"I think there is definitely with us a faultline between our early work and the MTV years – our 'sellout' years! It was a different attitude and a different band in the early days. As a band we were always keen to move ahead and that meant leaving certain things behind. I think that's the case with any artists with long careers. Everyone moves on. However, we've got new management, a new agent, all of them younger, all of them into Simple Minds but... they prefer the earlier years!"
In the late 1980s, Simple Minds were one of the biggest groups in the world, writing stadium-swelling anthems earnestly laden with political goodwill such as 'Belfast Child' and 'Mandela Day'. Unlike U2, however, mega-success never quite sat well with Simple Minds – certainly not with the fans of their post-punk beginnings, who now regarded them as swollen and ungainly where once they seemed fleet and quicksilver, nor within the band themselves, to whom success had come as something of a surprise - the "big hit from Mars" as Kerr himself puts it. America had featured in Kerr's early lyrics frequently as an enticing mirage, a shimmering signifier of great promise and uncertainty, but it was only with their cover of 'Don't You Forget About Me', a Keith Forsey song that the group only reluctantly recorded for The Breakfast Club soundtrack and didn't even choose to include on their next album, that they "conquered" the USA.
Internal tensions, personnel departures and eventual commercial decline followed, before Simple Minds, revolving around the original nucleus of Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill, rediscovered some of their old manageability and form in the new century. And now, in a unique live project, they are touring their first five albums, featuring five songs from each on any given night.
"For ten years we had a stand-off with EMI and as a result the catalogue was neglected," explains Kerr, who strikes a relaxed, good-humoured figure at ease with himself and comfortable with his present lot, in the restaurant of a Kensington hotel. "Now all that's come together and we've found ourselves naturally digging out the early things. If you'd asked me about this ten years ago I'd have said, no, those songs have had their day. But in the last few tours we have put in a few early obscurities among the big hits and found that not only did they hold their own but they were the songs we looked forward to playing most. So this approach made perfect sense."
Kerr also wishes to remind people "educated" in all those I Heart The Eighties documentaries, which caricature the decade as deely-bopping in three short hops from Duran Duran to Live Aid to the Yuppie era that there were overtones and undercurrents glibly ignored by the today's grinning poptalgists. For all their singularity, Simple Minds were not the only band to follow a meaningful trajectory from punk to pop. Certainly, to make such a journey was only considered a "betrayal" by punk's most lumpen element, the sort who sat scowling, Mohican-ed and left behind on benches along the Kings Road throughout the Eighties. For some, it was conscious and premeditated, like ABC and Scritti Politti, who devised a sort of meta-pop, an ought-to-be pop that was prettier, dramatic and more dazzling than whatever now constituted the "real" thing, transmitting Brechtian, fourth wall-breaking signals of acknowledgement to the hipsters and yet so caught up in the impassioned, self-adoring upward beauty of what they were doing as never to lapse into self-knowingness. New Order had had to reinvent themselves as a result of Ian Curtis's death, The Associates couldn't help themselves, while the likes of The Bunnymen and The Cure were irresistibly drawn out of the cult shadows. Others, like Wire and The Pop Group would have loved to have had hits, had they come their way. The charts were not to be distained but were a zone ripe for radicalisation, and beyond that, something undreamt of. All of these groups reached a zenith at the same time in 1982, arguably the finest ever year for pop.
"We had a voracious musical appetite and it was all over the place. The lead singer would love John Cale, the drummer's favourite band was Wizzard! For us, our first overt pop moment was 'Promised You A Miracle' in '82. But it was a different pop sensibility that year. The Associates, doing their haunting thing, Human League bringing something from the industrial synthpop era, ABC... We were all staying at The Columbia and we were all in there, us, Soft Cell, the Bunnymen, having these spiky pop hits."
The NME's Paul Morley incensed some, but not others, that year when he spoke of Simple Minds in particular as "post-ABBA".
"I loved all that. The music papers were such a great influence. You could feed off the verbal energy. They could articulate a feeling in the air. John Peel could play your records, which was great, but when the papers put a context around it, or a great picture by Anton Corbijn, that was it. All that encouragement was just what you needed to continue, to get more on it. Also, the Morleys of the world helped create this narrative around it. It was a particular kind of pop – melodically strong, and yet very homemade, self-invented. Even with Trevor Horn working with ABC, it was still ABC's vision."
"Vision" was a key word; the "new pop" of 1982 felt colourised, dramatic, and carried its own, implicit manifesto. However, by the mid-80s, vision turned to video, and things changed for the worse.
"I remember doing our first video. And we asked, "What's a video?" and someone said, "You know, like Queen do, all standing in a row." Yeah, that changed so much – but it's amazing that it's come and gone. Went away ten years ago. We're still paying for our videos! They were colossally expensive. Two videos cost more than an album. And the costs went into this black hole. And we were pretty well managed, God knows how bad it was for others."
Simple Minds had begun life in 1977 as members of Johnny And The Self Abusers, an outfit who recorded one single for the Chiswick label which had helped crank up into musical life the likes of Kirsty McColl and Joe Strummer (as the 101ers). Eventually forming their own splinter group, Kerr and Burchill lucked out in their home city of Glasgow. "There'd been a couple of riots at punk gigs in Glasgow, by The Stranglers and so the city fathers banned visiting punk bands. Well, we weren't visiting. So we were OK to play. And for two months, which then seemed like an eternity, there was a starvation of punk in Glasgow. So when we played, they were queuing round the block! There were Aberdeen punks, Dundee punks fighting Stirling punks – and it was horrendous, people jumping up and down, and me and Charlie looked at each other and said, "Wouldn't it be great to do this for real?"
