SURFING WITH SIMPLE MINDS
Want to know if Jim Kerr remembers Simple Minds’ first gig opening for Steel Pulse 20 years ago at Glasgow’s Satellite City? Want to know what his secret is to meeting and marrying (and divorcing) two of the world’s coolest women, Chrissie Hynde and Patsy Kensit? Want to know if he cares that some folks have forgotten about him? Or… if you dare… want to know if his you-know-what is bigger than Tommy Lee’s (that’s the rumor)?
Those are just may be some of the questions asked by Simple Minds fans around the world, when the perennial Brit-pop band celebrates the launch of its official web site (www.simpleminds.com) with a live webcast, this Wednesday, at 3 p.m. (EST), from the Cybertheatre in Brussels.
In anticipation of Simple Minds brand new album, Néapolis (due March 17 in Canada), the two-hour special will feature a Q&A; component from the audience and via e-mail, plus a live set from the current line-up which reunites Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill with original bassist Derek Forbes and long-time drummer Mel Gaynor.
“It’s not a very big place. I think the sweat’s gonna be dripping from the ceiling,” says Kerr, on the phone from Amsterdam yesterday. “We’ll play five or six songs, some old, some new and some covers.” Kerr, who rarely has time to “surf the ‘Net” because of his commitment to writing and touring with Simple Minds, says the site will be a personal interpretation of their career, as seen by the very people who lived it.
“It’s great to finally have our own site,” he says. “For a long time we put it off. We wanted time to hook up with a team who could put together a site that’s distinctly ours without trying to steal from the great fan sites that are already out there.” Some of the fan sites are so comprehensive, they mention every picture disk, every white-labeled promo copy and every bootleg available. One bloke is even auctioning off his Simple Minds collection online.
“I think the all-time band that managed to have a relationship with their fans and have fans that would get into their mythology had to be the Grateful Dead. They showed the way,” says Kerr. “I’m not saying we’re in that league, but we certainly have that kind of a dedication form a lot of people.”
Incredibly, Kerr has fronted Simple Minds for 20 years. It was the group’s fifth album, 1982’s New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), a new wave classic even today, and 1984’s Sparkle In The Rain, which made headway in North America. Then, after Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol reportedly turned down the offer, Simple Minds recorded “Don’t You Forget About Me” for the soundtrack to the brat pack teen flick The Breakfast Club. It shot to No. 1 in the States.
More pop than its pioneering first albums, the next album, Once Upon A Time, would sell millions. While career sales tallied 12 million albums worldwide, the band’s popularity took a turn for worse in the ’90s. Finally, after 1995’s Good News From The Next World, the band parted ways with its record label of 14 years, Virgin. But it soon found a home with Chrysalis.
After a year long break, Kerr and Burchill began writing for Neapolis, and the result is a cohesive soundscape, interestingly quite gentle and yet fused with the clank and blips and beats of electronica. “That’s really Charlie and his sound box, coming up with all sorts of stuff,” says Kerr, the less technologically-minded of the songwriting team, who jokes that he can’t even put batteries in his Walkman. “The last thing he wanted to do was come off with typical rock `n’ roll sounds. So it’s sometimes stretching sounds and squeezing sounds and stopping sounds and making pianos sound like guitars and guitars sound like pianos – for what, I don’t know, but I love it.”
Kerr loves playing with Simple Minds. During divorces, slacking sales, road burn-out and other band hazards, he never once thought of folding the group and moving on. “By and large, no matter what was going on, we’ve always enjoyed the process. At times, it’s been more stressful than others. But we’re so blessed to be given the chance to do this,” explains Kerr. “Charlie and I have never got over that fact that we can make this music at 2 o’clock in the morning in the Highlands of Scotland and it seems intensely private and personal, and a year later, there it goes around the world.”
Mark Blake – ‘Q’ Magazine (UK)
Simple Minds team up with original bassist Derek Forbes and producer Peter Walsh for a reprisal of their love affair with all things Krautrock. After the big arena grooves of 1995’s Good News From The Next World, Neapolis, the band’s 12th studio album, throws a sharp U-turn, aspiring instead to the modish soundscapes of New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84).
As calculated as it might seem, this shift in emphasis makes for an immediately more appealing record. This being Simple Minds though, the pilgrimage to Berlin goes via the French Riviera, and while there’s less pomp and ceremony than before, there’s still a surfeit of hot air and faux-U2isms.
Walsh nevertheless doles out the required studio touches – humming synthesisers, treated vocals, icy guitar patterns – and Glitterball, War Babies and Killing Andy Warhol, in particular, emerge with oddly familiar colours but not a little dignity. What was once a steroid-inflated monster has returned to the ring several pounds lighter, even if Néapolis’s fixation with an era 15 years ago is one that some might find as unhealthy as the inflated stadia rock of recent times.
DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME
Oh, you have. Well here’s a reminder. He’s Simple Minds’ jock rock colossus, hubby of Chrissie Hynde and per-Liam Patsy, next in line to the Stateside stadium throne when everything went ping pong. Of course! It’s Jim Kerr! back on the boards in time to tell Nick Duerden, “We’re a classic car.”
