London 26th October 1980
Terri Sanai - 'Sounds'
8th November 1980 (UK)
Simple Minds showed
how it should be done. They attain the kind
of elegant, outlandish falmboyance Wasted Youth
and Martin Dance long for, without resorting
to the tempting deviations the others use. There's
no sign of visual distractions, the musicians
are unobtrusive to the point of visual insignificance,
with the exception of Jim Kerr, frontsman and
actor, who with the whole of his face and form
mirrors the frantic and flickering lines of
thought in the lyrics.
The rest of the
band's energy is channelled into the music,
and the result is an unnerving, rich sound,
bursting with the inward tension and intensity
of the music and jarred by the sporadic, unconnected
imagery which leaves you, the voyeur, feeling
as if you're clinging to the edge of the centre
of a whirlwind, temporarily avoiding being sucked
in by the atmosphere, watching the iamges and
film clips pelting lunatically around. Over
the solid, marble-like foundation the synth
lays, Jim Kerr's voice, the fourth and most
extravagant instrument, soars in neo-operatic
arrogant melodrama. The guitars are confined
to the background in most part, consistent but
never stagnant, subtly enhancing the vigour
of the vocals and keyboards.
They started with
'Capital City', a grandiose parade through alien
streets, portrayed by the promise-of-something-worse
wail of guitars and keyboards with Kerr's voice
soaring haughtily and lugubriously over. This
filtered into the wonderful 'Factory', which
has the vocals and guitars hiccoughing over
the gorgeously rounded keyboard melody, until
it all coheres and climaxes into a pealing,
church-like refrain. "A certain ratio we know
have left us..."
The next song,
'Thirty Frames' with its chaos of hopelessness
and euphoria, celebration and confusion was
the most wildly subversive song of the night.
Here, Kerr's despair ("I lost my job / Security
/ Self confidence / Idenity") is set against
a whirling background of pulsating disco guitar
and zooming keyboards. This sent the audience
into a roar of unanimous approval.
Pause for identification:
stage left, Charlie Burchill, sweet-faced boy,
guitarist. Centre, Jim Kerr, vocalist, all burning
eyes and pale expressive face. Derek Forbes
plays bass, a languid, feminine sort of person,
and a tiny bit self-aware, with it. And Michael
MacNeil, invisible behind his synthesisers,
but a keyboardist of immense ability.
Of course they
played their single, 'I Travel', recently demolished
on 45, but here taken faster and unabridged,
a glorious and hedonistic tide of instrumentals,
with Kerr being swept along indifferently, making
observations in his haughty grandiloquence.
Simple Minds played for nearly an hour and left
me still dancing to the echoes of 'Fear Of Gods'
while a hall full of exhausted people bellowed
for more and more.
The New Europeans?
Whatever happened to the Old Ones then?
A year ago Adrian
Thrills wrote off a Simple Minds show as "a
night of tradition, pretension and broken promises".
Last week, mainminds Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill
made Thrills face the music...
- 'NME' 21st March 1981 (UK)
In Central London
some men are talking. In a small twin room on
the third floor of a modest Paddington hotel,
the air is fusty and claustrophobic. The stuffiness
is punctured and peppered only by the consistent
whine of two passionate Scottish voices.
The first voice
is eager and breathless, like the stammering
whinge of a tearful schoolboy unable to talk
without lapsing into an unfortunate stutter.
The voice will grasp desperately for all the
right words, pulling phrases from thin air and
coming up with the odd wrong one now and then.
But between the gasps and the sips from a plastic
cup of Bristol Cream sherry, the dialogue pours
out in a confused, determined torrent.
The second voice
appears from behind a disarming boyish grin
and is more relaxed and succinct than the first.
This second voice has less to say, but conveys
it in a more assured and direct manner, the
flow not quite as frantic, the diction less
The first voice
is that of Jim Kerr, a frail and pensive lead
singer, a Simple Mind.
been very open in our use of images in songs
so we do run a giant risk of getting labelled
as pretentious, being Glasgow boys and singing
about Europe and things like that. But you can't
just blind yourself and pretend that nothing
exists outside your home town.
"What do they
want us to sing about? Football? Life in the
Gorbals? I think we've always been a bit more
open than that! At least we did spend most of
the last year in Europe ourselves, so we do
feel it is legal to sing about it.
"But that whole
European thing has been used very wrongly just
lately by people like Ultravox in 'Vienna',
the new Europeans and all that. Sometimes you
can sit down and write about something like
that and it just looks really tacky. It seems
pointless just using the names of foreign people
to impress people, coming up with something
like 'Vienna'. You just have to know where to
draw the line.
"We're not trying
to solve the problems of the world or anything
like that, but we are showing that we don't
just sit in the recording studio and assume
that there's nothing happening in the outside
world, nothing outside the fact that we are
in a group."
