ORANGE ASHTON COURT FESTIVAL’, BRISTOL 23RD JULY 2006
Eighties Rock Icons Hold Their Own With Young Guns
Keith Clark – ‘Bristol Evening Post’ – 24th July 2006 (UK)
After two days that were dominated by the young guns of the local music scene it was left to a bloke in his late 40s to finish off the weekend and show the younger bands just how it is done. It may be some years since Jim Kerr and Simple Minds were filling massive stadiums and arenas, but they showed that they were still more than capable of putting on the big show. And the adulation from the huge crowd was obvious.
But Simple Minds didn’t go for the easy option. It wasn’t a set completely dominated by nostalgia for their 80s heyday. The Scottish band are experiencing something of a revival thanks to their current album, Black & White 050505, and a number of newer songs, including a powerful version of Home were given an airing. And a large section of the crowd knew all the words. But it was the classics that we had all come to hear. And the gems from the past like Sanctify Yourself and a spellbinding version of Waterfront. Inevitably it was their big hit Don’t You (Forget About Me) that had the audience singing along with real enthusiasm.
Kerr looked in good shape and still does all the dance moves and the full gambit of extravagant rock singer poses but his voice no longer has the full strength of the old days and it was sometimes difficult to hear him against Charlie Burchill’s big guitar riffs. The set closed with Alive & Kicking and that summed it all up. Simple Minds may not be the big hitters that they once were but they are still very much alive and kicking.
ALIVE AND KICKING
Keith Clark – ‘Seven Magazine, Bristol Evening Post’ – 20th July 2006 (UK)
Simple Minds, who are headlining this year’s Orange Ashton Court Festival, have been on a year-long tour that has taken them across the world. And they are thoroughly enjoying being back on the road again, as frontman Jim Kerr told Keith Clark After a three-year hiatus, Simple Minds returned with their highly successful album Black And White 050505 last September, and it has been business as usual ever since.
For the Scottish band embarked on a year-long tour of the world’s arenas and festivals playing to massive crowds of devoted fans who showed that the band needn’t have worried when they sang Don’t You (Forget About Me) all those years ago. One of the gigs on this tour will see them headlining the Orange Ashton Court Festival this weekend and, special though this will be, we just can’t hope to compete with one of their recent shows – playing beneath Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate in a concert to herald the start of the World Cup.
“We love playing anyway but to combine that with the football, and we are obviously huge football fans, made that something not to be missed once we were asked,” said frontman Jim Kerr. “It was kind of overwhelming because the stage was literally under the Brandenburg Gate. It brought back memories of the first time I went to Berlin in 1979 and going to the Brandenburg Gate and seeing the wall. We couldn’t have imagined then what was to be.
“This World Cup event was more a TV event than a rock ‘n’ roll event, it was like Top Of The Pops from the Brandenburg Gate, but it was something not to be missed.” For three decades – during which time they scored more than 20 Top 20 hits, including All The Things She Said and Alive And Kicking, sold 30 million records, had five number one albums, a number one single in America and three American Top 10 singles – Simple Minds have been major worldwide attractions, gaining them the accolade from Q magazine as “the world’s best live act”.
But despite relentless touring for so many years, Jim says he still enjoys being out on the road with the band. “Thankfully, I still enjoy touring; in fact I enjoy it immensely. I’m probably enjoying it more now. For a while, although we hadn’t actually quit, we had certainly stepped back from any real momentum and although we did occasional gigs here and there this has been a real bona fide tour, a year long and we will have played on almost every continent, and I think you can only do that if you enjoy it.
“It must be hell for the people I’ve come across who love playing but don’t love touring. Even if you work in a bank you can go home at the end of the day and get weekends off and holidays, but on a tour you have to wave goodbye to things like that. It is part of the deal.” Many bands will tell you that the worst part of touring is the hours they spend just waiting around with nothing to do, but Jim doesn’t see this as a problem.
“You do spend so much time hanging around waiting, but if you’ve got three hours to spare and you’re in, say, Amsterdam and you choose to spend it in your hotel room rather than visiting one of the museums around the corner then you’ve only got yourself to blame. Many people would kill to do that.” The latest album has a big, sweeping, multi-layered sound that recalls everything you ever liked about Simple Minds. However, despite the size of their sound, Jim says they always felt confident that they could translate this onto the live stage.
“We are a band who have toured a lot and, even if I say it myself, we’re pretty good at it, and we’ve always been pretty good at not only getting stuff translated onto stage but actually making it better, because inherently I think Simple Minds are a live band. “For this album the approach to the recordings was like the early days. It was band-like, with everyone in the same room as opposed to lots of computers, and because the album was recorded almost in a live way it meant that the translation was much more immediate.
“We then used the computers to enhance it and stuff, but fundamentally it was four or five guys in a room playing, and that is what it is live.” The Eighties was a time when so much new technology was introduced and the music world took it all on board, especially in the studio. The feeling was that because it was there it had to be used, sometimes to excess. Jim feels that Simple Minds went through a period when they were as guilty as any of them in relying too much on technology.
“The technology has been both a blessing and a curse for us. I suppose we embraced it at a point when we had got bored with the band, which was about eight or nine albums in. The technology came out and we went ‘wow’ and embraced it. But then you began to see after a while that there are gains and losses. “However, once we got to these songs and writing them they seemed to suggest that they should be approached in a live way.
“We got all excited and went ‘let’s do it as a band, just plug in and make it just sound like a band’. In a way it is easier said than done but I think the songs were really good to begin with and the dynamics were great and the band pulled it off with aplomb.” The result was some of the best reviews that Simple Minds have had for years; even some of the trendiest music papers, who in the past probably would have written off a band this well established, had to admit that, while it was classic Simple Minds, they had come up with something that is every bit as relevant as all the modern bands who have been influenced by them.
“Yes, I think we got a fair crack of the whip, people got behind it and said the kind of things we would have hoped they would say. “I think the net result of the album and the live tour, and the commitment by the band to both those aspects, has been that even our biggest critics would hesitate a wee bit before writing us off as some Eighties band that was just churning it out. For that reason alone, I have to be happy.”
CARLING ACADEMY, NEWCASTLE 6TH FEBRUARY 2006
Simple But Effective
Gordan Barr – ‘Newcastle Evening Chronicle’ 7th July 2006 (UK)
The majority of the audience were 35-plus, but that didn’t stop a fair number of them forgetting their age and jumping up and down like there was no tomorrow. The last time I saw Simple Minds was back in the early 1990s when they played Gateshead Stadium. This is a much, much smaller venue, and just as well, as Kerr’s voice simply isn’t as strong as it used to be.
Several times during the gig you struggled to hear his recognisable tones, and now and again you thought the vocal chords may even give up. But the consummate professional, he persevered and at times the magic of old returned as thought it had never left. Kerr, give him his due, was on stage for just under two hours, showing terrific stamina – though the beads of sweat were evident from just minutes into the concert. A great workout, though!
The gig mixed plenty of new material with a smattering of the old stuff. Waterfront was the first number to really get the crowd going, but Someone Somewhere (In Summertime), Up On The Catwalk, See The Lights and Love Song were equally well received. Now and then the gig lost momentum when the pace slowed down with some of the newer material, and it took a good two minutes for the fans to get behind the anthemic Don’t You (Forget About Me). That said, the night ended on a high – after two, lengthy, encores – to the strains of Alive and Kicking. Something that Jim Kerr and the band obviously are very much still.
STEALTH AND STRENGTH
1980s rock titans Simple Minds return with an album that recalls their glory days. Guitarist Charlie Burchill talks to Tim Slater about playing at the original Live Aid and his-new found love for the pedal steel…
Tim Slater – ‘Guitar Buyer’ – November 2005 (UK)
Simple Minds’ majestic pop/rock hybrid made the band simply unstoppable during their mid-1980s peak. The Scottish foursome built their music on a grand scale, that relied more on carefully constructed dynamics and space than traditional rock histrionics – U2 were surely watching enviously as their Scottish rivals conquered the charts and the world’s megastadia. Like U2, Simple Minds’ portentous sound served as a backdrop for the band’s outspoken political views,
not least their refusal to play at South Africa’s then-notorious Sun City leisure complex, which helped to maintain awareness of the Anti-Apartheid movement and similar worthy causes. July 1985 marked what was probably Simple Minds’ zenith when they played at the American leg of the original Live Aid concert. Unbeknown to the band, their masterful performance was let down by a faulty satellite link, meaning that only a brief fraction of their four-song set was sent out live to the watching world.
Charlie Burchill, Simple Minds’ guitarist since the band formed in Glasgow in 1978, recalls the atmosphere backstage shortly before Simple Minds played at the historic concert. “It was an amazing gig, and I remember that there were two stages with multiple set-ups. Bo Diddley was set up near us and I was standing with my guitar, getting ready to go on. We were obviously supposed to keep quiet because there were bands on stage playing, but Bo plugged into his amp, started playing, and he just turns around and looks at me and says ‘Plug in and play, young man’. It was surreal because there were all these famous people around like Jack Nicholson and everybody was very accessible and up for it, er, except Madonna.”
The ethereal quality of Charlie Burchill’s guitar work perfectly encapsulated the best of what 1980s guitar playing was all about. Along with Andy Summers of The Police, U2’s The Edge and Alex Lifeson from Rush, Burchill helped to pioneer exciting new guitar sounds and techniques based on judicious note placement and tasteful use of effects, rather than rehashed Chuck Berry riffs played at around two million decibels
“It really started when I first got an echo in the early days of the band,” explains the amiable Scot. “Space was something that we worked on from the beginning, because we wanted the band to sound really big. Mick [MacNeil, keys] would use a lot of pads and multi-timbral sounds, and I found that the best way to work with that was to be quite sparse and inject stuff, rather than play all over it. The echo was the thing, because then you could sound like keyboards –
when I started using rhythmic echoes I thought that was the way to go, but you need space for it. I’m pretty certain that The Edge and I discovered an echo unit at the same time. I’ve never really thought about that before. People like Mick Ronson were the bridge [between pre and post punk guitar playing] because he was a rock player who was also an arranger, and by the time I was finding my way I wanted to play in a more linear way.”
Today’s young blades like Muse and Bloc Party have unveiled their admiration for Simple Minds’ music, and consequently there is a veritable torrent of revised critical opinion on the band, who are preparing for a short tour in February 2006 to support their new album Black & White 050505. With the sounds of the 1980s so much in vogue after so many years, Burchill admits that he does spot elements of Simple Minds’ influence on today’s top bands.
“I think that Franz Ferdinand have got a lot of Simple Minds about them. It’s not that they are copying us, but something about the angular guitar sounds really reminds me of early Simple Minds.”
Black & White Falcon
As a fully paid-up member of the Guitar Freaks Club, Charlie Burchill is the proud owner of some beautiful instruments. Gibson and Ibanez Flying Vs, vintage Strats and a gorgeous white Gibson ES-355 have all rotated through Simple Minds’ guitar line-up, and there’s no sign of Mr Burchill slowing down yet. “I remember I always wanted a sunburst Les Paul,” he offers, “because I dreamed of owning one when I started, and that was the first guitar that took up my attention.
“I love the Flying V. It’s something that should be kitsch and in bad taste, but they look bloody amazing. I know that a lot of metal players like them, but Jim [Kerr, lead vocals] just brought a white Flying V; he doesn’t even play guitar, but he got one anyway.”
“Most of the new album was recorded with a Gretsch White Falcon that I’ve had for years. It’s a ’62 and it’s a fabulous guitar. I can’t see past Gretsch at the moment, and the thing that I love about it is that no matter how distorted you make it, it still has that classic Gretsch clarity. It’s a nightmare to control live though, and I use a Les Paul for the main part of the set. You really have to grapple with a Gretsch, and a friend of mine pointed out that for the most part they were built from shit. They had shitty woods, they ahd shit pickups but they are unbelievable guitars. I just struggle with it, but it’s worth it.
“The White Falcon has a Bigsby on it and I’ve got a Bigsby on the Les Paul that I use now that stays in tune amazingly well. My main Les Paul is a standard; I’ve got a Black Beauty as well, but the main one I use is a real generic Standard from about 1995: it plays great. My guitar tech did a great job on it, but the Gretsch demands that you’ve just got to be careful.”
Solid State Of Mind
Simple Minds’ new album, 050505, kicks in with some classic Burchill riffing, and while his guitar work remains as understated as ever, it still powers along like a stealth bomber, backed up by a veritable arsenal of harware. Indeed, the old valve/solid-state amplifier argument is one which Charlie is having with himself all over again.
“I’m really happy because we did it like a band this time: we set up and played live in the old way, and we had just about every combination of amps and speakers imaginable.
“My current favourite amp is a Matchless DC30, but I also had a Fender Twin and a Vox AC30. I also used a Line 6 Vetta, mainly for effects, running through a valve amp via the line out. We had real difficulty at the beginning because we had to find different ways of balancing the levels when we were running the effects through the valve amps. It took a lot of tweaking and a lot of fiddling about to get the levels right.
“I used a lot of thythmic echo, and the great thing about the Vetta is that everything is temo-based and it’s very easy to program. Soundwise, it’s maybe not as good as having real tape echoes, but you have access to just about everything that you’d ever need.
“The thing is that when I hooked into the Line 6 stuff, it changed the way that I thought about amps, but recently I started thinking that I should get back into amps again, instead of just taking a direct out from the Vetta. When you’re piling it through an enormous PA it sounds great, but you still feel that it isn’t as good as the ‘real’ thing. It kinda’ goes in circles and now I’m thinking about going back to amps, but I enjoy discovering new things and there’s still a lot to discover, you know?”
Give Us A Tune
When quizzed about his pratice routine, Burchill typically has a more reflective approach, rather than committing himself to endless hours of unbridled shredding.
“Pratice is a mixture of things, really, and like most people I tend to go through phases. I went through a phase of playing classical guitar, and although I’m not that good, I just love the challenge and love to finally get through a piece. I enjoy working out the counterpoint stuff and felt really encouraged to study a lot more and start reading as well. Then I kind of stopped it and went back to playing for fun. I’ve been thinking that I really need to get back into studying because I’m getting much better with my fingerpicking and I’d really love to be a really good picker: I was listening to some Paul Simon stuff and I’d love to be able to play guitar like him, he is a brilliant guitar player.
“In my spare time I also use a lot of thuning. When I’m working out what to play on a tune I’ll do a quick pass and something unusual will come out from that. For example, if I was doing a minor chord of any description, there’s a shape that I like to use. I can’t even describe it, but for me it’s something that I would just gravitate towards. There’s a kind of Celtic thing, in that I’ll often try to avoid minor or major thirds and make the chords sound a bit more ambiguous.
Often I’ll go for a root and fifth, or play an inversion with a suspended forth or something like that. I love to try and get unusual note clusters, like semitones apart on strings: to create a mild dissonance where the chord doesn’t feel like it’s sitting where you’d normally expect. Live, I have about three guitars with different tunings, but it kind of varies depending on the set we’re doing. There are certain tracks where I will use a specific tuning, but I’ll only maybe use two or three during the course of a concert.
“A great tuning that I love is this [low to high] DGDGAD. That’s a nice one. I don’t understand quite why, but when you find a new tuning that works, suddenly your whole world opens up a million times.”
Burchill’s willingness to experiment with different tunings also extends to instruments where you can do it on the fly… “I’ve got a Telecaster with a Palm Bender on the G and B strings,” he explains. “It sounds like a pedal steel, but I’ve also got a real pedal steel guitar and when you tune that thing and start to run your fingers through the strings you come up with incredible stuff. It’s amazing,
I wish that I could play it really well because I love the tone. I’ve got a cheap one because BJ Cole [legendary Brit pedal steel viruoso: played on the Benny Hill Show theme, last seen playing live with The Verve – Triva Ed.] advised me not to buy an expensive one – and I still play it. What a sound. The intervals compensate for just using a bar, but when you watch the experts playing they are putting their hands into shapes as well, they’re angling it and using the pedal and knee levers; it’s brilliant.”
Before Burchill departs for a Simple Minds rehearsal he lets slip that alongside his beloved pedal steel, more gadgets might be making their way into his rig.
“Recently I’ve been wondering if I should start getting back into the guitar synth again. I used to have a stupid plastic Casio guitar thing with plastic strings and we did an album with an instrumental track at the end where nearly everything was played on that little guitar. It was dynamite but it depends on how you use it. It’s only your imagination that makes barriers isn’t it?”
No solo album from the ‘Minds axeman just yet… “I love virtuoso-type guys like Adrian Legg and Davey Graham,” says Burchill when we ask if he’s thought about putting out his own record. “Mind you, if I did a solo album it would probably end up sounded like Simple Minds! Jim and I have tried the idea of doing new projects under a different name to try some new ideas or new territories, but we never really get it off the ground because everything we do sounds like Simple Minds. At some point I’d love to make an album using a baritone guitar because there has to be a place for that. Even though it’s the same tuning, you play differently. I suppose guitars are like that, for example I’ve got a Gibson Barney Kessel and there are some things that just won’t work on it. Every time that I play it I end up playing jazz.”
Heavy strings equal a top acoustic tone according to Charlie Burchill “I did use heavy strings on my electric guitars at one point, but now I just use Ernie Ball and Dean Markley light top, heavy bottom guages. “Recently I’ve been toying with the idea of going back to heavy strings, because I bought a couple of Gibson acoustic guitars and one sounded great and one sounded really bad. I realised that the best-sounding one had really heavy strings, and I appreciated that the difference was pretty staggering. I don’t think that it makes such a difference on an electric guitar, except maybe on the low E, but I think that it makes a massive difference on an acoustic guitar.”
Check out Charlie Burchill’s skilful guitar work on these stonking Simple Minds tracks..