Nick Duerden- ‘Q’ Magazine March 1998 (UK)
It is an unseasonably warm January afternoon in Nice, South of France, and the two founder members of Simple Minds – singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill – are to be found in a small restaurant called, perhaps predictably, perhaps merely coincidentally, The Scotch House. The Minds’ contingent aren’t the only customers boasting a fulsome Glaswegian brogue in here, either.
For, if we overlook the three elderly French women, all draped in fur, seated separately, and each with an effete poodle at their feet, the place is full of wandering Scots. Over by one window sit an elderly couple, looking confused and querying the contents of Nicuise salad, while over by the other are a trio of middle-aged Scottish women attempting to communicate to the brusque waitress that tea and cakes will do just fine, thanks. Presently, the waitress approaches Kerr and Burchill.
“Oui?” she demands of the rock stars, although their status goes completely unnoticed. The pair order cappuccion. She responds by spewing a torrent of words. Kerr reiterates his order and smiles politely. The waitress clicks her heels and stalks off, perhaps slightly angered that they’ve not ordered any food. This is, after all, lunch time and The Scotch House is a business. “I love this place,” says Kerr, referring more to Nice itself than this particular eaterie. “Been coming here for years (although he has yet to master the lingo). After a tour that’s lasted something like a year and a half. this is the perfect place to get your head together, kick back, relax.”
Jim Kerr is 38 and boasts the sort of winter tan that implies little of his year spent in Hillhead or the Gorbals. If anything, the bronzing makes his bright blue eyes seem even closer together than they already are. He notes that in summer, the adjacent beach is filled with nearly naked female bodies, swanning across the sand with the kind of elegance that only the French seem truly capable of. “Tittyville,” he winks, rubbing his hands together as if in anticipation.
So, like an eternal boomerang, Simple Minds, now in their 20th year, are back again with a new album. Néapolis, their first long player since 1995’s Good News From The Next World (whose lack of any serious success ultimately led them being dropped by Virgin), finds the pair reunited with original bassist, Derek Forbes, and long-serving drummer Mel Gaynor, and is produced by Peter Walsh, who worked with them last on 1982’s New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84). Swathed in synths and shadowed by the ghost of Krautrock (their earliest influence), it’s a fine set, distinctly personal, relaxed, and quite possibly the sound of a band attempting to revisit their past glories.
“Every band or artist with a history has an album that’s their holy grail,” says Jim, “and I suppose New Gold Dream was ours. It was a special time because we were really beginning to break through with that record (actually their seventh), both commerically and critically.” He takes a sip of his cappuccino and looks off into the distance in recollection, a pose that would look great on the big screen.
“The people that liked that record,” he says, “connected with it in a special way. There was a depth to it, it created its own mythology, it stood out. It was our most successful record to date, and critically, the Paul Morleys of this world were writing very nice things about it. Neapolis wasn’t created as some kind of spiritual successor, but I suppose that in getting back together with the people we worked with best with, some kind of thematic similarity was inevitable.”
Formed in 1978 from the ashes of the highly mannered post-punk outfit Johnny And The Self Abusers, huge by the mid ’80s, and often defined by what appeared to be a raging ambition and a way with sweeping polemic, Simple Minds went on to sell over 12 million albums worldwide.
After 1984’s Sparkle In The Rain LP, they decided to set their sights on conquering America, having already slain much of Europe, and so undertook what even they suspected could be a dodgy project: singing Don’t You Forget About Me, the theme tune to bratpack movie The Breakfast Club, a song that had already been turned down by Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol. It transformed their career and promptly transported them into the big league. Top 10 in much of the world and, crucially, Number 1 in America, it was quickly followed by the Once Upon A Time album, a record full of pomp and circumstance that attracted as many people as it repelled. It sold by the million, and added further fuel to the theory that the Minds were in a hot race with U2 for world domination.
“Actually,” says Jim, a slight shake of the head in disdain, “that was all a media thing, much like the Blur versus Oasis campaign. I’ve never been interested in world domination. I’d much rather leave all that to people like Hilter. Also, if we had set out to compete against U2, it would have been pretty tragic for us because it was very clear from day one that that was their objective and no-one was going to stand in their way. And that’s fine. If there has to be a world’s biggest band, then thank God it was someone like U2 rather than Bon Jovi. We’ve managed to remain outside the trappings of fame while achieving a position inside. There’s probably not a country in the world that hasn’t heard our music, and yet we can walk down the street, any street, and go completely unnoticed.”
Which is, curiously, entirely true. For, despite the small fact that their singer has been married twice, both times to very famous women, and despite the fact that the band remain a huge draw, not least here in France, they attract not an iota of attention. And it’s all their own doing. Kerr, who, incidentally, has now lost the Michelin Man roll of flab he had a few years back, looks the very epitome of ordinary (despite being clothed with expensive subtlety), while Burchill, a small man with natural charm, appears, in person, the very antithesis of a guitar hero.
“I’ve never really let any of the potential difficulties that accompany Planet Art bother me,” shrugs Kerr. “I suppose I’ve always been pretty secure in myself. I learned as a child to deal with anything that’s come my way. Even marrying the women I married didn’t change that. I’ve never invited Hello! into my house, never been the kind of guy to hang out at premieres.”
