ECHO ARENA, LIVERPOOL 21ST JULY 2009
Kevin Matthews – ‘Liverpool Daily Post’ – 22nd July 2009 (UK)
On arriving at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, avid Twitterer Jim Kerr sent out a message on the social networking site: “I hope they put strong foundations in the construction of this new venue as traditionally Simple Minds + Liverpool means that walls shake.”By the end of the band’s frantic two hour set, the foundations of the Liverpool Echo Arena were thoroughly tested.Although Simple Minds herald from north of the border, each and every time they come to Liverpool, they treat it just like a homecoming – and so do the crowds who turn out to greet them.
In the band’s deep and distant history, they cut their teeth at legendary Liverpool venue Eric’s and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen. So it’s hardly surprising that the five piece hold their Liverpool date up as one of the highlights of their tour. Not bad considering they played Edinburgh Castle at the weekend and have a gig at San Marco’s Square in Venice on their itinerary. Well, where else, other than Glasgow, would a song called Waterfront resonate so soundly?And it was from the very first notes of the distinctive bass line of that iconic song that Kerr and co took to the stage and the band tore the roof off the Echo Arena.
Giving the ecstatic crowd no time to slow down, the tight five piece ploughed onto a catalogue of classic hits which span the band’s 30 years.Songs such as Glittering Prize, Big Sleep, New Gold Dream, Alive & Kicking and Don’t You Forget About Me were woven together with new tracks including sneak live previews of brand new Stars Will Lead the Way and Rockets from the band’s critically acclaimed Graffiti Soul album which they will tour later in the year.
Although the one-time stadium-fillers have slipped from the wider public radar in recent years, they have lost none of the skills which put them there in the first place. Guitarist and band co- founder Charlie Birchill, Andy Gillespie on keyboard, Eddie Duffy on bass, the legendary drummer Mel Gaynor and maestro Kerr made their name live and that’s exactly what they are doing now. It’s difficult to gauge who works harder at a Simple Minds concert, the band or the crowd, but given some of Kerr’s on-stage shape throwing, we’ll give it to the band.
A notable absentee at the gig was fellow Glaswegian Kenny Dalglish who is on tour in the Far East with Liverpool. In his place in the front row was Mark Lawrenson, who himself proved himself adept at throwing some shapes.Kerr quipped with the crowd: “This is our first time in this wonderful arena, it’s about time you had a venue like this.” Just when the crowd thought the night couldn’t get any better, the band gave two encores which featured Belfast Child and Sanctify Yourself, and an explosive finale of Ghostdancing.The walls shook, but the Echo Arena was left standing … just!
Jade Oddy – ‘The Scottish Sun’ – 21st July 2009 (UK)
Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr may have just turned 50 – but he’s the happiest he’s ever been. And who could blame him? He’s got a new woman in his life, he’s in the middle of a sell-out European tour and the band’s new album Graffiti Soul sailed into the top 10.Jim knew he was in for a big year and pulled out all the stops to make his milestone birthday earlier this month one of the best ever.
He even organised the band’s tour dates to coincide with a birthday bash in Paris.He said: “I’m not normally great with birthdays – I don’t get into them. But this time I wanted to really celebrate with it being such a special one.
“I was keen for the tour agent to draw the cards so that it would be somewhere nice. So instead of, say, Dusseldorf, I managed to get the concert date in Paris! Not a bad place to celebrate being 50.”At midnight on July 8, after the gig, a load of old schoolfriends and family from Glasgow flew out to party with me.
“It was quite a night. I took the day off the next day. We had done nine shows in ten days so it was lovely just to stroll around this beautiful city.”The Glasgow-born singer’s big bash was made even better by the presence of his new mystery woman.Twice-wed Jim remains tight-lipped on her identity. He said: “I am dating, yes. I’ll let her do her own interviews.But I will say she has taught me how to Tweet!
“She bought me a bracelet and that was my favourite present.”Jim is so loved up he’s even considering tying the knot for a THIRD time.He said: “To use that cliche, I would say ‘never say never’. But for a while I was saying never.”I felt I’d been there and done that and I’d made a pig’s ear of being married twice.
“But I have a different take on that now. When I was first a dad, I was only 24 and didn’t know myself, never mind the people I was marrying.”Now I feel I could offer more. I always used to blame myself for mistakes – now I give myself a break.”
Jim’s first marriage – to Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, 57, – ended in 1990 after six years.His second, to actress Patsy Kensit, 41, also ended in divorce in 1996 after four years.Jim is devoted to his two kids – Yasmin, 24, from his marriage to Chrissie and James, 16, from his marriage to Patsy.Both flew up to Scotland last weekend for their huge gig at Edinburgh Castle.
Jim said: “James is turning 17 in September and he’s excited about the music industry. He was at Glastonbury this year and he’s increasingly interested in how the business works. He asks more about that than forming a band.”Yasmin works for an organisation that manages artists and puts on events. She has her mum’s wits about her. I’ve never had to worry about her.”
Jim has managed to forge good relationships with his ex-wives. Patsy was at Simple Minds’ headlining gig at the iTunes Festival in London last Thursday, while Chrissie met up with Jim’s parents after performing in Glasgow the previous night.He said: “It’s all very civilised. But it took a lot of patience and diplomacy on both sides. It’s never easy but they are the mothers of my kids and if they’re happy, then there’s more of a chance that the kids will be happy.
“I suppose the really difficult stuff is when other boyfriends and husbands come along. But if you put the children first, you can remain cool-headed about things. “My ex-wives are great women – they brought a lot to the table. I still believe in marriage – there is nothing to beat it when it works.”
Jim was even invited to Patsy’s recent wedding – her fourth – to DJ Jeremy Healy, 47.He added: “She very kindly asked me but she also knows I don’t like weddings. “Besides, it’s Jeremy’s day. What am I doing hanging around? It’s a bit Zsa Zsa Gabor, if you don’t mind me saying.
“It was lovely that she asked me but she understood when I said no. My daughter went, though.” Jim’s band are currently enjoying something of a renaissance.Their 30th anniversary tour has been a sell-out, while new single Stars Will Lead The Way was released yesterday and looks chart-bound.But Jim is most excited about performing at St Mark’s Square in Venice on Friday night – where the guest of honour will be mum Irene.
The 72-year-old has recovered from cancer after being diagnosed in November 2007.Jim said: “The news wasn’t good but she’s doing fine. The doctors are amazed. She’s defying everything they told her, which is great. “My dad looks after her and they’re so strong. They’ve been together since they were 17.”
Jim was all set to postpone his 18-month-long anniversary tour after her diagnosis. He added: “I’d been living in Sicily and I decamped back to Glasgow. But mum ended up saying, ‘You are making me bloody worse!’ “She said, ‘Listen, you have to go on tour. Make it great’. She was at the Christmas gigs and was at Edinburgh Castle.
“She will be in Venice to watch me and she’s never been there before. It will be lovely.” Jim credits spending more time in Sicily for balancing him after he suffered a low period.He said: “I could have been having a midlife crisis. My career wasn’t happening, I had no energy. I’m not sure it was depression but it was time for something new in every context.
“I went for a wedding on the island and knew I had to move there. “It helped me get my mojo back and the music started coming back. I realised I didn’t want the band to die.”
EDINBURGH CASTLE 18TH JULY 2009
Neil McEwan – ‘Edinburgh Evening News’ – 20th July 2009 (UK)
Squelching their way towards buses and taxis, damp enough to grow cress in their underwear, the crowd filing out from the Esplanade on Saturday night should have looked a dismal sight but they were dancing and jigging all the way down the hill because they’d just seen Simple Minds on top form and nothing could wipe the smile from their faces.
The rain came on literally within seconds of the support act, The Silencers, taking the stage but they still managed to warm up the crowd with their bluesy soulful sound. From the appropriately named Scottish Rain to the sing-along favourite The Real McCoy they distracted from the biblical downpour and set the scene for the main attraction.
All their good work was almost undone by an unknown hitch which prevented the headliners from following them on for around 20 minutes, but as soon as they hit the first notes of Waterfront all was forgiven and forgotten and the Castle rocked to a sea of jumping, swaying and clapping bodies.
However good Simple Minds are on record, their real strength lies in live performance and this was a prime example of their skills. Following the blistering opening number they kept the energy levels at eleven all night and if there had been a roof, by the time Alive and Kicking came on it would have been blown off by the crowd’s reaction.
Jim Kerr is clearly having the time of his life at the moment with the resurgence of interest in the band and he transmitted his joy out into the swarm of happy followers hanging on his every note.Kerr is an old fashioned rock showman who feeds on the adoration of the crowd. Unlike Patsy Kensit’s other ex, you can’t imagine him asking an audience to stop clapping. He also could have a second career in fitness videos as it’s not many 50-year-olds who can show the flexibility he demonstrated on stage.
As darkness descended the show kept up the same high-powered feeling. Hit followed hit and, alongside a smattering of material from the band’s new return to form album, were all sung back to them by the crowd.The band headed off after playing their hearts out for over and hour and teased the multitude before heading back for a 20-minute encore to send them away deliriously happy.
As Kerr’s admitted in several interviews, Simple Minds were in the doldrums for a few years and had even seriously considered hanging up their rock hats. Saturday’s audience were the beneficiaries of their decision to give it one last try and to reconnect with the spirit that made them such a powerhouse in the eighties.This performance showed that they had truly recaptured whatever it was they had been missing over the last few years and the soggy Simple Minds fans from across the globe who attended let them know they’d succeeded it in no uncertain terms.
EDINBURGH CASTLE 18TH JULY 2009
Graeme Thomson – ‘The Glasgow Herald’ – 20th July 2009 (UK)
Given that Simple Minds’ Saturday night concert at Edinburgh Castle was ravaged by a biblical downpour that lasted a full hour and continued well into their two-hour set, it’s fitting that they opened with Waterfront, with its invocation to “come in, come out of the rain”. If only we could have. The sound, at least, was bright and clear, and the lashings of rain finally let up during See the Lights as Jim Kerr did his utmost to lift sodden spirits. A shameless old ham, the singer declared the castle “belongs to every one of us”, tied his tartan scarf to the mike stand and indulged in a bit of light Glasgow-vs-Edinburgh banter.
“It’s gonna be magic!” he yelled, and some of it was. The whirring Euro-funk of I Travel (its “statues, parks and galleries” line seemed particularly apt in the panoramic location) and a note-perfect Love Song were thrilling. Hypnotized and a handful of tracks from patchy but sparky new album Graffiti Soul just about kept pace with older glories, while Big Sleep was the highlight of a batch of songs from New Gold Dream, its hypnotic keyboard refrain magically spinning out into the dusk.
It was followed by a long Don’t You Forget About Me, which showed up Simple Minds’ fatal flaw: too much empty mid-tempo bluster, not enough surging beauty. Musically flawless, they methodically pressed all the stadium-rock buttons, throwing in an obligatory snatch of Them’s Gloria as they whipped the crowd into a closing frenzy, but throughout there was precious little sense of spontaneity. Despite maximum effort in trying circumstances, Simple Minds didn’t quite sparkle in the rain.
JIM AND BRUCE’S SIMPLE FORMULA
Gary Flockhart – ‘Edinburgh Evening News’ – 17th July 2009 (UK)
‘THE buzz was the first thing I noticed; the tension in the air before the band came on stage.” Edinburgh music supremo Bruce Findlay is recalling the first time he saw Simple Minds perform.The year was 1978, the venue, The Mars Bar, a small Glasgow pub which boasted Jim Kerr’s newly formed outfit as its resident band.
“There, at the mixing desk was Davey Henderson. It was a tiny wee mixing desk, ridiculous, almost like a volume control,” Findlay continues. “Beside him was his sister, Jaine. She had a board with four light switches on it. On stage there were a few lights. Not much, an ultra-violet light and a revolving mannequin’s head with another couple of lights. Jaine was switching these lights on and off. “As the band came on stage they were greeted like long lost heroes, even though they had only been playing for a couple of weeks.