‘Sign O’ The Times’, Theme 19 – Volume 4 (1989) Simple Minds have recorded dozens of cover versions, ranging from Human League to Velvet Underground but this 1980s take on Prince’s apocalyptic warning of impending doom is appropriately menacing.
‘Promised You A Miracle’, New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84) (1982) By 1982 Simple Minds had the big synth rock sound that became their trademark. Burchill’s guitar interlocks seamlessly with Mick MacNeil’s keyboards and the economical guitar solo is a classic example of straightforward but effective 1980s guitar playing. The live version from 1987’s Live In The City Of Light is even better.
‘Waterfront’, Sparkle In The Rain (1984) A pulsing bass line underpins this anthem, punctuated by Burchill’s stabbing harmonics and echo-laced whammy bar work. Alex Lifeson must have been watching closely because his own playing on Rush’s Grace Under Pressure LP from the same year sounds particularly inspired by Charlie Burchill’s playing.
‘Stay Visible’, Black & White 050505 (2005) The lead-in track from Simple Minds’ new album is an absolute belter; Jim Kerr has rarely sung better and guitar playing is amazing. Lead guitar, Jim, but not as we know it. For those looking to grab a slice of the latest SM action, Black and White is available now, available from any music trader worth his salt.
A MEETING OF MINDS
Andrew Cowen talks to Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr about stardom second time around…
Way back in the 1980s, Simple Minds were one of the biggest bands on the planet. There was simply no way of avoiding them. Like a Scottish U2, their home was the world’s largest stadiums and the band’s albums sold by the barrowload. Fronted by Jim Kerr and instantly recognisable for Charlie Burchill’s strident guitar slashes, they scored hit single after hit single and could seemingly do no wrong.
Just like U2, they married a humanistic political stance with massive air-punching choruses. They were the very epitome of the first Live Aid generation, rubbing shoulders with Nelson Mandela and lending their influential name to all the righteous causes. Their journey from humble punk roots to media darlings was hard won. Starting life as the shambolic Johnny and the Self Abusers, the band only began to get into their stride when they changed their name to Simple Minds and tied their punky spunk to a raft of art rock influences from Bowie to Roxy Music via the then de rigeur krautrock vibe.
Like the first incarnation of Ultravox, their was something otherworldly and post-modernly clinical about early Simple Minds. A debut album, Life In A Day was a bit of a limp lettuce marred by weak production and overly commercial material, but a second set for Virgin, Reel to Reel Cacophany, saw the band starting to come into its own. Synthetic sequences, cryptic lyrics and obtuse guitar made it an instant favourite in sixth form common rooms across the land.
Third album, Empires and Dance was even better, with the same experimental spirit given a commercial spit and polish. Opening track I Travel gave Simple Minds their first hint of a hit single. Things began to go better with the double set Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call. Produced by Steve Hillage, the album managed to include mostly classic songs, despite its long running time.
New Gold Dream hit paydirt though and put the band in the super league. It had the same effect on their career as REM’s Green or U2’s Unforgettable Fire. Nothing would be the same again. The band handled it well, putting in the legwork with ever-expanding tours and bigger and bolder albums. Sparkle In The Rain, Once Upon A Time and Streetfighting Years were massive sellers all. The gigs became more messianic and Jim Kerr found himself sitting at the top table of rock’s new aristocracy.
Sadly, it wasn’t to last. As the gigs became bigger, Simple Minds were forced to make the albums more anthemic and pretty quickly the powerful hooks became all posture and bluster. When you reach the top by riding a simple formula there is nowhere else to go but down. Lacking the savvy for reinvention of U2, Simple Minds were quickly forgotten, Britpop was the final nail in the band’s coffin.
The band regrouped spasmodically but the handful of albums in the last ten years showed a band trying to bimble its way out of a cul de sac armed only with some powerchords and a vague notion of life’s injustices. They wisely avoided the pitfalls of nostalgic package tours which have kept the soup on the table for the likes of the Human League, ABC and Spandau Ballet and quietly drifted off to various parts of Europe. Jim Kerr fetched up in Sicily where after a couple of high profile marriages to Patsy Kensit and Chrissie Hynde he seemed to have relaxed into the life of a gardener and small businessman.
Now, almost out of the blue, Simple Minds are back. Touting their strongest album in years, Black & White 050505, they are about to embark on a UK tour which takes them away from the stadiums and back into venues where they will be able to actually see their fans. Their timing, for once, is perfect. With Franz Ferdinand leading a new charge of Scottish artschool dilettantes and a full-on 1980s electrorock revival, the name Simple Minds is once again cool – as long as you don’t mention the later hollow albums.
Black & White 050505 sounds like the work of an old friend who’s been given a new lease of life. Familiar without flogging an old horse, it plays to all the band’s strengths and is hugely refreshing. Simple Minds, miraculously, sound relevant again. Jim Kerr’s in upbeat spirits when I talk to him in a London hotel room. He’s also disarmingly honest. The phrase ‘return to form” has been bandied round in relation to the new material, so dismissing the band’s entire post-peak output. How does that make Kerr feel?
“Well, it is a return to form,” he says. “The previous decade was very stop start for us. That’s part and parcel of having a long career. The people who inspired us – David Bowie, Lou Reed – have all been through long periods when their work has not been as focussed, for whatever reason.”
With the feeling, possibly, that this was the band’s last chance, Kerr and co rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in. “There was a concentrated effort this time,” admits Kerr. “We closed door and said let’s get it done. “We wanted to make a record that made people sit up and along the way discovered a vitality. It took a commitment creatively and also with our time.”
During the sessions, a lot of material was recorded but only 42 minutes-worth made the final cut. This was a delberate ploy. Rather than releasing a long and potentially flabby album, Simple Minds have delivered something that’s taut, melodic and memorable. “We had some very good songs that didn’t make the album as they would have disrupted its flow. They would have stuck out.
‘We wanted the album to be solid and focussed whereas in the past we were probably tempted to simply pile them up.” The album was mixed by studio legend Bob Clearmountain who was responsible for the stadium mashing sound on Once Upon A Time. This was an astute move for, as Kerr readily admits: “There is a certain style of Simple Minds song which he makes sound fantastic. Once I heard what he’d done with (first single) Home and Stay Visible, the hair on the back of my neck was starting to stand up.”
Being away from the top flight for so long, success for a second time is far from guaranteed for Simple Minds. I asked Kerr what he was hoping to achieve with the album. “I suppose we were hoping for visibility,” he says. “Hoping that things get heard. That exercise now feels complete amd the reaction we’ve had, both nationally and internationally, has been fantastic. “It’s gone a long way towards reestablishing us. “The new material sounds brilliant live and slots in effortlessly next to the older stuff. We now want to continue working and build on this momentum.”
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Epic ’80s rockers Simple Minds have recently returned with new album ‘Black & White 050505’. We pitched up for a chat with frontman Jim Kerr
Even though you’ve never really been away, people are starting to call your new album ‘Black & White 050505’ a ‘revival’ and a ‘return’. How do you feel about that?
“To be honest, our musical activity has been stop-and-start for a while, and in that way this album is a return. We wanted to prove ourselves. Everyone worked really hard to make it the best we could.”
What do you think about the current ’80s-influenced musical climate?
“I think decades always have a certain image, and until recently the ’80s weren’t very popular. When you saw clips on TV from the ’80s they would make fun of the strange clothes and haircuts, but I think it’s great people have started to discover some of the better things that went on then.”
When you formed Simple Minds in the late ’70s, did you ever imagine you would still be playing and recording almost 30 years later?
“No, never. For me it was just about getting a gig, and then another gig. When I talk to young bands these days they are very career conscious, but we never thought about anything like that.”
As a band, you have achieved pretty much everything. What motivates you to still keep recording and touring?
“Achieving ‘everything’ isn’t really what we were after. I mean, it’s great selling lots of records and playing to thousands of people, but making music is also about the passion. It’s not always so much that you like making music, but that you get a song in your head. It’s the need for making music; the need to create that keeps us going.”
Do you still get the same thrill out of playing live as when you first started the band?
“Yes, but in a different way. It used to be quite a fraught experience, I’d be nervous and panicky and all the rest of it, but now I’m not. A few weeks ago we were playing a TV show in France, and this young girl was performing for the first time. She was telling us how nervous she was, and how it must be OK for us because we’d played so many times before. In a way that’s not true, because we constantly have to prove ourselves to everyone. People might think ‘Pah, they’ll never be as good as they were twenty years ago,’ so we have to better ourselves all the time, and that’s a constant challenge.”
How has relocating to Sicily changed what you do and your approach to it?
“I know there’s a saying that says hardship makes people more creative, but I think that people will always perform and create better if they’re happy.”
You’ve said you felt at home when you went there. Why?
“When I first went there 20 years ago, it felt mysteriously right, but I couldn’t explain why. The people there are friendly, open and passionate about life, and they have this fuck-off attitude that islanders sometimes do, which feels great.”
What have you been listening to lately?
“We’ve been really busy lately, but I was really pleased when Antony & The Johnsons won the Mercury Prize a few weeks ago, even though it caused a bit of turmoil.”
RETURN TO SIMPLE LIFE WAS ALWAYS ON JIM’S MIND
For a musician, Jim Kerr knows plenty about football and, when I spoke to him, he was even looking forward to a Rangers game. The Simple Minds’ legendary frontman was in superb form and, with fans and critics alike loving new album Black and White 050505, the Glaswegian has plenty to make him smile.
The band has cornered the chat show circuit as well: booked for The Late Late Show tonight on RTE and last Friday they performed an energetic version of new single Home on BBC’s Jonathan Ross. But there’s music and then there’s football. Sometimes the two coincide. Himself a Celtic supporter, Jim revealed that a disparaging reference to Arsenal on his CD liner notes is because his son James (from Kerr’s marriage to Patsy Kensit) is a major fan of the Gunners.
“I always like to wind my son up, but don’t get me wrong, I’ll be seeing Arsenal with him at the weekend. I don’t mind that at all, but worse than that, James supports England.” He moves on to a recent and still resonant victory for Northern Ireland: “What a great result for your team against England. I was really pleased to hear about it.” I tell Jim that you could hear the singing across Belfast after England’s recent rout at Windsor Park.
“I bet you could. I didn’t see the match myself, because I was in France, but I read about it in the papers next day. I wonder is it a return to the glory days? “I remember seeing great Northern Ireland teams when I was growing up. For small teams like Northern Ireland or Scotland, it’s a brilliant boost to beat a big team. Northern Ireland are having a real moment in the sunshine now.” Jim is well known as a Celtic supporter and says that the team is still ‘suffering a hangover’ since energetic Ulster manager Martin O’Neill resigned to spend more time with his family.
But he is well across Rangers’ recent games and has a great respect for the Ibrox team. “Glasgow has two great clubs. Alex McLeish has always been a big, big fan of Simple Minds. And Ally McCoist gives me grief, especially when Rangers scores against Celtic. After the match he’d be straight on the phone.” We discussed the fact that Rangers were playing Inter Milan in an empty stadium this week and Jim revealed that he had a strong interest in Rangers’ winning.
“I cannae lose either way. If the Gers pull off that one, I can really give my Italian friends some stick.” Unfortunately as it now turns out, they didn’t, losing by a goal to Inter. As Jim has spoken of Martin O’Neill’s non-stop motion, I tell him that I think Simple Minds are showing a great energy themselves these days; live as well as on the back-on-form new album. It’s followed a quiet couple of years for the band, who will be back in Belfast to kick off their European tour in January.
“It’s fantastic, a mysterious kind of a thing. Did we wake up one day and it was all happening again? Hard to say, I stepped back for a while, but I’m devoted to music, so it was all still there, just a question of returning to it. It’ll be a belter when we get back to Belfast!” Black and White 050505 has the trademark big sound that Simple Minds’ fans will remember and love. Jim laughs when we talk about how it’s created.
“It’s so funny, you’ll like this. When foreign journalists ask you about the sound of bands from Ireland or Scotland, they always think it’s something to do with big wide open spaces and glens and mountain ranges. “I come from Glasgow; there’s no much of the mountain there. We have a very distinctive sound and it’s great to have rediscovered that. There are elements you have that are just your own nature, influential genetics, this inherent thing.
“I suppose you could say it’s our landscape.” Part of that unforgettable landscape is the classic international Number One: Belfast Child. Jim and I get involved in a discussion about Bob Dylan’s folk music influences, as portrayed in the iconic Scorsese documentary and he tells me how Simple Minds appropriated the air of a classic Irish ballad for their haunting hit. “We always felt a wee bit bogus, because we’d used She Moved through the Fair for Belfast Child.
I felt a lot better when I saw how much Dylan had done the same thing with some of his early songs.” He adds a self-deprecating ‘don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Simple Minds are anywhere close to Dylan’ before he tells me that BBC Scotland recently found that Mr Zimmerman’s hit The Times They are A Changin’ was based on Scots’ folk-song Farewell to Sicily.
“I’ve lived in Sicily for seven years now; it was odd finding that out. It was a Scottish soldier’s lament, apparently. It was just odd hearing that. I’ve had a complete change in lifestyle and I’m really settled in Sicily now.” I ask the Glaswegian if he’s ever homesick, or if Sicily is now ‘home’. “No, I know fine well where I’m from; I’ve never felt homesick. I’m lucky enough to be able to travel to Glasgow whenever I want, but I’m happy in Sicily, with the language,
the culture and, yeah, the weather is a big bonus.” That’s reflected in album track Different World (Taormina. Me), which name-checks the beautiful mediaeval town and is something of a ‘musical postcard’ for Sicily, according to Kerr. We touch on another happy subject when I ask him about his vocals, which sound granite-hewn and soaked in whiskey, especially on Dolphins, the last track on the album. I venture to wonder whether he’s ever abused his voice and he laughs his leg off.
“My voice… I can safely say I’ve never abused it… but I’ve probably abused most other parts of my body, now you come to mention it. But I’m a good boy, when it comes to my voice. I’m no much of a drinker, I don’t smoke and I look after myself, especially on tour.”
Veering back to safer matters, I wonder whether Belfast Child will be on the set-list here next year. He begins “We play songs from every period; if it feels right on the night, we’ll do it,” then he goes on in classic bad boy mode: “If you want me to, I will.”Well, we’ll see on the night, Jim, all I can say is, when you open your European tour in Ulster next year, Don’t You Forget About Me.
THE VENUE, LONDON 12TH SEPTEMBER 2005
Simple Minds have been around since time immemorial or so it seems – the bar tonight, chock-a-block with competition winners who apparently hadn’t seen the band for 20 years (or similar), echoed with stories of the invention of the wheel and how things had improved since Saxon times, OK I exaggerate, but you get my drift. The reality is that their first album Life In A Day was released in 1979,
their latest, the excellent Black & White 050505 has just appeared on the shelves and it does more than suggest there is life in the old dog yet! The evidence supplied succintly by the album was backed up by a scintillating set in intimate surroundings when the band played the latest of Capital Gold’s Legend series of gigs.
The venue (The Venue, off Leicester Square) was personally selected for the concert by Jim Kerr, front man and focal figure of the band, though the excellent guitarist Charlie Burchill has also been with the band from Day One. This small and snug arena is famous for being the scene of The Sex Pistols first ever gig (I doubt if today’s seating would have survived that gig!), as the ever-youthful DJ
Mr. David Jensen informed us in his kind introduction. Fortunately, another difference between this concert and that long-gone punk moment was the fayre was decidedly more coherent than anyone who witnessed the aforementioned gig would remember (if indeed they still can remember?) and the musicality was on a far higher plane. Jim and Charlie are today backed by a superb band, drummer Mel Gaynor, bassist Eddie Duffy, and Keyboardist Andy Gillespie, also not to be underestimated are the latter two’s fine harmonies that underpin a lot of the Simple Minds repertoire.
To tell the truth, I was expecting the show, recorded for broadcast by Capital Gold, to be a 40 minute thank you and goodnight affair, with a couple of new numbers thrown in to gently introduce the new album to a hopefully returning audience. What we actually got was a full-on, all guns blazing 90 minute trek through their awesome back catalogue, with four new tracks intermingling perfectly along the way, the new material stands proud with the old, particularly the new single Home, which despite it’s youthfulness represented one of the evening’s highlights.
I’m sure that a lot of the audience, the non-fans obviously, were expecting a laid back show, possibly passé, outmoded and unfashionable due to the bands longevity, what they actually received was a refreshingly contemporary and neoteric set full of energy and occasionally sheer class. Loud, straightforward and intoxicating, the band seeming to excel and thrive on the intimacy, they could rarely have been closer to the audience (to the degree where Jim endured several hugs from females with a friendly thank you response!) and the audience raised the roof in sing-alongs despite the small number present.
The crowd pleasers were all present and correct, Don’t You Forget About Me, Sanctify Yourself, Waterfront and Alive & Kicking all gaining great reactions. Overall a super night that had even the ticket winning sceptics nodding in awe – Simple Minds might be ageing, gracefully it must be said, but for energy and vigour this concert would take some beating, for class and presentation it would really take some beating. They are still alive and kicking, check them out if you ever get the opportunity….
THE VENUE, LONDON 12TH SEPTEMBER 2005
“Wings? They’re only the band The Beatles could have been!” Take this quotation from Alan Partridge and substitute the words “Simple Minds” and “U2” and a picture emerges of how the fates dealt with these 80’s rivals. Around this time, the two entities were synonymous with overblown stadium rock, all big drums, harmonics and synthesisers (as keyboards were once known). Indeed,
were they in a race, it would be difficult to tell who might win – U2 with their mulleted preacher up front or “Ver Minds” with their tubby Scot behind the mic. As the Berlin Wall crumbled, though, it was U2 who pipped it, having the imagination to clamber across and record Achtung Baby while Simple Minds crashed to the ground somewhere just outside Liepzig, virtually disappearing off the pop radar.