In 1984, Jim Kerr married Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, with whom he had a daughter, Natalie. Then, following their divorce in 1992, he married actress Patsy Kensit, and had a son, James. Kerr and Kensit appeared great friends as much as lovers. Rather than dragging her to the Groucho, gleefully waving the vees at the ever-attendant paparazzi, he introduced his wife to football. She promptly became a franatic.
In 1995, the couple separted, and Kensit (who had previously been married to Big Audio Dynamite’s Dan Donovan) started seeing Liam Gallagher, whom she later married and had tatoos with. Gallagher is now stepfather to Jim Kerr’s son. “People like to suggest that this kind of thing happens in our game,” says Jim. “Rubbish. This kind of thing – separation, divorce – happens everywhere. They just get highlighted in our game. Just because it gets reported in the tabloids doesn’t make it remarkable.
“While i realised that I wasn’t marrying the girl who works in the cake shop, who they were was never an issue in my mind. These just happened to be the women I fell in love with. They were interesting birds with interesting lives. So, yeah, I married great women. When it worked it worked, and when it didn’t it didn’t. It really is as simple as that. Chrissie and Patsy are the mothers to my kids, and they’ve both pulled off something I can’t do. They’re with the kids every day,
bringing them up, and they’re both doing a great job. Of course it’s sad when people break up, but in many ways I couldn’t wish for a better situation. The only complication is the miles that separate me from my kids. Otherwise, I’ve absolutely nothing to complain about, I’ve come out of both relationships with no axe to grind whatsoever.”
Liam recently revealed that he and little James were great mates, that he’s enjoying his new role in life, and that James refers to him as “stinky arse” after the younger Gallagher’s wont of farting loudly in his face. Does Kerr every worry about his son being brought up by someone who he may not consider entirely appropriate for the job? “I’m sorry,” he says, completely unruffled, “but I can’t comment on that. It’s a legal matter. All I will say is that as far as I have observed, Liam Gallagher loves him. With that being the case, I couldn’t ask for more.”
As he has done since the turn of the decade – coinciding with a conscious downscaling of the band’s music – Jim Kerr exudes an air of contentedness. His lust for filling stadiums the world over has now passed (although he lets it be known that last year, without a record to plug, Simple Minds played across the world to over a million people), and he no longer wants to play the iconic rock star. He sees his peers as Springsteen and Lou Reed – whom he presumably judges uniconic – rather than U2.
“I know that we can honestly claim to being one of the truly great bands,” he ponders. “It’s like with cars – you’ve got your new cars, your old cars, and…” dramatic pause to suggest mental drum roll, “your classic cars. We’re somewhere towards classic.” And then talk turns to Mariella Frostrup, whom he appears to find rather attractive…
SIMPLE MINDED, JIM IS NOT
When I proudly announced that I would be interviewing this man, the thirty-somethings around me wowed with lust while the twenty-somethings all said who? You’re rudely uneducated I fired, for he is the ladys man of rock n roll; the Hercules who’d cross rivers and climb the Cairngorms to be with Chrissie… then Patsy… then… Well then it got boring. He gave up women and went back to his roots. But now he’s back. Thinner, glazed eyed but headstrong – it’s Jim Kerr with his Simple Minds bearing all the Gaelic idiosyncrasy Irvine Welsh missed and a lot more besides!
‘DV8’ – May / June 1998 (UK)
Almost forgivable in fact are those dodgy little punk outfits graced by Johnny and the Self Abusers when you see who grew out of them. What followed was a social upgrade, a shift to the new style eighties pop and a name change which didn’t justify social reprobation. Over the next twenty years Simple Minds went on to sell millions of albums worldwide and they’re now back Neapolis, their first album to hit the streets after their not quite massive predecessor back in 1995.
Jim, you’re thirty eight, celebrating your twentieth anniversary of bopping about in a boy band. Aren’t you bored yet?
You won’t get rid of us that easily! It is hard but when you love it, when you’re looking for a new song, you can’t be half-hearted about it. We’ve never not been content with what we’re doing. We never thought the band would last more than twenty weeks never mind twenty years and even now I don’t think it’s meant to go on for years and years. The Beatles only made it last nine years and they were the best band on the planet.
You must think about other things though, other than making music?
Yeah, same as any guy!
Ah hah. I didn’t like to bring the subject up, but since you have, how is your love life?
Actually it’s on hold at the moment. I don’t know if that’s a poor choice of words or not! I’ve got a few flames but nothing serious. I’m too busy to be honest with you. We’ve been very busy promoting this record around Europe and America over the last few months. My eyes are glazed.
Too much work?
Well, I’m not complaining.
Néapolis, the original name for Italy’s Naples inspired the artowrk for the album and it’s where the finishing touches were perfected. With Peter Walsh producing (he also produced ‘New Gold Dream’) and original player Derek Forbes back on bass, it’s somewhat a revisiting of old flames. But there is an evident of old innovation and, bar the slightly more mature edge, the synthesised sounds rooted in Simple Minds earliest influences, Can, Cabaret Voltaire and Kraftwerk are still very prominent.
