why Kevin Rowland (Dexy’s Midnight Runners) offered to assist The Proclaimers in recording their first demo and why jangle-pop indie band The Housemartins wasted no time in inviting them to open for them on their 1986 tour.
Although there is a full band on Sunshine On Leith, the feel of the album is decidedly acoustic. Take the spritely "Then I met you" where the guitars set out the song structure before the band kicks in for the chorus (with Jerry Donahue adding some fine guitar breaks). "Come on nature" is a kind of pastoral power pop, and very appealing with it. "I’m on my way" has a jaunty Everly Brothers feel.
There is an optimistic energy running through the entire album, with many traditional styles adding to the variety of flavours. "My old friend the blues" has a strong country tinge, while the title track (and second single) opens with rhythmic piano and some glorious harmonies before the triple time waltz is embellished by fiddle and steel guitar. There is pleasure in the simplicity.
The 2022 (RSD) re-issue adds some really worthwhile music to the set. The second LP picks up the B-sides from several singles and a 1989 BBC Session. There are also three live tracks (two in the studio, one from Glastonbury 1989). There’s even a Christmas song.
If you remember The Proclaimers warmly, then this lovely re-issue will delight. If the brothers are new to your ears, check out their honest songwriting and flowing, sun-kissed harmonies if you are in the mood for Scottish folk-pop with a difference.
© Bruce Jenkins 2022