So with all these memories in the back of my mind, to be within touching distance (not that I would, you understand) of Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill is somewhat, well, freaky. I’m sure U2 do the occasional gig to 200 fans in an old punk rock venue off Leicester Square – alright, maybe not, but to be this close to a band who recorded the Wembley-filling sounds of Alive And Kicking and Love Song (both given an airing tonight) is, simply, surreal.
For the crowd of lucky Capital Gold listeners, however, it’s as close to orgasmic as many of them can probably hope to get nowadays. The two enthusiastic fat blokes at the front, with a combined age of 100 if they were a day, even knew the words to the first few tracks from new album Black & White 050505 (which I believe was a clue in The Times crossword yesterday). And when Don’t You Forget About Me kicked in (almost a hit for Bryan Ferry, apparently, and the key to Simple Minds “overnight” success) their barely contained rapture burst out, prompting several not-so-young-anymore ladies to storm the stage for an opportunity to touch their hero.
One thing’s for sure, though – Jim Kerr hasn’t lost it. According to MC David Jensen, The Venue was chosen by Kerr for its “theatricality”, and he made the most of this with his trademark head movements, arm swinging and crouching down (you had to be there). In fact, it made me long for a time when singers in bands used to dance – whatever happened to them? On an equally positive note, the new material does compare favourably with the old – although nothing will ever beat the throb of Waterfront for me. And yet, at the same time, therein lies the problem.
You see, frankly, the reason they ran out of steam in the first place was that their material was never actually as good as their rivals’. A song such as Mandela Day (still in the set, it would seem) only serves to remind us that the 80’s were a long time ago and, actually, weren’t that much cop anyway. That said (and I’m sure Kerr and Burchill must say this to each other every day recently) – what are The Bravery doing today that Simple Minds didn’t do better twenty years ago? And for me, in many ways, that just about sums it up. And if they’ve still got it – well, let ’em flaunt it!
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Doing what they do best, Simple Minds opt for an unashamed, nay chest-beating return to the days when they bestrode the stadium rock world no less comprehensively than U2. Practically every song here canters along like an avenging warhorse through airy soundscapes amid a heavy mist of significance, Charlie Burchill’s guitars chiming in the accustomed manner. Subtle, it ain’t.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Freddie Windsor – Mail On Sunday – 18th September 2005 (UK)
Cannily sensing an opportunity amid current wave of Eighties nostalgia, Simple Minds return with an album that recalls their stadium-filling peak. Always little more than a poor man’s U2, the band nevertheless prove here that they are still capable of big, tuneful scarf-wavers, however inconsequential their lyrics.
Fortunately, Jim Kerr’s voice has mellowed into something considerably better than the histrionic mewl of 20 years ago, and the fine production brings out the best in every song. There may be nothing here to convert a younger audience, but standout tracks Stay Visible, The jeweller Part 2 and Different World will doubtless delight the band’s older fans and provide a platform for a successful tour in the spring. That said, the band’s sound remains too one-dimensional ever to become truly interesting.
THE VENUE, LONDON 12TH SEPTEMBER 2005
MINDS AIII! Hoary rockers alive and kicking in London…
Last night PlayLouder found itself in the unlikely company of 200 or so Capital Gold listeners. The reason? To catch 80s rockers Simple Minds do a blistering set at The Venue (where the Sex Pistols kicked off their career in ’76.) Indeed Simple Minds could have shown the kids a thing or two, though sadly there were none there. Still, it didn’t stop the folks present going absolutely mental. Seriously, we’ve not seen a London gig this riotous for an age, and we’ve seen Darius.
The band played tracks from their new album ‘Black & White 050505’ plus classics such as Waterfront, (the not quite so topical as it was) Mandela Day, Alive and Kicking, Sanctify Yourself, and Don’t You (Forget About Me). Who needs Franz Ferdinand secret gigs eh?
BLACK & WHITE 050505
I remember when I got a package from my friend Tomas back in 1985. We were “hardrockers” back then with long hair and t-shirts saying Thin Lizzy… He sent me new tapes once every month while I was an exchangestudent down in France and in one package he sent a tape with the new album with Simple Minds called “Once Upon A Time”.
I remember thinking that the man must have got insane. Simple Minds – a synthband from hell… Why the hell did he send me that for? I put the tape into the player and have since that day been a H U G E Simple Minds fan. I went to see them on the tour in Avignon the same year and was totally blown away by them. That is 20 fucking years ago. Geeehhh… I’m starting to get old…
Here I am – sitting in my “boyroom” listening to a new Simple Minds album once again. The only differences are that instead of having Mom and Dad at “home” I have a wife and own kids and as I said a new Simple Minds album in the player. And that is what this review is about… A brand N E W produced Simple Minds album where the rumor said that they should’ve gone back to the sound of the mighty mid 80’s. The producer from the classic years Bob Clearmountain is back and the ambition of this timetravel back to the 80’s is obvious.
Do they succeed then? The opening “Stay Visible” is marvelous. A tremendous bombastic opener of the album and the same flow continues in second out “Home”. Fourth out “Different World” starts out with the patented piano-trademark of Kerr and his men and steps into a big refrain in the typical way for the band. The main part of the album is in this good shape but there are two nonsense-tunes that doesn’t grab at all (out of 9), and you can’t really compare the album to the classic
“Once upon…” and “Real Life” and the four stars I give the album are of course based on the quality of the album but spiced with a touch from my heart called nostalgy… but who gives a fuck… Jim Kerr and his men are back and that in very good shape. Now we just want that tour also…
ALIVE AND KICKIN’
Michael Heatley – Guitar & Bass – November 2005 (UK)
Nope, Simple Minds haven’t reformed: Actually they’ve never been away. Michael Heatley meets that master of soaring, stadium-filling guitar atmospherics, Charlie Burchill…
As we celebrated the 20th anniversary of Live Aid and then watched Live 8 recently, how many of us pinpointed Simple Minds as the megaband that Geldof, if not time, forgot. In the ’80s, it seemed you couldn’t mention U2 or Simple Minds without the other coming in the next breath, and so popular were these twin superpowers of rock that they had a mutal non-aggression pact not to release records in the same month.
Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill were seen as the like-minded cousins of Bono and The Edge. And, like the U2 duo, they are still very much in harness, as the release of Black & White 050505 proves. The Simple Minds story, Burchill insists, has never really stopped. ‘People say “What happened to the band, where have you gone?” but we’ve never even had a hiatus, taken a sabbatical or anything,’ he insists. ‘It’s always been a work in progress.
‘Sound-wise, you could never really compare us and U2. They were essentially a guitar band and we were a keyboard atmosphere-based band. I’m always surprised at the comparisons.’ He admits, though, that there were parallels. ‘Both acts were Celts, putting on shows and having something to say that might be important.’
So would Burchill liked to have been there at Hyde Park? ‘I believe we were asked, but we were approached very late. To be honest, we never really expected a call. Where we were (in producing the new album) it would have been quite difficult. But I’m delighted to see its success. Geldof was getting a lot of stick and I was glad to see it come off.’
Charlie has never approached the guitar as an heroic instrument – in fact, the first Minds albums of ’79-’80 saw him dabbling in sax and violin in an attempt to add new textures to the band’s European-influenced music. His violin experiments were inspired by the velvet Underground’s bassist John Cale, who also played viola, and the Doctors of Madness, a band from London. ‘They had an edge to them, and we were big fans. I found the violin a lot easier to learn than people said, and I still play a bit.’
Though they started life as a failed punk outfit Johnny And The Self Abusers, Simple Minds quickly gravitated to the art-rock end of the musical spectrum. Charlie pinpoints encountering bands like Gong and Kraftwerk – ‘serious music we’d hear through older brothers and friends’ – as crucial.
‘Simple Minds was an electronic band with influences from the mid ’70s electronic era,’ he reflects. ‘The guitar playing wasn’t in a conventional style: it was always more to do with sound and effects, trying to create an atmosphere. Over the years I suppose it’s become more rock-orientated, a king of hybrid. We’ve varied from album to album.
‘We’ve been touring for the last three years and the one thing that’s missing was product. This album is far more focused and the first for years I’d regard as a typical Simple Minds release. It was recorded very traditionally at Wisseloord, a studio in Holland we’d used before. We recorded it over two months and mixed it in about three weeks. We’ve got a great label in Sanctuary, probably the best of the independents, and it feels like a proper release. We feel it deserves attention, and it’s getting it.’
Black & White is, by Simple Minds standards, a guitar-orientated album. ‘All the same, the guitar isn’t always very guitar-like,’ Burchill points out. ‘Most of the treatments are done by guitar, most of the atmosphere.
‘The guitar and keyboard have always been very integrated. After Mick (McNeil) the original keyboard player left, I suppose the emphasis did go back onto the guitar, but ironically enough, around that time – the late ’80s and early ’90s – we began working with non-linear systems such as Pro Tools and the like. It was an era where you could take guitars and make them more origiinal than that generic keyboard stuff.’
The new album opens with a track called Stay Visible, which, Burchill admits, is ‘something I haven’t done a great deal of – a very full-on, high-energy approach’. His more usual oblique strategy is evident in Underneath The Ice in which he used a Danelectro baritone guitar, tuned a fifth below, to play melodic lines; then there’s a track called Different World, full of ‘very unusual sequenced guitars, octaves and stuff like that’.
These songs all found him employing his favourite ’62 Gretsch White Falcon, while a Country Gent also saw quite a lot of use. He reserves his recent stage favourite, a mid ’90s Les Paul with a Bigsby, for things that are more direct. But disaster struck in the last days of recording when it fell and broke its neck. ‘They say that will always happen if you own a Les Paul,’ he sighs. ‘I also have a 1970 Black Beauty, but it doesn’t sound like a Les Paul – it’s far too clean a note.’
Burchill also has a Tele with a B-bender, which leads us onto his penchant for pedal steel. ‘Years ago I saw someone on a TV show playing classical music on one and it just amazed me – the variation, the beauty and the complexity of playing the thing. It has a great tone and I’ve used it instead of keyboards and programmed things on three different tracks. Rather than play slide, I sometimes use the pedal steel… you can control it. I’ve got a Rickenbacker lap steel, but the pedal steel feels more comfortable.’
Burchill has simplified his life in the amplification realm in the last couple of years by adopting the Line 6 Vetta. ‘For someone who uses a lot of effects it’s very adaptable; you can do things quickly that used to take a long time. You can programme to a degree that will allow you to create your own chain of stuff.
‘I like to use it with two Matchless amps in stereo. The Matchless, I suppose, is my workhorse. In the past I used to use Roland JC120s, Marshalls, even a Fender Bassman for a while until I went down the path of using something new. In the studio I’ll bring the heads into the control room and set up a couple of combinations, but time and again I come back to the Matchless.
‘When we go out on tour next year I’ll use the Line 6 and the Matchless, and I also intend to incorporate a couple of the old Roland Space Echoes… and maybe, if I’ve got the courage, I might even drag out the old Echoplex! The Vett’s handy for live work, and when you’ve shoved it through that size PA it’s doubtful anyone will know the difference. But echo is something apart – you have to have the real deal.’
Simple Minds hasn’t always given Burchill the room to express every facet of his musical personality, especially since a wining formula was hit in 1982 with New Gold Dream and, three years later, the US chart-topping (Don’t You) Forget About Me. ‘There are various projects we’ve started that we’ve never had the time to finish,’ he sighs. ‘We’ve even played with our old keyboard player Mick, tried to involve him in things.’
There’s even been talk of a totally vocal-free album. ‘We’ve always used to have three or four instrumental tracks on every album – it became a bit of a tradition,’ he reveals. ‘you can open up the music a bit more on B-sides and extra tracks… but you end up working with things you bring back to Simple Minds. We’ve been working with a lot of other people as well. It’s been really interesting to see how they approach things; guys in Sicily, California and Paris, people who aren’t that well known, a track here and a track there, but nothing that really constitutes a project.’
Burchill’s major current collaborator apart from ever-present Jim Kerr is Jez Coad, who co-produced the new album, working extensively on quite a few tracks and co-writing a number. The two met via shared management. ‘He’s a guitar player with great ideas, the sort of guy who helps you get where you want to go,’ enthuses Burchill. ‘The first time we cam across him in the ’90s he was in a band called the Surfing Brides. He has some great angles and the chemistry of our collaboration works well.’
Though Mel Gaynor, drummer from the ’80s glory years, has re-enlisted and bass player Eddy Duffy also contributes, Simple Minds has come full circle from staring out as a duo, then becoming a five-piece, then a three piece, and then coming back to a duo once again. Whatever the future holds for Simple Minds, you can be sure that Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill will be together at the heart of it.
Hippies, Heroes and Influences
When Simple Minds signed to Virgin in 1981, they were paired with prog-turned dance-music guitar gura Steve Hillage. ‘The reason he got the gig with us was because he’d just done a track with Ken Lockie who’d been in a band called Cowboys International,’ explains Burchill. ‘The track was fantastic, and Virgin said this guy’s a guitar player, he’s an old hippie and we think he’d work a treat with a band like you, considering the musical background you came from.
‘We worked on a single, The American, and it was fantastic, so we ended up doing some more with him (two albums, Sons And Fascination and Sister Feelings Call, that were first issued as a limited edition double LP). As a guitar player he taught me a lot of little tricks. People regard him as a hippie but he really had an edge to him. A lot of his System Seven stuff is very interesting.’
Charlie’s earliest guitar influences came via brother Jamie, the first kid in their Glasgow neighbourhood to pierce his ear and dye his hair. ‘He was a big Hendrix fan, but at the age of 15 or 16 I was aware of other players too, like The Door’s Robbie Krieger. I’ve always been a big Neil Young fan; then, what I found myself using a lot more effects, I started connecting with people like Jeff Beck.
‘Mick Ronson was a big influence. If you listen to where he plays and what he plays on Bowie records you can hear a couple of notes that could almost be a string arrangement. That half-open wah-wah kind of thing… he was real anarchist guitar player. My favourite album was The Man Who Sold The World; considering they were only a three piece, the atmosphere was really Hendrixy.’
Guitars: ’62 Gretsch White falcon, ’67 Gretsch 6920, Gretsch Country gentleman, Danelectro baritone, ’62 Strat, mid ’90s Les Paul, Fender Telecaster with B-bender.
Amps: Line 6 Vetta, Matchless 50W combo with 2×12″ cab.
Effects: Roland Space Echo, Echoplex.
Who Rules: Robbie Krieger, Mick Ronson, Jeff Beck.
Album: Black & White 050505 is out now (Sanctuary). For further information about Cha
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Ian Shirley – Record Collector – October 2005 (UK)
Jesus! Just how many Viagra did these boys take?
A long time ago in a galaxy far away, Simple Minds were not only up there with U2 but a short nose ahead, Jim Kerr and the boys filling stadiums and pounding out athems like Waterfront into the lighter-illuminated night. Falling from chart grace, they soldiered on, although Neon Lights one wondered if minds had been lost along with band members. But the jokes must stop, as Black and White is an astounding return to form.
Core members Kerr and Charlie Burchill have gone back to the basics of the Simple Minds sound and written a lean nine-song album heavy on anthems that contains no fat and no filler. Stay Visible sets the tone, with Burchill carving out a stinging guitar melody that unleashes a re-invigorated Kerr. Home, Stranger and Underneath The Ice continue an ascent that is almost Apollo-like in its vertical momentum.
Jeweller and Kiss The ground are also fine examples of Kerr’s ability to put Bono in the shade as a writer of image, evoking lyrical Pandora. All told a perfect rock album and perfect material to be belted out live in venues ranging from medium-sized clubs to lighter-illuminated stadiums around the globe.
JIM KERR Q & A
Ian Shirley – Record Collector – October 2005 (UK)
Returning with Black And White 050505, Ian Shirley asked Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr how they rediscovered their stride.
What was the thinking behind the album?
We wanted to make a classic SImple Minds album but with a new energy. That’s easy to say, but a lot more difficult to do without becoming a paradoy or retro. We had a couple of false starts where it just wasn’t adding up. But once we got some songs down, we could feel the hair on the back of our necks standing up and identify some of the power that the band were known for on big albums like Once Upon A Time and Sparkle In The Rain.
Tracks like Stranger are laced with killer melodies and lyrics.
We wanted these big emotional pop songs with melodies and lyrics that were almost so simple that you couldn’t deny them. Stranger was the first song that made us think we’d got something that was going to get people excited. The bar had been raised. I think Stay Visible, Home, Stranger and Different World, we would’ve been glad to have at any stage of our career. But to have them together, one following the other, we’re going for the throat!
Is that why it’s nine songs – a 40-minute album?
We recorded about 14 and the nine on the album are the really strong songs. There are other songs that, on other albums, we would’ve included. But coming back, the album needed to be focused and punchy. We were brought up listening to albums that were around 40 minutes and we never felt unsatisfied. If you put out nine tracks and four of them are great, three of them so-so, and two of them are nowhere, then you’ve got a problem. But if you put out nine tracks that are all cutting the mustard, people shouldn’t have any complaints.
Why did you re-record Jeweller?
Jeweller’s a song from the lost album, Our Secrets Are The Same, which was never released for all manner of reasons. Last year, Virgin released a box set and Our Secrets Are The Same was on it and contained Jeweller. We’d play it to people when we were working on this album and their reaction was, ‘what the hell is that? Is that a new song?’ Producer Bob Clearmountain said, “you have to do it again!” The benefit of re-recording is that it’s a different arrangement. In fact, we loved the original but didn’t feel that we’d captured it. So it was great to get a second opportunity.