“They looked really bizarre. For a start they wore quite heavy make-up. Derek Forbes the bass player resembled one of the New York Dolls. Jim wore a white tuxedo jacket with tight black trousers. He looked very unusual with his jet black hair cut in a pudding bowl style and, of course, he was skinny and very, very, serious – he spoke very little. “Most of the lighting was back lighting, but the very fact that they had lighting made them different.”
For the next 12 years, Findlay would manage Simple Minds, taking them from cult status to international stardom. Consequently, he’s in reflective mood as he looks forward to their concert at Edinburgh Castle tomorrow, a gig that is in many ways a homecoming for the Glasgow band who made their name in Capital.
Findlay first met Kerr a few days before seeing him perform live. With a successful chain of music shops to his name and his own record label – Zoom – he was the man to come to for advice, which is exactly what the teenage Kerr did in the summer of 1978.
“I had started my record label the year before and had a little success with The Valves and PVC2, so bands were coming to see me all the time,” explains Findlay, who was also responsible for putting Shirley Manson on the music map. “Jim, and his then sound-man/pal and tour manager Davey Henderson got in touch. Simple Minds had only been going a couple of months but were already beginning to build a bit of a reputation.
“Anyway, they came in and Jim was very serious and they both looked very odd for Weegies, much more arty than punk, almost gothic looking. That intrigued me because right away they looked different to all the other bands that were coming to see me.” Simple Minds had cut their first demo in December 1977. A five-track affair, Kerr brought it with him that fateful day.
“I put it on and was absolutely blown away by it. Pleasantly Disturbed, a sort of Velvet Undergroundy-thing with violin was a slow- building song, and the more poppy Chelsea Girl, which for me was going to be a smash hit, were the two stand-out tracks,” remembers Findlay.
“Jim was very cautious, so the next Sunday I went to see them and was equally blown away by their live performance. I hung out with them for the next couple of months, got them a couple of gigs and even drove them to some of those gigs.” At the time Findlay had also just signed a licensing deal with Arista records, allowing the larger label to distribute his releases on Zoom. Not that Simple Minds were looking for a big record deal.
“The band weren’t interested in any major record company, they were very independent minded. On the other hand, Jim, for all that he was only 19, was very astute. He said, ‘I wish we could get the money and clout that a major label could give us but with the independence and kudos that being with a small independent label brings’. He wanted both,” says the 65-year-old.
“Arista had already attempted to sign them direct but had no chance, so I let them know this. When one or two other record companies began to sniff around, Arista came up with the idea that they would give me the money to fund Simple Minds.”
The deal was done in 1978 and a year later Simple Minds’ debut album, Life In A Day, was released. Gigs at Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh Art College and Tiffany’s followed and Findlay knew they were hitting the big time when they headlined Clouds at Tollcross and The Astoria at Abbeyhill, promoted by Regular Music, promoters of tomorrow’s Castle Concert.
“They probably did more gigs in Edinburgh than they did in Glasgow, but I always said to bands, ‘You must build up your own fan base in your home town but you won’t know you are happening until you build a fan base in another town as well’,” says Findlay, confessing that despite negotiating the deal that brought the band that early recognition, he didn’t quite think of himself as their manager at that point.
“I was the record label boss but right from the start they would talk to people about me being their manager because I had got them their record deal; a publishing deal; an agency deal and fronted all the band’s business.
“About a year into the deal I said, ‘It’s time you got yourself a proper manager’. They said, ‘But you’re our manager, we’re happy.’ That was it.”
They might have been happy with Findlay, but neither were happy with Arista, Despite this, their third album, Empires And Dance, was released on the label in 1980. “The band hadn’t been too happy with the first album, although I thought it was great. They were delighted with the second album, Real To Real Cacophony, and their third album. So was I, and so was the world.
“John Peel picked it up and the NME and Melody Maker began writing about them in glowing terms. But we weren’t selling records and making the Top 40, yet we were building a really big following. So we fell out with Arista.” To further illustrate his point Findlay adds, “Empires And Dance should have been a hit. A track called I Travel which featured on it, is iconic. DJs still play it today.
“We did a 12-inch remix of it and it should have been a monster hit but it wasn’t. So we managed to get out the Arista deal and signed to Virgin.” Their first album with Virgin was Sons And Fascination in 1981 but it would be their 1982 studio album New Gold Dream that would finally send them stratospheric.
“Their first Top 20 single, Promised You A Miracle, came from New Gold Dream. That album was the commercial breakthrough, the moment they became stars,” agrees Findlay.That exposure also introduced the masses to Kerr’s often outrageous dress sense. From black tights to flouncy blouses, Tammy hats to Kohl eyeliner, there was little he wouldn’t don for effect.
“Everyone used to have a word with him about that, but Jim had a wonderful self-effacing sense of humour,” laughs Findlay. “He did care about the way he looked, and although he maybe wasn’t the most sartorial pop star, it got him noticed and created an identity. “When you went to a Simple Minds gig you would see kids going to the gig dressed as Jim had been at the last one and being well miffed when he came on stage looking completely different.”
Simple Minds and their first manager parted company in 1990. They’re still friends, Findlay looks back on their adventures with pride and a great fondness. “When I managed the band I would always say, ‘THIS is my favourite period,’ when asked. Now that I have not been with them for 19 years, I can look back and genuinely say, hand on heart, that my favourite period started in 1979.
“That was when they released their second album on which they discovered the sound that is Simple Minds. That’s when they became an influence on the scene and other bands, even though we were still the underdogs, chasing the dream. . . “Just me and the band jumping in a plane, going to America on a cheap ticket, picking up crew, friends and fans as we went – that whole sense of discovery was fabulous.”
SIMPLE MINDS’ JIM KERR’S HEAVEN ON EARTH
‘The Telegraph’ – 14th July 2009 (UK)
Simple Minds singer-songwriter Jim Kerr loves Taormina’s great location overlooking the Ionian Sea, where he can see as far as the lights of Calabria.I first went to Sicily with my school when I was 14. It was then that I discovered the world was in colour – the Glasgow of my childhood wasn’t the vibrant city it is today.
I always enjoyed touring in Italy with Simple Minds and I particularly liked Sicily. We played a gig there once on my birthday and a friend took me for lunch the next day in Taormina, a little town on the island’s east coast. I fell in love with it instantly, went back as often as I could, made friends with the locals, and eventually it became a home from home.
What’s so special about it? For a start it has a great location, overlooking the Ionian Sea, and you can see as far as the lights of Calabria. It’s also steeped in history. It’s where the continents meet, and has all sorts of influences, including Arabic, Greek and Roman. There’s also a wonderful open-air, ancient Greek theatre, where they have amazing concerts. But the real cherry on the cake is that it has the most fantastic view of Mount Etna.
In fact, Taormina is so special that around 10 years ago a friend and I opened a hotel there, The Hotel Villa Angela (0039 0942 27038; www.hotelvillaangela.com)One of my favourite local restaurants is La Botte (24198; www.labotte1972.it) where the fish, along with just about everything else, is delicious. I can also recommend Tira Misu (24803; www.tiramisutaormina.it), which is more of a family restaurant, but is a great place to dine al fresco at night.
Sicilian cuisine is distinctive from the rest of Italy in that it includes a lot more fish, be it squid, salt fish, or tuna, depending on the season, and you can see the fishermen bringing in the catch if you’re up early enough. The local fruit and vegetables also taste fantastic. Unusually for a Scotsman, I’m teetotal but the local wines are said to be very good and have started to win a lot of prizes.
A good time to visit is May when it’s not too hot, though I first went in the heat of high summer and loved it.As for any danger posed by the Mafia, forget it. The Mafia is as dangerous for holidaymakers as the Loch Ness Monster.
ROADHOUSE, LONDON 16TH JULY 2009
Dave Chinery – 20th July 2009 (UK)
The iTunes Festival is situated at a great atmospheric venue in London called the “Roundhouse” and runs throughout the whole of July with a different band every night, tickets were given away free to fans in a lottery on the internet.
Tonight I have the fortune of having a pair of these such tickets to see rock super group Simple Minds and being a massive fan since the 80’s things don’t get much better than this as the band have no played a small venue of this size in a very long time. Arriving at the venue everyone is presented with a wristband and a smart itune laminate which gives you access to 10 free tracks on the i-tunes website.
Tonight’s support act “Vagabond” arrived on stage a 8pm and were given a very warm reception by the audience. Their guitar based rock has a slightly bluesy feel with some very promising tracks such as their new single ” Don’t wanna run no more” and set closer “I have been wanting You” which included some really great vocal work from lead singer Alex. The Guardian newspaper reported the Vagabond could be the next “Worlds biggest Band” on this show they do have a lot of work to do before than can get that tag, however I wouldn’t be surprised if I hear their tracks on a music channel or on the radio very soon.
Simple Minds recently played to a massive sell out crowd at the Isle of Wight Festival, as well as many other festivals in Europe promoting their latest album “Graffiti Soul” which is probably one of the best albums since the late 1980’s. Arriving on stage with “Moscow Underground” the opening track from the album, there is a huge screen that covers the whole of the back of the stage projecting images that tie in with the tracks played. Jim Kerr covers the whole of the stage effortlessly giving the crowd exactly what they want calling out his usual catchphrase
“let me see your hands” and the audience responds with hundreds of pairs of hands shooting up in the air applauding along to the music. The unmistakable intro to “Waterfront” started up and a whole bunch of 30-40 something years old fans like myself got carried away with the excitement of the show, seeing Simple Minds at such close proximity in a much smaller venue than usual was just such an awesome experience. A stunning version of
“New Gold Dream” and the ever popular “Alive and Kicking” ended their set with the crowd again with their arms in the air waving them from side to side as instructed by Jim, however this was not to be the end as the 3000 strong crowd demanded more and the band obliged with a four song encore ending with Ghost-Dancing from the 1985 album “Once Upon a Time”.
ROADHOUSE, LONDON 16TH JULY 2009
Paul Baldwin – ‘The London Paper’ – 17th July 2009 (UK)
There’s no getting around it. Front men who are a teensy bit beyond their first flush need guitars: strap on an axe and come across all seasoned troubadour. Crucially, guitarists are not expected to dance.Simple Minds’ non-guitar-playing frontman Jim Kerr has no such luck and is forced to resurrect his trademark hammy posturing about 20 years after its best before date.
Just how sphincter-clenchingly badly he does this is reflected in the awed embarrassment which greeted the first two songs. All of which is a shame because, if you can get past the dad dancing, Simple Minds are still a very taut rock outfit. After an initial flirtation with some new(ish) tracks we’re straight into Waterfront, Don’t You Forget About Me and all the best slices of New Gold Dream, the 1982 album which catapulted them to stadium rocker status.
But it’s hard not to notice that while they’re still stirring in an anthemic rock kind of way, they feel a little laboured too. Er, a bit 80s, actually.Still, that’s missing the point. We’re on a veguely ironic nostalgia trip here and a lot of mums (and dads) went home happy. Job done.
SIMPLE MINDS’ JIM KERR ON RETURNING TO LIVERPOOL’S SUMMER POPS
Jade Wright, – ‘Liverpool Echo’ – 17th July 2009 (UK)
Last time Simple Minds played the Summer Pops, there was a very special fan dancing in the front row – King Kenny Dalglish. The former Liverpool striker and manager has always supported the band, and over the years, he and singer Jim Kerr became mates. They even headed an ultimately unsuccessful £30 million consortium to take over Jim’s beloved Celtic FC, back in 1998.
“Growing up in Glasgow in the early 70s, there really wasn’t much else on, other than football,” says Jim. “When he (Kenny) left Celtic in ‘77 I remember thinking it was time to do something else. I started looking at what was going on in Liverpool.
“Live music was so much more exotic than football. Going to see bands, we knew which ones had delivered, who’d set the place on fire – and who had come on and looked at their shoes for an hour and left.
