as Simple as that
as one of the world's more conscientious groups,
with their last tour dedicated to Amnesty International,
Simple Minds were among the first acts, along
with Dire Straits, to offer their services for
next week's Nelson Mandela concert at Wembley.
In an exclusive report, Jim Kerr talks to Niall
Stokes about the brutal injustice of apartheid
and about his long-term aspirations for the
- 'Hot Press' June 16th 1988 (IRELAND)
It should come
as no surprise that Simple Minds are among the
acts who will headline the upcoming Nelson Mandela
Birthday Celebration in London. A spirit of
idealism has informed the band's music since
their inception which has transformed increasingly
into a direct association with radical causes.
The last Simple
Minds world tour, which spawned the powerful
double live album "In The City Of Light",
was dedicated to Amnesty International - a gesture
which, in tandem with U2's "Conspiracy
of Hope" tour in the States - raised Amnesty's
profile and membership hugely among rock fans
on a world-wide basis. The injustice of Nelson
Mandela's incarceration in a South African jail
has given rise to one of Amnesty's longest standing
celebres and was heavily featured in literature
distributed by the organisation over the past
few years. It was lamost inevitable, in the
context, that Simple Minds would link up with
Artists Against Apartheid on this latest consciousness-raising
project - the Nelson Mandela Birthday Celebration
in London - which also features major world
acts of the calibre of Dire Straits, Whitney
Houston, Eurythmics, UB40 and George Michael...
It isn't as if
Jim Kerr feels that his status as a rock star
automatically qualifies him to pontificate on
world issues. There are areas on which he remains
unsure of his own position - and is perfectly
willing to admit it. A projected Greenpeace
live extravaganza which would have involved
simultaneous gigs in Moscow and the States gave
rise to some contentious debate among artists
asked to appear. To what extent would playing
in Moscow validate the Soviet regime in the
eyes of Western Youth? And if it did, would
this be a good or bad thing? Or, from a Greenpeace
perspective, their policy on whaling? Might
the bands involved simpley be used in PR context
by Mikhail Gorbachev? Or, on the other hand,
could their appearance genuinely act as a spur
to keep the Glasnost process
rolling, giving useful aid to a leader who is
genuinely inspired by a desire for world peace,
love and understanding (what's so funny 'bout...)?
The project has
yet to take shape and may never - but in the
meantime Jim Kerr didn't claim to have the answer
to all or any of the questions. His attitude
was to put them to one side - and do the gig
anyway. "if I can play in America, or Britain
for that matter, I can certainly play in Russia",
he reasons. "Cause at the end of the day
I have a feeling that one's as bad as the other.
And, also, it's the people
you're playing to."
In truth Jim Kerr's
transparent honesty about the uncertainty he
feels on some political issues can mask a penetrating
insight when it really matters. "God, I
had to laugh at some of the stuff Thatcher had
the cheek to lecture Gorbachev about,"
he adds, "her talking about human rights
when you saw what they did to the miners - preventing
them from moving around the country - and denying
teachers the basic right to renegotiate a pay
deal and stuff like that. And in the Falklands:
if you want to talk about human rights, what
about the Belgrano, for instance?"
Since Live Aid,
however, there has been an unprecedented level
of pressure on rock stars to become involved
with political and charity issues. It's a development
which doubless makes life a lot more complicated
for a poor boy who just wants to play guitar
in a rock 'n' roll band.
it probably is more complicated", Jim admits.
"Nine times out of ten we're out of our
depth on these issues. Because you can sing
or play the guitar to a high level of excellence,
or because you're a sensitive person or whatever
- that still doesn't make you the best informed
or the most educated in the world".
The answer, often,
is to go with your instincts: if it feels right,
do it. if not? Simple Minds have frequently
had to say no...
"I hate all
this Prince's Trust stuff," Jim reflects,
"we were asked if we'd like to headline
the Prince's trust last year, and I thought
'Get the... what the fuck are you talking about!?!'
You can imagine Prince Charles with his ears
sticking out - no, with cotton wool in them
because he doesn't like
rock music.. It is getting a bit wild, all these
causes. Why don't they go to football: Rangers
have 60,000 people a week at their gigs (laughs).
And on Wednesday nights as well. Maybe they
could do a few things for charity!"
In the context
it's imperative that rock distance itself from
establishment attempts to harness, appropriate
and exploit its power and glory.
"I read somewhere
not so long ago the argument that from it's
origins as a foul-mouthed youjth, rock had become
a gummy old lady. And I think that's probably
true," Jim says, "You know the stamp
you see on a tin of fruit or jam or whatever
where it's approved by the royal family - it's
got so you expect to see that on Paul Young
records now. Music is being used. I remember,
in America, they kept putting ads on TV previewing
the Michael Jackson Pepsi Cola ad! That same
phenomenon exists on a wider level: looking
at TV you can no longer tell if something is
a video or an ad or a movie. Or are they songs
sung for movies, or songs for ads or are they
just songs for an album?"
The best response
may, ultimately, be a musical one - to move
away from the glamour and the glitz and to plunge
deeper, in the search for more enduring roots.
There's no way that Prince Charles really wants
to shake hands with the devil's music, or Coca-Cola
for that matter.
brought up in a lousy generation of music, I
think now", Jim reflects. "Art-rock.
A complete and utter waste of time, apart from
maybe one or two records. A waste of time. I
mean, if I had somebody saying what I'm saying
just now, I would of said, 'What a sad guy?'
But there you go: things change. The man will
tell you himself - who really needs Eno when
you've got Son House or those blues guys?"