Prior to their first album, they augmented their line-up with a keyboardist, Michael McNeil, who would add much-needed dimension and shine – and a grasp of the instrument that was as influential as any punk platter – the sequencer, as inaugurated in pop by Giorgio Moroder in 1977.
"In 1977 we were playing a disco at Glasgow in the City Centre. There were always fights in this place. We spent the day doing fanzine interviews and getting drunk, Dutch courage because we were terrified of playing this gig. And as we were about to go on that night, the DJ said, you're on after me but you've got a good few minutes, you're OK, it's a 12" I'm playing. And we had no idea what a 12" was. Anyway, it was Donna Summer's "I Feel Love". And on a mixture of cheap wine and speed it sounded even more extraordinary. Her voice sounded Arabic, that wail, not an R&B vocal at all. and the repetition – it felt on a par with the Velvets on "What Goes On", or (Kraftwerk's) Trans Europe Express. Couldn't wait till the next day to get that record.
"By this point, too, sequencers became cheap. Punk bands could get hold of them. Up until then they took up half a room. Later, Charlie discovered this guy who played in a crap wedding band with a synthesizer, a sequencer. He was an accordion player, originally, would you believe, did weddings, got interested in the sequencer, only listened to top 30 stuff. This was Michael McNeil. We brought him in, gave him all this Krautrock stuff... That was a very fortunate move."
Taken up by Arista via the good offices of manager Bruce Findlay, Simple Minds's made their debut album, Life In A Day, released in 1979, is creditable enough but today feels like a rather slick amalgam of various old and new wave influences, from Roxy to Elvis Costello and particular, in its jaggedness, Magazine. Rhythmically it's a bit regular and floorbound, while Kerr himself sings throughout in an oddly higher register than he would adopt later.
"That was sheer terror!" he laughs. "I have bittersweet emotions about that first album. Incredibly exciting, obviously. We were just starting to get a wee bit clever. We got a new keyboard in and he brought lots of frills and hooks. We got the deal, very exciting, John Leckie, the producer we wanted to work with even though we didn't know what a producer did, he'd worked with all these bands like XTC, Magazine... I remember at the time, the result sounded professional, sounded impressive, but I privately felt there was something not quite right with it which I couldn't articulate. No one else was saying anything, but... we went to press it, got the acetates, and as we were about to drive up to Scotland, someone gave me a cassette of Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division... and I thought, we've completely blown it. Our live stuff, our demos were a bit darker, more hints of the Velvets, etc, and no hint at all of The Boomtown Rats! I wanted to scrap it, make it again, but... I think we'd played the songs to death by the time we brought them to the studio, played around with them, got a bit clever with them and didn't reproduced them in their raw state."
Real To Real Cacophony, their second album, was released just months later in the same year and represented a step towards mid-season Minds. Kerr's now sunken-chin vocals were more perfectly pitched, while, in sync with the times, and contemporaries such as Joy Division and Wire, Simple Minds were developing a more European sensibility, setting their faces Eastward rather than across the Atlantic as had been UK rock's traditional wont. Which isn't to say that they had forsaken their broodier, more noir-ish American heroes.
"We toured with Magazine, who were colossal and the fact they had no commercial success didn't dawn on us. And despite what I felt about the first album, things were improving, we were getting calls from all these European producers, travelling to Dusseldorf, learning that life, absorbing those influences. Out of that came 'Premonition', 'Factory' and 'Changeling', going to those Berlin clubs and thinking, this is where it should go."
Real To Real was more experimental in terms of rhythms, of establishing a space and equal dialogue between the instruments that is one of post-punk's great legacies, as well as ambient. imagistic tendencies, as on the quasi-instrumental 'Veldt'.
"It takes on board all the stuff missed out on with the demo, the Eno influences and so forth. At that stage, we didn't think about hits. Lou Reed didn't get hits, Magazine didn't. Granted. Bowie and Roxy did, but hits were something way out there. I remember, we wanted to sign to Arista because it was the label of Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop. Then we went to their offices for the first time and the first thing you see into this plush, marble lobby is a huge portrait of Barry Manilow! The penny dropped that he was the guy who was paying for all this.
"Various influences crowded into the Minds, the stuff we'd been listening to for years. There was also a strong prog rock thing, Krautrock, but there was especially something about the energy of The Stooges – their albums, and the Velvets, they sold by the ton in Glasgow. There was a violence, a claustrophobia in common. Iggy once spoke about the sound the Stooges owing something to the Detroit automobile factories. Well, A stone's throw from us was the railway yard and the cleansing factory, as they called it, the garbage dump. But I kind of liked those places – they were lit up strangely and there was something reassuring about the fact that there was constant activity in them, even when you opened your curtains at four in the morning."
1980 saw the Minds release Empires And Dance, a defining achievement, an album greater than the sum of all that it had clearly absorbed, a student's interrailing companion. Some of the arrangements are astonishingly vivid, as on the monochromatic back pages flicker of '30 Frames A Second', or the teasing, cinematic apparitions of 'Kant-Kino'. It's the opener, however, 'I Travel' whose impact was greatest, the track which set them alongside the loose assortments of industrialists, futurists and post-Bowie dreamers who were at that year's vanguard. It's a more fraught, locomotive take on Kraftwerk's deceptively idyllic and picturesque 'Europe Endless' from Trans-Europe Express.