What inspired the lyrics?
The chorus came from a few years ago in Los Angeles. I saw this cheesy advert for some jeweller in Hollywood and this whole thing was ‘jeweller to the stars’. It made me laugh, but when it came to lyrics, I thought of it more in a cosmic sense.
That’s the date that the album was finished – 5 May 2005. We’d done every edit, every mix, after two years, there was nothing else to do.
KING TUT’S, GLASGOW 4TH SEPTEMBER 2005
Tony Gaughan – Sunday Mail – 11th September 2005 (UK)
Frontman Jim Kerr led a rejuvenated Minds back to their roots with a sneak preview of their stunning new album Black & White 050505 and an impressive collection of their greatest hits.At their peak, the band filled huge stadiums and arenas all over the world, but their choice of the legendary King Tut’s for their comeback made this a night to remember for the lucky few in attendance.
Opening with Stay Visible, new single Home and without doubt a future single Jeweller to The Stars the atmosphere was electric and judging by the reaction of stalwarts Kerr, guitarist Charlie Burchill and drummer Mel Gaynor, newcomers Ed Duffy on bass and Andy Gillespie on keyboards, they are more than capable of climbing back to the top.
Love Song started a collection of their greatest hits including Speed Your Love, oldie Premonition, Alive and Kicking and Waterfront received a rapturous welcome with the frontman taking a back seat and letting the mesmerised crowd take over. New Gold Dream ended an amazing set but with the band and crowd enjoying every minute they re-appeared for a five-song encore including new song Stranger and old favourites (Dont You) Forget About Me and Sanctify.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Martin Townsend – Sunday Express – 11th September 2005 (UK)
They lost their way with a ropy “covers” album, but it’s lighters aloft as Jim Kerr and co return to the glorious, wide-screen sound of the Glittering Prize era. Kerr’s voice has lost a bit of its Bono-esque bounce but he uses its gruff maturity to advantage on slower songs like Dolphins.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Sunday Times – 11th September 2005 (UK)
You either believe that the world needs another Simple Minds album, or you don’t. If the former, the new album will scratch every inch; the latter, and all your prejudicial bunions will be trodden on.
Jim Kerr does his huffing, puffing, Billy Goat-gruffing vocals; Charlie Burchill wields a formidable axe; and the whole sorry affair sounds ProTooled to within an inch of its life. It would have been interesting if they’d returned to the esoteriea of Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call.
But hopes of a comeback see them, on woeful lighters-in-the-air blasts of bombast such as Stranger and The Jeweller (Part 2), press the stadium-rock button and head off, flatulently, into outer space.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Liz Verrico – The Times – 10th September 2005 (UK)
Enough time has passed since Simple Minds straddled the Atlantic as bloated stadium rockers to recall that they weren’t all bad. Charlie Burchill’s glorious, chiming guitars, the cinematic scope of their songs and, yes, even Jim Kerr’s soapbox vocals – at least when he steered clear of politics – were worthy of the tag of Scotland’s U2.
More than a decade in the wilderness has sucked away the self-importance that made fans flee, and on Black & White 050505 Simple Minds have rediscovered how to write magnificent rock songs. Home has the techno tinge of Underworld, Different World could be Coldplay with attitude, while Underneath The Ice is an atmospheric ballad that avoids sounding windswept. A sizeable step on the road to recovery.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
In the last few years there has been an influx of 80s pop stars trying to regain ground long since lost. Black & White 050505 will no doubt find Simple Minds perceived as such but this album does not sound like one born out of an ego that wonÕt die or a need for some extra cash (or both – take note Duran Duran).
The truth couldnÕt be further away, in fact. This LP is one I’m sure will be seen by many as Simple Minds’ best. It shows off the band’s classic epic pop sound (once since borrowed by U2 and passed off as their own) without pandering to 80s retroism or aiming to please just the last of their die hard fanbase.
Put up against the latest offereings by today’s stadium rock kings U2 and Coldplay this wins hands down every time. It is an album with more energy and imagination and should raise Simple Minds back to their former glory. The only tarnish to its name are Jim Kerr’s lyrics, which are at times painfully bad – Underneath The Ice and The Jeweller (Part 2) being particular low points. But then, if we’re sticking with the U2 and Coldplay comparisons, well, I think you know.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Daily Star – 10th September 2005 (UK)
With pristine production values and some of their best tunes in ages, this comeback album doesn’t quite recapture the brilliance of New Gold Dream, but songs such as Home and the title track prove there’s life in the old dogs yet. Don’t you forget about them. Again.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Strong And Not Forgotton
If Black & White 050505 doesn’t strike a chord with the fans of The Bravery, it will remain Simple Mind’s strongest album in twenty years. The disc starts out with the epic “Stay Visible,” which sounds like retro ’80s music for those who love big sweeping guitars as much as electronic-pop accessibility.
“Home” and “Beautiful Stranger” are reminders of Jim Kerr’s strength as a storyteller, while “Underneath the Ice” and the title track up the electronics, tempering Charlie Burchill’s guitar only slightly. Only on “Different World” when the band’s sound bears a striking resemblance to Journey does Black & White 050505 veer into cheese-rock territory.
Simple Minds has always taken the best elements of post-punk guitars and the melody of early art bands like Roxy Music to create their catchy-yet-sophisticated sound. Jim Kerr may sing of the body being tired but this Mind is as sharp as ever.
Soon A.F.I. will probably be covering Simple Mind’s classic hit “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” to an entire generation of music fans completely oblivious of the original. Since their John Hughes heyday, Simple Minds has never quite reached the same commercial success as they did on The Breakfast Club soundtrack.
Standout Tracks: Stay Visible , Black and White, Jeweller
BLACK & WHITE 050505
The Sun – 9th September 2005 (UK)
If you thought Simple Minds records were best locked away with your old Pac-Man game, Rubik’s cube and other Eighties paraphernalia then you’re wrong. This 14th album from Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill is a return to form for the Scots group who have experienced a career of ups and downs.
Single Home, inspired by Kerr’s Italian hometown of Taormina, is a delight while Stay Invisible mixes piano and strings in a beguiling way and Different World keeps this momentum. There’s no nostaligic sound to this album, either. While they’ll never regain the same levels of their former glory, this might surprise you.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Daily Express – 9th September 2005 (UK)
With every hip band of the moment stealing their riffs and style, it seems only fair that Simple Minds have returned to show how it’s done. For a band with an Eighties heyday, this is surprisingly tight record, full of sharp, epic-sounding pop tunes and precious little filler. A very welcome return.
FORGET ABOUT ME? I WON’T LET YOU
Jim Kerr is hitting the road again. But the Simple Minds frontman insists that the decision to tour once more is not down to a midlife crisis, writes Mary Braid.
Mary Braid – Sunday Times – 4th September 2005 (UK)
South of France yesterday, London today, Berlin tomorrow. If Jim Kerr, the lead singer of Simple Minds, is knackered, or bored by questions about his celebrity former wives, he hides it well. In the midst of a whistle-stop publicity round and preparations for the launch of the band’s second album since its resurrection three years ago, Kerr remains sweetly and humorously self-deprecating. He deals very well with even the most impertinent questions. Well, for the most part.
Ask him, for example, whether he thinks the return of the band that sold 25m albums at its peak in the 1980s might in some way represent his midlife crisis, and follow that with a little more idle speculation. Why else would a man of 45 worth a reputed £30m go back on the road? Kerr laughs it off. “You might have a point,” he says, grinning. “Have I had other signs? Well I’d have to say there’s been the red Speedos I bought.”
He pauses as if visualising himself, stomach sucked in, in the crimson trunks. “Now that was really ill-advised,” he concludes. Nicely tanned, Kerr is actually looking good – that’s if you found the young Jim Sillars attractive – but he’s clearly no longer the skelf of a youth that could have sprinted down the sand in a sliver of red without any fear of ridicule or wobbling tummy.
Yes, Kerr, now resident in Sicily where he owns a hotel, plainly doesn’t mind laughing at himself. Up to a point. One subject provokes a flash of underlying, slightly unnerving edge. It’s not personal questions about former wives Chrissie Hynde and Patsy Kensit that needle him so much as attempts to play down Simple Minds’ achievements. The band that created the 1980s anthem Don’t You (Forget About Me) is now rather sniffed at by the revisionist music critics as way less cool than the Smiths and way less talented than U2, those other stadium fillers.
There is nobody who compares to U2, admits Kerr. But he is irritated by the belittling of his outfit. He wonders how many other bands can claim a run of five UK No 1 albums and so much success in the notoriously hard-to-crack American market that it could take part in Live Aid from Philadelphia. So can he accept that Simple Minds started to lose their way in the mid-1980s when they took on the stadium circuit?
“There was a point when we didnÕt do our best work,” he says, his eyes becoming a little harder and a mite narrower. “But there is a lot of lazy journalism around as well.” There’s something in the eyes and that careful reply which betrays the intelligent, streetwise steeliness in Kerr that must have played a big part in steering Simple Minds to success. It’s not that heÕs defensive – though he is a bit – it’s more a confidence in his own worth. The eyes say, quite fiercely, that nobody is going to take his achievements from him.
Simple Minds had its time in the sun with the music critics before, as is usually the pattern, the big bucks rolled in. Kerr sees the irony in that. Brought up in a high-rise in Toryglen, he remembers telling his dad way back at the beginning that while the band had yet to make money, the critics considered them hip.
“‘Try telling that to the bank manager,’ my dad said,” remembers Kerr, smiling. He adds that he understands the tendency to turn on bands that make it big. He’s done the same himself. “But the fact is that when Simple Minds started there was nothing,” he says. “We invented ourselves and we sweated it out.”
You get the sense – as with most well-balanced people – that Kerr feels a strong unbroken thread runs from his boyhood in the council flat to his luxury home in Sicily. The days of rock-star wannabe, red winkle-pickers and embarrassing 1980s’ garb are long gone and Kerr leads a sophisticated life. But Toryglen still hovers.
Ask if the rejuvenated Simple Minds, who this week release Black & White, their second album in three years, still make money, and Kerr looks positively affronted. “Of course it does,” he says. “We don’t play for nothing. I come from the flats, you know?” Toryglen may also have kept him grounded. Despite the high-profile wives, and some embarrassingly chunky jewellery in the 1980s, Kerr has shunned the rock-star clichés of excess, drug and alcohol abuse.
When he stood before tens of thousands of screaming fans in the 1980s, he always paused for 30 seconds to savour the wonder of how he got there. And he still clearly feels the wonder of the way life has turned out. “How could I do anything but count my blessings?” he asks. He certainly seems to have a nice life. After living in France, America and London, Kerr now considers Sicily his home. He has just sold his luxury apartment in Glasgow because he wasn’t spending enough time there.
He is positively poetic about the charms of Sicily, which he first visited more than 20 years ago. “It’s the whole package,” he says. “It’s gorgeous and it’s mystical. It’s a place on the edge and you can feel the African vibe there. It has an incredible history and you can still feel it. When you wake up there, you just feel your best.”
In fact, Kerr’s romance with Sicily started long before he visited. His grandfather was posted to the island during the war. “He used to tell us stories about the place when we were kids,” says Kerr. “He said that all the ‘wummin’ there were fantastic.” Are the “wummin” still fantastic? “Yes,” says Kerr. “Why? Because they don’t mind talking to old guys.”
Kerr married Hynde when he was 24 and she was 32, after their bands toured together. “Chrissie was a cradle snatcher,” he jokes. They had a daughter Yasmin, now 20, andÊ Kerr is also stepdad to Natalie, Hynde’s older daughter with Ray Davies from the Kinks. Kerr seems to have spent too much time in the studio and on tour after Yasmin was born, and he and Chrissie divorced five years after marrying. He was 32 when he married Kensit and they had a son, James. The couple undid the knot only four years after tying it. Kerr has admitted that once again he simply was not around enough.
Kerr is on warm terms with Hynde. On his birthday it’s Chrissie, Yasmin and Natalie who take him out. His feelings for Kensit, who went on to marry and divorce Liam Gallagher, seem more conflicted. It couldn’t have helped when, after they split, Kensit claimed her love life with him had been somewhat lacking. But he does his bit to defend Kensit against her tabloid image as a dizzy, rock star-loving blonde (before Kerr and Gallagher there was a first husband, Dan Donovan, of Big Audio Dynamite). She is, Kerr insists, funny and intelligent.
He says his mother helps keep him in touch with how Kensit is doing. “People are always coming up to her in Asda to say they thought she always said Patsy was a nice girl.” The public obviously confuses her with her character in Emmerdale. These days, Kerr insists, he’s a love-free zone. He doesn’t believe “the one” exists or that if she did he could make her happy. “My life is really full,” he says, pointing out that he has the band, his business interests and three children to keep up with. “I don’t have time and any relationship would be doomed to frustration.Ê What I want more than anything these days is peace.”
What he seems to have dispensed with is the tension he always felt between his love of the rock’n’roll lifestyle – that seems to reflect something of the loner at his core – and his desire for stable, traditional things such as marriage – fostered by his background and his parents’ happy and lengthy union. The most enduring relationship of his life remains the one with fellow band member, Charlie Burchill, whom he met in Toryglen when he was eight years old.
Burchill lives in Rome these days. The best friends give each other space – “We’re not the Alexander Brothers,” says Kerr – but they also live close enough for easy collaboration. That still leaves the puzzle of why Kerr and Burchill bothered to get together again after a period in which Simple Minds were pretty much mothballed.
When the band was on the backburner, Kerr says it was partly because he no longer felt he had anything to say. “It was like getting blood from a stone,” he says. “There was a short period when I thought that must be it and what shocked me was my acceptance of that.”
It was Sicily, with its mix of European and African influences, that musically put the zing back into Kerr. And three years ago, when the band went on its first tour in years, he was “energised” by performing again and heartened to find people still wanted Simple Minds.
However big his fortune or great his business success, he still considers himself essentially a musician. “When the band is in a room together, you can strip it all back,” he says. “You forget everything else. It’s all about getting a good noise.”
He still remembers the epiphany, 25 years ago, when the Simple Minds sound first struck him. “It took a long time to perfect,” he says. “But I just felt there was something in the music in that moment that was too effective to be ignored.”
Kerr professes to be happy with life as long as his family is okay. “There’s nothing else that I really want that I don’t have,” he says. Then he adds a crucial caveat, “but I would like to do good work.” Music, he says, is not just a career, “it’s a life”.
Whatever he says about contentment, Kerr seems too restless for luxurious early retirement. He seems to have something left to prove. “In our daft wee heads, Charlie and I still think it’s a crusade,” he says.
Jim Kerr’s had an amazing life… from a Glasgow estate to rock superstardom. Most amazing of all, he’s hip again.
Stephen Phelan – Sunday Herald – 28th August 2005 (UK)
As the voice of Simple Minds, Jim Kerr has always sounded like a romantic. Since he started the band almost 30 years ago in Glasgow, he has written songs about art, travel, world peace, big love and the collapse of great cities. In person, though, Kerr talks like a pragmatist who has gone through almost every stage of a life in rock music – punkish youth, glorious prime and natural decline – with very few illusions.
Today, he takes this observation as a compliment. “I’m glad you mention pragmatism,” says Kerr. “I’ve always been a realist. If you’re going to have a long career, then you know everything won’t always go to plan. I’ve made at least 100 mistakes. But at this point I think even our biggest critics would concede that Simple Minds is more than a career for us. It’s who we are and what we do.”
When he says “we”, he can only mean himself and guitarist Charlie Burchill, who grew up together in Toryglen and founded Simple Minds on the remains of short-lived Glasgow pub band, Johnny & The Self Abusers. Now 46 years old, Kerr made his fortune, and probably his best records, a long time ago.
“Some people seem to have a very edited version of our story,” he says. “They tell us we had it all and we blew it. Really? We wrote hundreds of songs, played thousands of gigs, sold millions of records. We were rewarded like kings, and we enjoyed 95% of all of it. It’s not like we weren’t contenders.”
Even while he’s talking in the past tense, Kerr is here in Glasgow’s Malmaison hotel to promote a new Simple Minds album, due for release next week, with the pedantically contemporary title of Black & White 050505. The press release describes it as a “return to form”, which seems like a tacit admission that form had been lost.
“Well yeah,” says Kerr. “The language of a press release is always clumsy, but it’s true in the sense that we’ve made the record that we really wanted to make. We wanted a so-called ‘classic’ Simple Minds album. Big emotional pop songs with a certain drama. Music that envelops. Which sounds great, but how do you do that without it being a parody or some kind of retro 1980s exercise?” The bigger question, and I don’t mean this facetiously, is why even bother?
Kerr now lives in Sicily, where he owns a hotel, speaks Italian fluently, and takes a deep and sincere interest in local politics and history. I get him started on the subject when I mention that I visited Naples for the first time recently. “Really? Naples and Sicily were a joined kingdom, did you know that? They used to be called the Two Sicilies. But they’ve been rubbed out of history, because history belongs to the winners. They’re fascinating, these renegade places. I love them.”
One of the reasons that Kerr joined a band in the first place was to get out of Glasgow and see the world. It was obvious to him that Johnny & The Self Abusers weren’t going much further than a couple of gigs in the Doune Castle bar (lead vocalist and sax player John Milarky had come up with the name before he came up with any songs). So when Simple Minds were assembled, Kerr provided enough focus for all of them. “People who worked with us in the past talk about me as if I was a dictator. I can understand what they’re saying, but I was consumed at the time, and when anything got in my way I was borderline ruthless. If you didn’t like it, you could fuck off and get your own band.”