But Néapolis is a corker if you’re a fan of the band simply because they haven’t changed. Unlike U2, which they are so loosely and inadvisably compared to, Simple Minds have been nowhere near as adventurous over the last two decades. In return they’ve maintained a loyal fan base without the sufferance’s of ‘Zoo TV’ and failed video links with war zones.
Jim Kerr: I can definitely hear flash backs from the past but I don’t think we were taking a trip down memory lane just for the sake of it because I don’t know if it would be possible. You know to tey and re-create the spirit of a record you made x amounts of years ago, it would be a bit like trying to create a dinner party. You just couldn’t do it. You could invite the same people but it all hinges on the mood and what the backdrop is and the conversation at the table would be about that period… it just can’t be done. But having said that, within our music we’re quite amazed at how different themes seem to cycle back.
So what’s the mood now? It’s not a rock album. It’s probably more err… mellow?
It is, yeah. It’s quite a romantic sort of record, a bit spacey I think. It’s not as bombastic and big but I think emoitionally it’s still big. Our musical influences are still much the same and I think we carry these influences with us… people like Lou Reed and David Bowie I think are part of our genetics so they’re always there.
Is this going to be the next big one?
You can’t really think too much about that. I mean where do you start? The truth of the matter is we’re making this thing up as we go along and, sure, when it’s done you do everything you can to let people know it exists. But it’s up to many different factors and sometimes it hits home an sometime it doesn’t. There’s been people much more talented out there who haven’t sold as many records. It’s just the way the penny drops.
After the deflating success following 1995’s ‘Good News From The Next World’ the band have ended their fifteen year contract with Virgin (although it’s not clear who dropped who) and are now signed with Chrysalis.
“One good record company’s as good as the other really but it’s good to get fresh input. It depends more on the individuals you’re working with at the time and quite often that’s changing. Everybody needs that or you can take each other for granted. Maybe that was what was happening. I don’t think the chopping and changing is necessarily a bad thing; if anything I think it keeps the music fresh. We spend that much time in each other’s pockets when we’re producing a new album and touring that it’s only fair to step back from it sometimes. Then, if the music suggests it’s right for someone to come back then we get them back and it’s great that they’re enthusiastic enough to want to continue.
Simple Minded, Jim is not. Despite his record with women he say’s he’s uninterested with the high life pretentiousness of stardom and keeps a fairly low profile.
“We’re big when we’re in town and playing that night but when we’re not, we disappear. That’s nice. I wouldn’t like it if we couldn’t go to Safeway. It’s nice to hang out with the stars for the frivolous thing it ios but to make it a way of life I think would be kind of empty. It’s about who’s who and who’s looking at what, whereas i like interracting with people… quite often at those things no-one says anything.
‘Glitterball’, the first release from the album, seems to reflect that. Very representative of the album it’s a very basic three chord sound with a bit of rhythm. The lyrics?
“Well it’s about fashion victims… glamour junkies.”
What a piss take?
“Not really. There are people attracted to those sorts of things but I’m not condeming them.”
How was it then, singing on Top Of The Pops after all this time?
“It hasn’t really changed. There’s a lot of grumpy men still jumping up and down with cameras trying to kick the kids out of the way. But I’ve got so much respect for it because when I was a kid it was where I saw all my heros and you can’t ever take that away.”
The new album precedes a European Tour commencing later this month. Taking in the major European festivals, it will be a collection of the classics; a reflection of the old and new. But it will also clash severely with the World Cup. As a self-confessed football groupie with a forgivable passion for Scotland’s, I suppose that either makes them either sad workaholics or not least a fine dedication to their art. But Jim disagrees. No, not at all. I’ll make sure we play where the games are. We’ll have to dance around them.
In honour of Simple Minds’ new album ‘Néapolis’, Jim Kerr picks ten records that remind him of his favourite cities.
‘Vox’ – April 1998 (UK)
‘Romeo Had Juliette’ Lou Reed (album track from ‘New York’ 1989)
“For me, the voice of Lou Reed is New york. A lot of people only ever refer to his early work, but for me this is an example of a songwriter at his very best. He’s a poet here, a professor of music. I like to think that Simple Minds have yet to reach our peak. Certainly on our new album we’ve been more relaxed about what we’re doing than we’ve been for years”
‘Hallelujah’ John Cale (album track from Leonard Cohen’s ‘Various Positions’, 1985)
“Again, like Lou Reed. John Cale’s voice captures the essence of New York. Even though he’s a Welshman, his voice sounds like the Gothic architecture of New York. This track is actually by Leonard Cohen, but Cale’s voice is almost like a cathedral on it. We wanted Cale to produce our first album, but the record company wouldn’t agree to it.”
‘Autobahn’ Kraftwerk (single, 1974)
“A song that captures a sense of driving between great cities in Germany. We were always influenced by European music. In fact, I’ll always call myself European rather than British. I guess this is because travel was always our love. Me and Charlie (Burchill – Simple Minds guitarist) actually met and decided to form a band while travelling. Although our first band (Johnny And The Self Abusers) was a punk band, that German electronic sound really came to the fore with Simple Minds.”