"Well, we were living that life, on tour, We were seeing the picture postcard stuff, statues parks and galleries – but bombs were going off, the Red Brigade had struck, or Baader Meinhof, or one time when we were in Paris, a synagogue had been set fire too – there was danger in the air. Against the backdrop, you've got classical Europe, you're reading Graham Greene and Albert Camus... and back in London, there were so many independent cinemas showing these great Italian and French classics – it all fed in, that and our own experiences. We seemed to be in Berlin every week there, going through the corridor from Hamburg, seeing all these Russian guards and feeling like these post-war kids, able almost to touch that.
"We were really finding our feet then, that it was our thing coming together, this is Simple Minds. We were starting to meet the other bands – The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, OMD, and swapping notes. I'd been to the Faust concert in Glasgow, Ian McCulloch had been to the one in Liverpool, or Andy McCluskey had been to see Tangerine Dream the same as me. All us oddballs in our different cities, with so much in common despite the differences in our bands."
In 1981, along with Japan, Simple Minds switched to Virgin, where they would record Sons And Fascination, produced by, of all people, Steve Hillage, formerly of Gong, who, although he would re-emerge in the 1990s playing alongside The Orb, could not have been less fashionable in the early 80s. But then, even when it was least expedient to do so, Kerr always gave credit to UK prog rockers like Genesis, whose sense of expansiveness they shared.
"The band could have gone either way back then. We loved Empires And Dance and revelled in it but relatively speaking, it didn't sell a bean. And we were three albums in the hole with Arista by that point. They'd sensed that we weren't The Cars . . .we weren't too panicked ourselves because we could see it was happening. We were doubling our audience every time we went out. But we heard from an insider at Arista, a Glaswegian, who told us, "They're gonna drop you." Which we thought was great – we'll wipe out the debt, it'll be gone and someone else will pick us up. And we'd heard Virgin were interested. But then, of all the fucking things – just as Arista were thinking of dropping us, Sounds ran this thing called the Futurist charts and they saw us in there alongside Japan and Spandau Ballet. So they were keener, even if we wanted out – they had all kinds of ideas, including dropping the rest of the band and keeping me, God knows how that would have worked out – and me saddled with all the debts!"
If on Empires And Dance, the paperback and travelogue influences were still semi-visible, by the time of Sons And Fascination, the Minds felt more abstract and elusive. It was, crucially, hard to see where they were coming from, hard to see where they were going. Sometimes they would crash and storm through the haze with the likes of 'Love Song', other times dart about in an epic suspension, as on the solemn, blissful, throbbing sequencer- borne 'Seeing Out The Angels', fleetingly in and out of focus. They belonged somewhere and nowhere, the interplay of their instrumentation so delicate and adept that it was as if, at times, they had achieved airborne status. But there was more to come, felt Kerr. They were spilling over with a surfeit of material.
"All the musicians were writing like hell - Burchill, McNeill, Derek Forbes on bass... but we ran out of budget. And Virgin wouldn't give us the extra. So it felt short. Eventually, Sister Feelings Call came out as a bonus album but so many people liked it as much it got a full release. Some of the mixes suffer from lack of budget when I listen back."
After the determined broodiness of Real To Real Cacophony and Empires And Dance, in which they danced shadows of their past and their rock heroes, now the Minds had found a sunlit upland of their own. This was ironic, in spite of the fact that politically, the worst effects of the early Thatcher years were beginning to kick in, with all their attendant recession and revulsion. And yet, despite standing in conscious opposition to all of this, the best music of the time was infected with a sense of delirium, vastly removed from the trite hedonism of Duran Duran, following the demise of Joy Division. It's dreadful to herald the tragic suicide of a young man in a Macclesfield kitchen as a moment of pop cultural release, but something of the sort did happen. The mood of the very early 80s was uncontrollably, inexplicably sanguine, a psychic release from a period of overcoat gloom. Simple Minds surged on the crest of this; "Great times, in commotion", as Kerr sang on '20th Century Promised Land'.
"There was still a great deal of intensity but Charlie would come up with these chimes and highlights that would bring light into the picture. Even within 'In Trance As Mission', t here's a joy in there . . . Joy about what? Fuck knows. I try and describe it as the air clearing after the storm, the Heavenly shafts on 'Theme For Great Cities' and 'Seeing Out The Angels'. That was the spirit of the band, and maybe the spirit of the times. I think you're right in saying that Joy Division had made such an impact and a million of those kind of bands followed in their wake, including us to an extent. It was about looking outward, an opening out, rather than this introversion. It was very powerful when it happened, and culminated in this new, shining pop music..."
As vocalist, Kerr stood amid all this, assuming postures of wild, gazing surmise, generating lyrics that avoided grammatical sense, functioned more as tag clouds that highlighted the buzz and mood of the music in which he was wreathed.
"I don't make the music. I'm a great cheerleader for it. I maybe pull the territory together, bring the records to the party, drum up the culture. I'm a listener myself. And I listen to it for months, and really get into it. One of the best moves I ever made was not to sing on 'Theme For Great Cities'. I remember walking around with that in Glasgow on my new Sony Walkman thinking this is fucking perfect. But I was writing lyrics to match the tones of the music, that suited these very powerful pictures. I could feel that welling through..."