The second voice
chimes up for the first time. It belongs to
Charlie Burchill, a smiling young Celt- featured
guitarist and occasional sax player, another
"I know that if
some German group had a new album and they were
singing all about unemployment in Glasgow, it
would seem really strange to someone like
me. But, from our point of view, you don't just
go on tour somewhere without finding out something
about the places that you visit. You soon find
out what's going on and that's where the majority
of our lyrics come from. It's almost documentary
in a sense."
Simple Minds -
Kerr, Burchill, bassist Derek Forbes, drummer
Brian McGee and keyboard man Mick MacNeil -
sing a lot about European threat and mystery
these days. An impressionable group, they tread
a thin line. Sometimes they slip into the predictable
pratfalls of dramatising the inane old chimerical
cliches of Euro elegance and decadence, setting
it all to the battered backbeat of the Eurodisco
Their last Arista
LP 'Empires And Dance', however, showed the
Minds rising well above the hollow contrivances
of some of their fellow travellers au Beau Monde
- okay the "futurists" if you must! - to back
up their European dalliances with glimmering
flecks of eye-catching wit and insight. 'Empires
And Dance' - a certain substance!
But isn't most
of that all becoming one massive cliche? And
a rather patronishing one at that? Charlie Burchill
once again pipes up defensively.
"I don't think
the European audience themselves see it as being
patronising. The people we played to, a lot
of them are very in touch with what's happening
in Britain. But over here, people start labelling
things as 'European' and they have only a really
vague idea of what they mean by it.
"In Germany or
Holland, the whole musical idea of 'the Europeans'
means nothing. It doesn't exsist! The only people
to who that whole thing exsits are the readers
of the British music papers!"
Jim Kerr argues
that it is probably far more honest for Simple
Minds - who, after all, did spend most of last
year on the continent - to play their songs
for Europe rather than sing about dole queues
and boredom in Glasgow.
"Okay, our last
LP has got a lot of European imagery in it,
but everything there did actually come from
meeting and talking to people and drawing from
that experience. I think people should define
what they mean by realism before they start
accusing us of pretention 'cause we're simply
drawing from our experience all the time.
"Like, I wasn't
looking foward to going to Berlin at all. It
just seemed a far too tacky thing to do. But
when we went and we were driving through East
Germany, it was like going from a colour picture
into black and white, no neon lights for 60
miles. Just before you go into the western sector
of Berlin, there are these Russian tanks, troops
and missles everywhere. Now, how can you not
be affected by something like that?
"We get called
pretentious for using that sort of imagery -
soldiers and war - for lines in our songs, but
it's just the sort of thing that people tend
to forget about. It's all too hard and harsh.
Even when you see Northern Ireland on the television,
you might get a bit concerned but you tend to
dismiss it as just something on the TV tube.
"I think we must
be the first generation that hasn't seen either
the draft or a war. We just haven't seen all
those sorts of things, guns and uniforms. But
when you do see signs of it, even through a
van window in Central Europe, how can it nor
In some ways 'Empires
And Dance' was Simple Minds' 'Sandinista!',
the results of a group responding to an unfamiliar
environment rather than just staring at picture
postcards of home on their travels, but with
its sights trained on the European mainland
rather than the United States. Although flawed
and fanciful in its more indulgent moments,
it still spotlighted a group striving towards
confident, rounded maturity after three years
of nervous, tenacious development.
quality of much of 'Empires And Dance' is all
the more remarkable in the light of some of
the considerable growing pains the group have
endured since signing to Arista over two years
ago, a contract that they finally wrenched there
way free of last month (but more of that later).
Their debut LP
'Life In A Day' was weak and muddled, a dismally
derivative re-tread of a range of influences
from the obvious - Roxy and Bowie - to the more
eclectric - Genesis, John Cale, Doctors Of Madness
, Eno, Van Der Graaf Generator and Peter Gabriel.
Liberally garnished with gothic studio trickery
that the group's slimline songs just could not
support, it collapsed under the weight of its
pompous musical trimmings and over-production,
as even Jim Kerr nows concedes.
"I don't think
you'll really find us sticking up for some of
our earlier stuff, particularly the first LP.
But at that time, we seemed to be one of the
only groups who were into playing in tune, sining
in tune and using the big studios, the whole
works. But that was the time that you had people
like The Mekons who were making a stand against
all that sort of thing, and they were far hipper
"But I'm not saying
that LP was a good one. We're not blind to that.
But I think we can take a lot of refuge in the
improvements we've made since then. And I think
a lot of people who like 'Empires And Dance'
should still be able to find something in those
first two LPs, something that has been developed
on since, despite the mistakes.
"The thing is
that it's been two years since the first LP,"
adds the grinning Charlie. "But we're still
getting judged by it as a group. It's getting
to be an albatross! I think Tony Stewart did
a good review of that LP in NME when it came
out. It wasn't particularly favourable. He just
put it in perspective and said that we could
do something worthwhile if we were given a decent
The follow up
to 'Life In A Day' was the slightly more assured
'Real To Real Cacophony'. Written and arranged
largely on the spot in the recording studio,
it showed a rare willingness to take expansive
risks, but still ended up on the wrong side
of the thin wire between vibrant spontaneity
and an imcomplete rushed-job.