That aggressive need, that heating-element in the blood of young musicians, can’t possibly still be at work in him. As Ally Sheedy’s character said in the 1985 American teen-movie The Breakfast Club: “When you grow up, your heart just… dies.” Kerr, like most people who ever saw that film, is more inclined to remember the theme song than the wisdom of the dialogue. Don’t You (Forget About Me) was pre-written for the Breakfast Club soundtrack and reluctantly recorded by Simple Minds after Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol rejected it on grounds of banality. It immediately became their biggest ever hit. Kerr never liked the song or the movie, but he understands their sentiment.
“It reminds me of something Bruce Springsteen once said, about how when you’re 18, music is the only thing in your life. You’re burning up with it, even though you’ve only maybe got a leather jacket and one guitar. Then you get the reward, and other things come into play. Family and so on. After that, even on a good day, you’ve lost at least 50% of your energy. So now I have to really manage my time, I set aside three or four months where I’m doing nothing but writing songs.”
Which makes you wonder exactly what Kerr does with the rest of his time. “I live my life,” he shrugs. If Simple Minds were ever great, it was in the early 1980s, somewhere between the cold, modish Euro-disco of their early days and the grand utopian guitar anthems of their peak, which coincided with their performance at Live Aid. Fans from the glory days will say the band lost all sense of poetry when they became explicitly political, particularly on the 1989 album Street Fighting Years. “I thought we were on really safe ground with that stuff,” says Kerr.
“If you’re going to be an artist, surely you’re going to hit on things like apartheid, or the poll tax, or Northern Ireland. Especially in Glasgow. Although with Belfast Child (a reworking of an Irish folk song, which was Simple Minds’ first and last UK number one single) I could see people thinking that was really clumsy.” Or possibly sectarian. “Maybe. But it wasn’t, and I’m not. Only the most insane Celtic supporter could really think that was a republican song. My dad’s from Strabane, so it always felt very personal. Most of my songs do.”
Through the 1990s and into the 21st century, Simple Minds became more inconsequential with each successive record – Good News From The Next World, Neapolis, a covers album of songs by The Doors, Kraftwerk and Joy Division that was so unlikely and unpopular that it remains faintly unbelievable even now.
“We were hardly setting the hills on fire,” admits Kerr. In the meantime, he was busy becoming a professional internationalist, with homes in London and Nice and shares in Glasgow restaurants, including conveyor-belt sushi place Oko, a Scottish dotcom agency called 2Fluid Creative, and his own personal management consultancy. In 1998, he was part of the £30 million consortium that tried and failed to buy Celtic Football Club, acting more as a concerned fan than a corporate shark.
“In that period I was feeling very distant from music. I wasn’t excited by myself in any shape or form. It wasn’t exactly a crisis, but we decided to step back. Not give up, just put things on ice, musically. In that time I got involved in a lot of things that I was more passionate about, projects I wanted to see materialise.”
It’s probably a vulgar subject, and successful artists tend to avoid it, but Kerr has no problem talking about his finances. By the time Simple Minds made it big with deliberately commercial records like Once Upon A Time, he felt that he’d earned it. “We had been working for years and we were always in debt, so there wasnae any guilt about making it.” This is the first time in the interview that Kerr’s neutral accent sounds particularly Glaswegian.
There is a trace of his background in his attitude to money. He doesn’t want to blow it, he wants to use it. He stayed at his parents’ house on the southside last night, “just so we would get some time to chat”, and they were saying much the same thing to him. “They were saying I always had money, because I always had Saturday jobs. I was a butcher’s boy, which was a tough job for a vegetarian. But you could buy a copy of Ziggy Stardust, or a ticket to see Alice Cooper. There was a great satisfaction in working for it, and not needing mummy and daddy to help you out.”
When Simple Minds started out, all their cash went into paying for the next gig. When they became rock stars, Kerr’s percentage went into his family’s future. While he has had, in his own words, “two failed rock’n’roll marriages” – to Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, and actress Patsy Kensit, who then went on to become Liam GallagherÕs ex-wife – Kerr never allowed himself a dissolute lifestyle.
There were joints, a bit of speed, a few tabs of acid early on, but he gave up drinking young, and to this day he says he’s never even seen heroin. “My mum has though. That’s the irony. She didn’t want me to be in a rock band because she didn’t want me exposed to drugs, but every day she was walking past junkies on her way to work in Greggs the bakers.”
Against the odds, Kerr has a good relationship with his own children (he has a daughter and stepdaughter by Hynde, and a son by Kensit). “It could have been chaos, and at times it was, but somehow we managed to get through and stay a family, albeit fragmented.”
He sees his kids when he can, although it’s not as often as he would like, given that they still live in London while Kerr has permanently relocated to Sicily, sold his shares in almost all his business ventures, and got back into music. He got inspired again in 2003 when Simple Minds toured to promote Cry, probably the least successful record they ever made.
“It was definitely flawed, but it got us kick-started again. Every night we were playing songs from across the whole catalogue. Even Johnny & The Self Abusers songs. It should have been a trip down memory lane, but the music seemed to have a new currency. We got enthusiastic about all our trademarks again.”
ItÕs true enough that those trademarks are back in fashion, which was bound to happen if they hung on long enough. Bands like The Killers are trading on echoes of their early sonic drama and romance. But Kerr has also proven himself to have pretty good business sense, so I ask if he has used it to work out how badly the market wants or needs a new Simple Minds record.
“I wish I could, to be honest, but when you’re making the music you can only hope that it speaks to people. If this record only sells five copies, it won’t make a difference to my life, except maybe on a tax return. I’ll still be eating spaghetti like I always do. But it would be a blast if it sold five million. It would feel like the cycle was complete.”
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Beware the ‘return to form’, the comeback album. Two phrases that have enjoyed close proximity in discussion about Simple Minds’ reappearance from the creative wilderness after three years away. The date – not entirely pretentious – refers to the day on which sessions for the record was completed.
And yet this is a musical renaissance of sorts. Jim Kerr’s Sicily haven appears to lend him more of a chance to write songs instinctively with the band, and a ‘less is more’ approach removes a lot of the baggage that ccompanied some of their over-inflated tracks in the 1980s.
Take closing track Dolphins, a startlingly bleak outlook and a brave way to finish the album, Kerr’s disembodied voice over the toll of Eddie Duffy’s bass, with Blue Nile-type cinematics in between. The track’s timeless opening, not a drum in sight, reaches an awkward calm quite unlike anything they’ve done before.
It certainly won’t please all the fans, but then the band are on much safer ground with the opening trio. The single Home is particularly good, a Charlie Burchill special looping around Kerr’s vocal puzzle that he’s “home, but thousands of miles away”. Opening track Stay Visible uses the widescreen approach once again but with a greater economy, its opening betraying 21st century musical technology but in all reality similar to the music the band were making at the start of the 1990s. Stranger too, opens up into a strong chorus, Kerr’s voice taking a firm foothold in mid range.
It’s the central part of the album where the going gets tougher. Underneath The Ice has an uncomfortable, meandering vocal line, with Kerr’s voice subtly vocoded but sounding unrelated to the stilted bass and clumsy, slower rhythm. The Jeweller (Part 2) (don’t you just hate it when there’s no part 1?!)
also fails to convince fully, Kerr singing of where the “air is thin” and sating a “lack of oxygen”, both evident in the slender vocal delivery. Kiss The Ground may feature a more traditional Kerr line in the verse but the lyrics become questionable by the chorus, by way of example: “There is no hidden karma, there is no special plight, there is no special armour to take me through the night.”
Still, these apparent shortcomings at the albums core don’t detract too much from the many positive elements of this release, particularly the surefootedness of the opening trio, nor the willingness to try something different at the end. The old ones may still be the best, but for their fans Simple Minds have offered hope that now, having blown the cobwebs away, they may be about to go big again.
You know that hollow, echo-y ‘huh’ noise some people make just before they throw up all over your carpet? Well, Simple Minds have captured it and made it in to a song, but for the sake of decency they have pretended the sound is actually the word ‘home’.
Jokes about how funny the chorus sounds aside, this track is really pretty alright. While it’s more mature and easy-going than the likes of The Killers and The Bravery, the guitar riff on this track demonstrates exactly the kind of thing Flowers and Endicott were thinking of when they decided to rip off the eighties, and it’s probably the kind of music they’ll be making in twenty years’ time when another generation of young ‘uns have come along to rehash their music and steal their thunder.
If this track is a good reflection of the forthcoming album, then it’s probably going to sound a lot like New Order’s 2001 album Get Ready, which wasn’t a massive success despite being really quite good. But in a time when The Departure and Bloc Party are getting the trendies dancing, maybe with this Simple Minds have come up with the perfect soundtrack for their sleepy Sunday afternoons.
THE BLACK AND WHITE ROUTE TO SUCCESS
You can’t say you haven’t noticed it – bands of the 1980s, reforming with albums whose publicity boasts of being “the best thing since (insert name of biggest album, usually the first or second)”. Simple Minds, however, have always been around, despite shrinking away from the public eye in recent years. The band’s long association with Virgin ended with last year’s Silver Box.
Now they reside with the likes of Morrissey and Elton John at the troubled Sanctuary label and are releasing Black and White 050505, a record that represents their most natural and instinctive piece of work for some time.
Much of this reinvention has been credited to Jim Kerr’s new found state of bliss at his Sicily residence, and the influence it exerts on him. Certainly when musicOMH.com caught up with him he sounded relaxed, and was even prepared to begin with football talk, more specifically of his beloved Celtic and their lack of early season form, crashing to a little-known Slovakian team.
“I’ve been online looking at the Glasgow media”, puzzles Kerr, “and we’ve been scratching our heads, dying of embarrassment! It’s such a shame as the club’s in as good a shape now as it can be, there’s not a sugar daddy but it’s a huge club in a tiny league, which means it’s in a kind of limbo.”
Doesn’t talk of football make him pine for Glasgow though? “I was there the other week actually. Since I’ve been 18 though I’ve always been a restless traveller. Me and Charlie (Burchill) went hitchhiking when I was 16-17 and we ended up going all the way through Europe. At that time Glasgow had an image of being hard, grey and pretty miserable.” Was the band a way out? “No. I really enjoyed the family, the friend. I just couldn’t keep still after that first tour of Europe. Glasgow is going through a renaissance now though; it’s a real hotbed for music. Another thing to bear in mind is that I’m a Scotsman who doesn’t drink. There’s this one culture there, and it involves getting hammered!”
In addition to hitchhiking, Kerr blames band activities for his restlessness. “We toured extremely hard, in fact we probably overdid it. You think you have an abundance of energy but it runs out after a while! My first 18 years were shaped by Glasgow, but in life after that as a person I’ve been influenced immensely by different countries. When you get into a different language you get into a new mentality. I actually regret that I didn’t do more of it, and I’d rather experience a country for what it is than some place that’s a UK enclave.”
The band’s single Home seems to tackle the singer’s situation head on. Or does it? “I’m not quite sure where ‘home’ is! It’s kind of ironic that Sicily has played a big part in the return to making music again though. If anything, Different World (a track on the new album) is more about Sicily than Home – it’s a musical postcard. Home is more a feeling you carry around with you. It’s like ‘I’m home, but I’m thousands of miles away’. As for the writing, we just put it together wherever we are. Sicily’s influenced the music more in the sense that if you get up in the morning and it feels good, you’re gonna have positive energy to do things.”
Kerr agrees on the ‘less is more’ approach of the new record. “Certainly, we were looking to make dramatic music but we’re keen not to fill it all up, the space. There’s an abundance of ideas, people were bringing so much to it. It is much better if you can have light and shade, and a lot of the time the songs begin from not much.”
A prime example is the closing track Dolphins, a bleak texture with Kerr’s voice almost a cracked whisper. “It really goes on a trip. I have to give credit to Jez Coed for that one. Charlie had the basic idea, then Jez said ‘we’ve gotta take it somewhere’ and he managed to blow it up, but not over the top. The voice was done in a hotel room using some cheap microphone, but we couldn’t get that “shiver” thing going, I was almost under the mixing desk in the end!”
Few bands were as politically charged as Simple Minds in the 1980s, but in the light of recent developments in Northern Ireland will Kerr see songs like Belfast Child in a different context?
“That’s really interesting, cos over the last few weeks I was thinking, ‘would we even sing it again?’ and then I thought yeah there is a point, cos it’s a great song. I don’t have an answer to your question though; no one’s asked me that! Essentially it is a hopeful song, although sometimes I used to think, ‘What is the point of any hope?’ Sometimes it seemed wishful thinking. But now I read what the news journalists are saying and it’s like, ‘what was it all about in the first place?'”
Does the continued success of contemporaries U2,New Order, Depeche Mode and the like inspire him? “Well I think they’re an inspiration to record companies and people like that more! Sometimes the climate is more welcoming. Four years later we’re suddenly back in; all it takes is someone to drop your name as an influence. My daughter’s now 20 years old and was telling me the other day about Bloc Party raving about us on the TV, which is nice, and James from the Manic Street Preachers also said some good things recently.”
And with that he’s on to the next interview. There’s little doubt Kerr cuts a mellower figure than the one that toured himself to a standstill in the ’80s and in the process made Simple Minds one of the biggest bands on the planet. Twenty years on, the desire to make music and perform clearly remains.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Two decades on, their song remains the same
John Perry – Q Magazine – October 2005 (UK)
You remember Simple Minds. Mid- ’80s. Singer Jim Kerr was married to Patsy Kensit. Did overblown Stadium rock such as Alive And Kicking. Well, 20 years on, Patsy’s moved to Emmerdale and Simple Minds are still playing overblown stadium rock. In fact, they’ll probably keep doing it until the British public start buying their ecords again. Unfortunately this is unlikely to be the album which does it. It’s epic but there are no songs of the calibre of Promised You A Miracle. And a miracle is exactly what Simple Minds need at this point.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
One of Scotland’s most successful bands, with a career spanning nearly three decades, Simple Minds have sold over twenty million records, had five number one albums, a no. 1 single in America, three American top ten singles and been voted by the influential Q magazine as one of the world’s best live acts. They have influenced bands as diverse as current favourites Bloc Party and Muse, as well as Moby, Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonics along the way. Most recently Yellowcard paid homage to their biggest hit, ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ at the MTV Movie Awards.
Scotland’s Simple Minds evolved from a post-punk art rock band influenced by Roxy Music into a grand, epic-sounding pop band. The band grew out of a Glasgow punk group called Johnny and the Self-Abusers, which featured guitarist Charlie Burchill and lead singer Jim Kerr. The inaugural 1978 lineup of Simple Minds featured a rhythm section of Tony Donald on bass and Brian McGee on drums, plus keyboardist Mick McNeil; Donald was soon replaced by Derek Forbes.
Their early albums leaped from one style to another but soon the band began a transition to a more accessible pop style, including New Gold Dream, which became their first chart album in the U.S., the well received Steve Lillywhite-produced Sparkle in the Rain and Once Upon a Time, which went gold and reached the U.S. Top Ten.
Now after a brief hiatus Simple Minds are back with Black & White 050505 (thusly named when recording ended on May 5, 2005). To be released on September 13th by Sanctuary Records, Black & White recalls the sweeping, vast sound that characterized their biggest hit albums, Sparkle In The Rain, Once Upon A Time and Street Fighting Years. Black and White, recorded in Italy, Holland and then mixed in Los Angeles by the legendary Bob Clearmountain, is a return to form for the band and should see the emergence of a whole new generation of fans as well as satisfying their current ones.
Lead singer Jim Kerr’s distinctive voice comes through strong in their first single, ‘Home.’ Together with co-founder and lead guitarist Charlie Burchill, they have produced a song that should lay to rest any rumors that this is a band that have had their day. ‘Home’ recalls classic Simple Minds with a driving rhythm and the distinctive Burchill guitar sound. Kerr says “There are a number of songs on the album that will make great singles but I feel that the way ‘Home’ kicks in with Charlie’s signature soaring guitar riff, there could be no better way off announcing to the world that Simple Minds has recaptured the musical spirit that defined our best work. Lyrically, ‘Home’ is a pop song with a spiritual heart, taking us on a secret journey through the thoughts of someone who is desperately seeking out their own inner crusade.”
Songs such as ‘Stranger,’ ‘The Jeweller (Part 2)’ and ‘Different World’ give their past hits a run for their money and reminds us that here is a band that can do “big emotional pop on a grand scale” as well as anybody and probably better than most. Never afraid to tackle the bigger issues as demonstrated by their classic international No.1 single ‘Belfast Child’, the current CD’s title track ‘Black and White’ is a somber electro ballad about the madness and shame displayed by an increasing amount of world wide Holocaust deniers. Similarly ‘Dolphins’ closes the CD on a gentle though cinematic note.
Distinctive pop at its best, Jim Kerr’s voice resonates with brittle emotion, with the lush backing building slowly until it fills the room. Somehow it seems the perfect ending to what is definitely their best recording in a very long time. Bursting with melodic energy, Black & White 050505 harkens back to the band’s classic days, when NME declared Simple Minds band of the year.
“We wanted to make an album once again that was full of dramatic and atmospheric pop music. We felt that we needed an album that proved as much to ourselves as anyone else, that the big beating heart of Simple Minds was very much alive and driving us on once again. Having delivered Black & White 050505, an album that we believe is ‘classic Simple Minds,’ albeit with a whole new energy, we can honestly say that we are delighted with the results and look forward with a totally revitalized outlook to this next phase of our on going creativity.”
says Kerr, “We feel with some certainty that people who grew up with Simple Minds will share our enthusiasm for this new work, while at the same time, believe that these new songs are good enough to interest a whole new contemporary audience. Needless to say, in the tradition of all great rock bands, we are extremely excited at the prospect of playing this album live on stage and look forward to doing exactly that in the near future.”†
It’s been a while since Simple Minds permeated our consciousnesses on a regular basis. In the early 1980’s Jim Kerr and his band of Scottish droners stealthily became one of the biggest bands in the world, stadium fillers on a par with U2. They made some fairly unusual records to begin with; ‘Reel to Reel Cacophony’, ‘Empires and Dance’, ‘Sons and Fascination’ and ‘Sister Feeling Call’, before becoming more radio friendly, and adopting a sound that had widespread appeal. Following phenomenal success for both bands in the latter part of the decade, Bono and U2 went on to discover irony and attempt dance music, while Simple Minds just sort of dissipated away (or so some people thought).