Lost in their own clouds, anything felt possible. Following Sons And Fascination, Simple Minds found themselves booked on a tour of Australia, supporting Sydney favourites Icehouse.
"You don't expect much reaction as the support band but people were going nuts. In Australia they had fantastic pirate-style radio and all the British stuff was being played on bootlegs, from the Banshees right through – and these stations had huge ratings and we heard ourselves being played constantly. We left the country holding gold discs! And I remember feeling, this pop star lark, it's pretty good. And I don't think it's any coincidence that the first song we wrote when we got back was as catchy as 'Promised You A Miracle'."
Kerr says "catchy" but 'Promised You A Miracle' for all its accessibility and retrospective familiarity is as far a cry from the preset patterns of regular pop as can be imagined. It teeters arrhythmically, glitters and starts, breaks out in distant showers of tinsel and manna. It conjures not just possibilities for a better pop but a better life, to which music could act as some sort of wormhole. The title track, with its auric, chariot momentum, trailing clouds into the future; "81, 82, 83, 84..." epitomises the spirit of the album; that the rapid evolution of punk to pop, of which the Minds were a part would somehow herald something somehow better soon, an infinitely long cultural Summer to come. "It's sweeping towards something or somewhere grander," says Kerr.
Perhaps the album's crowning, overflowing, nectarine moment is when Herbie Hancock walks in from nowhere on 'Hunter And The Hunted' and delivers a guest keyboard solo, all dazzling, spiralling curlicues, that feels like an act of benediction from the Gods. But sheer chutzpah and cheek brought off Hancock's appearance, borne of absolute self-confidence.
"The amazing thing was the producer, Pete Walsh he'd worked with Heaven 17. We did 'Miracle' first with him. We were only in our early 20s, he was only in his teens. He was a kid. But he and his elder brother had somewhow both worked with Herbie Hancock, and he was at the Townhouse at the time as us. So our guys were never slow in coming forward; "Play a wee bit, Herbie!" And he rolled the track a couple of times and, as we're finding out, it's a difficult thing to emulate. What a cameo.
"I have the most beautiful memories of New Gold Dream. It was made in a time between Spring and Summer and everything we tried worked. There were no arguments. We were in love with what we were doing, playing it, listening to it. You don't get many periods in your life when it all goes your way."
1982 was the year of multiple achievements in which the art of pop music, made consciously, to test the very limits of the possible, reached a zenith. ABC's The Lexicon Of Love, The Associates' Sulk... and New Gold Dream. The task of following these albums would prove invidious, impossible in each case. There were the New Romantics and the True Romantics, like the Minds, who believed, like the early 19th Century poets, in the transformative, superseding possibilities of art, rather than mere adherence to classic traditionalism. But it was not to be. New Gold Dream was all that Heaven allowed.
"No matter who it is, whether it's Springsteen or Bowie, they get certain moments that they're never going to beat. And what word we all learned from the NME, the Zeitgeist. You get to hark back to it, maybe revisit another version of it... but it slips through your fingers. We were big, but not at the point where jobs depended on us. That came later."
Simple Minds' achievement of superstar status felt ironic and anti-climactic to many. Not a happy period, one in which they collapsed into mortality, they were ungainly and overbearing rather than overwhelming. Kerr will defend the Minds but acknowledges it was never quite the same as '83 turned into '84 and beyond.
"I think we started to try to hard. Again, nothing I'd apologise for. But there was this thing like footballers scoring for fun, getting a big transfer and feeling they have to justify it. Fortunately with us, it wasn't quite from Mars, wasn't quite instant and overnight, we grew towards it – but you're never quite ready. It was a comfortable, manageable success. Your band hadn't turned into an industry. And when it does come, oh, poor me! Who am I to complain about it? It's really not such a bad life..."
After becoming persuasive shorthand for empty stadium pomp, Simple Minds recently found themselves in the curious position of having to de-invent themselves. This reputational reboot has been both strategic and thorough, with a new boxset collecting their first five albums and a limited series of bespoke live shows delivering five tracks from each.
In a crammed Glasgow Barrowland, singer Jim Kerr is hailed as a battle-scarred hero, and obligingly strikes a messianic pose within the first few clattering bars of I Travel. Early songs like Today I Died Again and Celebrate still sound as broiling and bracing as they did three decades ago, but Kerr is unable, or unwilling, to dial back the stagecraft perfected playing US gridiron fields. And it transforms what could have been a bloodless curatorial exercise into a furious celebration. For two and a half hours (one intermission, three shirt changes), Kerr's dandyish tics – lassoing the mic, blowing kisses. courtly salutes – inject continuity and constant energy to the scattershot playlist. Even when Charlie Burchill, the only other remaining founder member, swaps his guitar for gothic violin on the eight-minute monster Pleasantly Disturbed, it sounds vital rather than unwieldy. The crowd do their part, too, echoing perfectly the tongue-twisting refrain of The American and leaping around during Love Song.
Though the framing conceit is nominally democratic, some albums inevitably fare better than others. The selections from 1979's Real to Real Cacophony are the fuzziest, while every-thing from New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) glitters and chimes. During a dazzling Someone Somewhere (In Summertime), Kerr casually drops in a lyrical reference to T in the Park, suggesting this might be the year the veterans make their belated debut at Scotland's lagerpalooza. Even without deploying their biggest commercial hits, Simple Minds are suddenly alive and kicking again.