By this time,
however, a tension and lack of empathy between
group and record label was becoming increasingly
apparent and Simple Minds started to look for
ways to free themselves from an unhelpful Arista.
we were losing a hell of a lot of LP sales because
no money was being spent in any big way on marketing
and manufacture. They'd press up just 7,000
copies of an album and, within two weeks, there'd
be orders for 21,000 and Arista wouldn't be
able to meet the demand. What's the point in
paying £15,000 to record an LP and then just
press a few thousand copies just to see how
And Dance' and it's stinging attendant single
'I Travel' were the group's most complete artistic
successes to date. But their commerical failure
seemed to damn Simple Minds once and for all
as a bunch of worthy losers.
"I don't think
we've ever seen ourselves as a loser band,"
contradicts Charlie. "The thing with us, the
difference, is that we've actually progressed
over three albums. I really think we have, which
is giant for us. If anything, we're actually
getting more and more converts as we go on,
so how can we think that we're losers?"
Do they harbour
any resentment towards the Numans, Ultravoxes
and Spandaus et al who seem to have usurped
what could have been Simple Minds' chart ranking?
"There are certain
times when you do get a bit depressed, like
when some group have a hit doing the sort of
stuff you know you can do a lot better. But
you've got to believe ultimately that you can
produce stuff that is much better than a group
"The thing is
over the past two years, British music has been
in a completely confused state. Every six months
or so, you've got a new fad or fashion. We've
been a bit out of all that for the last 12 months
'cause we've been touring almost all that time
in Europe, and the success we've had there has
given us that satisfaction, that pat on the
back that I suppose you want, the sort of thing
that we haven't had in Britain yet.
"That's why we
haven't got into self-pity. Once you start getting
like that, then there's no way of going back.
This isn't meant to sound like bravado but I
think a lot of people can see that our stuff
has got a lot more backbone than most of the
so-called futurist groups. Most of that stuff
is so hollow!"
Hollow or not,
the current Beau Monde futurism might still
indirectly provide Simple Minds with a ticket
to ride, if their new masters Virgin are quick-witted
enough to realise it. If indeed they have a
mass audience, the people who put Ultravox and
Visage singles into the top ten could well constitute
a large part of it, although Simple Minds are
standing by a resolve not to compromise themselves
in contriving their appeal to suit any phoney
"We've never tried
to shape ourselves to suit any safe little niches,"
Charlie says. "At one stage, we were given the
old art school tag, but we've never tried to
model ourselves in a straight, narrow direction.
In retrospect, its been good for us that we've
never fitted snugly into one little box. It
means that we've been able to change as we go
along and get away with it.
"Like if you went
to see The Skids last year, you'd get all these
wee guys in the audience shouting for 'Albert
Tatlock' and Jobson would come out with something
like 'Dulce Et Decorum Est' instead and a lot
of people would find it pretty hard to cope
with that sort of change so quickly. One minute
Jobbo is Nicky Tesco, the next minute he's Jean-Paul
Minds and The Skids were the two most prominent,
promising groups to emerge from post-punk, pre-Postcard
Scotland, the contrasts between their styles
could hardly be any more marked. While the Skids
have always openly embraced their Celtic roots
through the Jobson's poems and lyrics. Stuart
Adamson's tonal guitar playing, the jokey 'Scottish
Jungle Music' tag and the current interest in
traditional highland music, Jim Kerr has gone
out of his way to play down ethnic aspect.
"People do make
too much of where a group comes from. People
always expect us to be very Scottish, very patriotic
and proud of our roots, but we've never been
a patriotic type of group. In fact, at the start,
we deliberately shied away from that.
"I think people
expect us to be even more like that 'cause we
come from Glasgow. They expect us to be even
more over the top. But I think it alienates
people if you play too much of it, like people
start liking various groups just because they
come from Sheffield or Liverpool. It gets a
bit like football. Music is about sound, isn't
it? It's about heart. It's not about what's
happening in the background or what's behind
it. It's something that provokes a reaction
If 'Empires And
Dance' counts for anything, then the Simple
Minds liaison with Arista Records could be said
to have been fruitful at the least, although
the group maintain that it was always an unhappy,
frustrating deal and one which they were relieved
to have terminated.
"We thought we'd
just be dropped but when it came to the crunch,
they said they weren't dropping us. We'd just
got some good reviews for 'Empires And Dance'
and we were getting a bit of reaction in Europe
so they weren't prepared to let us go as easily
as we'd hoped. We were well sick!"
The Arista contract
was finally ended last month, a full six months
after the release of 'Empires And Dance', with
compensation payments to the record company
leaving the group heavily in debt. Considering
their unhappy experiences with one major label,
it seems surprising that Simple Minds have signed
straight back to another large conglomerate,
Virgin, probably just as brutal and businesslike
a set-up beaneath that glossy veneer of a hip,
go-ahead, caring young company.