“You Make Me feel (Mighty Real)’ Sylvester (single, 1978)
“The whole disco movement has been lambasted by the media with – dare I say it – gay abandon, but I still think it was a creative time for music. It’s such a joyful sound and this track is so postive. And another New York track I’m afraid. We were really influenced by disco and tried to capture an essence of it in our music, but perhaps in a less happy way! Every day I get requests from some dance producer or other wanting to sample something from us and they’re welcome to it. So I guess you could say we’ve equally been an influence on some dance music.”
‘The Queen Is Dead’ The Smiths (album track from ‘The Queen Is Dead’, 1986)
“He [Morrissey} is one of a kind, isn’t he? Oscar Wilde meets Frankie Howard. People talk about him being camp, but I always thought he looked like a street fighter, like he could really look after himself, like he’d take a blade to you, grill you. When he was doing stuff with Johnny Marr he was so good. His targets would be cut to pieces by his wit and the melodies were always somehow unexpected. Definitely Manchester.”
‘She Moved Through The Fair’ Van Morrison (album track from ‘Irish Heartbeat’, 1988)
“Van The Grump. Happy Van. I just love some of the stuff he’s done. This song captures the feeling of Belfast for me. It’s very similar in atmosphere to Glasgow, so I always feel like I’ve come home when I’m there. You can almost hear the mist in Van’s voice and in this track he’s captured the spirit.”
‘Sunday Shining’ Finlay Quaye (single, 1997)
“I’m afraid this one is South of France to me. Not a city, but a part of the world I love. The reason is that last summer I took the kids on holiday there. We all took our own music to listen to. My eldest took the Prodigy, I took this. Finlay Quaye’s got a really unique voice, soulful yet strong. And we’ll claim him as a Scotsman, so he’s in the squad for the fantasy world cup.”
‘Private Life’ The Pretenders (album track from ‘Pretenders’, 1980)
“Of course I love Chrissie to death. She’s the mother of my children, but for a long time I couldn’t really listen to her music. Then the other night this came on the radio and it struck me: what a brilliant lyricist, so sharp. The way she spits out “Your sex life complications are not my fascination” is like… Jesus, to think I married that! Which city? I’ll give her Ohio. Although she likes to think of herself as an Anglophile, she’ll always be a septic to me. A septic tank, that’s Ohio!”
‘Night Song’ Nusrat fateh Ali Khan (title track from 1996 album)
“One of my favourite places in the world is India, and although Nasrat was a pakistani his music will always conjure up the essence of Jaipur in India for me. I love it there, the sense of chaos, the colours, the energy and the art. There are so many tracks by fateh Ali Khan that I could have chosen. He was a rare talent and a great loss to music when he died.”
‘The Passenger’ Iggy Pop (single, 1997)
“Well, this is every city – the traveller, the passenger. Then again, it’s Berlin. The words are so poetic, constantly moving with the music, travelling with the beat. People often forget what a genius Iggy is, instead they focus on the way he cuts himself up. I love how he uses words to get a reaction, whether by lyrically representing something in a really powerful way or by adlibbing live to change the meaning. Once I saw him doing ‘Sister Midnight’, and he changed the lines “I had a dream last night, Mother was in my bed and I made love to her” to “Last night I saw my mother, she was in my bed, her arsehole was black and blue.” What other vocalist can get away with that? genius.”
The War Against Silence (US)
The other album Exile illuminates, for me, is Neapolis, the new one from Simple Minds. I have no idea what plans for US distribution the band has for this record, but I liked their last one, Good News From the Next World, well enough to spring for this UK limited edition in its hinged metal tin. I’ve grown attached to the tin, actually. In some alternate universe, where they could never quite perfect plastic, all CDs come in metal tins like this. What they make the CDs out of, if plastic didn’t pan out, I’m not certain, but if I lived there I could cultivate the affectation of snapping a CD tin open and closed, like smokers flipping the covers of their eight-ball lighters back and forth, which was the only thing I ever thought was cool about smoking.
Ever since Simple Minds temporarily got stuck in the arena-anthem rut in the late Eighties, I’ve been expecting them to implode, but not only have they managed not to, for me, they’ve since contrived to stay out of ruts entirely. Good News From the Next World was a return to Sparkle in the Rain-era Big Music, but Neapolis, in an oblivious reversal of the usual “We just wanted to get back to basics” earnestness, plunges eagerly into a thicket of synthesizers, sequencers, drum machines, processor swirls, acoustic-guitar jangle and Jim Kerr’s emotive crooning.
The hissing drum loops ally the record with Gary Numan and Curve, but Kerr and Charlie Burchill (and returned bassist Derek Forbes, and even old drummer Mel Gaynor on one song) are not haunted by (or don’t recruit) any of the demons that beset the others, and as a result this is an incongruously sunny record of twitching music. I expect it’s too sunny for neo-goth audiences, insufferable in the way that people who leap out of bed ready to initiate pledge-drives and repaint guest bedrooms are to those whose idea of a productive start to a day is getting to the fifth cup of coffee before the mailman comes.