4 out of 5
How to rewrite pop history pt. 2.
There is an excitement in the Camden Roundhouse air. The kind of excitement generated by 3000 people thinking to themselves, "I am at the gig of my dreams". For some, it's probably enough of a thrill just to see Simple Minds playing a gig in such a relatively small room. The rest of us are here to marvel at a band - who once got as big as bands can get - revisit their first five albums, when they were pioneering, strange and beautiful. The band that stadium bluster and transatlantic radio friendly hits helped time forget.
This is, for those not up to speed with Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill's attempt to "sell-in" and relaunch the band in the light of renewed interest in their early 80s albums (from the likes of The Horrors, The Manics and Primal Scream), one of a handful of gigs where Simple Minds are playing only songs written between 1979 and 1982. No Belfast Child, no Mandela Day. Not even Don't You Forget About Me, despite our gig companion's encore optimism. Just the new wave, krautrock, electro, dance, glitter pop stuff.
1981's I Travel makes for an impressive opener. Appropriating Moroder's disco blueprint then showering it with metallic guitars and Kerr's urgent yelps, this incarnation of Simple Minds invented indie dance without ever receiving the credit. It sounds like now, or rather now sounds like this.
Thirty Frames A Second is similarly 6 Music friendly – John Carpeneter-esque stabs punctuating the synth-induced paranoia. But all is not quite as it was back in the days of eyeliner and awkward Iggy-moves.
You can take the band out of the stadium but it seems you can't take the stadium out of the band – yet. In both sound and performance it seems like Simple Minds have yet to fully grasp what it is their indie endorsers liked so much about this period in their musical development.
These were often cold, stark, minimal records now played like crowd-pleasing anthems. Kerr's once detached, appropriately alienating mannerisms (Bono's cribsheet at the start of his career as a frontman) have long since been replaced by his need to connect with the audience at all times. Arms are reached out, hands are waved, eye contact is made. He can't shake the need to showboat – frequently introducing band members for their solos, played with similarly un-period gusto (no one needs that many different drums and cymbals on their kit!).
This is a minor quibble, though one they'll need to address if they're to continue, as planned, with this reacquaintance with their artier selves on a brand new album. It might be wise to follow in Duran Duran's footsteps and employ a producer like Mark Ronson, who understands and loves the sparseness and noises of the time in a way the band themselves have long grown out of.
RBut what could've been a beard-stroking study in nostalgia is, at all times, a total party. Close-up, Charlie's sheer glee at the reaction these old songs receive is joyously infectious. While Kerr retains the cheeky, piss-taking glint of a true Glaswegian; his occasional lapse into old-school pretension (fake nonchalant nail biting – a lost art) never taken too seriously.
The trio of heavenly pop hits, Someone Somewhere In Summertime, Promised You A Miracle and Glittering Prize (despite Jim committing the gig crime of offering the mic to the crowd to sing – no, we want to hear YOU!) are as glorious as we, and the air-punching, loyal Simple Minds fans could have ever dreamed or hoped for.
"It was enforced bravery – we did not know who we were, really. We had to investigate – in doing that, a lot of gems were uncovered.
With the rerelease of these brilliant records, and their triumphant live performances, Simple Minds may have become the first band to ever come in from the cold of critical ridicule. What happens next will be fascinating.
8 out of 10
We Kerr a lot
Simple Minds have seemingly managed the impossible and made themselves cool again. But can we really trust a band that once let us down so badly?
If you're of a certain age you'll be familiar with the idea of 'selling out.' For today's jobbing musicians it's an archaic concept especially when dwindling physical sales means having a song placed in an advert or a film is the only way to make a living. But in certain musical circles there can be no greater sin than consciously changing your sound to appeal to a wider demographic. Most bands sell out at some point but has there ever been an instance of a band trying to sell back in? I ask as this seems to be what Simple Minds are attempting with their 5X5 project. For this tour the band have eschewed their best know numbers in favour of revisiting their first five albums handily collected in a recently released box set each night playing roughly five songs from each. So there's no Alive and Kicking, no Belfast Child, no "Hey, hey, hey, hey!"
The five albums in question Life In A Day (1979), Reel To Reel Cacophony (1979), Empires And Dance (1980), Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (1981) and New Gold Dream (1982) - have been retrospectively classed as experimental,' especially when contrasted with their later multi-million-selling releases. However, as this quintet includes several top 20 singles and, in New Gold Dream, a bone fide platinum album we're not exactly talking Throbbing Gristle levels of sonic terrorism. Rather these albums reveal the Glaswegians to have been a pioneering post-punk band that fused Krautrock, disco and electronics to build a new kind of pop music. Always a band to wear its' influences on its' sleeve a good thing if it's Magazine, Morodor and Motorik, not so much when it's U2 the music is expansive and sleek with wide-eyed singer Jim Kerr's lyrics on the right side of vague, creating a notion of a modern Europe that seems both alien and beguiling in equal measure.
What Simple Minds are hoping, somewhat cynically perhaps, is that 5X5 will take them back to a time when fans and critics were united in their opinion of the band, something that's not been the case for decades. And so far this appears to be happening: the tour has sold out, the reviews are universally positive and, however unlikely this may seem in 2012, people want to listen to Simple Minds again.
