Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert Articles & Reviews

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Empires & Dance
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New Gold Dream
Sparkle In The Rain
Once Upon A Time
Live In The City Of Light
Hollywood Rock Festival
Nelson Mandela Concert
Street Fighting Years
Themes (Volumes 1-4)
Real Life
Glittering Prize 81/92
Good News The Next World
Neon Lights
The Best Of Simple Minds
Early Gold
Alive & Kicking Tour 2003
Summer Tour 2004
Silver Box
Black & White 050505
46664 Concert
30 Years Live Tour
Graffiti Soul

It's as Simple as that

Widely regarded 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 band.

Niall Stokes - '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 causeIt's As Simple As That 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.

"I think 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.

"We were 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.

"They're 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.

"Every one 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' success.

"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?

"There has 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!" (Laughs)

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 been snooping.

"The thing 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 of paranoid...

"What do 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".

What's worse, there's an insidious attraction about this kind of voyeuristic titillation...

"Those papers 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 question...

Somewhere along 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.

"I think 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".

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