Simple Minds could
quite easily have done things themselves within
the framework of their manager Bruce Findlay's
Zoom independent, based in Edinburgh. Surely
they are going against their better instincts
in signing to Virgin, a company already inundated
with a few not entirely dissimilar groups, most
"In your heart,
you must know that you're going to get things
done much better if you do them entirely yourself,"
Jim says. "It's obvious. But in the situation
that we were in, we just couldn't consider it.
We did think of doing it ourselves, but we realised
that there would be limitations on just how
much we could achieve.
"We're in debt
and we're not ashamed to admit it. We're only
in debt through trying to make things better
for the group, getting out of that contract
and making sure that we've got the best possible
equipment and the best instruments and everything."
In the past, poor
organisation has combined with established media
prejudice - mine included - to hold Simple Minds
back. If they hadn't gotten out of the Arista
deal, Jim claims they'd have spilt up by now.
Despite their past and current problems, their
most recent work has undoubtedly been their
most impressive and the group are now as confident,
unrepentant and ready for the challenge as ever,
fired by a feeling that their moment may have
"The only thing
that we've been guilty of is making a substandard
first album. You might accuse us of being suspect
in that we've fallen into the whole syndrome
of doing tours and albums all the time. But
that's just us. We happen to like doing that!
"I remember you
once said that one of our gigs could easily
have been something out of the early '70s, and
I suppose from the point of view of all the
silly encores, it could have been something
like Mott The Hoople.
"So maybe we sometimes
do just go on and do a concert in the normal
rock 'n' roll way. Does that make us suspect?
Maybe we are suspect. But where do you draw
the line? The line?"
It's all in the mind.
Chris Bohn - 'NME'
4th October 1980 (UK)
Once you get onto
the European mainland, it's hard not to be infected
by the virulent strain of fatalism sweeping
the continent. En route to Charles De Gaulle
Airport on the first stage of a journey back
to the deceptive security of this island home,
I'm injected with a final dose by a brazenly
cheerful, walrus-moustached taxi driver.
The Russians are
still far away, but Communists hold suburbs
in the foothills of Paris, he moans. He sees
conspiracies on every street corner, resentment
in the face of youth reticent to defend the
tricoleur. They're probably in on it, too! This
isn't speculation, his grey whiskers quiver,
this is fact. Or so his paranoia will have it...
Simple Minds have
been infected by the disease, but there singer
Jim Kerr sensibly refers to it as an education.
And while he's learning, he's not taking any
sides. We're careering across Belgium and France
in the back of a minibus, through lush farmland
too uniform to hold our attention, so conversation
turns to the uglier aspects of modern living.
At the moment
Jim's recalling an eventful ride through East
German customs after SM's Berlin gig.
going through customs, playing a tape of the
soundtrack from Apocalypse Now,
and just as 'The End' started, a whole convoy
of American tanks rolled past on their way to
Berlin." Quite a coincidence of song and
real life. "Now how can you ignore things
like that? I mean people might say we're pretentious
for using words like, er, guns, in our songs,
but it would be more pretentious to ignore what's
going on around us."
He lapses into
silence. We pick up the trail the following
afternoon in a Parisian hotel room.
easy in Britain when you don't see a soldier
or a gun, just to say (adopting a derisive tone)
'Oh what is all this then?' But when you're
there - and we've been in Europe four times
this year, we've been here more than anywhere
else - how can you not be affected by it?"
He extends his
line of thought into his songs and those of
thing with this new European stuff, I mean singing
songs about Europe can be so crass unless you
do it right. I remember a band in '77 called
who did a song called 'When The Tanks Are Rolling
Over Poland'. I mean, whoo," he sighs resignedly.
"What's that all about?"
During a brief
pause, the strains of Simple Minds' 'I Travel'
echo in my mind. The first track of this year's
most subversive dance album 'Empires And Dance'.
it's a marching song for these desperate times.
Above it all, Kerr's grandly exaggerated vocal
taps tragic depths, when he sings:
has a language problem/talk, talk, talk, talking
on/In Central Europe men are marching/Marching
on and marching on/Love songs playing in restaurants..."
"I think we can do a song that's appealing,
but with an edge so that it doesn't get too
comfortable, people might listen to what's being
said. And the language problem in the song is
politics - the last line goes: "Babble
single release, the message should hit home.
The chorus has already formed a loop running
through my mind:
round I travel round/Decadence and pleasure
towns/Tragedies, luxuries, statues, parks and
Travel has obviously
broadened Simple Minds.
Simple Minds broadened
mine and now I'm travelling to Paris and Brussels
to find out how they did it. Up until their
Hammersmith Palais gig a few weeks back, I'd
always damned them with very faint praise, saying
basically that they covered well in the absence
of gods out-of-town like Bowie and Roxy.