“We wanted to be the former as opposed to the latter.”
“But in Glasgow then there was no scene – bands were playing whiskey drinking music in the pubs. We would go along to the pub and complain. One day he (the landlord) called our bluff and said ‘if you could do any better do it next Monday night’ so it was kind of pulled together from one night.”
With friend and guitar player Charlie Burchill he formed a punk band. The duo then recruited Mick MacNeil, Derek Forbes, Brian McGee, and became Simple Minds.One of their first gigs outside Glasgow was in Liverpool.
“We were frightened of playing Eric’s because it had a reputation and you always get heckled by the local bands,” laughs Jim. ”We thought ‘we’re going to get stick here’ and we did. The first time we played we probably deserved it and the heckling.
“We had the same manager as China Crisis and we liked them, and that first track African and White, so we became mates. We met the Bunnymen in Rockfield Studio, we liked the same bands – and, of course, football.
“I like Ian McCulloch a lot. They are so underrated. He doesn’t under rate himself mind – but he does write great songs,” Jim laughs at the thought. “I know they’re a big cult band but in the mainstream not a lot of people know all their songs. If we had been in Liverpool or they had been in Glasgow we would have probably been in each others’ bands.”
After more than three decades on the road Jim says he still feels appreciative, rather than jaundiced, about all that’s come his way – and desperately thankful to the staunch bunch of Simple Mind fans who continue to follow the band.
“Without wishing to patronise them, our fans have given us this incredible life,” he says, humbly. “A life beyond our dreams. We won the lottery – in fact more than that because you could win the lottery and it could be meaningless. “We’ve managed to have a life, of touring, travelling and music. We’re beyond thankful.”
The former husband of rock star Chrissie Hynde and actress Patsy Kensit is surprisingly down to earth courteous, informative and candid, Jim seems rather dismissive of celebrity antics. “I’ve never been much of a drinker,” he admits. “On my 30th birthday I’d had too much to drink and then had a horrendous night on stage. Not only physically horrendous, but the audience had paid good money and got – from me anyway – a shadow of a performance. It just wasn’t on.”
Worrying about a performance he gave 20 years ago (Jim is now 50) is a sweet reflection of Kerr’s love for his job.Over the years the line-up has reverted to the original pair. Jim and Charlie are the last two musicians remaining and 31 years on aren’t thinking about retirement. “I’ve asked myself what keeps us going so many times, particularly in the periods when it hasn’t been going swimmingly well,” he laughs. “To be honest there haven’t been many of those periods. We’ve enjoyed 99% of the ride.” Asked why he does it, Jim seems slightly stumped. “Because it’s what we do. Making music and touring makes sense to us.”
Still living out of bags, somewhere between London and Glasgow, he’s not sure where his home is sometimes. “Despite trying to rebel and attempt to settle down, it’s not for me. Recently I’ve been in Sicily. Honestly I’m always in transit. Even now there are bags at the hotel which I’ll leave with them for a month and then come and pick them up.
“The bags have my books and candles and things which people have in their lives, not in their bags.”If his life on the road doesn’t include taking advantage of his star status, what does he spend his time doing? The answer: “I like walking and hiking, I’ve got one of those fold-away cycles and I take it with me. There are museums everywhere and I like reading. I’ve got my studies, my days are full.”
BLICKING HALL, NORWICH 17TH JULY 2009
Ian Clarke – ‘EPD24’ – 17th July 2009 (UK)
Twenty-five years ago simple minds bought out an album called Sparkle in the Rain which changed their approach to music. A year later the Scottish rockers recorded the song which has surely become their best known anthem – Alive And Kicking. And turn forward the clock to July 2009 and both titles were very apt last night as the ever green band sparkled in the rain and prove they’re very much still alive and kicking.
Simple Minds lit up an otherwise miserable summer’s night at Blickling Hall with a 100 minute set, ranging from their early tracks after they formed in 1977, to numbers from their new album Graffiti Soul. They started the evening with Waterfront – one of the hits from the Sparkle in the Rain album – and as soon as front man Jim Kerr got the 3,000 strong crowd clapping and waving their arms above their heads the scene was set.
The audience sang the line from alive and kicking “the rain keeps falling down on me” with extra gusto as they got wetter and wetter – but nobody seemed to care. The old hits kept coming and included New Gold Dream; Promise You a Miracle; She’s a River; and I Travel. Earlier in the evening The Stranglers provided excellent support for Simple Minds and the highlights of their set were Golden Brown, Walk On By, and No More heroes.
SIMPLE MINDS LEGEND JIM KERR STILL GOING STRONG AT 50
Rachael Bletchly – ‘Sunday People’ – 28th June 2009 (UK)
Simple Minds legend Jim Kerr is about to turn 50 – and with £50million in the bank, homes in Nice and London and a luxury hotel in Sicily, you would think he might be putting his feet up.But after 30 years fronting one of the best live rock bands in the world, Jim will spend his birthday on July 9 performing hits from a new album in front of thousands of fans in Paris on Simple Minds’ gruelling six-month international tour.
And the Glaswegian singer – who has sold 35million records worldwide with five No1 albums including Sparkle in the Rain and hit singles including Don’t You (Forget About Me) and Waterfront – is as full of energy and passion as he was in 1979. But thankfully the haircut is much, much better. Jim says: “I’m 50 – I can’t bloody believe it. It’s great to feel as vibrant and bushy-tailed as I do and I hope I stay that way for a good while yet.
“But I’m really befuddled by it because I don’t feel any older. Mind you, I only have to look back at pictures of myself in the 1980s. “I still think ‘What on earth was I wearing?’ and I can’t believe some of the haircuts I had or the trousers – especially that big flappy pair at Live Aid. But we were just boys then.” A tidal wave of 1980s nostalgia sweeping Britain has seen groups like Spandau Ballet, ABC, Kajagoogoo and even The Nolans reforming.
But while contemporaries are busy dusting off their headbands and padded-shoulders to revisit the glory days, Jim and guitarist Charlie Burchill, 49 – the two original members of Simple Minds – are thrilling old and new fans with their 15th album Graffiti Soul. Jim said: “We’ve never felt so energised and if we can celebrate our 30th anniversary and still get people excited about the new stuff that’s wonderful.”
Next month they perform in Norfolk with The Stranglers. And their support act on tour are ’80s legends OMD – Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark. Jim said: “I still get the same buzz I always did from being on the road. Every single night, every single concert you want to give your very best – play like it’s your only night on Earth.”
Jim believes one of the reasons he is still at the top of his game is that he is a teetotal vegetarian who has always shunned drugs. “That idea of the wild man of rock really belongs to the ’60s and ’70s,” he says. “Of course there are a few new bands who go out acting like kids in a candy store and will try everything, but these days it’s more about having a mental edge. The thing that has stood me in good stead and kept me in fairly decent shape is that, unusually for a Scotsman, I am not a drinker.”
So has he got any advice for younger bands starting out today? “There’s no manual for this game,” he says. “There’s a point when it becomes more than a band and more than a career – it’s your life. “We’ve been very lucky to have kept going out on the road all these years. We haven’t always been on top of our game but that’s just life, isn’t it?” Jim’s one regret is sacking one of the band’s founder members, bass guitarist Derek Forbes, now 53 and playing with New Wave cover band Fourgoodmen.
He said: “It was a stupid thing and we could probably have sorted it out. “I felt so bad about it and I still do. That was his band and his life and it was something silly and I do regret that. “But mistakes are part of the journey and I can’t complain because the journey’s been great. Another part of that journey has been two high-profile marriages which broke up – but Jim has remained a devoted dad and stayed on remarkably good terms with his ex-wives.
In 1984 he wed Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of The Pretenders, and they have a daughter, Yasmin, 24, who is now an actress. The couple divorced after six years and in 1992 Jim wed actress Patsy Kensit with whom he has a son, James 16. Their marriage lasted four years.
Jim said: “Despite the separations and going our different ways we have all still maintained a link and are great friends.” He says he is “technically single” at the moment and clearly has no shortage t e of female admirers. But is he ever likely to tie the knot again?
He said: “I’m not ideal marrying fodder. I’m a bit of a freak. Back home in Sicily I’m in bed at 10pm, I only need five hours of sleep a night and I’m up at 4.30am working. But if I suddenly feel like going to India I can. “Perhaps I should be looking for an insomniac who likes travel and doesn’t mind hanging out in Sicily with the Mafia!”
JIM KERR ON KENNY DALGLISH AND NELSON MANDELA
Laura Davis – ‘Liverpool Daily Post’ – 25th June 2009 (UK)
Jim Kerr describes himself as a bit of a nomad. He grew up in Glasgow, toured the globe as lead singer of Simple Minds and has settled (sort of) in Sicily. His music too has meandered around the world – its subject matter travelling to wherever there is social plight. In 1988, Belfast Child mourned the Troubles in Ireland with the emotive line “Some day soon they’re gonna pull the old town down”.
The same year, Kerr and co paid tribute to the world’s most famous anti-apartheid campaigner, then well into his 27-year prison stretch, with Mandela Day, and reissued the song that had become an anthem for eighties American teenagers thanks to the movie Breakfast Club – Don’t You Forget About Me.
“It’s been a fantastic journey with many twists and turns,” says Kerrs, who is bringing the band to this year’s Summer Pops, in his Glaswegian tones. “I’ve enjoyed 99% of it but it’s not always been easy.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, give the content of many of their songs, Simple Minds have been dubbed “the most politically charged band of the eighties”.
But Kerr, 49, is a bit taken aback by the description. “It’s a wee bit surprising to us,” he admits. “When you write songs about Belfast and anti-apartheid obviously I can understand why it is. “This may seem like a crazy thing to say but in a way that wasn’t the point really. The point was they were the themes of the day, when Margaret Thatcher was in power and we resented her and her policies. “We were young and idealistic.”
While he still feels concerned about world issues, commenting at one point in our conversation on the “heart-wrenching sight” of “people coming over to Sicily from Africa on tiny little boats”, Kerr feels they couldn’t top Belfast Child as an anthem for political problems everywhere. “I just think, forgive me for saying this, but we did it as best as we could. “In a way the song’s become not just about Belfast, it’s become a metaphor.
“It’s a song about violence and war and it could be anywhere where that stuff’s going on. I don’t think we could write a better song than we already did.” Politics have changed since the 1980s, he adds, becoming less an obvious part of youth culture but more an intrinsic part of every day lfe.
“Things were so different way back then. There was much more evidence of polarity. It was very East and West and the Berlin Wall and the Cold War and Labour and Tories, anti-apartheid, pro- apartheid,” explains Kerr.”Now politics are all encompassing. If you go into a supermarket, the coffee you buy is a political choice. If you fly to Paris for a weekend you could say it’s a political choice, buying a pair of jeans or training shoes… it’s everywhere.
“Ironically the issues never go away, they maybe change geographically but it’s still about injustices and how they manifest.” Recently, there was a chance to revisit and celebrate some of their old political subject matter – performing at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday concert last June. “When we wrote Mandela Day, there had been horrific institutionalised racism and Mandela himself was this mysterious man. There hadn’t even been a picture of him the 10 years prior to his release,” says Kerr.
“Even 20 years on, here he was, this old man still with a glint in his eye, still fighting for the causes close to him. It was a great, great birthday party.” In Kerr’s own words, it’s been an exciting two decades for Simple Minds but, like anything you continue to do for such a long time, there have been lulls too.
“There was a period about 10 years ago where we were running low on gas, it was a bit like getting blood out of a stone and although we obviously didn’t decide to call it a day, why in the end did we not? “Music really is our lives – it seems like it’s what we were born to do. Why do we do it? Why does a shark swim?” This enthusiasm for their work is the reason they have kept going, adds Kerr, whose ex-wives are the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde and Holby City actress Patsy Kensit.