If Numan’s pinched snarl and Halliday’s processor-flayed sighs are your idea of the genre’s vocal ideals, Kerr’s sweet, sincere, lilting melodies may seem as out of place as Pat Boone singing Motorhead songs, and if anonymous aggression and a drug-trip-enhancing blur are integral to this sort of music, to you, listening to Simple Minds gloss over them may be like watching your parents failing to wear jeans correctly. But the three albums complement each other, to me,
Numan’s providing weight, Curve’s supplying buzz and Simple Minds’ adding sparkle, and even if the three sides of the triangle don’t appear to be the same length when you gauge them from your own vantage point, you always understand the music you like better if you know what it leaves out. And if eighteen-year-olds are the arbiters, I’m wearing my jeans wrong already
Singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill bring original bassist Derek Forbes back into the fold, as well as New Gold Dream producer Peter Walsh and drummer Mel Gaynor, for an album that eschews stadium-shaking anthems for the sort of atmospheric, detailed synth-rock the band perfected on Sons and Fascination and New Gold Dream.
Some clanging guitar, industrial rhythms and drum loops show the band has keeping abreast of electronica, but generally understatement, luxurious soundscapes and melodic songcraft are the order of the day.
Kerr In The Community
Dele Fadele – ‘Vox’ April 1998 (UK)
If the young Jim Kerr; who fronted Johnny And The Self Abusers in the late ’70s tailspin of punk, knew what fate had in store for him and his mates, would he had bothered? Of course he would. Driven to escape boredom on a grim Scottish council estate, the SImple Minds frontman always had dreams of being beamed worldwide on global telescreens. The problem is that his dreams have come true arguably at the expense of his muse.
He fell in love with America and slowly transformed his group from an exquiste European mainstream experiment into an increasingly gargantuan rock machine. 1995’s overdone ‘Good News From The Next World’ would seem to have been the last straw – one collection of grand gestures and grander platitudes too many. So what do Simple Minds do, three years on? They attempt a return to their roots. A return to credible early – ’80s albums like ‘Empires And Dance’ and ‘Sister Feelings Call’ to find the spark that set ’em off in the first place. A retreat to a basic and creative way of working that seizes old technologies and updates them in a time of vast and sweeping changes.
But is it possible to return to the past after so many bridges have been torched, and so many fans have been inspiried by the corporate brand entity and giant spectacle Simple Minds have become? Yes and no. A compromise has been struck, and ‘Neapolis’ knowingly combines the best of both worlds into something that retains the trademark group signature but is more forward-looking than anything they’ve done for years. This means the cinematic sweep of the words and music remain, but are enhanced by all manner of modern gimmickry’ expensive noises that acknowledge current techno are splashed over riffs and grooves.
If there’s a flaw in this approach, it’s that the space in the music that Simple Minds exploited in the early ’80s has been replaced by a need to make sure there’s always something going on. Preferably something spectacular. Like a European art movie made with a multi-million dollar Hollywood budget, ‘Neapolis’ sometimes tries to hard to have tis cake and eat it.
‘Song For The Tribes’ is the opening statement, a meditation on fame and an outreach to the audience that blows up a simple semi-acoustic song into an anthem, and has Kerr admitting he can’t really say everything he really wants to say. The catchy ‘Glitterball’ would’ve been a disco-ey song in the old days, but settles for being a bittersweet celebration of hedonism, with visions of what Kerr calls “the great unloved” whiling away their weekends in escapist dancehalls, bellies full of wine.
‘Néapolis’ seems to be Simple Minds on the outside looking in – and Charlie Burchill’s music astutely conveys this sense of dislocation – as if they sometimes feel trapped by their riches and position and want to actually join the struggling people on the street. Certainly ‘War Babies’ could double as a love song and a strange snapshot of Sarajevo, while the uptempo ‘Lightning’ acyually articulates the feeling of wanting to be someone else.
The other hard-rockin’ track on an album of mid-tempo numbers occasionally disfigured by noise comes as a surprise. ‘Killing Andy Warhoal’ is the world seen from the viewpoint of one of the late Manhattan-based artist’s stable of stars, and might even allude to Valerie Solanas shooting the dyed-hair scenester in the late ’60s. The closer, ‘Androgyny’, continues the theme of outsiders and strangeness, while being designed as a nagging, circular, electronic instrumental.
Simple Minds have once again tried, perhaps unsurprisingly, to cover all bases. But at least they’ve done so with a discernible measure od success this time.
TAKE KERR NOW: JIM SPILLS THE BEANS
There’s some hype about ‘Néapolis’ marking a return to Simple Minds’ past….
I don’t really buy into this idea of going back. I don’t think you can go back. The technology’s changed, we’ve changed, the world has changed. Why would you need to goback?
Which tribes populate ‘Song For The Tribes’?
It’s an abstract idea; the first song we’ve ever written about Britain in a way. There was an image of Britain at specific times last year, whether it was the euphoria of the election or the whole Princess Diana thing. Stock images of Britain were trotted out when, in fact, Britain is si fragmented. Different people want to live in different ways. Some wanna live up trees, some wanna live in castles. Not only do I not but into this thing of Britain and Brits and all this Brit-talk, but I actually think it’s a way of holding people back.
Why the fascination with Andy Warhoal?
The usual things. Iconography. Art as a testament. I was in the museum of Modern Art in New York checking out a few paintings, no big deal. But in the coffee shop afterwards, these two guys sat next to me, and I noticed that one of them was an, er, Andy Warhoal lookalike, and that was intriguing. I did a double-take. I couldn’t help but hear what was going on, because they got quite animated. And it became apparent they were having a huge disagreement on what they’d just seen, and it also became apparent they were lovers, so there was more at stake. One of them said: “They’re killing Andy Warhoal, killing his name, killing the bmythology.” Very intense. I improvised around the idea.