Their first album
'Life In A Day' was a bulging holdall of influences
regurgitated practically unchewed; cosy images
of alienation and other modish themes nestled
alongside jarring noises always a touch too
familiar and comfortable to really cut it.
a more electronic bent on the second 'Real To
Real Cacophony', but things like the title track
scanning almost identically Kraftwerk's 'Radioactivity'
didn't improve their critical status any. Coming
in the wake of Numan, it was mostly dismissed
as just another hopeful cash-in, but Simple
Minds' rhythms have always packed too solid
a punch for them to be bracketed under light-frame
electronic pop, no matter how ethereal the topping.
And though they're not doing anything that radically
different now, they're certainly doing it a
madde the great leap from being raw young impressionables
unsure what to make of their vast input of information
and influences, into a confident, adventurous
band suddenly aware of their potential.
album 'Empires And Dance', is distinctly Simple
Minds. They know it and are justifiably proud
of it. It is everything Bowie's 'Lodger' could
have been if he were younger and more open to
life around him. Like 'Lodger', 'Empires And
Dance' rapidly switches locations, but sensibly
stays in Europe, whose problems are also ours.
And unlike Bowie, Simple Minds are inexperienced
enough to involve themselves with what they
feel around them, using their songs as a field
of operations for coming to terms with their
own "confusion" - a word that crops
up a lot in Kerr's coversation.
The album consists
of gloriously depicted, desolate cityscapes,
but however gloomy the music gets, a strong
sense of discomfort prevents the listener cocooning
himself in self-pitying melancholy. Simple Minds'
struggle is not easily admired from a distance,
but it has to be felt. That
is the crucial thing.
presnt visit to Europe comes courtesy of Peter
Gabriel, who liked them enough to invite them
along free of the massive fees usually associated
with the support spots on prestigious tours.
Not only that, he makes sure they get enough
time for a good soundcheck, too. This sort of
behaviour ought to be common decency, but it's
rare in the cut-throat world of rock and roll.
never thought I'd be grateful to Gabriel for
anything, but the sound in Brussels is great
- you can even hear the words. Simple Minds
open with 'Capital City' a pulsing suspense
story, then, 'Thirty Frames A Second' is even
better, an autobiographical slice of Kerr's
life viewed in flashback: "I
lost my job/Security/Self-confidence/Bank account/Identity".
The effect is overwhelming as the memory slips
back another notch to the point where protagonist
attempts to break free from the chains of his
past - his family, religion, childhood.
back to father/Father where's my food?'/'Your
food is on the table'/'But that can't be food/It
to be a lot heavier than that when I first wrote
it," Kerr tells me now. "It was about
a man, who becomes a father, but he no longer
recognises his children, because they don't
take up his mistakes, so they turn around and
say 'I'm sorry Dad, I don't recognise you anymore.'
They reject his food an' everything. But it
turns out to be a song of a man looking back,
trying to grasp what purpose there is in existing,
what is required, what you are meant to do.
You too often get to the state of looking back,
saying 'I should have done this and I should
of done that..'"
He pauses before
starting up again angrily. "Sometimes it
pisses me off, sometimes I wish I went the full
way with songs. I always feel that I've left
out the best and put in just the beginning.
the trappings of being 'contemporary', I think.
Maybe if I get 'contemporary' enough to get
in a safe position with finance, I'll be able
to go out of control, to do just what the hell
conversation Kerr confuses the word "contemporary"
I ask him what
stops him taking the songs as far as they'll
me, because at the last minute I always think
I don't know enough... each day you get the
kick when you think you see differently now,
and one day you stop and think, yes, finally,
this is the answer. But when does it stop being
ambiguous? And when does it really start to
get in there, to be direct?
are just an attempt to educate myself, to get
to grips with what's going on outside - start
reading, start listening..."
Though we're in
Paris, thoughts return to Glasgow. Family ties
appear to be stronger north of the border, the
processes of channelling that much harder to
break away from. Kerr talks with slight discomfort
at first about his past, but quickly opens to
I like to talk about it, and other times I don't.
The whole Jimmy Boyle side of it gets glorified
to much. Once a journalist asked me where I
came from, and I said Gorbals, and the first
lines of his article sort of said 'Gorbal Boy...'
and things like that. It really came across
the opposite of what I wanted it to. All that
Alex Harvey street fighting man... There is
beginning awareness in Glasgow, but there's
cycle of scholl-job-unemployment can't help
increase it - especially in a town so culturally
arid as Glasgow.
what it is. People get caught up in drink. There's
not much to do, their jobs are boring, so at
the weekend all they're concerned with is getting
out and forgetting it. They meet a girl, want
a car, then they're too busy working to pay
for all these things. Before they know it they're
married - and once you're married, you're just
the same as your father.
there's an awarness there now - a lot of good
bands coming up. There always has been - we're
by no means unusual. We weren't gifted with
this awarness, a lot of people had it at school,
but it just comes to the point where they think,
'ah well, what's the use?'
go home people come up to you and say that you
can't be doing all that good, because you haven't
been on Top Of The Pops
yet. Well, I'm stumped by that response! I'm
travelling, it's really great, I'm having a
good time. But I find myself getting a bit sad
(not to mention patronising - Ed.) because I
think other people should get the chance to
see the world. I mean, I don't think of myself
as having more talent than anyone else. If anything,
I've had more cheek, or perhaps arrogance, and
that's what got me these places."