“It’s made it possible to get through the periods that were a bit rocky,” he says. “Even John Lennon was at home baking bread for a few years when I guess he felt he wasn’t at his creative best.” He pauses, then launches spontaneously into all the reasons Simple Minds is looking forward to their Liverpool gig. Indeed one of the reasons he turned to music was because of a certain Liverpool FC manager who used to play for his favourite team.
“It was because of a man called Kenny Dalglish who left Celtic and went to Liverpool and I thought ‘I’m gonna give up on football and do something else’, because we loved Kenny so much,” he reveals. “In the early days we loved playing at the Royal Court.
“Liverpool has such a great heritage of music and certainly when we were growing up there were a lot of Liverpool bands that were our contemporaries. “When we were first booked for the Summer Pops I thought ‘I don’t fancy that, some tent down by the docks’, but it was great and we’ve done some of the best gigs of the latter part of our career down there. “Why? Because the audiences really are amazing and never let us down.”
Mark C Strong – ‘The List’ – June 11th 2009 (UK)
A worthy attempt to reinstate the band as stadium-filling rock contenders (while also marking their glittering 30-year anniversary), studio set number 15 ticks most boxes for fifty-somethings, Simple Minds. Four years on from the fart that was 505050, Kerr, Burchill and co, shake off the shackles of that set to claw back some credibility.
OK, it is commercial (and it’s intended to be), but tracks such as opener ‘Moscow Underground’ and flagship downloader ‘Rockets’, remind us of just how potent the band can be. Stalwart fans should be mildly ecstatic with at least two other songs, ‘Kiss & Fly’ and ‘Light Travels’, while the deluxe edition features an additional disc of various odds’n’sods covers from the likes of contemporaries Siouxsie, Magazine and The Stranglers
Mark Eglinton – ‘The Quietus’ – June 10th 2009 (UK)
Re-invention is a concept that Simple Minds are entirely familiar with. Their back catalogue began back in 1979 with post punk debut Life In A Day, which borrowed significantly from bands like Magazine while also incorporating a subtle crossover into pop; the band bunny-hopped across genres thereafter, culminating in late 1980s mega-stardom on the back of the grandiose pop-rock heralded by 1985’s Once Upon A Time.
Throughout their 30-plus year career, however, the influence of Europe (the continent, not the band) has remained as much of a constant as the voice of Jim Kerr; and his fascination with European musical texture has coloured much of their output. The darker, new wave aura of Real To Real Cacophony and Empires And Dance hinted strongly at time spent listening to Kraftwerk and Neu! — at this point in their career Simple Minds actively promoted themselves as a “European” band, as opposed to a purely British or Scottish one.
A label change from Arista to Virgin saw the release of the band’s next two albums, the first of which — Sons and Fascination — built on and perfected their Euro blueprint, while at the same time launching the band toward a significantly more commercial audience. 1982’s New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) was the result, and frankly it changed everything. Some of the more experimental aspects of the past were there for sure but they were mingled with arena-sized pop; and that shift wasn’t exactly welcomed at first by the band’s expanding fan-base.
What followed, though, was the kind of appreciation and adoration reserved for the only the biggest of bands. This was fuelled by their well-produced, anthemic pop-rock which pushed all the right buttons in the lean years of the mid 80s. It was clear that this was an entirely different band. Inevitably, decline followed, and in this case it was as much to do with intra-band wrangling as it was with complacency or an inability to remain relevant. Line-up changes ensued — never ideal circumstances for producing supreme creative output — and by the mid 1990s Simple Minds were, whether they liked it or not, on musical exiles with no instructions on how to return any time soon.
Half-hearted recent attempts at a career jump-start failed; not surprising, given their changing musical fabric and a couple of albums that suffered so severely from lack of direction that they couldn’t find their audience with sat nav. But, to most people’s surprise (except perhaps Kerr’s himself), new album Graffiti Soul represents a significant and rather effective re-evaluation of what ingredients were so vital to Simple Minds in the first place. Just listen to opening Krautrocker ‘Moscow Underground’ or synth-infused ‘Blood Type O’ and you’ll hear what we’re talking about.
Hi Jim, it’s Mark from The Quietus in London
Jim Kerr: ”Come on you don’t sound like a man from London though!?”
Yeah ok, I’m Scottish too…
JK: [laughs] “I thought so. I just need to say before we start that I love the Quietus.”
Well that’s good to hear. Why is that then?
JK: ”I’m not trying to curry favour or anything but it’s the best thing out there right now.”
Appreciated, and I’ll pass that on. The aim is to commentate intelligently!
JK: “That’s exactly the word I wanted to use. I love all the stuff and the way it’s done.” [I prefer RateMyTurban.com, Ed]
Enough triviality . . . the question I need to ask is: will Celtic win the league?
JK: “Hmm… well they really shouldn’t, but they just might I think. Rangers aren’t much better and the two of them are like two tired boxers plodding on to the final bell. The football in Scotland is rubbish nowadays anyway. Dundee Utd are probably, in fact they are the best team in Scotland just now.” [Celtic didn’t win, Ed]
Do I take it that you are less abreast of football affairs than previously then? I mean you did bid to buy the club back in 1998 right?
JK: “It’s pretty easy to stay abreast nowadays really with all the online stuff but there aren’t that many hours in the day and there is so much better football out there to watch so it doesn’t appeal quite as much ‘cos the standard of football is so bad. As far as wanting to buy the club yeah it’s true. At that time our bid was in place and everything but the man in charge at the time was really shrewd in that he actually used our bid to inflate the share price and keep it up there. That way a few people made a bit of money as a result. The club is in good hands now and in a lot of ways I am glad it didn’t come about.”
Fair enough. The new record Graffiti Soul sounds as if it might be a conscious effort to be a little more relevant. True?
JK: ”It’s a conscious effort in that we really felt it was time to get our mojo back to some degree. Also we had a remit because we’d done this whole 30th Anniversary tour thing and had patted ourselves on the back and all that. We’re not really very good at looking backwards generally so when we made a pact do this new record we wanted to make sure that whatever we came up with exuded vitality and energy and wasn’t a punch drunk ghost of our former selves.
We enjoyed the live audiences so much and thought how good it would be to play live with a really great record under our belts. So, we wanted to sound in some ways like classic Simple Minds but with a contemporary sound. How do you do that? Especially given that by ‘classic’ you are harking back to a previous era. We think we’ve found that balance though.”
JK: “It says a lot that it should all begin on the Moscow Underground.”
Yep, a few would expect a big “Wooahhh!”-type anthem?
JK: “Of course they would but this is more atmospheric and somebody described Charlie’s guitars as being more ‘spiky’, which is a word I liked to hear. The whole track is a quite understated with that whole Krautrock type beat too. It kind of whispers in your ear saying ‘Come in here’. Charlie and I actually disagreed about this song and he’s the more commercially minded one. He kept saying ‘But it’s dark’. When I said, ‘Yeah but it’s dark . . . and sexy’, it was a done deal.”
So it’s reinvigorated you?
JK: ”Absolutely, in fact I had to calm myself down about it all. [laughs] It was a different thing because we went to work every day and really, really wanted it.”
Is that a new feeling, going to work every day?
JK: “When you’re young there’s nothing else in your life but the band but when you get older, inevitably you have more things in your life to dedicate time to. So yeah, it felt good to be doing like it means everything and it confirmed our passion in it all.”
Do you and Charlie get on OK nowadays?
JK: “Yes, by and large, but we do argue now and then. In fact the other day when we came to London recently to do some interviews we were in a taxi going to the hotel to chat about things going forward and all of a sudden this fucking huge argument breaks out. One of our colleagues was with us at the time and commented on how intense it was. I think it’s a good thing because it shows that the passion is still there. It’s all part of being in a gang; that’s what a band is all about. Even during our difficult periods we never blamed each other, or in fact anyone else.”
When you slipped off the radar you mean?
JK: “We slipped so far off the radar we were in Alaska or somewhere.”
Why do you think that was?
JK: “A few reasons. Firstly if you’re a big successful band and things go wrong, you’re going to get it in the neck. We were in denial about a lot of things too and there was a huge implosion going on within the band. I remember during that period when we were making one of our records back then and I was sitting watching telly seeing bands like The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses coming over the hill. All I could think was ‘Fuck, this is going to be difficult’, but you have to remain strong. There were glimpses of light during that period and we continued to play live and enjoy it and also make money; but we were totally out of the picture. When you think about it, very few of our contemporaries have stayed constantly relevant; U2 and Depeche Mode, maybe, but they are definitely the exception.”
Was quitting on the agenda?
JK: “I suppose six or seven years ago it was a consideration. The frustrating thing is that people can’t say ‘You guys could have made it’ because we did it. We weren’t just contenders. Very few bands lose it and get it back if you think about it. Take That did maybe . . . and Tina Turner.”
Yeah but she lost it, got it back, and then lost it again.
JK: [laughs] “Yeah you’re right. To get there alone, that’s a story. To get there, lose it and get it back is something amazing. This album as you know is our first for Universal and they could be excused for not expecting much. They probably thought it’ll be fine and they’ll make a bit of money but we really threw the gauntlet down. We decided also that we wanted to take the album through the territories, which could be considered a bit risky. We went to Germany and there was a thing on the TV about Mickey Rourke winning something. I said ‘If he can make a fucking comeback, surely we can.’ So we compare our rebirth as a story a bit like his.” Minus the plastic surgery presumably?
How do you feel nowadays about your early post punk material? There are a few bands that owe you a bit of credit I believe
JK: “I like it all and for me the ultimate post punk band that comes to mind is Magazine. Them and, of course, Joy Division, early Bunnymen etc. That was the classic post punk sound for me.” Away from music, Mandela was a cause you were attached to. Any particular reason?
JK: “Growing up you get to know things are either right or they’re wrong, it’s as simple as that. My grandad used to tell me about Africa and what a place it was when I was a wee lad and he’s always mentioned what the blacks had to endure then, so it gets imprinted on you at an early age. Then later when Thatcher’s government are tolerating this horrible Apartheid concept and somebody [Jerry Dammers] comes to you and asks if you want to be involved,
it’s automatic and I didn’t need to even think about it. I have always liked songwriters who can get a message across in a song and pull out the truth, like a Springsteen or a Peter Gabriel, and before I didn’t even know who Steve Biko was. So to do Mandela Day and Belfast Child was important. Although with Mandela Day it carries slightly less fireworks now because Apartheid is no longer. Racism is still around though.”
On a similar note, you were involved in Live Aid and at the time you seemed to be one of the more vocal participants. Do you think for some others it was just an excuse for a career leg-up rather than dedication to a cause?
JK: ”A lot of them honestly didn’t have a clue why they were there back then. Geldof was very good at getting people involved for sure but I am not sure all of them thought it was that important.” Finally, Jim, you seem to have avoided most of the better-known pitfalls consistent with the rock & roll lifestyle. Is that fair comment?
JK: ”I have never consciously run away to hide or anything. I live in Sicily nowadays but I’m not hiding and in some ways it puts where you’re from in perspective. There are enough things to do deal with in life and I’ve always tried to channel my effort into the stuff that actually matters.”
HYPNOTISED BY THAT SOFT LILTING VOICE
Jodie Jeynes – ‘The Portsmouth News’ – June 5th 2009 (UK)
‘Music is a mysterious thing. It’s so subjective,’ says Jim Kerr, frontman of legendary 80s rock band Simple Minds.Today he’s in a relaxed and frank mood. But, despite his excellent articulation and engaging charisma, I can’t concentrate on what he’s saying.
Instead, I am transfixed by his voice – a sort of soft, lilting Glaswegian accent in smooth deep tones. For Jim, think Billy Connolly, if he dropped down a few octaves and was less excitable. For me, picture Mowgli from The Jungle Book as he is hypnotised by Kaa the snake. I’m not normally a fan of Scottish accents, not least that harsh Glasgow sound, but Jim had me completely entranced as we chatted earlier this week during his quick stint back in UK.