This is certainly evident at the Roundhouse. Pre-performance the packed venue is treated to an intro tape that includes Suicide, John Foxx and Joy Division, an indication of the bands' desire to reposition themselves in popular consciousness. The message is clear: these are our peers and this is the context in which we should be taken. But the band that takes to stage is a very different beast to the one that made those early records. The only original members are Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill, the others - bassist Derek Forbes, drummer Brian McGee and keyboard player Mick MacNeil - were not invited to take part in 5X5. The songs may come from an electronic era but the modern Minds aren't pulling their stadium punches. I Travel positively thunders off the stage in a blaze of strobe lighting and dry ice, Someone, Somewhere (In Summertime) is virtually a terrace chant and the coda of Room has as many arms in the air as one of their made-to-measure arena anthems. There's also something quite impressive about seeing a band of this stature in such an intimate setting. It's like watching a jumbo jet take off a close quarters, big, loud and you wonder how on earth it gets off the ground.
But fly it does and the trip down memory lane has obviously reinvigorated the band. Kerr in particular is a revelation. Lighter on his feet than one might expect he effortlessly sings in the higher register of his younger self, reveling in the chance to do so. He also has no trouble winning over the crowd - he is after all a man who's had the world's stadiums in the palm of his hand. And despite limiting the set list to the early eighties there nothing here to scare off the post-perfect pop punter. Sure Kerr's been hitting the Kohl again and the flamboyant hand gestures have made a return but rather than regressing they seem to have located their earlier material's stadium potential. It's a heady combination.
But have they achieved what they set out to do? Will Simple Minds once again be a byword for shiny, forward-thinking pop or will they forever be remembered as a bloated, stadium throwback? It all depends on their next move. A summer of festivals beckons and they'd be foolish not to give the 5X5 concept a spin around the UK again but if they want to rebrand themselves as a band that pioneered rather than pissed it away, they need to make a new album that takes the adventurous spirit of those original records and makes good on their promise. And to do that Kerr and Burchill are going to have to pick up the phone and give Forbes, McGee and MacNeil a call. Reconnecting with their old material is one thing but they're going to have to reconnect with the people who made it if they want to create something that is its equal.
5X5 – a concept that for Simple Minds purists is a dream come true. Five tracks each from the first 5 albums, featuring songs which the band have rarely rolled out since 1983, and eschewing the stadium hits which made their fortune, and made Jim Kerr grow a Rock Mullet. The albums in question: Life In A Day, Reel To Real Cacophony, Empires And Dance, Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call (sadly squashed into one 'album' for the purposes of song selection) and New Gold Dream.
The proposition: a non-sequential, varying, selection of songs, with the necessary inclusion of the hit singles from each release, and rotating album tracks. The selling point: any avid Minds fan would have at least a 50% chance of hearing 'Their Favourite Track' from an early album, potentially for the first time ever. The minor detraction: whilst the Voice of Kerr still fronts Simple Minds, and the Strum of Burchill still provides the major melodie Simple Minds have changed some key members that heyday. Soaring keyboard melodies and driving basslines are not respectively in the care of their originators Mick MacNeil and Derek Forbes. Particularly where bass-whizz is concerned, that has been a sore point amongst fans. Forced unfairly by splits and altercations to choose between Simple Minds and Forbes' XSM (both currently touring), the pressure is certainly on current bassist Ged Grimes to perform some of the trickiest melodic basslines in post-punk to the demanding masses.
And demanding they are, and to some extent to have a right to be: waiting in the pre-gig queue, formed only of the most dedicated, prepared to brave the de rigeur Manchester rainstorms, your humble reviewers were privvy to a meet-up of SIMPLE MINDS Facebook-fanatics, who have followed this tour, and probably every other tour, right around the UK. The two next to us were up at 4am the next morning to catch the Dublin show and were sharing impressions of their last show at Glasgow Barrowlands. These people keep Jim Kerr in styling creme, and Charlie in pies. They deserve proper respect to the older material. Could the Minds deliver it?
The Verdict According to Nix and Coops: What strikes Coops first is how much Jim Kerr and friends are obviously trying NOT to be 'Stadium Minds'. Jim's dress and stage presence both hark back to his early look, and he manages to do this without appearing like a middle aged guy trying too hard – he is in fact looking pretty fit and healthy. Also, he's using a corded mic rather than a wireless on this tour, which allows him to swing it around, drape it over his shoulder, and otherwise use it as a stage prop in an affected manner uncannily like that of Minds' early shows. This is obviously a good thing for fans who preferred Jim Kerr as a wired performance art nutter to 'Stadium Success' Jim Kerr, getting about in Chambray striking Jesus Poses. It certainly gets one in 'the mood' to suspend one's disbelief that this is not 2012, but 1982 and Belfast Child is a preposterous piece of bombast that could never happen from these post-punk heroes. Not to mention Kerr's gestures and dancing, as he bobs, crouches, stands on one leg, and waves his arm in a circular 'washing machine' fashion, bringing back the daft mime-alike poses we love (and love to laugh at).
The keyboard stands are similarly impressive with an almost Jarre-like five keyboards in a two rack arrangement, most definitely played live, and the sonic authenticity to the analogue sounds of '81-'82 enhances the retrospective mood.