If '30 Frames
A Second' exorcised Kerr's private past, SImple
Minds are still stuck with their public one.
Especially here in Europe where 'contemporary'
pressures dicate that they devote the remaining
three fifths of their 35 minute set to older,
less substantial numbers. 'Premonition', 'Factory'
and 'Pleasantly Disturbed' are all sweet enough
to consolidate their considerable following
on the continent, but they lack the power of
anything on 'Empires And Dance'.
willingness to conform to commerical needs work
against them, but then without an ear for strong,
disco beats and persuasive tunes, 'Empires And
Dance' wouldn't have been half so potent.
"It was great
the last time we were in Europe," recalls
Kerr. "In the nightclubs, 'Premonition'
was played alongside Ohio Players, Donna Summer
and The Talking Heads. It was really appealing
for us to hear DJs liked it as much as Donna
Summer; 'Premonition' has far more direct substance.
why it was important to have a really good drum
and bass sound, which you couldn't get by doing
an album for £200 and releasing it on
your own small label. That's taking a 'contemporary'
route and hopefully putting a kick into it.
There's an awareness in the song that you'll
not normally get at this 'contemporary' level."
Burchill chips in: "'Premonition' is dance
music, but it's also discomforting - people
listen to it and that discomfort spreads."
But doesn't it
get to the point where one cushions the discomfort
to satisfy commerical needs?
"Well, if you want as much control as possible
you need money. If you've got it, you're no
longer in the company's debt. Even if you don't
hate them, there's this mental barrier which
says if you don't please them they'll treat
you tit for tat and say you'll not get this
or that. It is a struggle, because we do want
to remain 'contemporary' and use the channels
already provided. And because it's 'contemporary'
we do make concessions. We are
ambitious. Our music might appear transparent,
but if you've got an open mind it says a lot."
True now, but
cynics might say Simple Minds' career suffered
due to early guidance by similar principles.
Maybe a bit of background will expand Kerr's
own interpretation of their past. Formed around
a nucleus of himself, Burchill and drummer Brian
McGee, who all attended the same Glaswegian
Catholic school, early incarnations of the band
used to play the music they enjoyed listening
to at home: The Doctors Of Madness, Velvet Underground,
even Genesis - " "Foxtrot" was
the first album I bought," admits Kerr.
Later joined by
bassist Derek Forbes, who'd been playing in
dance band in Spain and solo twelve string in
pubs and clubs, and keyboards player Michael
MacNeil, their sole motivation was fun when
they came to record the demos that led to their
Arista contract and first album 'Life In A Day'.
"We were a very marketable proposition,"
recalls Kerr candidly. "There was no real
venom or fight. At the time there was no real
competition in Scotland. Life was nice and safe,
no real heart."
went in to record their first album, possessing
all the right noises but no positive direction,
content and pleased with themselves for getting
this far. The reviews quickly bracketed them
with the likes of Ultravox and Magazine, and
being Simple Minds ('78 version) they were quite
happy about that too, flattered even.
set in shortly after its release.
see much of ourselves in it," remarks Kerr.
"It was hard to see what went wrong. After
a few months it was a matter of taking the whole
thing and smashing it up."
Instead of carefully
dismantling their career and reconstructing
it, they persuaded Arista to let them back into
the studio before they'd completed any new songs.
It shows in the subsequent 'Real To Real Cacophony',
which was recorded so fast they didn't have
time to sift out the influences properly. Much
of it sounds like straight theft.
laughs Kerr. "It seemed to me as though
there was an act distinguishing good thieves
and bad thieves - a good bank job and not so
successful. But it became more us.
to the first album now," he continues "I
can see that we didn't really have the ability
to pinpoint then what we were getting out of
these bands, to break it down to the appealing
elements in their music, to which we could add
Their music struck
him as so empty, their lack of motivation frightening.
in the studio recording 'Real To Real', when
news of things like Pol pot were filtering through
to us and I was thinking at first, what is the
point of sitting here and pretending that nothing's
happening outside? And the confusion carried
through to the recording level. We began to
grasp what was going on. We still admit that
we hadn't kicked out every single influence,
but at least 'RtoRC' proved we were aware of
the fact, that the battle was definitely going
How did he respond
to all the negative reviews that greeted it,
which suggested that Simple Minds would hop
any worthwhile bandwagon passing by?