After last weekend’s festival performance in Sweden, Jim left the rest of the band in rehearsing in Belgium while he nipped back to the London studio to work on new material. ‘I just arrived this morning,’ he tells me as he prepares for a day ‘in the studio, demo-ing songs for the future.’ Jim’s a busy man at the moment. Following their 30th anniversary tour, Simple Minds headed back into the studio to record their 15th album – Graffiti Soul.
It was released last week and entered the UK album chart at number 10. It was released in 24 other countries too and Jim’s been touring around for months on the promoting trail. ‘For the last two or three months I’ve been travelling far and wide promoting the album and that’ll continue.
‘It’s all part of the process. When you’ve made an album and you’re happy with the result, you want people to know about it, you want them to be as enthusiastic about it as you.’ He continues: ‘But now the concerts have begun, that becomes the focus.’ Jim’s laid back manner belies his work ethic. It’s hard to imagine that while touring and promoting his new album, he’s found time to return to the studio and start work on the next.
‘We’re always writing, always stockpiling ideas,’ he says, explaining the band’s creative process. ‘There comes a point where you go “okay, these songs sit well together. These songs have something in common. There’s an album here,” and that’s when you book the studio.’
For Grafitti Soul, that point came a year ago, and what Simple Minds have come up with in that time is being described as a triumphant return to form for the band who enjoyed six number one albums and numerous hit singles such as Alive and Kicking and Don’t You (Forget About Me).Jim says he enjoyed making the album and attributes its success to the band’s experience and hard work.
He says: ‘Recently the band’s been very prolific, we seem to be on a bit of a roll, but we’ve been working hard for a long time so we’ve gained a wealth of experience.’If you’d asked us last year what we wanted to achieve with this album, we’d’ve said we want it to be energetic and contemporary, but to maintain that classic Simple Minds sound.
‘It’s a contradiction in terms for something to be classic and contemporary, but I think somehow we have managed it and that’s why the album’s doing so well.’The new release cements their place as one of Scotland’s most successful bands.Though only Jim and Charlie Burchill are left from the original line-up, the band have never split up, working as a solid unit for more than three decades.
Jim has had less luck in his personal life, with two high profile divorces under his belt.He was married to Chrissie Hyde, lead singer of The Pretenders, from 1984 to 1990 and then to actress Patsy Kensit from 1992 to 1996.He was subsequently quoted in the press as saying that his independence meant that he was not cut out for married life.But when I ask about reports that he’d vowed never to marry again, he says: ‘I think I said that it was unlikely, but I’ve learned though experience never to say never.’
As if to prove the point, he’s going back on his own customs next month as he prepares to celebrate his 50th birthday. ‘I’m normally not one for birthdays, but this one’s a wee bit special and we’ll be playing in Paris that night,’ he explains.
But he’ll have no time for birthday plans just yet. On Thursday Simple Minds have a gig in Germany, then they’re off to Spain, before appearing at the Isle of Wight festival on Sunday ahead of Pixies and Neil Young. Jim’s never been to the festival before and is disappointed that he won’t get the chance to see many of the other bands.
He explains: ‘I would love to watch, but I’m arriving from Spain just before I go on stage. ‘There are a few factors that make this such a special festival. Obviously there’s the whole back story. The very name itself is part of rock ‘n’ roll history. Then there’s the geography of the place. There’s a magic about it’s location. Since it’s been revamped and relaunched the bills John Giddings has been putting together have been pretty spectacular. It’s nothing less than remarkable every year.’
So what can festival goers expect from Simple Minds’ performance on Sunday? Jim says ‘an incredible live band on top of their game playing the songs that you would expect and some surprises too.’ I say – prepare to be hypnotised.
Mark Eglinton – ‘The Quietus’ – May 31st 2009 (UK)
To say that Simple Minds had slipped off the radar would be an understatement; but to add that Jim Kerr has one of pop-rock’s best voices would not be hyperbole. There’s little doubt that the identity crisis that’s plagued Simple Minds for the last ten years has more to do with intra-band implosion than plain old musical irrelevance — and one always suspected that Kerr’s voice and keen ear for melody could bring them back from an unplanned career hiatus.
That said, attempting to sound contemporary while revisiting a ‘classic’ sound requires trapeze-artist balance: the slightest slip results in indecently swift relegation to the bargain bin. Fortunately in this case Kerr and Co have got it right, thanks to a quietly understated collection of material that has just enough spikiness to appeal to a contemporary audience without completely sacrificing some of the facets that for a period made Simple Minds one of the biggest bands on the planet.
Recorded during 2008 at Rockfield Studios in Wales, Graffiti Soul does, not as one might expect, open with a rousing anthem a la ‘Alive and Kicking’. Instead we get the Krautrock rumble of ‘Moscow Underground’ — by far their best material in years — and therein lies a definite statement of intent. Simple Minds have absolutely nothing to prove, and certainly don’t need to re-affirm their considerable worth to the music buying public; they’ve been there and done that.
What was required, though, was a creative reinvigoration, and by and large they’re right on the mark. Lead-off single ‘Rockets’ is a case in point, its typically infectious guitar intro complemented brilliantly by Kerr’s smooth delivery, which sounds at times a bit like Robbie Williams, and in a good way. The title track is another example of the kind of understatement that makes this particular incarnation of the band so refreshing; they resist the temptation to launch the sonic equivalent of the kitchen sink into the ring when lesser plumbing components will suffice. More surprisingly, ‘Blood Type O’ demonstrates a bass-driven European feel, recalling a bizarre mix of Eno and very early Berlin.
In general there is less of the admittedly effective but increasingly bombastic arena-rock that characterised Simple Minds’ commercial zenith. Instead, there’s more of the textured and almost underground feel of the years that led up to that point, with a particular focus on subtle ambient sound. In the long run this provides for a far more rewarding listen. Graffiti Soul is the creation of a band that make no apology for their past but at the same time exhibit a concerted and obvious desire to be part of the future — a rather welcome and surprising outcome.
Thomas H Green – ‘The Telegraph’ – May 26th 2009 (UK)
It’s easy to forget that 20 years ago Simple Minds were level pegging with U2 in the globally successful Celtic rocker stakes. In 1991, however, U2 released Achtung Baby and spent the rest of the Nineties showing they could playfully subvert the idea of stadium rock while selling out the world’s hugest venues. Not only that, they injected their sound with the electronic thrill of contemporary dance music. Simple Minds, on the other hand, in the wake of an earnest folk-flavoured chart-topper, Belfast Child, trudged on down the path of bombastic, self-righteous arena rock and slid slowly from view.
What they didn’t do, though, was split up. With 2005’s Black & White 050505 album they attempted to recapture the New Wave edginess of their Glaswegian post-punk roots. It was a nice idea but the songs didn’t match it. Happily then, their new album is a good deal more approachable. It harks back sonically to the period immediately prior to the global superstardom the group achieved when Don’t You (Forget About Me) appeared in the film The Breakfast Club.
Redolent of their 1983 album Sparkle in the Rain and its breakout hit Waterfront, the production on Graffiti Soul is polished to a US radio-friendly sheen but, in an unlikely turn of events, it also boasts eight triumphant pop-rock numbers and a band that sounds relaxed and full of vim. Stately rock songs such as Rockets and Kiss and Fly build effectively around clanging riffs of the kind guitarist Charlie Burchill once made his signature, while Light Travels and Blood Type O throb with light-hearted, throwaway hints of Brian Eno, Bowie and Seventies Berlin.
Frontman Jim Kerr, meanwhile, is in hearty voice, notably when running the gamut from louche to leonine on This Is It.Not a sudden, flawless comeback, by any means, but for fans who’ve been waiting for Simple Minds to relocate their previous form, Graffiti Soul is well worth a listen.Download this: Light Travels
Andy Peterson – ‘Contact Music’ – May 26th 2009 (UK)
Many people’s residual image of Simple Minds is of their crimes against popular music, Belfast Child and Mandela Day. Whilst being responsible for even one of those should in most cases be punishable by ten years locked in reality TV hell, the Glaswegians’ early pedigree – most present on the hypnotically brilliant New Gold Dream and it’s more rock orientated successor Sparkle in the Rain – is a worthy and now frequently overlooked check and balance.
Graffiti Soul is the band’s sixteenth studio album, but the noughties has seen them facing an increasingly hostile press and an indifferent public, with the likes of 2002’s Cry and 2005’s Black And White 050505 pilloried by the former and ignored by the latter. Now, with an eighties synth pop revival in full swing – and the likes of White Lies recycling their formula – cynics might question the group’s motives, but on the evidence presented here, Jim Kerr and co. aren’t quite ready for the Christmas nostalgia tour yet.
One of the most compulsive features of their early work was the sinuous, dry funk bass of Charlie Burchill, and it’s pretty much Graffiti Soul’s DNA, particularly on opener Moscow Underground, where it rumbles Peter Hook-esque underneath a suitably multi-layered soup of dreamy ambience.
It’s fair to say that there’s nothing startlingly new here, but having wisely ditched the stadium pulp lyrics and faux-celtic stylings of old, there’s a sense of quiet distinction. Both the title track and This Is It bounce along with an energy and lack of pretension which seems to illustrate that the protagonists have now accepted their limitations, and are prepared to stretch – rather than over-reach – these creative boundaries.
You would expect such maturity from a band who released their first album thirty years ago, but now arguably they find themselves in profile terms having come full circle. Demonstrating that patience is a virtue, by sticking to their guns they’ve now arguably met popular music culture coming back the other way. A footnote however: Graffiti Soul will come with a partner covers album, and I for one would prefer to be on a different continent rather than listen to their versioning of the Beach Boys Sloop John B.
Andrew Eaton – ‘The Scotsman’ – May 25th 2009 (UK)
There’s an odd, explanatory sleeve note on my copy of Simple Minds’ new album. “Graffiti,” it says, “is the name for images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted or marked in any manner on property. Graffiti is sometimes regarded as a form of art and other times regarded as unsightly damage or unwanted.” Really, you don’t say?
It’s a little bizarre that Simple Minds, in an age when Banksy is an international celebrity and Tate Modern has just staged a big graffiti art exhibition, think it’s necessary to explain what graffiti is. But perhaps it’s telling.
For a long time now, this once all-conquering Scottish band have seemed stuck in a timewarp, admirably attempting to embrace the provocative and new but somehow doing so in such a clunky way that it makes them look even older and more conservative.
Often I find myself wondering what Jim Kerr must think about the career path of U2. Long ago, U2 aspired to sound like Simple Minds. Both, post Live Aid, found huge success by making epic, earnest stadium rock with a conscience, supporting Amnesty and the Free Nelson Mandela campaign. U2 then cannily reinvented themselves. Realising that their po-faced worthiness was starting to work against them, they embraced irony, postmodernism and camp, cherrypicked ideas from musicians half their age, and managed to remain both successful and, in most people’s eyes, culturally relevant, lauded by everyone from Q to the NME.
Simple Minds’ activities since 1990 have sometimes seemed like a parallel but less successful version of the same project. Around the same time as U2 were borrowing ideas from the Chemical Brothers with Pop, Simple Minds were going back to their synth roots with Neapolis, and listening to trance and techno. More recently they, like U2, have returned to the kind of music that made them big in the first place, revisiting their 1982 breakthrough album New Gold Dream. And yet, while U2’s No Line On the Horizon is currently inescapable, Graffiti Soul – despite being accompanied by a tour of sizeable venues – has the distinct whiff of a cultural non-event.
Why should this be? It’s partly just down to the random ebb and flow of fashion – and, in that sense, rather unfair. It’s partly because, for 20 years now, U2 have simply been writing more memorable songs than Simple Minds.
But mostly, one suspects, it’s because compared to U2 there has long been something slightly hamfisted about Simple Minds. Jim Kerr will turn 50 in July, but still thinks he can get away with lyrics like “I could still cut through, a war machine with its missiles set on you” or “Cruising in control, admiring the spread beyond the neon sprawl”, words which conjure unfortunate images of middle-aged spread and rusty tanks.