Could ‘War Babies’ be read as an anti-war statement?
It’s not about war between nations. Probably more the fallout, that’s like a war, between people, when communication breaks down. Emotional warfare.”
Back in the Sixties, little Jimmy Kerr would always hang out with Paulie Hewson in the little shed in the backyard. There they would dream about the bands they would front, the songs they would write and the political issues they could sing about to crowds all over the world. Jim’s first band, Johnny and the Self Abusers, made a minimal impact on the punk audiences of the day but his next one caught a ride on the more style and musicianship orientated
New Wave movement. Simple Minds’ debut ‘A Life In A Day’ was mature and tuneful and was the first in a long line of rock ‘n rhetoric albums. John Hughes used the song ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ over the closing credits of his teen bonding movie ‘The Breakfast Club’ and the image of Judd Nelson raising a triumphant fist took Jim Kerr and his gang to stadiums all over the world.
But little Paulie Hewson became Bono and his U2 gang eventually eclipsed Simple Minds (and all other contemporary competitors) with the hugeness of their PopMart tour. So Jim Kerr has decided to forget about those Belfast kids and Sarajevo victims and South African freedom fighters and has released ‘Néapolis’, a rock-steady piece of work that sounds current and futuristic, all at the same time. There’s echoes of Bowie, Kraftwerk, the Rolling Stones and, strangely enough, U2, scattered all over this surprisingly un-boring CD. All these 11 tracks were written by Jim and his faithful old mucker, Charlie Burchill
‘Song For The Tribes’ is a restrained but menacing opener that is followed by Jim Kerr doing his homage to ‘Boys And Girls’-period Bryan Ferry on ‘Glitterball’. Electronica waltzes nog! The third winner in a row is the first single ‘War Babies’ which is a ‘Vienna’-ish Euro ballad that casts a spell over you and keeps you interested all the way through. ‘Superman v. Supersoul’ is a mid-album strong point with its sweet melody drifting over an insistent percussive underbed. ‘Killing Andy Warhol’ sees Jim letting his new cool mask slip slightly although only with the naff lyrics.
Generally, though, ‘Néapolis’ (meaning “new city”) is a brave attempt on Jim Kerr’s part to win back some late Nineties cred, fans and respect. It’s not as important what he’s saying as how the lyrics combine with the music to create a well-rounded and frontline rock album. He’s stopped competing with U2 and seems comfortable knowing that he can still put out an album as good as anything little Paulie can. Don’t you forget about Jim!
NO SIMPLE ANSWER
Jim Kerr’s career is back on track but, as he tells Lousie Gannon, marriage and music don’t mix
Lousie Gannon – ‘The Express’ 21st February 1998 (UK)
Jim Kerr walks into a London studio and throws four large bags into the corner of the room. In a few hours he will be on a plane to perform Simple Minds’ new single ‘Glitterball’ in France, then Belgium, then every other country in Western Europe. He looks pleased at the prospect of his impending flight. Kerr is a man who does not like to stick around.
Like many clebrities, he is as famous for his personal life as his success with Simple Minds. For the past few years he has avoided interviews, ducking the inevitable questions about Liam Gallagher and his ex-wife Patsy Kensit, the controversial king and queen of britpop. Warnings are flashed: “Jim doesn’t talk about private matters,” say his minions. But five minutes into his company and he’s talking happily about his son, his home in Ireland and his old school. There are no invisible barriers. he is open, down-to-earth and honest.
“Listen” he says in his at times impenetrable Glasgow burr: “You’ve got to be honest or there’s no point. You’ll never move on.” He shrugs. In 39 years Kerr has done nothing but move on. He was born in Toryglen, one of the toughest parts of Glasgow, the eldest of three boys. It was a typical working class upbringing. His father was a labourer, his mother looked after the children in their flat overlooking the Crossband Road. Kerr wanted something else and when he was eight years old he met a boy called Charlie Burchill in a sandpit. Together they decided to conquer the world.
Their band, Simple Minds, with Kerr on lead vocals and Burchill on guitar, was one of the most successful bands in the eighties, selling vast numbers of records in Britain and America, including hits such as ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me), Belfast Child and All The Things She Said. They released album after album to massive acclaim and made millions in the process.
In the Nineties they began to flounder. “They were a few years where we just went wrong,” says Kerr. “So we had to get things together and go back to go forward.” He says this with confidence as their new album, ‘Neapolis’, has had the sort of critical reaction most bands only dream about.
On a personal level, Kerr accepts that his desire to keep moving has wrecked both his marriages. His marriage to Chrissie Hynde ended in 1989 after four years and one daughter, Yasmin, now 13. His marriage to Patsy kensit ended in 1996 after four years and one son, James, five.
“I’ve never been able to crack being married. I wanted it to work,” he says, “but I was never there enough because I was always too obessed with the band. Even when I had the time to be there I wanted to be off travelling somewhere else and even if I was in the house I’d be spending hours away in my head so I may as well not have been there anyway.”