Remembered now in the main for soundtracking brat-pack classic The Breakfast Club with one of the most iconic songs of the decade, and for Kerr’s high profile marriages to Patsy Kensit, and Chrissie Hynde before her (PlayLouder is instructed to avoid talking about them), the band who sprung from Glasgow in 1977 as Johnny and the Self Abusers are back with a brand new album, 28 years later. And it’s good too; ‘Black and White’ is a return to form, reminiscent of their work when they were on the cusp of becoming world-beaters – the ‘Sparkle in the Rain’ and ‘New Gold Dream’ era more precisely.
These days Kerr splits his time between Italy, Sicily, Scotland, and London (where his children are based). Long time collaborator and Simple Minds guitarist Charlie Burchill also lives in Italy. Easy life…
So Jim. how are you?
Do simple things please Simple Minds?
“(Thoughtful pause) In a sense they do, yeah.”
And how’s the weather?
“Nice. It’s alright here. It’s a bit muggy but it’s ok.”
So why did you choose to move there? Was it the food?
“Haha. No, not quite. We came to play here about twenty years ago. You know I love these parts. I love Mediterranean stuff but especially Sicily. It’s really quite unusual in as much as it’s obviously Italy and Europe but it’s nearer Africa. And I just like these places that are on the edge, they’re on the fringe. I love the whole culture and everything and as I’ve got to know people and sort of step-by-step got the language and the mentality. It’s started to feel like my place now.”
So are you a bit of a multi-linguist now?
“I would like to more multi-linguist but yeah, I speak Italian.” It’s a beautiful language but you don’t speak it anywhere else do you? “That’s fine by me.”
And Charlie Burchill lives there as well yeah?
“Charlie lives in Rome. He met an Italian girl yonks ago and lived there, and we just got into it and he was into the language and all that as well – and in his case it’s come back to him recently, where he has gravitated back towards there. So it wasn’t a band decision, it was more a personal decision. And admittedly, because technology has made it so easy, it has made it much easier to work anywhere… If we’d tried to do this twenty years ago it would have been odd.”
Presumably you have got other people in the band who aren’t nearby?
“We work a lot individually in the early stages and then we come together and build it up, and then when we get to a certain point we get everyone together and go away. And in the case of the new album we worked in Amsterdam and then we finished it in America. But the basis of it was done in Italy.”
People in this day and age don’t generally stay in the same job – so to actually be working with the same people you were working with twenty years ago is quite an odd thing.The relationships must change quite a lot?
“Well, especially in the case of Charlie. I mean I’ve known Charlie since he was eight years old. Having said that, that’s extraordinary, but in terms of everyone else, it’s the same job. I think part of the reason it works is that somehow we do know how to give each other space. And we do have other interests outside so when we come together people bring something fresh and new to it. When you’re 18 and all living in a squat together and all agreeing on the same politics, you know then you are more like a little gang. It’s not quite like that anymore.”
So your politics are different now?
“I guess what it is, is that people develop lives beyond the cult of the band.”
Talking of politics, Italy is quite a strange place isn’t it…
“Absolutely. Hard, really hard to fathom in my experience. Really hard to fathom out how it works, how the parliament works and so on. It is very strange.”
What’s the feeling like there at the moment because following the bombs in London, Ayman al-Zawahri made some announcement about Italy not being exempt from attacks? Do people fear that happening or do they just get on with life?
“Well, people do get on with their lives but I mean as you say the media… (sighs) …the media is kind of the same everywhere with these things, they’re spun out and even if they’re true you still get bombarded so you know, there is fear. I’m sure there is fear but people do get on with their lives.”
Everyone was going on about Londoners being resilient, but you aren’t going to suddenly piss-off and live in a field under some tarpaulin are you? The media in Italy is frenzied isn’t it – that’s where the whole paparazzi concept is from obviously…
“It came from there, they sort of began the whole thing. I mean I’m not plugged into it to be honest – I just switch it off but it is. Television here is owned… if you can imagine Tony Blair owning, owning BBC1, 2, 3 and 4…”
It’s like FOX in America really isn’t it?
“Yeah, but at least Murdoch’s not a minister or president or anything. Berlusconi is. I don’t know, it’s a hard one to work out. Anyway…”
Sure. So anyway the album ‘Black and White’… you seem to have collectively got your mojo back.
“That’s right. We’re pleased. . I mean I suppose people – when they’ve done a new album, they all say ‘yeah, it’s great’ and ‘yeah, it’s our best’, but we’re really pleased with it in the sense that it’s the album we wanted. And you know, rarely does that happen. You go in with something in your head and something else comes out. It sounds great but how do you do that without becoming a parody of yourself? How do you do it without being some ’80s retro-thing,
which would be terrible. But that was the challenge that was staring at us when we were saying when we wanted to do – a classic, because by definition when you say classic you’re talking about the past or you’re talking about something already done or something already established. It’s very difficult to go back to the past but I think somehow the balance between those old trademarks are there. They don’t seem like a parody or well worn, in fact they seem to have a new vitality.”
People often have a quite narrow view of Simple Minds, just remembering when you became massive in the US. Does it annoy you that people don’t see the whole picture?
“I think what happened is Simple Minds have made a lot of different music through the years and lots of different genres or formats, and yet there was always Simple Minds. For 90% of people, kind of all they know is the big stuff, Live Aid, ‘Once Upon a Time’, ‘Don’t Forget About Me’… that was the period that was most publicised and that was the period that was peak-time. I’m kind of realistic that outside the hardcore, as far as Joe Blow goes that’s all he knows. You see I can’t complain about that and I don’t think anyone owes us anything. Does this frustrate me? No I just think sometimes when I see stuff I think well ‘they’re uniformed’ or ‘ill-informed'”.
You started out life as Johnny and the Self-abusers didn’t you?
“Yeah. In fact I heard some of that the other day.”
That’s a brilliant name. Why did you change the name?
“You’re right, it is a great name.”
It’s better than Babyshambles.
“It’s a great name, and in fact it was much maligned because people were always just sort of ‘oh, that was you just sort of fucking around’, and then we got real, but in actual fact we wouldn’t have done anything without the Johnny and the Self Abusers thing because it gave us the madness to get off our arses and do something, and during those couple of gigs that we did, we got a good feeling that this was a great thing to do, what a great thing if you were able to do this, if you were able to pull it off.”
So you only ever did a couple of gigs under that name?
“About a handful. They were all certainly in Glasgow and stuff, all pretty memorable because there was usually a riot or fights or, you know, some bar would close down afterwards. It was quite intense. We recorded a double A side single called ‘Saints and Sinners’ and in true punk fashion we split up the day it was released. Which was kind of pretty good.”
Did you have a scrap?!
“It was a… no it was like a real… it lasted over a period – that golden summer of 1977 in Glasgow.”
So when you kind of look back over your career so far what really stick out as highlights?
“Well you know, it is tempting to talk about those iconic moments, being No.1 in America, playing a stadium, that stuff, but probably it was when you’re on the backroads and you’re playing a gig. We remember we were playing almost night after night, you know, we might have been playing to fifteen people but it was just starting to sound really good. The potential at that moment when you think ‘God, this is real, it isn’t just me who feels this.’
Those moments are the moments that you really savour. And you know all that big stuff, don’t get me wrong, it’s great, it’s fun. Fantastic, but it’s no longer just about you. It’s about marketing, it’s about money spent on advertising, it’s about a lot more than you, there’s an industry behind you – but in those early days where you are living on your wits and you’re sort of inventing yourself… it’s a great thing.
“With this record – I mean the last five weeks – every time someone like you says, you know ‘hey, this is really good’ I feel like, yes! Great! In a sense I’m like ‘what do you care? What do you have to prove? Do you sell buckets of records?’ When you write a song, you haven’t a clue you know? When you are sitting there writing it with a blank paper or a blank screen you’re not thinking
‘Oh, I’ve done this and I’ve done that’, you’re in the heart of it, it’s a puzzle and you’re trying to work it out. To Get a sense of something really, really good about it – but until someone personal gets a chance to hear and then get something from it you just don’t know if it’s there or if you’re imagining it. And when they do get it, it feels great. Certainly now the world seems a less lonely place.”
What do you look back on and say ‘I regret that’? I know people always say ‘no regrets’ but what would you look back on go ‘actually, I wish I hadn’t done that?’
“Well I think you’re right, people do say no regrets and I’ve got to say it as well, in the sense that regrets are a heavy thing to carry around and I don’t have that, but… the thing I would change with the benefit of hindsight, the only thing that I would think ‘that could have been done differently’ is organisational, you know? Maybe we had a few records that weren’t finished when we put them out. We conned ourselves that they were finished and would put them out because we’d booked tours and you know – had made the commitments. We jumped the gun basically. Things like that I would change given the opportunity.
“I do think mistakes are really important you know. You do get a lot from some of the albums we’ve done, the flawed albums in a way that are more interesting, in a sense. If you’re going to have a career for 20 or 30 years you’re not going to be on it all the time, in fact most the time you won’t be on it. You’ll have purple patches, you’ll have moments of true inspiration and the rest is about going up one way streets and having to make U-turns and going off the boil and being riddled with doubts.
And then the records that come out under those circumstances, they’re flawed but there’s also something very good about them, and I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a temptation to looking upon the records as isolated things. But they aren’t. They’re part of the journey and they merge into each other and the journey’s not all clear vistas.”
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Steve Harnell – Bristol Evening Post – 25th August 2005 (UK
“You love The Killers! You love Bloc Party!” shriek the marketing men, “Now hear the band that started it all – Simple Minds.” To be fair, that’s not too far off the mark and doesn’t require a massive leap of imagination. Trouble is, despite their protestations to the contrary, the 2005 incarnation of Simple Minds doesn’t stand up particularly well to the band in its mid-1908s pomp.
There’s plenty of chest-beating and bluster on these nine new songs but not enough decent tunes. Too much descends into plodding, heard-it-all-before boredom. They start promisingly enough though with the stadium rock of Stay Visible and punch their weight. And The Jeweller (Part 2) is the band at its poppiest but lacks much substance. Closing track Dolphins, with its nod to Kraftwerk, is perhaps the most interesting thing here.Shame, really. I always like rooting for the underdogs.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
I THINK THERE’S A MASSIVE PERCEPTION THAT SIMPLE MINDS ARE THIS HUGE STADIUM ROCK BAND, BUT ACTUALLY FOR ME THEY AREN’T THAT AT ALL… PERSONALLY, ‘MY’ SIMPLE MINDS IS AN EXPERIMENTAL AND FAIRLY ELECTRONIC BAND, SO IS IT FRUSTRATING FOR YOU TO BE PIGEONHOLED AS THIS STADIUM ROCK MONSTER WHEN PEOPLE SIMPLY IGNORE OR ARE UNAWARE OF THE JOURNEY IT’S TAKEN YOU TO GET HERE?
JK: I have to say that it is both frustrating, but also kind of understandable in as much as you rightly say, before we achieved big success we were one of the biggest cult bands around – we had four or five albums out before we achieved any sort of commercial success and they were pretty eclectic even if I say so myself – they ranged from the avant guard and they were pretty cutting edge stuff and I think the album titles say it all… ‘Reel To Reel Cacophony’, ‘Empires & Dance’, ‘Sons & Fascination’… I mean hardly mainstream, and certainly not ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’! I think there was a gradual evolution,
or whatever you want to call it of that path – I think that in the middle of the eighties Simple Minds both took part in some of the biggest iconic events – Live Aid and the Nelson Mandela concert – and we did a couple of tunes that became big iconic worldwide tunes, and those images, those worldwide images – apart from the cult following – would have been the only time people had seen Simple Minds; playing to thousands of people and me with my arms outstretched! That’s why I think there’s such a very distinct impression of that, and yet for those ‘in the know’ I can understand how they could scratch their heads and go ‘but wait a minute… it didn’t begin there’…
IT’S ALMOST LIKE DIFFERENT BANDS, YOU’VE GONE THROUGH DIFFERENT STYLES SO COMPLETELY…
JK: That’s true, and when people ask me about the music of Simple Minds I do have to say ‘But which Simple Minds are you talking about?’ because I think it’s fair to say of the descriptions of the work of Simple Minds – where we began as this kind of art-rock thing, then we certainly had a very electronic dance thing, we had a period of being in with bands like Echo & the Bunnymen,
New Order, Joy Division… We had a period doing the pop side of Simple Minds with ‘New Gold Dream’ and ‘Promised You A Miracle’, and then coming up to the sort of stadium side in America with ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ and ‘Once Upon A Time’ and then there was the, I don’t know if it would be political or social songs; ‘Mandela’, ‘Belfast Child’ and so on and then there’s the nineties obscure, what the hell… (laughs)
WHICH IS QUITE A JOURNEY I THINK… AM I RIGHT IN THINKING YOU ARE PROUD OF WHAT YOU HAVE ACHIEVED?
JK: Well… I don’t think ‘pride’ is a word we use a lot – I think there will be a day when we will sit around and that is exactly how we will feel, but yeah… we really like our band! We love our band and that includes the u-turns and including the mistakes and including the fuck-ups. I was saying to someone yesterday that in a sense to make the good albums you have to make the bad, to write the good songs you’ve almost got to write the bad ones – it’s all part of the process so we’ve loved our journey, in fact we are still loving our journey… 99% of the ride, and above that we feel fortunate that we have had, and still have the opportunity to do what we do…
OBVIOUSLY WE’RE HERE TO TALK ABOUT THE NEW ALBUM AND I WILL COME TO THAT IN A MOMENT, BUT FIRST I WOULD LIKE TO JUST TOUCH ON ALL THE SIMPLE MINDS ACTIVITY OVER THE LAST YEAR OR SO; THE ‘EARLY GOLD’ ALBUM, THE ‘SILVER BOX’ SET, THE DVDs AND SO ON. YOU SEEM TO HAVE BEEN QUITE INVOLVED IN ALL OF THAT BUT WAS IT A GOOD PROCESS FOR YOU…
JK: It was… once you get into it – we’re not ones naturally to look back because we usually have a new idea up our sleeves, and it’s the new idea that keeps us occupied, and thankfully we don’t sit with the weight of our past when we’re working – we don’t get tied down by it in that sense, although in other areas it’s hard not to acknowledge… but whenever you do those things you’re always forced to look back and you do want to… I mean they are essentially more a record company marketing exercises than creative exercises but they are your past and therefore you want them to be dressed up and sound as good as they can be, so there is a pleasure when that turns out well.
DO YOU THINK THAT PROCESS OF LOOKING BACK AFFECTS WHAT YOU DO TODAY? DO YOU EVER THINK, WOW WE WERE REALLY ONTO SOMETHING HERE THAT WE DIDN’T QUITE BRING OUT, BUT WE CAN GO BACK TO THAT AND BRING IT BACK TO THE TABLE?
JK: Well… the first part of that I’d say yes it does, the unfortunate thing is that it’s easy to say let’s go back but it’s very hard to actually do without being a parody or without coming across as some sort of obvious eighties rehash… it is hard to avoid that. Someone said – Brian Eno probably because he’s the only one who would say something like this – that if we had a dinner party this evening and we had a certain group of people in a certain venue and we had certain food and drink,
a certain wine and then we have the exact same people in the exact same place and the exact same everything a year from now the vibe would be different… because so much depends on what you’ve been through on that day or in that time and such – it might just be a subtle change or people might have had drastic changes in their lives, and it’s similar with music; you can use an old guitar that you used on a record ages ago, or you can use a voice effect or whatever, but it somehow doesn’t help to go back to the past really… What we were wanting to do with the new album was to conjure up some of our previous sounds, some of those classic trademarks, but somehow for it to feel as though it has an energy from now…
WELL YOU’VE COMPLETELY ANTICIPATED WHAT I WAS GOING TO SAY NEXT, WHICH IS THAT – IN MY OPINION – THE ALBUM IS EXACTLY THAT… IT’S DISTINCTIVELY SIMPLE MINDS BUT IT’S ALSO UP TO DATE AND CONTEMPORARY, IT HAS THAT SOUND…
JK: Well I’m really glad you say that because that’s exactly what we wanted to do. You very rarely get the album you want – you go in with these things and then something else comes out and sometimes you’re happy and sometimes not, but we are so happy that the effect that we wanted to conjure up is indeed impacting on people like yourself who are already listening to it… We had one or two false starts where it wasn’t working, but once we got to songs like ‘Stay Visible’, the opening track, and songs like ‘Stranger’ and stuff the hair on the back of the neck was starting to stand and we knew that this is what we used to do…
WHEN DO YOU FEEL YOU LAST ACHIEVED THAT ON AN ALBUM…
JK: A long, long time ago… the nineties was really hard for us, and apart from anything else it was really hard creatively, because in a sense with the exception of Charlie and I, the band began to crumble toward the end of the eighties and the early nineties and we definitely missed the others and we had periods of self-doubt… I think that when I listen to the albums from the past ten years there are a lot of things about them that impress me but I can hear how we were and that’s mired in self-doubt or perhaps where we had great ideas but couldn’t finish them off,
or perhaps just didn’t know where were were in the greater scheme of things, or even perhaps the thing we were talking about earlier, that perhaps we were drowning with the weight of the past on our backs. It’s been a long time I think since it has actually ‘worked’, but you know what? This is it… it happened the way we wanted it to happen and although obviously in terms of finding a market for it that’s another challenge, but in terms of the raw thing – the actual piece of work, I think… job done!