For the most part, his lyrics still seem cut and pasted from Rock’s Big Book Of Clichés. Bono’s do as well, admittedly, but somehow Bono gets away with it due to the sense that he’s a clever man playing with the language of rock and roll. Kerr, you suspect, just couldn’t think of anything better.
Then there’s the production. Is there really any excuse, in 2009, for a group of female backing singers going “na na na na na” foxily? It’s like Living in a Box all over again. The drum tracks, meanwhile, often sound like they were recorded by a clock-watching session musician in 1987. It’s an occupational hazard, perhaps, for a band consisting of two core members and a string of hired hands. But you long for a brilliant young producer – or, alternatively, Brian Eno or Daniel Lanois – to shake things up a bit.
All these drawbacks are a shame, because they distract attention from the good things about Graffiti Soul. The album starts very promisingly – opening track Moscow Underground is a reminder that what Brian Eno has been doing with Coldplay lately was done by Simple Minds decades ago. Closing track This Is It, meanwhile, has a sense of purpose, a rousing chorus, and some genuinely thrilling guitar playing by Charlie Burchill.
In between, though, Simple Minds often sound like they’re taking an indulgent stroll around a well-established comfort zone and, if a tune turns up on the way, that’s a bonus. Perhaps this is for the best – pushing themselves artistically has, in the past, resulted in some of their worst records. But that doesn’t make songs like Stars Will Lead The Way any less tired.
Graffiti Soul at least sounds like a band enjoying themselves, as demonstrated further by a bonus disc of cover versions. It’s not that much of a bonus – they barge through Rockin’ In The Free World and Whisky In The Jar like a pub band, not a good thing in this context. As for their hamfisted take on Massive Attack’s Teardrop, there are certain kinds of fun that should only be had in the privacy of one’s own home.
Colin Somerville – ‘Scotland On Sunday’ – May 24th 2009 (UK)
Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill get back in the groove, with the former exhibiting the sinuous vocal control and the latter the textured guitar work that characterised Simple Minds’ best work.
Rockets fizzes and crackles but succeeds in reining back the bombast, while Kerr produces his best lyric in an age for Light Travels, a couplet or two of old-school simplicity. This Is It builds chiming chords in a neat structure, while Moscow Underground revisits the musical travelogue which was the band’s speciality. A reminder of past glories, if not a wholly joyous return.
Download this: Light Travels, Teardrop (from bonus CD)
Paul Cole – ‘Sunday Mercury’ – May 24th 2009 (UK)
Jim Kerr puts it simply: “We wanted to make a full-blooded record of ballsy pop songs.” The result is the band’s best album since the glory days, packed with trademark anthemic songs, gorgeous guitar licks and arena-sized ambition. Opening with the brooding and blurred Moscow Underground, Charlie Burchill’s riff helps Rockets blast off, then aptly repeats the trick with Stars Will Lead The Way. Light Travels chills out Bowie-style, Kiss And Fly is a U2-tinted slowburner with an infectious chorus, and This Is It will have fists pumping skyward at this year’s Isle of Wight festival.
Pete Paphides – ‘The Times’ – May 23rd 2009 (UK)
By locating an equidistant point between their arty beginnings and the palliative bluster of their hangar-filling years, Simple Minds’ 15th album should have something to please anyone who has ever liked them. In truth, it’s hard to imagine any of these songs gaining traction with those for whom they are intended. The rabble-rousing generalities of Kiss and Fly and Stars Will Lead the Way are emblematic of a sincere but obsolete positivism that needs the deranged energy of youth to vindicate it.
Polly Weeks – ‘The Glaswegian’ – May 21st 2009 (UK)
You’d expect a rock and roll star of 30 years’ standing to have a larger than life ego and a string of tales about rehab. Yet the opposite is true of Jim Kerr, lead singer of Simple Minds.Despite some high-profile relationships – he was married to singer Chrissie Hynde and actress Patsy Kensit – he seems to have survived a life on the music scene unscathed.
With a cup of coffee in one hand and the other reaching out for a firm hand shake, he’s the consummate professional. In fact, courteous, informative and candid, Jim seems rather dismissive of celebrity antics.
“I’ve never been much of a drinker,” he admits.”I’m a poor drinker… On my 30th birthday I’d had too much to drink and then had a horrendous night on stage. Not only physically horrendous, but the audience had paid good money and got – from me anyway – a shadow of a performance. It just wasn’t on.”
Worrying about a performance he gave 19 years ago (Jim is now 49) is a sweet reflection of Kerr’s love for his job. After more than three decades on the road, the singer feels appreciative, rather than jaded, about all that’s come his way – and desperately thankful to the staunch bunch of Simple Mind fans who continue to follow the band.
“Without wishing to patronise them, our fans have given us this incredible life. A life beyond our dreams. We won the lotto – in fact more than that because you could win the lotto and it could be meaningless.
“We’ve managed to have a life, of touring, travelling and music.We’re beyond thankful.”Jim’s humble nature could stem from his childhood. From an early age music was, and has remained, his first love.
“Growing up in Glasgow in the early 70s, there really wasn’t much else on. In fact I was saying to someone the other day, ‘There was only football and music’. The other guy said: ‘There were girls too’. I replied: ‘You must have been lucky’.” Jim spent most of his youth watching bands, dreaming of the day he could get up there on stage.
“Live music was so much more exotic than football. Going to see bands at 13 or 14, we knew which bands had delivered, who’d set the place on fire – and who had come on and looked at their shoes for an hour and left.”We wanted to be the former as opposed to the latter.”
With friend and guitar player Charlie Burchill he formed a punk band. The duo then recruited Mick MacNeil, Derek Forbes, Brian McGee, and became Simple Minds. Number one records followed such as Don’t You (Forget About Me), Alive and Kicking and Belfast Child.
Since then the line-up has changed and reverted to the original pair; Jim and Charlie who now perform together with Eddie Duffy and Mel Gaynor and 31 years on, Jim isn’t thinking about retirement.
“I’ve asked myself what keeps us going so many times, particularly in the periods when it hasn’t been going swimmingly well,” he laughs.
“To be honest, there haven’t been many of those periods.We’ve enjoyed 99 per cent of the ride.”
“Despite trying to rebel and attempt to settle down, it’s not for me. Recently I’ve been in Sicily. Honestly I’m always in transit.”
If his life on the road doesn’t include taking advantage of his star status, what does he spend his time doing? The answer: “I like walking and hiking, I’ve got one of those fold-away cycles and I take it with me. There are museums everywhere and I like reading. I’ve got my studies, my days are full.”
Assuming that Jim is telling the truth – and he genuinely enjoys galleries more than groupies – his attitude to rock star life is a breath of fresh air.
SIMPLE MINDS STILL GOING STRONG
Sally Browne – ‘Courier Mail’ – May 24th 2009 (AUS)
Don’t you forget about me, they sang in 1985, and how could we? Far from being a reunion act as one journalist in the UK mistakenly called them Simple Minds have been consistently releasing albums since 1979’s Life in a Day.
In the 1980s they had a string of hits including Waterfront, Promised You a Miracle, Alive and Kicking and Belfast Child, and they’ve experienced many milestones in their 30-year career, including performing at Live Aid and headlining the Freedomfest concerts for the then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela. (They actually wrote a song for the South African leader called Mandela Day, and Simple Minds were instrumental in organising a 20-year anniversary of that concert last year, for Mandela’s 90th birthday.)
But a landmark moment early on in the Glasgow band’s career actually took place in Australia. It was here in 1981 that they were handed their first-ever gold disc for record sales. “We came out to Australia in 1981,” frontman Jim Kerr recalls. “There was a piece in the newspaper saying, ‘Who is this band? Have you heard them?’ And we left about two months later with a gold disc.
“And some klutz in America might say, ‘Yeah, it’s only Australia and it’s a small market’, but everything’s relative. We were building up a head of steam but the success in Australia really helped us believe that we could be pop stars.” Kerr, chatting on the phone from a friend’s place in Nice, is in good form. His thick Scottish accent rolls off the tongue like a peaty scotch whisky and he’s happy to chat about all things, from the pros and cons of Twitter to the success of Scottish internet singing star Susan Boyle.
This year also brings new milestones – the 30th anniversary of the band’s first album (they actually released two in 1979) – and Jim’s 50th birthday. They are also celebrating the release of their 15th studio album, Graffiti Soul, out last week.The band are now embarking on a world tour that will reach Australia in November.
Australia owns another crucial piece of the Simple Minds puzzle. It was here Kerr met Chrissie Hynde, the legendary Pretenders singer who was to be his wife for six years. “How could I forget that?” he says. They were playing on the same tour together. “It was a great bill – the Talking Heads, the Eurythmics, The Pretenders and Simple Minds.” It was Don’t You (Forget About Me), the theme song to classic 1980s coming-of-age movie The Breakfast Club, that gave Simple Minds gold discs all over the world.
The song was a No.1 hit in the US. Although they didn’t write it, the song remains one for which they are most remembered. But one thing Simple Minds are sure they want people to get right is that they are not a reunion band. They never split up. So, when one UK publication mistakenly referred to them as a reunion band, Kerr felt compelled to comment about it on his blog.
“Well, this is where I’m a wee bit prickly,” Kerr says in good humour, “but this is our Glasgow pride. How dare they refer to us as a reunion band. We’re not quitters!” Their new album features 10 new tracks, including lead single Rockets, and a bonus disc of cover songs, called In Search of the Lost Boys, which emerged as a fun side project.
The boys cover Massive Attack, Thin Lizzy and the Beach Boys, among others. Neil Young’s Rockin’ in the Free World and Christine by Siouxsie and the Banshees are Kerr’s favourites. “Someone said to me there’s a stigma against covers. I said, ‘No, there’s a stigma against bad covers’. “When we play covers, hence the title of the album, In Search of the Lost Boys, you throw off your whole ego in a sense.”
Kerr now lives in Sicily where he runs a hotel in the picturesque village of Taormina. He fell in love with the island years ago on his frequent travels. (Fellow British singer Mick Hucknall similarly runs a winery on the Italian island.) “(Sicily) is so cosmic. You’ve got that volcano that sits bang in the middle of the place. It’s Europe, but Libya’s nearer than Rome is. It’s that fringe. It’s got history beyond Rome and Greece, Arab, everything – it’s wonderful.”
But there was a point 18 months ago when the album almost didn’t get made. Kerr, the eldest son, got a call that overnight his mother had been taken very ill. Immediately he downed tools and flew to Glasgow to be with her. But his mum – “a tiger”, he calls her – insisted he keep working, so he invited the rest of the band to Glasgow. He found himself sitting around his parents’ kitchen table, late at night, composing tracks as he would have done in the early days.
“So here’s me, a 50-year-old guy, back in my parents’ house. And coming back from the studio at night there was this great sense of deja vu whenever I would get an idea because, you know, the house is pretty quiet and there I was and I remembered the same feeling years ago when I was writing some of the songs that became fundamental to the Simple Minds story.”
It was a David Bowie concert that first made the young Jim Kerr want to be in a band. At the age of 13 he saw the chameleon perform as his famous alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust. “It’s not an understatement to say that life would never be the same again,” Kerr says.
“Can you imagine that then? We know so much about music now, but there was no source of reference then. He came from Mars.” So, what did Simple Minds want out of being in a band? “If you asked us 30 years ago could we imagine going on for this length of time, of course, there would be no way. We had no concept of 30 days, let alone 30 years.
“And if you said to me, ‘What do you want out of this?’ we had no idea about riches and fame or celebrity and all those things that are kind of commonplace now. I think we would have said to you, ‘We want to be a great live band and we want to tour internationally and have an international reputation’. That’s what we wanted.”
Of course, what came with that were the perks – the fans, the parties . . . “Well, we won the Lotto didn’t we? Genuinely, never a day goes by without something or other popping up where I think, ‘I tell you what, this isn’t bad’.” But Kerr isn’t prepared to share the gory details on some of his juiciest stories.