"It was a
little unfair to suggest we were coming behind
these other (electronic) bands, because at the
time Numan was just on his way up and we could've
jumped in and said: 'Yes this is us'. We could
have made 'RtoRC' a lot more direct. Look, with
the electronic thing you can switch the synthesizer
on and get really appealing tunes, to which
you could sing typical science fiction lyrics
and things like that. The record company would
have loved it if we chose something so direct..."
seemed to disregard the fact how easy it is
to manipulate the public," interrupts Burchill.
"We could have all worn the same futuristic
clothes, splashed wires and capacitors across
the album cover and all that..."
"But we were
trying to suggest that we'd sussed something
out, that there was soething going on outside
us getting a debut album into the charts at
28. The whole thing with us has been an education.
Every day we just open our eyes and minds, opening
up more and more, slowly forming a backbone
of our own," concludes Kerr.
stunning contrast of naivety and suss works.
Still in awe of their heroes - "Big"
Kid Strange, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel - they're
inspired by them now, as opposed to being shackled
In Brussels, part-time
SM sax player and full-time Endgame Paul Wishart
and chatty Derek urge me to catch Gabriel's
show. I've seen it before, I say, and can't
share their enthusiasm. However, temporarily
caught up by it, I try again. I find myself
standing next to Kerr, who notices my growing
chosen image sanitise the dirt and pain of his
real-life subjects, whereas the youthful probing
of his chosen supports hit all the sensitive
spots. Compare his 'Biko' to their more oblique,
brilliant 'This Fear Of Gods' and check which
one reaches the heart of the matter.
It's not all Gabriel's
fault. This Belgian audience, like the London
one I saw in Spring and the Parisian fans of
a few days later, gives him far too easy a time.
Their indiscriminate, enthusiastic applause
gets embarrassing. I rant my disapproval in
Kerr's ear. He partly concurs, but adds later:
"When I see Gabriel now I can't see it
from the outside. There's still this little
boy in me that remains from the time I saw Genesis
when I was 13, and I'm still in awe of him.
He still has intergrity (I agree).
Take, for instance, something like Throbbing
Gristle. They give the impression that they'd
rather take pictures of a man getting beat up
in the street than help him. 'Biko' might drown
in its art, but it still draws attention to
Did he want the
sort of uncritical adulation Gabriel's audience
heaped on their hero?
At times onstage you feel like a mad dog barking.
You don't know whether you're here to entertain
them, to provoke or make contact with them.
There's a lot of confusion going on. We do have
arguments within the band about things like
encores - whether this or that one would have
made a better encore. But I'm not interested
in that - that's pure show business talk.
what's the point? You've got the audience right
up here already, you must have impressed them
enough, and then you come back onstage on your
These days, Simple
Minds are confident enough to stand on their
own 12 feet. Their own feats provide all the
support they need.
set to a speedy electronic beat
Steve Malins -
'Q Magazine Special 'The Story Of Electro-Pop'
Essential Songs January 2005 (UK)
Taken from their
dance-tinged, Euro-centric Empires & Dance
album in 1980, I travel was the breakthrough
single that never happened. The electronic rhythm
sounds like an amphetamine-spiked Moroder beat
as singer Jim Kerr rushes through images of
"decadence and pleasures towns" with
a vague but manic intensity. The blend of impressionistic
lyrics and aggressive, synthesized backing make
it one of the highlights from that era of British
pop, containing both the potent, angular urgency
of post-punk and electro's more experimental
Hear it on Empires
& Dance 1980
Jason Parkes -
were once a great band - which is something
hard to square when taking in that song they
did for that Bratpack film, the bombastic political
posturing of ka-ka like Belfast Child, or the
dull, diluted U2-isms that followed. But Simple
Minds WERE once a great band, after being a
quite good, or at least interesting one- their
second album Real to Real Cacophony (1979) saw
them spew up a Kid A-type album at the start
of their career. By the time they reached this
album the following year, the original line-up
of the band with producer John Leckie (The Fall,
Dukes of Stratopshear, Stone Roses, Radiohead),
they finally delivered on the promise of their
I Travel is like Trans Europe Express on speed,
the backdrop of the era (Cambodia, Rhodesia,
Iran, Boat People, New height in the Cold War
etc) all feeding in: "Evacuees and refugees,
presidents and monarchies...Travel round/I Travel
round/Decadence and pleasure towns/Tragedies,
luxuries, statues, parks, and galleries..."
- I Travel is a pulsing pop song that delivers
on the influences of Kraftwerk and Moroder.
E&D is their most European album- Bowie/Eno,
Can, Neu!, Nite Flights, Fear of Music all appear
to be influences. Today I Died Again has more
in common with Magazine than U2- the lyrics
in the same avenue as Ian Curtis ruminating
on fascism (Walked in Line, Dead Souls) "The
clothes he wears date back to some war...She
can't remember before this heat/He can't remember
his wife's christian name...Back to a year,
back to a youth/Of men in church and drug cabarets..."-
can't help but think of films like Cabaret,
The Damned, The Night Porter & Salon Kitty.