Your humble reviewers get the impression the Minds are definitely trying to give the fans a best-of gig, as they might have played it at that time. Only once or twice is the illusion spoiled with a "show me your hands" from Jim (which, as we were pre-warned gleefully by TEC editor Chi Ming Lai, was basically inevitable) or a slice of over-embellished guitar from Charlie Burchill. On the whole the arrangements are pretty authentic in feel if not totally faithful to the album versions of the songs – a small number of tracks have been extended or otherwise amended for live performance.
One or two tracks like In Trance As Mission and Celebrate veer dangerously into over-anthemic territory – but as a long time fan of the early Minds canon, on departing, Coops finds himself reflecting on the fact that they've fulfilled the brief he would have set them. For Nix, the Bassetts Allsorts approach to history is less satisfying than if they had moved chronologically through the set. But all are in accordance about the veracity of the playing, and the competence of the ring-in players – Andy Gillespie sports the craft of live keyboard playing well, handling live lines on two keyboards at a time. Ged Grimes on bass surprises by certainly filling Derek Forbes' rather large shoes, particularly shining on the extremely complex bassline of Theme For Great Cities. One only for the brave in a live rendition, he gives it more than sufficient welly to earn his place, to Coop's ears, it being a note-perfect performance with a requisite amount of facial grimacing to accompany the difficulty level.
Coops' final thoughts: "If I'm forced to pick a Top 3 tracks of the night, I guess it would be something like: Hunter and The Hunted – a beautiful song from New Gold Dream, which in live form tonight brings me almost to tears with its beauty and the emotion Mr Kerr instills in it. My reaction is a complete surprise to me. Today I Died Again – One of my favourite tracks from Empires and Dance, here performed in true authentic fashion complete with stern baritone and massive Mel Gaynor drumming. The American – a great song, great lyrics, and tonight blessed with a chorus singalong from the crowd which embellishes rather than detracts from my enjoyment of the track."
Nix: " The American indeed soars live, lifted into a far more dynamic and elegiac frame than the album version. Theme For Great Cities shows the Minds band at their best on a track that is anything but Simple. Sadly, my two favourite Minds album tracks are absent in Sweat In Bullet and Careful in Career, but I feel, as an Antipodean, my resentment at the lack of opportunity to see Simple Minds in their post-punk heyday melting away in this moment of synth-pop Gestalt."
"I sense we're all going to enjoy ourselves tonight."
Recorded live throughout Europe on Simple Minds' triumphant 5×5 tour – a showcase of their vital 1979-1982 material – this live double-album really captures the magic of those shows. As RC said of the studio box set that spawned the tour, it offered an opportunity to revel again in their wilful obscurity, gossamer melodies and frankly strange lyrics. Live, they brought all of their stadium muscle to these 31 songs, which leap out of the speakers.
The moment Simple Minds went downhill live was when they started singing other people's songs during extended instrumental passages of their own. They weren't alone in this in the early 80s: U2, Echo And The Bunnymen and even Genesis were up to it. There's no such frippery here, however; it's played absolutely straight, with vocalist Jim Kerr's showboating kept to the barest minimum.
The most successful songs are those that hadn't been a constant feature in their set over the years: This Fear Of Gods, 70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall, Room, Pleasantly Disturbed and Sweat In Bullet all leap out. The climaxing New Gold Dream is breathless. Electric and entertaining, this is more than a simple souvenir of the shows, it's a thrilling, vibrant document that ably demonstrates how bands in their middle years can behave with great dignity.
4 out of 5
In a way, it all began during the recording sessions of 2009 Graffiti Soul when Jim Kerr realized how varied and experimental their first years were and, somehow, wanted that feeling to be all over Graffiti. This record was not like Sons and Fascination actually, but it was indeed their most thorough and most solid since 1997's Neápolis (if we don't count the lost album Our Secrets Are the Same, due to be released in 1999 but that got lost in the middle of the merging battles between Chrysalis, EMI and other companies). Also, that some big current names such as Manic Street Preachers, Primal Scream or The Horrors have cited and even been inspired by those seminal songs by Simple Minds, helped Kerr and Burchill to revisit their first years.
So, to that conscience of their own legacy followed the rescue of some of those early tracks onstage, such as "Sons And Fascination" or (what I personally think is their best song ever) "This Earth You Walk Upon". But that was not enough and, after some greatest hits releases and tours and solo projects and other stuff, in early 2012 Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill decided to reissue their first five records, including b-sides and live takes, in six CDs – with the twin records Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call being included separately – under the name X5. All that was followed by an end-of-the-year short tour based on these same records, where Simple Minds played each night five songs from each album.
And now those live songs have been captured in a double cd simply entitled 5X5 Live. "I never dreamed we'd play these songs again. Nostalgia is something that never comes easy, particularly if you are hell bent on living the present," says Kerr in the liner notes of the record. Indeed, some of the songs are even almost impossible to find in old bootlegs and if found, the quality is less than acceptable. Thus the great enthusiasm of old and new fans of the band who packed all venues of the tour to listen to some songs the Glaswegians neither played in decades nor in a close-to-the-original arrangement.