As he talks you realise this is something he has had to force himself to come to terms with. Music for Kerr has always come first. “I used to think I had a deprived upbringing but I acyually had an amazingly special one because I had parents who loved each other and loved us beyond everything. I hoped I’d be able to recreate that, but I couldn’t do it. “There were times when I’d think I’m going to put my relationship first but when I did that, the music suffered so I always reverted to the music and the relationship suffered.”
But it was Patsy who made him realise he could not carry on trying to have both. “When you’re married you need to be there for someone, especially when they are children. A marriage can’t work when you are separted by work because the glue just becomes unstuck. “I’m a very spontaneous person when it comes to big emotional decisions. If I meet someone I fall in love with I have to marry them and have kids with them. It happened with Chrissie and Patsy. They’re both the sort of women you fall in love with. But I was just so bad at the small emotional things.”
Catholic-raised Kerr had never wanted to be divorced. After one divorce he thought it would never happen again. It did because he realised what pain he was causing Patsy by putting his career before his marriage. They decided divorce was the only option. “When you see someone you love unhappy you have to take stock. I’ve been married to two fantastic women. Your reasons for loving someone never change. They’re special and I respect them for being incredibly good mothers.”
So far there is no mention of Patsy’s new husband, Liam Gallagher. It has been said that the two musicians can’t bear to be in each other’s company, can’t stand the mention of either’s name. Kerr laughs. “Where do people get these ideas from? It’s just mad.” One thing Kerr has managed to do is mantain very good relationships with his exes. Chrissie and Patsy became friends through Kerr and ironically it was Chrissie who first introduced Patsy to Liam. Kerr is in weekly touch with the Gallaghers.
“People seem to think it’s strange that we don’t hate each other. Strange that it’s quite comfortable. But Liam really loves my son and so does his brother and that’s all I care about. “James goes to a poncy private school and half of me worries as it’s not what I had, but the other half thinks that’s great. He gets to mix with a cosmopolitan crowd but he still knows all the stories of all his saints; he spent New Year up in Scotland with his cousins and he loves it.”
Ask if Kerr’s words are tinged with regret for a family life that has remained out of his grasp and he shakes his head. “I’m not going to get married again. I’m single now and I’m happy because I think I’m a loner who isn’t alone. At times I do meet women and think: ‘They’ve got a busy career, they’re flying all over the place, maybe it would work’, but at the end of the day, I know it couldn’t. I’ve got two families and my family up in Scotland. There’s always something going on. I don’t think I’ll ever marry again.”
These days Kerr spends much of his time in Ireland in a mansion outside Dublin he brought with Patsy when they were married. he is in good shape and still looks boyish. Tactile and chatty, he’s relaxed in female company. His fairish hair is cut short and his clothes – T-shirt and black jeans – are discreetly expensive. He admits to working on his apperance. He runs every day, has given up alcohol and keeps to the vegetarian regime he began when he first met Chrissie Hynde. “I was eating a burger. She looked at me and said: “You’re too cool to eat meat’. There was no lecturing, no shouting, it was just this incredible feeling she was right.”
His closet friend is still his co-writer, co-musician Burchill, the boy he met in the sandpit 31 years ago, the man with whom he is enjoying renewed success. “We’ve always had this thing that Simple Minds isn’t just about the music, it’s our crusade against the world. There’s always been the two of us in it, there’s had to be. When there’s just one of you people think you’re mad, with two you’ve got a revolution.
“It’s always been the music first and we’ve both been able to remind each other where we come from which keeps our feet on the ground. There were times, especially in the early days, when we used to go into rock-star mode – the drink, the drugs, the bad behaviour, the lot. But we were always aware it was an attitude of mind, something you could go into and come out of again.”
His mind goes to his great friend, Michael Hutchence, who was found dead just months ago in a hotel room. “He was a great guy,” he says sadly. “But Michael liked to live the rock star bit all the time. You just can’t do that.” After a pause, he returns to his years with Simple Minds. He admits he and Burchill are probably the only people who understand each other. In Scotish tradition their first-born sons were both given their father’s names. “But James’ second name is Charlie and Charlie’s son’s is James,” he says with a smile.
It is not the only thing they have in common. “People think that it you’ve had our sort of lifestyles, you’re always out with the models, always chasing women but we’ve always been incredibly lazy where women are concerned. We never went out looking. We’ve both met our wives in hotels. I met Patsy in a hotel corridor in Spain. She was shooting a film in the hotel and I was staying there doing a concert. I kept being told I couldn’t go to this place and that place because they were filming so I was getting really grumpy about it. Then I bumped into her in the corridor. She said she was bored so I asked her if she fancied coming to a concert – our concert. That was it.
“I met Chrissie in a hotel reception when we were doing this show together. She was this incredibly cool, sussed American chick and I was this 20-year-old Glasgow boy. I was blown away by her. “Burchill’s story is the happiest. He is still married to the hotel receptionist he met in Switzerland.” In an hour Kerr has to catch a plane. He points to his bags in the corner of the room and smiles. “I get a buzz from knowing that any minute I’ll be off.” This is what life is all about. Jim Kerr doesn’t like his feet to touch the ground.