“I live in Sicily now, and in Sicily we have this thing called ‘omerta’. It means silence. People ask about the mafia and you say, ‘What mafia?’ “I can’t give you names and places. Let’s just say we were invited into the candy shop and we enjoyed all the candies.
“But being a Scotsman, I think come Monday it was time to get back to work and I think we knew how to get the most out of it, yet at the same time, we hoped that this was going to be a marathon rather than a shooting star.” Even today Simple Minds have all bases covered. Kerr is not shy to talk to his dedicated fan base, regularly contributing to a blog on the band’s website and jumping on networking website Twitter.
“My girlfriend showed me it in January and I thought, ‘Why would I need that?’ I hated the name. But listen, I’m the guy that 15 years ago saw people texting in Italy and thought, ‘That’ll never catch on’. I thought only teenage girls would do that. And I thought that was the same with Twitter as well.
“I go on maybe once or twice a week. But I went on the other night (and) someone popped up and went, ‘I think I’ll have a sandwich’ and disappeared. Seriously, that was pretty fucking profound,” he laughs. “Guys are like, ‘Having a coffee and a sushi’. That’s it. Oh great.” But according to Twitter, it seems Kerr recently enjoyed rhubarb tart. No kidding.
Aidan Smith – ‘Scotland on Sunday’ – May 10th 2009 (UK)
Thirty-odd years ago, the Sits Vacant column tantalised me with exotic possibility: “New Scottish Record Label – Staff Wanted.” This music-mad school-leaver passed the interview but, on being told he’d have to start by flogging elpees in one of the would-be impresario’s shops, he lost interest in this new gold dream.
Shows what I know. The man behind the grand plan would quickly propel Simple Minds to world fame, so maybe I could have ended up part of their road crew, in charge of plectrums. This is what I’m telling Jim Kerr, in an effort to endear myself to him, but it’s obvious he’s unimpressed.
“So instead you became a journalist and now you work for a respectable Scottish newspaper – bully for you,” he says. “If you’re so interested in culture and stuff, how come this is the first time in 12 years your newspaper has wanted to interview my band?” It’s a fair point. Despite Kerr once singing “Don’t you forget about me”, some of us did, and he knows how long the rejection lasted.
Simple Minds are arguably Scotland’s biggest rock act: 35 million records sold; No 1s here and in America and just about everywhere else. The early to mid-1980s were their pomp; then, like U2’s Bono, Kerr found his political voice. The pair became international statesmen in leather trousers and, however well-intentioned, exposed their bands to ridicule. U2 eventually got their mojo back; the Minds didn’t.
But perhaps they have now. Their 15th studio album, Graffiti Soul, has been earning them their best reviews in a long while – maybe 12 years, in fact. When I meet Kerr in a London hotel, in the company of his schoolboy friend and guitarist sidekick Charlie Burchill, he gets the perceived snub off his chest and quickly moves on. Recently he’s had far more important things to worry about.
“I thought I was going to have to can this album when my mum got cancer,” he says. “But when I moved back in with her and my dad – me, almost 50, after everywhere I’ve been, living with the folks again – she was amazing and just wanted me to get the job done.
“I’d be downstairs in the kitchen at 3am because I’ve always slept funny hours and she’d be there because of the cancer. Then I noticed we were sitting at the same table where the Sons And Fascination album was written. I’d play her some of the new songs and she’d go: ‘I like the beat on that one.’ She was an inspiration.”
The enforced stopover in Glasgow required Burchill (usual address: Rome) and Kerr (homes in Sicily, Nice) to book into a local rehearsal studio. “The guy at the front door didn’t look up as he pointed down the corridor to room 12,” adds Kerr. “Not that we were expecting special treatment. We were like every spotty punk band in that grimy little building and I just thought: ‘Our lives from here on in depend on what we do this day.'”
Kerr, it’s obvious, hasn’t lost his flair for the grand statement, or the odd grandiloquent one, as he seeks to solidify the band’s heritage. Simple Minds “broke the mould” in demanding that London came to them. They turned down 1980s roadshows because these were beneath a group with a “rock’n’roll heart”.
Today, a Wednesday, they could announce a Saturday gig in Buenos Aires or Tokyo and sell all 6,000 tickets by showtime. And he seems to be comparing their reinvigorating return to Glasgow with “Dylan going to the Joshua Tree and Springsteen to Nebraska”.
But he’s also brutally honest and self-critical and painfully aware, at crucial junctures, of his own ludicrousness. “There have been times this past decade or so that I’ve thought it was all over,” he says. “It wasn’t just that nobody was interested in us, it was worse: I wasn’t interested in myself. I was a shadow of who I was before and I was like: ‘How is this going to get any better?'”
His mood lightens. “We’ve got loads of regrets and many of them concern troosers.” Worst breeks? “That would be Live Aid.” I’m not laughing as loudly as I should. “If I said the word ‘yachting’ would you remember them? Big billowing f***ers. Two things threw me that day in Philadelphia. One, Jack Nicholson introduced us on to the stage. Jack bloody Nicholson! Two, I started to feel them flapping…”
Burchill, although he hardly gets a word in today, is clearly an important figure in the Minds story. Says Kerr: “Charlie keeps me right, or almost right. I can get carried away with the new idea, thinking it’s the best ever. He’ll go: ‘Nah, don’t think so.'” When the band got stadium-huge, the “Jim Kerr thing” took over. “I’d swan off round the world, waxing lyrical about the music’s deeper meaning and the kind of skylines it invoked, and Charlie would be sat at home going: ‘It’s just a G and then a B, you know.'”
The pair like to tell stories about how their boyhood friendship was cemented on a building site. Kerr: “Both our families moved to Toryglen in Glasgow while the estate was still under construction. We’d raid the workies’ huts and diggers for nudie books and read them on our sand mountains.” Burchill: “And every Saturday we’d catch the No 2 bus to Knightswood to play football and try to make Jimmy Scotland, who was prone to fits, bang his head off the goalposts.”
Kerr’s parents, Jimmy and Irene, scraped together £150 for Simple Minds’ first demo tape. Irene worked at the baker’s next door to the bookie’s where Burchill’s mother Ellen collected the betting slips. When the band flew to the States for the first time, Ellen said to Irene: “Charlie’s gone to America and he’s not got his keys so I’ll have to wait in. He’s not got a jacket either…”
When was rock fame at its maddest and Toryglen furthest from their lives? “The Patsy Kensit thing,” says Kerr without hesitation. He means marriage No 2 (Chrissie Hynde was No 1) and specifically “the marriage of rock’n’roll and showbiz where she’d be adamant we had to go to dinner with Michael Winner for the sake of her job and I’d be like: ‘Well, it’s my job no’ to.'” He had a daughter with Hynde and a son with Kensit and remains good friends with both his exes.
Would he marry again? “George Galloway asked me recently what kind of women I liked and I said: ‘The kind with jobs!’ I’m quite set in my odd little ways so anyone who took me on would have to be pretty understanding. Hopefully there are one or two like them around.”
The marriage of rock and politics was similarly problematic for Kerr, although as the son of a Communist-supporting brickie’s labourer who learned about the injustices of apartheid from his grandfather, he makes no apologies for having worn his conscience on his sleeve. Bono’s name comes up again, with Kerr joking that the Irishman would “turn up for the opening of a can of tuna – as long as it was the right kind”, although Kerr stresses he remains a big admirer.
There’s enough time left for a funny story about the Wembley concert celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday which would seem to absolve Kerr of any charges of opportunism: “A big dinner with Clinton and the rest was organised for the night before but we didn’t go – I’m always turning them down, me. At Wembley there was a mad, unseemly rush to sit next to Mandela for a photograph; Annie Lennox was right in there but we hung behind and stood in the back row. Then Jerry Dammers said: ‘Everyone who’s written a song about Mr Mandela take a step forward!’
There are no numbers like Mandela Day or Belfast Child on Graffiti Soul. “I don’t think I could better these ones; in any event I think I’ve said all I want to say politically,” adds Kerr. Instead the band have tried to rediscover their pop spirit from before they got all serious. I tell Kerr that I Travel remains my favourite Simple Minds track; it was the thunderous floor-filler at student union discos when I was at journalism college. “Ah yes,” he says, “that was the career you gave us up for – your loss.” He might be right. It could have been great fun travelling with this band, from Toryglen right round the world and back again – and demanding big enough trouser-presses for my boss’s Live Aid breeks would have made me feel tremendously important.
Daryl Easlea – ‘Record Collector’ – May 2009 (UK)
Almost the Miracle they’ve been promising
The ongoing debate for what has been the best Simple Minds album since 1982’s New Gold Dream has been finally been answered – it’s here. Though possibly light on to-die-for melodies, the groove and feel of Graffiti Soul is classic Simple Minds. It’s like they’ve found the word “grace” again in their dictionary instead of “gigantic”.
Graffiti Soul came about after Kerr temporarily relocated to Glasgow following years living in Sicily, writing at the same kitchen table that he wrote the band’s early material, something he hadn’t done since the early 80s. You can almost hear his skin tone turning from tan back to pasty white. Jim Kerr has talked about his desire to make “a full-bloodied record of ballsy pop songs” and that’s exactly what it is – straight in to dazzling opener Moscow Underground, the pace and tension doesn’t let up. All the things you expect – shards of twinkling guitar from Charlie Burchill, oblique yet powerful lyrics from Kerr – are all here, deftly delivered.
Our august journal gave Black & White 050505 five stars in 2005 and said it was the best since back then. Well, today Graffiti Soul gets an oldfashioned three and it’s better than that.
Peter Kane – ‘Q’ – April 2009 (UK)
Veteran Scots Stadium Rockers Regain Credibility
Seeing how The Killers, Editors and White Lies seemingly have such an in-depth working knowledge of Simple Minds’ back catalogue, maybe it’s time for these one-time U2 pretenders to be taken seriously again. Backing that up is what might well be the best album Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill have put together since 1984’s Sparkle In The Rain. Sounding big, powerful and re-energised, yet shorn of the self-important bombast that effectively torpedoed their career in the ’90s, such tracks as Light Travels, the unrelenting motorik drive of Moscow underground and hook-laden lead single Rockets can still show all those young upstarts a thing or two.
Download: Moscow Underground / Rockets / Light Travels
David Buckley – ‘Mojo’ – April 2009 (UK)
Fifteenth studio album successfully recaptures their mid ’80s heyday
Without a UK Top 10 single or album for 14 years, Simple Minds have been off the scene, in chart success terms, for longer than they were on it. Graffiti Soul arrives when newer acts like White Lies are revealing just how much of the Minds’ musical DNA has been passed on. There are glimpses of the antique brilliance of Jim Kerr and co’s art-rocking roots on the propulsive, half-heard quality of Moscow Underground, and the beguiling melody of Blood Type O, whilst the first single Rockets and stand-out track Stars Will Lead The Way have the sort of riffs that would’ve filled stadiums in the ’80s. The music is taut, the vocals, if anything, under-emoted and the overall feeling is that of a muse rediscovered.
Lauren John – ‘www.music.co.uk’ – April 2009 (UK)
The Simple Minds story is a long an eventful one, too long to recount in an album review, but a quick peek into their history does tell us a few things. Firstly, Simple Minds are a band that despite line-up changes are still a powerful and passionate song writing unit, and second, that this passion often runs alongside experimentation, which hasn’t always been well received, even by loyal Simple Minds fans.
So the question is, how will everyone react to the 15th Simple Minds album Graffiti Soul when it’s released? Well only time will tell, but for now here’s my insight into the new release. I was first attracted by the title and definition of Graffiti in the album artwork. It reads “Graffiti is the name for images or lettering scratched, scrawled, painted, or marked in any manner on property. Graffiti is sometimes regarded as a form of art and other times regarded as unsightly damage or unwanted”. I repeat this as having listened to the album, and read up a little on the band, it seems to be a well thought out and very apt title. I’d describe Simple Minds as an art form, albeit one that will appeal to certain types of music fans.