And as it happens with Peter Hook's 'The Light' or The Cure's 'Reflections' gigs in Sydney, the work by the current line-up of the Scottish combo was to recreate, rather than copy, the sound of those times. And nobody seemed to change more his way of playing than drummer Mel Gaynor. "I had to adapt my style dramatically as most of those songs I played for the first time. And that was in no way easy as the sets were two hours and a half long," commented the Londoner. Instead of sounding big, Gaynor sounds effective, less flashy and more to the point than his stadium-playing persona, a factor emphasized by a somehow smaller drum kit that the castle-like he has used in the past.
And that adaptation and recreation is evident from the word go. The first 20 minutes of the first CD set is dedicated to almost all tracks from 1980's Empires and Dance, a record that resulted in Simple Minds being one of the first, if not the first, to merge post-punk and dance music and somehow unintentionally paved the way to many latter combos like Tears for Fears, the early Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, INXS or Gary Numan (each in their own style, of course). These may be the bunch of songs, the ones belonging to Empires, that sound way better and luminous than in record as they gain in organic feeling as opposed to the sequencing and processing they had in studio, but elsewhere any of the songs of the first four records – fifth album New Gold Dream has always been present in the Minds' repertoire – are bright and are a true testament of the hours and hours dedicated to this set. But well, if you want to know which ones are recommendable, they could be: "Today I Died Again", "Calling Your Name", "Scar", "Premonition", "Someone", "Sons and Fascination", "This Fear of Gods", "Factory" or "Life In a Day". Also, a detail worth mentioning is the sound achieved by current bassist Ged Grimes, more subtle, surrounding if necessary and also leading the way depending on the song, but always supporting the melodies, not sounding separate from them. That was what original bassist Derek Forbes achieved and exactly that was what Grimes emulated.
TOnce the second CD ends, it's kinda inevitable to think about how people will see a feat like this. A gig of this kind is always received with a sense if cynicism. Stupid comments suggest the band only want to be sold in and be cool again just for the sake of it and if that was the case, then the Minds would've toured the set for much more than the scarcely 15 or 16 dates they played in Europe. Also other comments suggest the songs don't sound like they did on record, and that's true. The current incarnation of Simple Minds only have Kerr and Burchill as original members… the same way as the aforementioned Peter Hook's The Light only have him as an original member of Joy Division (or now New Order) or The Cure's 'Trilogy' or 'The Reflection' concerts only have Robert Smith and Simon Gallup as full-time members when they had other keyboardists, bassist or drummers with them in the original records. And a live record is never meant to sound exactly, totally and a 100% like the original. If that was the aim, live music would've ended with Supertramp.
TIt's not about doing a full playback of those songs. It's to visit them with a new perspective and the freshness and ideas new members give to them. It's not about being cool again as statements by other current and popular bands pay off more than a handful of gigs. It's not about using these gigs in order to regain the experimental vibe again as Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill are past the 50-year-old point and if they experiment in their next record, they will be aware they cannot be radical.
It's simply about stating "We have made some bloody good songs and we want to celebrate it with our hardcore fans" (now read that with a Glaswegian accent).
The rest is mental onanism.
8.5 out of 10
Like a lot of their peers (Duran Duran, OMD, Claudia Brücken to name a few), this 80's cult act as never been that active since the begin of the millennium: 4 studio albums, 2 live albums, one solo album, nonstop touring... not to mention the latest collaboration from Jim Kerr with the band The Dark Flowers (4 tracks) and the new tracks for the forthcoming triple compilation 'Celebrate'. Last year, the Scottish lads came up with a great idea that a lot of bands should be inspired with: a tour consisting in picking 5 tracks from the 5 first albums. A special gift for the fans, those albums being the most appreciated, especially 'Sons And Fascination/Sister Feeling Call' and 'New Gold Dream'. Let's say it loud and clear: the band never sounded so powerful. The opening 'I Travel' put things straight: the band is Alive and Kicking. Mel Gaynor has never beaten his drum so loud and well, Jim Kerr vocals are brilliant and I could name the all line up.
Some of the tracks are not that easy accessible for the post 'Don't You Forget About me' fans, especially the first part of the album as they represent the darkest part of the band (Thirty frames a Second, Today I Died Again, Life In A Day, Calling Your Name), but for the fans, it's pure gold. Imagine if Depeche Mode was performing a set consisting of tracks like 'Told You So', 'More Than A Party', 'And Then' or 'If You Want'... This life album is a great reflection of the growing power of the show, reaching a climax with the sequence starting by the synth driven and mid tempo 'King Is White And In The Crowd'. And from that point the pressure never goes down again. 'Hunter & The Hunted' is magnificent, 'Love song' or 'The American' never sounded that kicking asses before, Jim's vocals on 'This Fear Of God', 'Pleasantly Disturbed' (great violin part by Mr Charlie Burchill). I could carry on over the 31 tracks of those 2:20 of listening pleasure.
Of course, some hits are here as 'New Gold Dream' was included in the 5 (Sons & Fascination and Sister Feeling Call being considered as one album): 'Big Sleep', 'Someone Somewhere in Summertime', 'Promised You A Miracle'... as the concept can be more accessible to the non 'long time' fans and this is fair enough. This live album proves that Simple Minds is one of the most creative and influence bands from the late 70's. It's also a great way of hearing the evolution of the band from the early post-punk era to the point where they were ready to conquer stadiums, balancing instant hits with still dark and moody tracks. The flame burning in their hearts is meant to last as the band is ready to embark for a 'Celebrate Tour' over Europe, has already some plans for a new album while Jim Kerr is also looking forward his 2nd solo album.
10 out of 10