He talks with
unstinting admiration for The Band and the traditional
values they represented.
the real deal, those guys. They're intellectuals
and they're artists and they're also craftsmen.
They've played country, blues and soul, all
of it the real thing. And, you know, you think
compared to them, I'm fucking wasting my time'.
And you think of all these guys with earrings
and eyeshadow, and you think the same thing,
wasting their time".
In some ways,
it comes down to dedication to
the essentials: of singing and playing and
songwriting. Rock 'n' roll has moved a long
way from what should be the fundamentals and
it ain't healthy.
of them could sing," Jim elaborates, "Now,
there's hardly any good singers - I certainly
don't consider myself by any means a good singer
- but the Band had four.
The point is that they were total craftsmen,
being on the road, playing every night and learning.
It's dead inspiring, that - terribly unfashionable
but... I look forward, in my wildest dreams,
to taking a leaf out of their books - starting
to work at it as a trade or a craft, as opposed
to a deal for 3 or 4 albums. I'm also really,
really interested in songwriting again - in
getting the balance finally right between songs
and sounds and technology. I think things are
a bit out of balance now".
There's a defiance
in his response to those who have taken him
to task for his change in attitude - or who've
accused him of going soft with Simple Minds'
"I have changed,"
he says, "I've dragged this band by the
balls up to here. I've learnt. I've spoken to
people about getting involved in things that
initially I was probably out of my depth with.
I've talked to people from all different walks
of life. I've dared to go to America - dared
to at the risk of losing everything. Dared to
go headlong into the crazy business. I've got
kids. And with all that experience I
have fucking changed. I have changed - and
I'm glad I've changed".
The new maturity
Jim Kerr has grown into underlies Simple Minds'
commitment on the Apartheid issue. "It's
black and white to me. It's just wrong - and
it was always wrong. I don't know how peace
can be achieved there - but I definitely know
there's injustice. Not to say anything about
that acts as fuel to the situation."
There are reasons
also, closer to home: "The British government
is, perhaps, the biggest ally that the South
African regime has. We really must stand up
and say, 'this is not on.'
Because the black people have their backs so
much against the wall that they're being forced
to act in whatever way they can. And although
I'd rather they didn't use violence - who am
I to say they shouldn't?
to be some response from the international community,
and that includes artists. This is a political
concert, a protest concert. Everyone who stands
on that stage is making a political statement."
If the establishment
has began to snuggle up too closely to rock
'n' roll these past few years, so too has the
tool of the establishment, the British press.
The realization that pop sells papers has latterly
inspired the kind of intense concentration on
the private lives of public figures which rock
had known only in the most high-profile cases
in the past.
"I did this
programme a couple of years back Open
To Question", Jim recalls, "where
I stated that their intentions are basically
evil. And I think that's true. They fabricate
things. If you don't give them an interview,
your press office will get a call that's loaded:
'Give us a story or we'll find a story'. Even
if it's a simple thing like the guy who painted
Bono's house telling what the decorations are:
you just don't want that. I've no logic when
it comes to this: despite Amnesty International
and my non-violent stance, on this subject I'm
given to out and out violence, if not arson!"
With the advent
of chequebook journalism, nothing is sacred
anymore. Old girlfriends, roadies, even former
colleagues, queue up to spill the beans - even
if there's fuck all there to spill. With stars
of the calibre of Jim Kerr and Chrissie Hynde
living together, the tabloids inevitably have
is, you can find scam on anyone", Jim concludes,
"Everyone's got something in their private
lives they'd prefer not to have published in
the newspapers. They may have to go back one
year, or five years, or ten years. In some ways
you could argue that it's one thing for people
who used those papers as vehicles, who were
interested in the fame and the gossip and so
forth, that's one thing - but for bands like
us, who've never courted that kind of thing,
it's hard to take. And also, we don't know how
to handle it when it comes".
It makes you kinda
you do now?", Jim asks, "Do you get
roadcrews to sign something swearing them to
secrecy? It's getting to the stage when if a
musician gets a guy to come into the house to
fix the lights and he happens to see a fancy
cigarette in the ashtray, God knows what'll
be in the papers a week later. It's got completely
out of hand".
there's an insidious attraction about this kind
of voyeuristic titillation...
are banned from our house now," Jim states,
"because if you do let them in, you find
yourself reading about Joan Collins' lover and
stuff and you think - I don't want to know about
this. It makes you feel queer: like, what are
you doing reading about
Dirty Den's mistress."
The million dollar
the way honour seems to have been forgotton.
It's against that backdrop that Simple Minds'
commitment to an event like the Mandela gig
takes on an increased importance - as indeed
does Jim Kerr desire to put down more solid
roots. Music should not be the province of charlatans...
The band are currently
recording their new album, the follow-up to
"Live In The City Of Light", which
marks the beginning of a new phase of intense
activity for the band. Work has been proceeding
slowly - and the finished product is now unlikely
to reach the shops before 1989.
In the meantime
however a track from the album, titled simply
"Mandela Day" will be released to
radio stations only. Described by sources close
to the band as a haunting atmospheric track
in the "Harry's Game" mould it suggests
that the link-up with producer Trevor Horn may
yet produce an album to surprise those who are
anticipating another daunting techno extravaganza.
It's an important
album for Simple Minds, which holds out the
most intriguing musical possibilities. But whatever
shape it takes - and however ecstatic or muted
the public response - for Jim Kerr it's just
another learning experience.
what's great about our band is that we're so
eager to learn. We always have been - so therefore
the idea of writing good songs and seeing where
we are in a few years time as songwriters and
as recording artists - that's what's exciting.
You have to keep growing".