YOU TOUCHED ON FINDING A MARKET THERE… HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR THIS ALBUM TO BE COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL?
JK: It would be great… I mean it would be great for all the obvious reasons, but it’s not really going to change our lives – i mean when I was twenty-four to have a big success was going to completely change my life but it’s not really going to change my life now… it changes the tax return! It’s not going to change my life in that it’s… how can I say this! I kind of have everything! There’s not really anyone who has got anything that I want…
I’m trying to say this without sounding smug… the best way of saying this is that on a saturday night in six months time after the album is out if it’s sold five thousand copies then I know I’m going to be eating spaghetti with chillies, and if it sells five million copies then I’m going to be eating spaghetti with chillies! Would I love it to happen? Would I love it to be on the radio? Would I love the taxi drivers who ferry me around every day to say ‘I love that song you do’? Well, that would be great and then the cycle would be complete…
WITH THE NEW RECORD YOU’RE ACTUALLY ON A NEW LABEL AS WELL, SO I IMAGINE THAT IN ITSELF BRINGS A WHOLE NEW APPROACH FROM A BUSINESS SENSE?
JK: Well, we are really completely self-financed and we own our own operations and then we kind of try to find a partner to deal with their things. Looking at this label, and not that I think we’re the same story, when you see the job they did with Morrissey for example… they managed to take a – let’s call it a ‘classic’ artist – and they managed to present it with a new life…
I ALSO THINK THAT IN COMPLETE PARALLEL WITH WHAT YOU ARE DOING, MORRISSEY ALSO PRODUCED HIS BEST WORK FOR QUITE A LONG TIME ON THAT ALBUM…
JK: I think it is sometimes a cyclical thing… when I look at the artists I love, and the artists I grew up with – people like Lou Reed and Neil Young and David Bowie… it’s not careers that they have, it’s lives; they have periods when they get lost, periods when they produce weak work and then, just when you’re thinking that maybe that’s the last thing worth hearing they come up with another landmark. it does seem cyclical, or it can seem cyclical…
GIVEN WHAT YOU WERE SAYING ABOUT HOW YOU HAVE ALL THE THINGS YOU NEED, AND THAT YOU’RE COMFORTABLE WITH WHERE YOU ARE… DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU STILL HAVE SOMETHING TO PROVE?
JK: I think you have something to prove every time you sit down to write a song, because although everything has changed within our lives and everything has changed within the world of music, with technology and the relevance of music and your own perspective and so on… the one thing that has not changed, when you sit down to write a song – which in a sense you’re carrying within you – but don’t quite know how to get it across… the a need to prove that we can still do it to ourselves still exists. Every time we go on stage we have to prove that we’re not just some sad old thing playing songs just to pay the electricity bill… we need to do things that make people say ‘god, that was ten times better that what I thought it was going to be’. So yes, there’s a tonne to prove!
I SUPPOSE THAT GIVEN THAT, IN MAY WAYS IF YOU’RE SETTING YOURSELVES THOSE KINDS OF GOALS THEN ACTUALLY EVERYTHING IS GETTING MORE DIFFICULT EVERY TIME YOU DO IT?
JK: Well, it’s more difficult if you’re not on form, and you’re not always on form you know? There’s things that go on and life is just not like that, but if you’re on form then things just seem to click into place… I live in Sicily now and people ask me how that influences me… it doesn’t influence the music directly, but it does influence the music in the sense that if you get up in the morning and you feel great you want to do something – your sense are alive, you’re not dulled or anything, so where things aren’t too difficult then I do think the semantics change…
NOW THAT YOU’RE AT THIS POINT – TALKING ABOUT THE RECORD, SETTING UP TOURING, THE WHOLE BUSINESS MACHINE COMING TO LIFE… HOW DO YOU FEEL?
JK: Yesterday I started doing interviews at nine in the morning and went through to six o’clock in the evening and then to get to where I am today I had to travel for five hours… well, (sarcastically) poor me, and I called the producer on the phone and he said ‘man, how do you do it – I feel so guilty sitting here by the pool’, but this is my gig – his is to work on some tedious ‘big sound’ for twelve hours while I’m on the beach… everyone has their gig and this is mine. You kind of just put the helmet on and you go to work and you’ve already done all this work on the record and if you want people to know you’ve it exists then you’ve got to be pragmatic!
SO WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? I UNDERSTAND THERE’S GOING TO BE SOME SHOWCASE SHOWS AND THEN A TOUR…
JK: That’s right – we think that there’s certainly more than one – maybe two or three – strong radio songs on the record and we want to be available for the next few months to promote them, because when you disappear to tour you’re really not available any more, so the next few months are really about promotion but yes, there will probably be some media gigs and then next year will be all about touring…
IS TOURING STILL THE THRILL IT ONCE WAS?
JK: Indeed it is in terms of… again, I think what it is is that it’s managed a lot better, that thrill… I mean when I was younger I would probably think about the gig for the whole day leading up to the gig and then by the time the gig came I would be exhausted! Now it’s almost the opposite and I don’t feel anything until about ten minutes before we go on and then I can almost switch on and instantly feel the adrenalin, what’s expected of me and the importance of the gig, and I say importance because as I said earlier, if Simple Minds have a reputation as a live band it’s because we have always appreciated that every gig is crucial –
we don’t just say ‘oh it’s alright, it’s only Cambridge’… for the people there that night they don’t care if you were in Amsterdam last week and New York tomorrow, tonight’s the night, they’ve bought the ticket and they’ve been looking forward to it for weeks, they’ve met their friends and had a few drinks and then if you go on and your approach is anything less than 100% they’ll see their friends the next week at a dinner party or something, people will ask how we were and they’ll just say ‘oh they were OK’… and we want them to go ‘ they were fantastic, I can’t believe you missed it, you have to go next time!’…
ON THE WHOLE TOURING THING… GIVEN THE CATALOGUE YOU HAVE BEHIND YOU, HOW ON EARTH DO YOU DECIDE WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO PLAY?
JK: Certainly the last few times we’ve played what we do is we’ve got about eight or ten songs that are the icons and we play them every night… it might sound strong to say we’re obliged to play them but you’ve kind of got to play your greatest hits album which is maybe ten songs which are always there and then for the other ten or fifteen songs you pull things from the catalogue and the new album, but we chop and change those around which not only keeps it fresh for us but a lot of our audience comes to see us more than once and that way you really get to work your body of work.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
David Rendall – www.getreadytorock.com – 8th August 2005 (UK)
Simple Minds are back with a splendid new album ‘Black And White 050505’. The band have influenced others like Bloc Party and Stereophonics and with a renewed interest in eighties acts like Duran Duran and Depeche Mode, their time may have come… again.
Jim Kerr is the band’s vocalist and writes the lyrics… ‘Stay Visible’ could be a watchword for Simple Minds?
We toured for a time in 2003 so we have never really been away. ‘Black & White’ is the germ of that more recent activity…
What was the impetus for the new album?
We wanted to make a contemporary sounding album which was recognizably Simple Minds. And I think the album’s timing is better for us now, than several years ago.
How did the songs come about?
Often Charlie will send me a riff or be working on the piano and develop a vibe, and this often inspires the lyrics. This is how Kiss The Ground came about – we were on tour and Charlie developed a riff in the next room, it just seemed to come together. The beauty of technology is that you can get down ideas quite easily, you don’t have to be in the studio.
What about the album title, it seems to echo the classic ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)’
Yes, that actually came about because the engineer suggested 050505, as the last day we finished recording. The track Black And White reflects those who are in denial, taking its prompt from the stories of the Holocaust. The Black And White of the title also reflects the different moods and depths of the album.
There’s a darker and lighter side. Dolphins reflects a darker side?
I used the subject of dolphins as they are objects of affection. Only recently I saw a little girl with a dolphin charm, they represent something friendly. The subject of this song is a man who is so low that even dolphins can’t lift his spirits. I think it is one of the album’s best songs.
Home is the first single?
Home is inspired by my time in Sicily (Jim has lived there for several years) and the feeling of stability. But anyone can relate to that.
Jeweller started life on the ‘lost’ legendary album ‘Our Secrets Are The Same’ (2003)?
Yes, when we first recorded it we thought it was missing something, so we reworked it. The album was originally turned down by EMI and was reissued by Virgin as part of a boxed set.
Looking back over 20 plus years, if you were to recommend a Simple Minds album which one would it be?
I think ‘New Gold Dream’ (1982) is the most creative but ‘Once Upon A Time’ (1985) is more commercial.
Do you think Simple Minds inspired Scottish bands, like Texas and Love And Money in the late eighties?
I think that’s true – if only that we opened doors that others walked through. There was nothing much coming out of Glasgow in our early period and it must have helped.
Are you touring the new album?
We are planning some showcase dates in the autumn and probably a tour in 2006.
I heard you were planning to play smaller venues? This will be in contrast to the big stadiums but will be more satisfying for fans?
I agree that the larger venues are impersonal. But in a sense, it is like when we started playing pubs in Glasgow in the late seventies. It’s important for a band to have a sense of perspective and be able to perform in different situations and with different challenges. I feel quite confident about playing the new album next to some of the old ‘classics’. Sometimes it’s not that easy to integrate the old and the new but I think we can do it more easily with this album. I think it’s important to play the new material live.
What are the highlights in the past 20 or so years?
I think having the hit singles and albums, but there are always new challenges. Even when you’re playing massive stadiums…
‘Black And White’ is yet another chapter, and a new challenge?
Yes I am quite excited. I think it represents the best of the band without being too nostalgic.
Anything on your i-POD that you’d like to tell us about?
I’ve been listening to Anthony and the Johnsons (I Am A Bird Now, Rough Trade) He’s a very powerful singer with quite a unique sound.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
Simple Minds are back! That is the good news.
The band led by Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill release their latest album Black And White 050505 in September and this album is a real return to form for the band that has now been in existence for over twenty-five years. The album that has been mixed by Bob Clearmountain (who was responsible for the mix on the album Once Upon A Time) returns to give the band a new lease of life. The songs are what Simple Minds do best “Big Emotional Songs” with great heart. With the recording finished and due for release the band are currently engaged in talking to the media who have responded very positively to the album.
Jon Kirkman spoke to Jim Kerr who was in France about the new album, which has got everyone talking and incidentally has the same sort of media and press buzz around it as The Street Fighting Years. The conversation touched on the difficulties the band has overcome over the last ten years and how positive and confident the whole band are about the new album. There is also talk of how Simple Minds plan to take the album out on tour for a major bout of touring activity in 2006.
The album is out in September, it is called Black and White 050505. What is the significance of the 050505?
Well right up to when we had finished the album there had not been a specific title that had leapt out at us. On the final day of mixing when you sit down to see if everything has been made and compiled we thought what are we doing to do about a title? The engineer looked at the date and it was 050505! The Black and White part of it comes from one of the songs but also it quite aptly describes four or five other songs that are the old style, optimistic, positive sound of Simple Minds. Then I think it is balanced with a few other songs that are more pragmatic, a bit desperate but cynical.
It is very much an album of now, very current sounding and it doesn’t matter what anyone says, from a band point of view you have to be comfortable with Simple Minds in the here and now rather than looking back.
That is right. There are two sides to having the history and the legacy that Simple Minds have. There are a lot of great things that have happened in our career but at the same time when you sit down to write a new song you cannot dwell on that because in a way it would be too much to carry. Indeed the music industry and our lives have changed so much over the years, the one thing that remains the same always is the blank page of that initial computer screen when you sit down to write a new tune. We cannot dwell on that, we have to work in the moment.
The box set came out last year. It was a very nice package and it underlined the past, which box sets tend to do. Did it make you think, well that is what we have done in the past now get ready for something new?
It did seem really convenient to do that because as you said the box set came out last year and previously there had been a compilation of stuff called Early Gold. In those years obviously we were working simultaneously on new stuff and it was almost like clearing the vault, underlining and freeing us up to come this year with Simple Minds presently. Whilst you want your catalogue to be available and you want it to be up to date in terms of re-mastering and great artwork and stuff, you don’t want to be just some retro exercise. So it is almost your working on two strands You work on your catalogue but it also has to be given new life and new meaning by your current work.
There has been a great deal of buzz and excitement about this album and the last time I remember this happening was the album Street Fighting Years came out in 1989. There is the same kind of feeling about this album. Are you getting that at all?
I am absolutely getting that. This week I began the promo for the record in the different countries. I have probably done about seventy or eighty interviews and I haven’t come across one negative interview yet. Let’s face it there has certainly been enough of that in the past but not one this time. Everyone has said that the band is on form and by and large most of them say this is a great album. I am glad you can remember when there was last a great buzz because I can’t!
I have followed your career back to the late seventies, early eighties and the first big album from the eighties was Empires and Dance. There are certainly pointers in Simple Minds career. As I say I feel the same buzz about this album.
Well that indeed would be nice because certainly the last ten years since Street Fighting Years I sense Simple Minds began to crumble after that for various reasons and we hold our hands up to that. It sounds pathetic but we had worked and toured so much we were dead on our feet and came to a kind of hiatus. Our keyboard Michael McNeil who had brought so much to the band decided he didn’t want that lifestyle any more and in the years since then it has been tough.
We lost a lot of self-confidence and direction. You also have a life outside of music and you have to deal with that. It isn’t always plain sailing. We have felt leading up to this recording there was a sort of wholeness about the entire thing; that this was very much Simple Minds re-discovering their strengths and really pushing the boat out to make that obvious.
I totally agree with that but you weren’t the only band from your era who didn’t exactly have an easy ride. U2 made a couple of albums which some people weren’t keen on. It wasn’t down to the music, there was a perception that they had had their best time and that is it. Simple Minds seem to have fallen into a similar bracket. With this album I think you have really staked a claim that you are back.
Thanks very much. We feel so as well, even more than that we felt we had to. To ourselves this was almost make or break in terms of the quality and the product. What ever it goes to do from now on we are going to push to promote almost with our hands now. In terms of making a record that could merit making the landmark that we needed that was what we were striving for. I think we have it. I agree with you and I think the guys in U2 would agree with you about the way you described their path although they have had an incredible career. Sometimes you have to think well, it is not that you make bad albums but some are incomplete. Sometimes the albums were good but the timing was wrong. You can start it and you can finish it but you can’t solve the missing piece of the puzzle.
Albums are like that. Some go on to bigger and better things, and yet some albums are very much of their time.
Yeah. The artists I would say who influenced us like Lou Reed, Neil Young, David Bowie, Bob Dylan even John Lennon had periods in the wilderness where they make a u turn or make something poor or half baked. Just when you think they are on their knees they come back with some purple patch record. What it is, is that after a certain point in a long career it suddenly ceases to be a career and becomes a life. Life is not always about being on the up or easily explained away. There are points where you are just struggling.
There is that great quote from Lennon isn’t there, “Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.”
That’s it. Someone asked me yesterday if I see myself making music in ten years time. I said that absolutely nothing would make me plan for that at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised if I was talking to you in ten years time.
Let’s look at the single from the album, Home. For many bands the singles market is not something you consider and yet this is a very good calling card from the album. Simple Minds are back with this particular track. I imagine that radio, certainly in the UK is going to take notice of this.
We have had a great early reaction on the radio programme that I have heard. We went for it and we needed it and I agree with you in the sense that it is right there. Not only do you go – that is Simple Minds but you feel instantly that the band is on top of the game. The melodies are really strong it draws you in. We are not an obvious singles band but we have written some great ones. I think on this record Home is a great calling card and there is another two or three like Stranger and Different World that perhaps when the media has warmed up again would accept them.
Bob Clearmountain has mixed the album. You have worked with Bob in the past. He has an incredible knack of making records sound incredibly big. He has to have the stuff to work with in the first place, but what attracts you to working with someone like Bob in a mixing and post production sense?
As you said, we worked with Bob twenty years ago and he was already a legend then in as much as he had made some of my favourite records. Not only had he done Born in the USA and Pattie Smith albums, Bob had engineered those Chic albums with Nile Rogers, Bernadette Woods and worked with Blondie, Roxy Music, and David Bowie. We were desperate to have him and he also did a great job when you think about Alive And Kicking and Sanctify. He blew up what we had already blown up and made it sound fantastic on radio. This time round,
because you can’t go back to the past because things have changed so much but as these songs began to materialise we thought this is Clearmountain’s game; this is his thing. It was a pleasure to go back and see him because he really hadn’t changed a bit. He had got better! He is freak (he wouldnÕt mind me saying that!) he is one of these technical guys who loves the challenge as you said. He gets into it and feels it. I love the way he positions and compresses things.
The album is finished; I expect you will be going on tour to promote it. You are in the eye of the storm at the moment because you are doing the promotion but you must be itching to get out there and show how great it is by doing it live.
Yes, particularly with this album. Again, having discussed the good and the bad points of having a career and a catalogue, usually it makes it hard for the new songs because when you are trying to slot a new song in between two iconic songs it barely stands a chance. Yet I can imagine starting the set with something like Stay Visible from this album and going straight to Home as the next song without the audience scratching their heads and thinking, what is this?
I think the reason for that is this is Simple Minds and what people expect from Simple Minds. It is what you guys expect from Simple Minds if that is not pushing the point.
I think you are right, big emotional pop songs with great drive and rhythms, dramatic and strong melodies. They are the kind of songs that hopefully embrace you and pull you in. They have the trademark stylistics of the Simple Minds effect.