In true Simple Minds style, this is a mix of ambient dance inspired tracks, and some lighter rock, mixed together with Jim Kerr’s recognisable vocals. Songs like Moscow Underground have quite a heavy, underground feel to them, whilst others like ‘Light Travels’, to me have a somewhat mystical air. I’d say that the Minimalist approach to lyrics didn’t quite hold my attention, but the hard work that’s gone into the sequencing and production of these songs is evident.
My personal preference is leaning more towards the lighter, more infectious sounds that come from ‘Rockets’ and ‘Stars Will Lead The Way’. Look out for some well crafted melodies and instrumentation here. For me it’s an album that reflects the classic Simple Minds that I am familiar with, with some interesting stories in the lyrics to keep things fresh. I hear that the band celebrated their 30th birthday in 2008; that can’t be bad can it?
CHARLIE BURCHILL INTERVIEW
Allgigs writer Kim Sklinar attended the London preview show for Simple Minds’ new album ‘Graffiti Soul’ on 31st March, meeting-up with guitarist Charlie Burchill the following day.
Kim Sklinar – ‘www.allgigs.co.uk’ – 4th April 2009 (UK)
Our afternoon starts in a shady office on a beautiful sunny day in West London. Charlie straight away recognises my Northern accent – joking neither of us (me from Wakefield, he a Glaswegian) have lost ours. Without further ado, Charlie and I buckled down for a chat.
So, in a previous interview, you said that Simple Minds being together felt ‘good’, although 4 years previously it would have maybe been ‘I’m not really enjoying it anymore’. With a new album and tour on the way, how does it feel to where you are right now?
You know, well, we were asked this about low periods in the career – of over 30 years we’ve been going – and in the early 90s I suppose we were like the old guys with all the new stuff coming through. At that point we never, ever lost the enthusiasm for writing or doing what we do or anything, but Jim likes to refer to it as saying we retreated and licked our wounds. In the studio we were up there and we spent longer than we should have done on albums and stuff like that, and at that time we should have really been plugged into something, and that happens. Then we got it back again and we’re really, really bang on form.
At the album preview, you announced that a special edition of your next album, ‘Graffiti Soul’, will include a CD of covers. Where did the inspiration for some of the covers – such as Thin Lizzy, Neil Young – come from, and why did you choose those particular tracks?
Well you know one thing is mainly because we love them and there’s a special thing with them. But picking them, you have to pick the ones you know you can play and do it well in a live way. Some of the tracks – there’s a Siouxi And The Banshees song on there – were more crafted together. It’s really all about of you pick the ones you can play and everyone will get into. It’s pretty eclectic.
I was born in the early 80s and your songs were soundtracks to my early youth, who do you think the new album will be more popular with, hardcore fans my parents’ age, or people like myself?
I think it would be probably the die-hard fans, who will be by nature a bit older, but at the same time this is the thing that keeps on coming up. Obviously today, younger people don’t really have this problem of being in and out of fashion where it’s not cool to be like that, it’s brilliant. There’s less of that and they’ve got a much wider scope, and it’s smart to be like that.
And that’s what I’m finding now – I’m really surprised – when we play our shows there’s a lot of teenagers that are obviously brought along by their parents…I’d never have gone to a show with my parents. I’d have never have listened to what they were listening to. But it’s different now…so maybe there’s a chance that maybe if they heard it [the album], without thinking about it, maybe they’d go at it. Which do you enjoy the most – recording, writing, touring, promotion, or the days off?
Oh that’s an easy one, a really easy one. Hands down, it’s the touring, because the rest’s hard work. The recording can be really hard work, but the touring is what it’s all about, it makes everything else make sense.
Plenty of artists are announcing reunion tours at the moment – Spandau Ballet and Depeche Mode just last week! Do you think this will be a one-off, or are Simple Minds back for good (I mean, you wouldn’t want us to ‘forget about you’)?
The thing is, we never really went away. We’re definitely not in that category, we were touring sold-out shows last year and we’ve been making albums. We’re constantly working, and Depeche Mode are the same, they’ve never stopped either. Great band, I know the Spandau thing came up though, but we’re always touring.
Simple Minds have influenced a plethora of modern bands, for example Texas, Bloc Party, Stereophonics etc. In turn, do you think they may have influenced your new material? Not necessarily our album, but saying that, the next one that we do…because bands like MGMT have done me in. They’re just so good. I just can’t get it – how they can make a record like that, it’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Haven’t seen them live though.
And then there’s like Elbow, and you know that Nina Persson? From The Cardigans…the second album she’s done is amazing. Really great. And Empires of the Sun. Jim [Kerr, the band’s frontman] loves them.
The impetus for new album was to create something with a contemporary-sounding album full of vitality – that was recognisably Simple Minds – do you feel that this is what you have achieved?
I think we did. We wanted a bit of energy and we wanted it to be quite focussed, we didn’t want it to sound like we’ve been around for thirty years. That’s was really it, and I think we achieved that. Most of the reactions are that people are listening to the album and saying we’re really on form – which is exactly what we wanted. I hope it continues [‘Graffiti Soul’ is set for release in May]What was the inspiration for the title ‘Graffiti Soul’, do you have a ‘Graffiti Soul’?
I know where it came from – Jim explained it – We had a few titles for the album, one of which was ‘Blood Type O’, which is one of the album tracks. But Jim was on a train and he heard these little kids just outside London, and they knew every bit of graffiti they were passing…and were raving about it. At one point, one of them said ‘this one’s got the graffiti soul’ – and he thought it was brilliant. Jim worked it into what we were doing in a way. You know, you can say music is a bit like putting your stamp on there. That’s our graffiti, it’s our thing, it’s in there [points to his heart].
This summer you’re going to be playing Edinburgh Castle, headlining the Isle of Wight Festival for the first time… You guys are professional world-tourers, if you are going to be announcing any other dates, do you think they will be smaller venues or are you going to be doing the stadiums?
We’re doing all the festivals in Europe in the summertime, then we’re off to America in September, then we’re going to maybe come back through Australia then back to Europe to do that again and maybe play arenas.
No surprise intimate appearances then? Hmm, there is maybe going to be a small show in Belgium actually as a warm-up in a small place. We love doing that because we’re really loud. Do you prefer playing the smaller venues?
Yeah, they’re better fun really because there’s something about the pressure of the whole thing in a smaller place. Playing the NEC for example is always fantastic, it’s just a shame that people have to be that far away. You get the big screens – that helps, but you still want to get closer.
Dissipates into banter about Radiohead/Kings of Leon and the Leeds-Reading festivals… They’re great aren’t they…yeah KOL, the guy saw us and wanted to be in my band! I said, ‘we should get him in then’ [jokes about a duet],”aye, that’d be brilliant” Charlie laughs… You seem to be loving a lot of the music around at the moment, what was the last song you listened to?
Of Moons, Birds & Monsters by MGMT. If I asked you to list some classic stand-out moments from your extensive career, I imagine it would having number one albums, playing the Nelson Mandela and Live Aid concerts, your first time on Top of the Pops…Apart from those, what big things surprised you about your career?
When I look back, I think the fact that we’ve managed to change musically so many times and still somehow keep our identity. It’s something we’ve never really talked about it much but now’s a great time to talk about it…if you look at our early albums until now and go through them, they’re so different with the range of sounds we’ve employed, and we’ve still managed to keep our identity. I’m really proud of that. We’ve taken on a challenge and we’ve done it.
I would never envisage us being the type of band that were really big but you can imagine when you get to the third and fourth album and people say ‘well, I never bought that one this time’ and you’re like ‘why?’. That can happen to a lot of bands, a sound is a sound and that’s it. We’ve never suffered from that and it surprises me we’ve managed to achieve that.
You’ve played gigs all over the world, do you like playing the UK? How does it differ from other countries? I think the difference is mainly that, in the UK, we do listen do a lot of music. There’s a lot of great stuff, it’s diverse. In Europe, the local artists can be really dodgy, it’s a bit Eurovision Song Contest. In the UK we have a lot of rubbish too, but nevertheless, we’ve been exposed to some really great music. It makes it a bit more discerning – not cold – same as the States. You’re challenged because you’ve got all this other stuff. They’re all brilliant.
Finally, back to the album. It was written on location in Antwerp, Rome, Sicily and Glasgow – do you think these locations affected the sound at all, particularly as you’re from Glasgow and Sicily is somewhere Jim has lived? When we worked in Sicily we were working with a friend in a tiny, tiny studio – a bedroom really. In a way, that shaped what we had equipment-wise and the way certain things were written. Then we went to Glasgow and we were in a dingy little rehearsal place with about fourteen other bands around – it was great.
We worked really fast and we wrote a lot in over a small period of time. Again, then Rome [where Charlie lives] we were working on stuff, and Antwerp where we were doing a one-off thing with an orchestra so while we were there we wrote stuff. Locations add something to what came out, it definitely comes through. Maybe if you have another band nearby you will write something different because the guys are going to play it, and if you’re working on something atmospheric in a box…
they all have a different bearing on the way it turns out. Then you have to find some way of recording it and sticking it together and making it sound like it’s a moment in time. Graffiti Soul, featuring the original Simple Minds line-up of Burchill, Kerr, Gaynor and Duffy is out on 25th May on Universal.
GRAFFITI SOUL UNIVERSAL MUSIC RECORD LABEL PRESS RELEASE
‘Noble PR Ltd’ – 15th February 2009 (UK)
“Hot on the heels of their 30th Anniversary Celebration Tour that saw them playing to over a quarter of a million people during their sold out 2008 European/UK arena tour, and their performance at Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday concert in London’s Hyde Park, Simple Minds are about to enter the most prolific period within their extensive career with the highly anticipated brand new album ‘Graffiti Soul’ due for international release on May 25th by Universal Music Records label.
Their 15th studio album, ‘Graffiti Soul’ was initially written on location in Rome, Sicily, Antwerp and Glasgow. Simple Minds then returned for the first time in almost three decades to the famous Rockfield Studios where the Scottish group originally recorded their earlier seminal albums ‘Real To Real Cacophony’, ‘Empires And Dance’ and sowed the seeds of ‘New Gold Dream’.
Produced by Jez Coad and Simple Minds, the new album was mixed in Los Angeles by the legendary Bob Clearmountain, who previously mixed Simple Minds multi platinum ‘Once Upon a Time album’, and who’s mixing credentials include Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born In The USA’, David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’, and ‘Roxy Music’s ‘Avalon’.
“Graffiti Soul is a bold and energetic collection of songs, and we could not be happier with the result,” says lead singer, Jim Kerr. “Stylistically, this is a truly vibrant rock’n’roll album that’s bursting at the seams with quite possibly the most ballsy pop songs we have written in years.”
Although the heart and soul of ‘Graffiti Soul’ is contemporary in sound, the feel of classic Minds is evident, although the spirit of some of Simple Minds’ original contemporaries such as Joy Division, Magazine and the Stranglers, are not far away.
Continues Kerr, “It’s taken us a while, but over the last couple of years Charlie Burchill and I have put together a great team of individuals to work with, and that, as well as a revitalised and energetic new commitment has triggered an effect that has dramatically overhauled Simple Minds. ‘Graffiti Soul’ is testament to that.”
In addition to the launch of the new album, Simple Minds are in the process of confirming an extensive ‘Graffiti Soul’’world tour that will encompass a lot of songs from the new album, plus the band’s best loved classics including ‘Alive and Kicking’, ‘Sanctify Yourself’, ‘Waterfront’, ‘Promised You A Miracle’ and ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’.
“It was a great pleasure making the new album,””concludes Kerr. Sometimes you hit a period where everything just fits together perfectly and turns out exactly as you hoped it would. ‘G’affiti Soul’ reflects that very sentiment, and much more.”