Maybe The Tin Drum also? Celebrate sounds like
Chic producing Gary Numan, robo-funk at its
finest; while This Fear of Gods pre-empts 23
Skidoo's Coup- the influence for Chemical Brothers
Block Rockin Beats (& the keyboards are very
Trans Europe Express also). Epic stuff, though
like a lot of great records, I havent' got a
clue what is being sung about: "Violence and
vivisection? Fear is fast I'm turning white
now???" Empires & Dance is very much Derek Forbes
album- his bassplaying appears to be the centre
of most of the songs here...
Capital City and
Constantinople Line continue the Europa themes,
alienation and paranoia rule then- & this leads
into Twist/Run/Repulsion- a series of oblique
mantras ("Contort!") over a female voice sample-
predating Eno/Byrne's My Life in the Bush of
Ghosts. Even better is Thirty Frames a Second,
which recalls the time reversal themes of books
like Counter-Clock World (Philip K Dick) & Time's
Arrow (Martin Amis) and musically is their most
Krautrock inflected moment. Brief instrumental
interlude Kant-Kino is very side 2 of Low, and
seaugues into final track Room- the most melody
driven track here. Shimmering guitars, pulsing
percussion & almost funky bass- pity it's so
brief though! This is the kind of song that
would make music critics wet themselves if Primal
Scream or Radiohead produced it now...
Like many bands
(Roxy Music, Television, Can, Associates, Talking
Heads, Scritti Politti, Echo& The Bunnymen,
Pere Ubu, Gang of Four etc) Simple Minds produced
great material in their early career- prior
to dirfting to incomprehension or MOR (it was
the latter affliction). 1981's double set Sister
Feelings Call/Sons & Fascination (produced by
Gong's Steve Hillage) & 1982's New Gold Dream
(81, 82, 83, 84) ended this creative peak. It's
hard not to hold Kerr et al's crimes against
their whole career (Sanctify Yourself????? Really...)
- but these early releases highlight the fact
that Simple Minds were one of the great bands
of the new wave/post-punk era...
Andy Kellman -
All Music Guide (US)
with fumbling around with the same sound, Simple
Minds shifted gears once again for album number
three, Empires and Dance. The "dance" aspect
of the title needs to be emphasized, but it's
apparent that the group's globetrotting and
simmering political tensions in Britain affected
their material in more ways than one. One gets
the idea that Simple Minds did some clubbing
and also experienced some disparate views of
The opening "I
Travel" is the most assaultive song in the band's
catalog, sounding like a Giorgio Moroder production
for Roxy Music. Think "I Feel Love" crossed
with "Editions of You," only faster; gurgling
electronics, a hyperkinetic 4/4 beat, and careening
guitars zip by as Jim Kerr delivers elliptical
lyrics about unstable world affairs with his
throaty yelping (this was still before he developed
that predilection for foghorn bombast). The
remainder of the album repeals the blitzkrieg
frenetics of the beginning and hones in on skeletal
arrangements that focus on thick bass lines
and the loping rhythms that they help frame.
"Celebrate" isn't much more than a series of
handclaps, a light drum stomp, some intermittent
bass notes, and some non-intrusive synth effects.
It goes absolutely nowhere, yet it's more effective
and infectious than most verse-chorus-verse
pop songs. The seven minutes of "This Fear of
Gods," which boast another dense rhythm abetted
by trebly atmospheric elements (distant guitars,
percolating electronics, sickly wind instruments),
come off like an excellent 12" dub, rather than
an original mix. Just as bracing, the paranoiac
disco of "Thirty Frames a Second" should have
been played regularly at every club in 1980
and should live on as a post-punk dance classic.
It's a true shock that this record was released
with reluctance. The band coerced an unimpressed
Arista into pressing a minimal amount of copies
for release (fans still had trouble locating
copies), but thankfully Virgin reissued it in
Ying Mak - www.inthe80s.com
One of the forgotten
albums from the beginning of the decade, Empires
And Dance remains the most disturbing piece
of work from Simple Minds(a band that still
has interesting things to say in the '90s).
Empires And Dance seems to inhabit some post-apocalyptic
world where no hope exists; instead there is
paranoia and dread, bundled and delivered with
plenty of black humour in songs such as the
eerie "Today I Died Again", or the very sardonic
"Celebrate". The album is so uncompromisingly
bleak that it's a little surprising their record
label agreed to release it. It's not an easy
album to listen to, nor very comprehensible
at first, but it sure stands out from conventional,
So where does
this album fit in? Empires And Dance is a work
relevant to its time: released as the '70s ended
and the '80s began, it captures that period's
atmosphere of unease, particularly in the European
sphere. The songs came out of the band's experiences
while touring Europe at a time of escalating
Cold War tension;they speak of the hostility
of that environment as well as the prevalent
feeling of moral/social decay. There is irony
in the title Empires And Dance: in the face
of world calamity and political intransigence,
people just keep partying 'til the bitter end.