Presumably you are going on tour. Have you any idea when you are likely to be in the UK?
I am actually due a conversation later on this day with an agent who we have been holding off until now because we wanted to get the album done and promote it as much as we could media wise first. There is some talk of some small yet to be confirmed media gigs By and large next year is going to be all about touring.
Which is where we want to see you. Simple Minds were one of the great live bands. In terms of what you are going to do about the live presentation, are you going to be going for the big gigs or are you quite happy going into smaller theatres in the UK or into the arenas?
I think we would like the chance to build that up again. We would enjoy the chance to come around a couple of times, say playing the rock n roll venues.
I saw you in the Royal Court, Liverpool; in the early eighties, it was a great gig.
The agent always wants you to go for the money. Like I said I would like us to really get to work and build it up again, do the rock n roll venues in the early part of the year. Maybe we could do the more prestigious festivals in the summer and then round at the end again if it all works out again.
Simple Minds are certainly capable of that. Bands like the Rolling Stones are equally at home in a nice theatre venue and then will do a big stadium. I think Simple Minds are capable of that as well.
I think you should be able to do it that way, in a pub or in JFK stadium. When you are in the heart of a song whether you are singing to eight people or eighty or eighty thousand it should mean the same.
The emotional connection is the same no matter how many you are playing to.
It really is. Outside of that it is all to do with production really. We have done that in past and it would be nice to prove that we can still do that and do it again.
Well I think Black and White 050505 is certainly the best album from Simple Minds in the 21st century and I am sure there is going to be quite a few more. It does it for me and I am sure it will for a lot of other people as well.
Thanks very much.
It has been great talking to you and appreciate the time you have taken. It is great to have you back as a band. Take care.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
‘Music Week’ – 6th August 2005 (UK)
‘With many acts citing Eighties influences, Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr believes the band’s new album makes them as relevant as they ever were.
Many contemporary bands seem to be inspired by the period when you were at your height. How do you feel about that?
We were influenced ourselves by bands, some of whome are still around, so it’s really down to the cyclical nature of music. I get excited when I hear something that reminds me of Simple Minds. It feels nice.
Do you think this makes your new album sound quite contemporary?
The new album is pretty contemporary anyway. We set ourselves a task that sounds easy but was nigh on impossible, which was to make an album that was completely Simple Minds. But something happened and the band clicked. This album is the sound of a band on form.
Why are you living in Italy now?
It’s in Sicily, actually, in Taormina. I’ve been coming here for more than 20 years. I first came here on tour, so in a sense it was music that brought me here. I’ve always loved it and thought it would be a great place to work from. I can speak the language and I feel really integrated. The move has reinvigorated me and that’s had a beneficial effect on the music.
You’ve signed to Sanctuary – why them and what’s it like working with them?
They were keen to sign us and they’re a company we’ve been watching. it mainly came down to the job they did with Morrissey where they took him to a new level, which made us realise that Sanctuary wasn’t just a catalogue label. It’s also because of a guy called John Williams in A&R; there. It’s a funny thing to say, but it’s nice to talk to someone in the music industry who knows about music. He’s a complete joy to work with.
Is ther still a political edge to your work? If so, what are your current concerns?
We always want to write about the themes that surround us. A number of the tracks on the album are written from a more internal perspective, but songs like Black & White certainly deal with more external themes. Not in an overt way, but I think that’s me looking around at the world we live in.
Does playing live still give you the same buzz?
We’re first and foremost a live band and we’ll be on the road next year. Before that there’s talk of doing a few media gigs in September. it’s something I love. Every time you step on stage you’ve got to prove yourself.
Of which record are you most proud?
If someone who didn’t know any of our music asked what they should check out first, I’d say New Gold Dream, as many think it’s our classic record. There’s also Empires And Dance, which is a big favourite with me as there’s something special about the imagination behind it. In terms of the political side you mentioned earlier, with things like Belfast Child, Street Fighting Years would be the one to go for. But a concentration of all of them would be the new one. Rarely do you make the record you really set out to make – its happened two or three times with us – but with this one there’s a real feel thats it’s among the best things we’ve done. I know everyone probably says that, but we feel that way about it.
What do you think is the biggest change in the industry since the Eighties?
There have been colossal changes. We started in the days before MTV existed, never mind the internet. it’s different in so many other ways – marketing didn’t seem so huge as it is now, for example.
Which acts do you like these days?
I really like The Killers. And I can understand why Coldplay are the biggest band in the world. On a less mainstream level, I also picked up the Antony & The Johnsons record recently and it was captivating. The new Simple Minds album, Black & White 050505, is released on September 12 on Sanctuary Records.
BLACK & WHITE 050505
‘With a sudden resurgence of ’80s now wave from both revivalist acts (The Killers, Interpol) and reunions of the old guard (Duran Duran), the time is certainly right for other veteran acts to get back in the ring,’ so to speak. And the Simple Minds have done just that, with the release of 2005’s ‘Black and White 050505.’ Founding members Jim Kerr (vocals) and Charlie Burchill (guitar) are back once more, with an album that manages to incorporate both elements of their earlier, best-known work (such as 1985’s Once Upon a Time), as well as modern sounds.
That said, Kerr and Burchill wisely don’t stray too far away from their identifiable sound (a la U2’s post-Joshua Tree work). This is no more evident than in the track “Different World,” which doesn’t sound too far off from a more polished Dandy Warhols composition, or the soaring album opener, “Stay Visible.”
A major factor in the group’s creative rebirth can be attributed to the input of Bob Clearmountain, who previously worked with the band on their aforementioned 1985 album. Maybe something good is coming out of all this ’80s nostalgia & inspiration for older acts to issue surprisingly strong albums, as evidenced by ‘Black and White 050505.’ ‘
KILLERS INSPIRE SIMPLE MINDS COMEBACK
Scottish rockers Simple Minds have credited The Jillers with inspiring them to release their first new album in three years. The Don’t You Forget (About Me) stars – Jim Kerr and Charlie Burcill – are thrilled their trademark new wave music has garnered renewed popularity thanks to bands like The Killers.
And they’re taking advantage of current musical tastes by releasing their latest disc, Black & White in September (12). Kerr explains, “New wave is big again with bands like the Killers. We wanted to make an album once again that was full of dramatic and atmospheric pop music.
“We felt that we needed an album that proved as much to ourselves as anyone else, that the big-beating heart of Simple Minds was very much alive and driving us on once again. “I feel that the way Home kicks in with Charlie’s signature soaring guitar riff, there could be no better way off announcing to the world that Simple Minds had recaptured the kind of uplifting musical spirit that defined our best work.”
BLACK & WHITE 050505
It is indicative, if somewhat horrifying, to discover that in my local city centre music chainstores, Simple Minds barely have a browser rack to themselves. In one store, there’s no sign of anything by the band, in the other just their ‘Silver’ box set and a couple of copies of the ‘Best Of’. Simple Minds, in truth, have slipped off the radar, arguably since 1985’s ‘Once Upon A Time’. By their own admission, things have been a bit rubbish in the past decade with a slurry of patchy albums and one of cover versions.
Will ‘Black And White 050505’ put them back in circulation? Damn right it will. If you can tolerate the U2 vibe (on the opening track ‘Stay Visible’, and it has to be said throughout the album) you also have to pinch yourself to remember that Simple Minds were stadium fillers in the eighties in their own right. U2 have also had their fair share of iffy albums but managed to maintain their profile, and I suggest that ‘B&W;’ may be Simple Mind’s ‘Atom Bomb’.
If Duran Duran and Depeche Mode can still hack it, there must be a market for Simple Minds. Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill form the core of the current band, with long-time drummer Mel Gaynor and Eddy Duffy on bass.
The first single ‘Home’ has a wonderful rolling rhythm, Kerr’s distinctive burr,and Burchill’s always tasteful guitar. Ditto ‘Jeweller’ which first appeared on 2003’s legendary ‘lost’ ‘Our Secrets Are The Same’ CD. One hopes that on this track, Burchill is permitted to let rip with an extended solo in the live context.
‘Kiss The Ground’ is yet another classic, a ‘Come Together’ bass riff, and keyboards augment the wonderful hook. One might have hoped for some Burchill power chords to underpin matters but, hey ho, we’re talking economy and taste here, with everything in its perfect place. ‘Stranger’ actually reminds me of ‘Beautiful Stranger’, the Madonna track, but has a catchier chorus, whilst ‘Different World’ segues into ‘Underneath The Ice’ which perhaps best offers up the band’s blend of atmospheric electro-pop rock.
If there is a formula on this album, it is economy. Although a short album, at a mere 41 minutes, on this comeback Simple Minds never overstay their welcome, maintaining the consistency and quality of the songwriting and each track worming its way into your consciousness with successive plays.
The band propose to tour this in smaller venues in the autumn, this could be a shock to their system but a wonderful opportunity for the punters to show their respects without watching a big screen. Empty browser racks? They’ll be filling up with back catalogue after the release of ‘Black And White’.
DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT US
Billy Sloan – ‘Scottish Sunday Mail’ – 17th July 2005 (UK)
In 1983, Simple Minds scored one of their biggest hits with the classic song Waterfront. Singer Jim Kerr wrote the epic track after a walk along the banks of the River Clyde in his native Glasgow. Now the Scots rock superstar hopes a song about his new adopted home in the Italian mountains will rocket his group back into the charts. On September 5, the Minds release the single Home – a track written about the beautiful town of Taormina in Sicily.
‘I turned up in Taormina five years ago and fell in love with the place,’ Jim told me. ‘It’s been a great inspiration and I really rediscovered my love for writing songs here.’ The single is taken from the Minds’ new album, Black And White 050505, which was recorded in Holland and Los Angeles The title refers to the date Bob Clearmountain – who has also worked with Bruce Springsteen, The Who, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney – finished mixing the album.
Jim said: ‘We wanted to make an album again which was full of dramatic, atmospheric pop music. We needed a record that proved as much to ourselves as anyone else that the big beating heart of Simple Minds was very much alive and driving us on. I believe Black And White 050505 is classic Simple Minds… with a whole new energy.’ Here’s my exclusive track by track preview:
STAY VISIBLE: The opening track sounds like the theme from an espionage movie. Kerr recorded the passionate vocal in just one take. Destined to become a great song live.
HOME: A throwback to the Minds’ 1981 album Sons And Fascination. This slice of experimental pop is a cross between electronic Bowie and early Magazine. Will be a killer single.
STRANGER: The intro reminds me of Moby before Mel Gaynor’s power drums kick start the track. The ‘stranger beautiful stranger’ hook has the makings of another live Minds’ anthem.
DIFFERENT WORLD: The piano start leads into a driving mid-tempo rocker fuelled by trademark Charlie Burchill guitar and great double-tracked vocals.
UNDERNEATH THE ICE: There’s a tribal feel to the backing vocals as Kerr sings: ‘When I saw you skating by/ I was underneath the ice.’ The album’s BIG slow song.
JEWELLER: The original version was included on the Minds’ great ‘lost’ album Our Secrets Are The Same. The group have updated the track and it fits in perfectly.
BLACK AND WHITE: A brilliant haunting epic destined to succeed classic Minds’ hits such as East At Easter and Let It All Come Down as a live finale. I think this is one of the best things they’ve done in years.
KISS THE GROUND: Opens with more fine Burchill guitar leading into another moody Kerr vocal. Low-key verse which doesn’t really come to life until the hook.
DOLPHINS: The electro-intro is a nod to their great heroes Kraftwerk. Kerr’s vocals are eerily reminiscent of former mentor Peter Gabriel. Musically, this track is a real leap of faith but they have saved the best until last. Fantastic.
BLACK & WHITE 050505 SANCTUARY RECORDS PRESS RELEASE
‘Noble PR Ltd’ – 5th July 2005 (UK)
One of Scotland’s most successful bands, they defined a generation, have scored over twenty Top 20 hits in a career spanning nearly three decades. They have sold over thirty million records, had five number one albums, a no. 1 single in America – plus three American top ten singles and been Voted Q magazine’s world’s best live act. Simple Minds embarked internationally on countless sold out stadium tours including headlining three times at Wembley stadium.
They have influenced bands as diverse as current favourites Bloc Party, Muse, as well as Moby, Manic Street Preachers and Stereophonics along the way. Most recently Yellow Card paid homage to their biggest hit, ‘Don’t You (Forget about me)’ at the MTV Movie Awards.
Now after a three year hiatus Simple Minds are back with their best CD since ‘New Gold Dream,’ called ‘Black and White 050505.’ Released on 12th September by Sanctuary Records, ‘Black and White’ recalls the sweeping, vast sound that characterised their biggest hit albums, ‘Sparkle in the Rain,’ ‘Once upon a Time’ and ‘Street Fighting Years.’ ‘Black and White’ recorded in Italy,
Holland and then mixed in Los Angeles by the legendary Bob Clearmountain is a real return to form for this four piece band and should see the emergence of a whole new generation of fans as well as satisfying their current ones. This is a CD that captivates on its first listen and then just gets better. What with the renewed popularity of Duran Duran, New Order and Depeche Mode and the propensity for pop acts to sample 80’s sounds, there is little doubt that Simple Minds time has truly come again.
The CD’s opening track, ‘Stay Visible’ has all the depth, melody and warmth of a theme tune for the next Bond movie. Lingering in the mind long after the last chord has played, it evokes images of an expensive open top car zooming along an empty mountain road or an endless stretch of Arizona desert.
Jim Kerr’s distinctive voice comes through strong in their first single, ‘Home’ released on 5th September and together with co-founder and lead guitarist Charlie Burchill, they have produced a pop song that should lay to rest any rumours that this is a band that have had their day. ‘Home’ recalls classic Simple Minds with a driving rhythm and the distinctive Burchill guitar sound. Kerr says
“There are a number of songs on the album that will make great singles but I feel that the way ‘Home’ kicks in with Charlie’s signature soaring guitar riff, there could be no better way off announcing to the world that Simple Minds had recaptured the kind of uplifting musical spirit that defined our best work. Lyrically, ‘Home’ is a pop song with a spiritual heart, taking us on a secret journey through the thoughts of someone who is desperately seeking out their own inner crusade.”
‘Stranger’ and ‘Different World (TAORMINA.ME)’ give their past hits a run for their money and reminds us that here is a band that can do “big emotional pop on a grand scale” as well as anybody and probably better than most. ‘The Jeweller (Part 2)’ proves that point equally. Bursting with melodic energy, here is a multi-layered song harking back to the bands classic ‘New Gold Dream’ days, when NME and the entire British music press declared them band of the year.
Never afraid to tackle the bigger issues as demonstrated by their classic international No.1 single ‘Belfast Child’, the current CD’s title track ‘Black and White’ is a somber electro ballad about the madness and shame displayed by an increasing amount of world wide Holocaust deniers. Similarly ‘Dolphins’ closes the CD on a gentle though cinematic note. Atmospheric pop at its best Jim Kerr’s voice resonates with brittle emotion, with the lush backing building slowly until it fills the room. Somehow it seems the perfect ending to what is definitely their best recording in a very long time.
Jim Kerr says “We wanted to make an album once again that was full of dramatic and atmospheric pop music. We felt that we needed an album that proved as much to ourselves as anyone else, that the big beating heart of Simple Minds was very much alive and driving us on once again. Having delivered ‘Black and White 050505,’ an album that we believe is ‘classic Simple Minds,’
albeit with a whole new energy. We can honestly say that we are delighted with the results and look forward with a totally revitalised outlook to this next phase of our on going creativity. We feel with some certainty that people who grew up with Simple Minds will share our enthusiasm for this new work. While at the same time, given the chance, we also feel that these new songs are good enough to interest a whole new contemporary audience. Needless to say, in the tradition of all great rock bands, we are extremely excited at the prospect of playing this album live on stage and look forward to doing exactly that in the near future.”
Different World (TAORMINA.ME)
Underneath the Ice
The Jeweller (Part 2)
Black and White
Kiss the Ground
For those too young to remember Simple Minds the first time around the group are perhaps best known for their 1985 number one hit “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from the film The Breakfast Club, the classic ‘Brat Pack’ movie starring a very young Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald. Scotland’s Simple Minds evolved from a post-punk art rock band influenced by Roxy Music into a grand, epic-sounding pop band. The band grew out of a Glasgow punk group called Johnny and the Self-Abusers, which featured guitarist Charlie Burchill and lead singer Jim Kerr. The inaugural 1978 lineup of Simple Minds featured a rhythm section of Tony Donald on bass and Brian McGee on drums, plus keyboardist Mick McNeil; Donald was soon replaced by Derek Forbes.
Their early albums leaped from one style to another, with Life in a Day consisting mostly of dense, arty pop songs; critical acclaim followed the darker, more experimental art rock of Reel to Real Cacophony and the Euro-disco of Empires and Dance. The group began a transition to a more accessible pop style with the albums Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call, originally issued together and subsequently split up. New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) became their first chart album in the U.S., and the tour-shy McGee quit owing to burgeoning popularity, eventually being replaced by Mel Gaynor. Following the Steve Lillywhite-produced Sparkle in the Rain, Jim Kerr married Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde (the two groups had toured together).
After Bryan Ferry rejected the opportunity to sing ‘Don’t You (Forget about Me)’, Simple Minds almost did so as well; Kerr was dissatisfied with the song’s lyrics, which he regarded as formulaic. His change of heart gave Simple Minds their only American chart-topper, and the song later became an international hit as well; however, Kerr’s feelings about the song remained ambivalent, and it did not appear on the follow-up album, Once Upon a Time. This album went gold and reached the U.S. Top Ten. The next ten years saw the group release a number of albums, all of which failed to match the dizzy heights of their earlier successes, until now.