A Long Way
After a mammoth
world tour, Simple Minds are preparing to record
the follow-up to 'Street Fighting Years'. Bassist
Malcolm Foster takes time out to talk to Michael
- 'Guitarist' September 1990 (UK)
As we're minutes
from Hampton Court, retreat of regal nutter
and wife basher Henry VIII, the Kings Arms public
house seems an apt setting. Is 'The Queen's
Head' just down the road, I wonder? In this
posh part of the 'Rockbroker Belt', Malcolm
Foster is enjoying some time off before joining
the rest of Simple Minds in Scotland to record
their 10th studio album. But before that, he's
off to see Paul McCartney and an old guitar-playing
was with me in The Pretenders, so it's nice
to see old friends doing well. He's been doing
a lot of sessions and has finally got himself
into a band again. You can't get much better
than McCartney as far as playing and learning
is concerned - he's got so much to teach people."
Malcolm's no stranger
himself to landing the big gig of course - after
an on-and-off stint with McIntosh in The Pretenders,
he was called to fill the considerable
shoes of John Giblin in Simple Minds. How did
it come about?
"It was a telephone
call from Jim Kerr - would I like to come up
and have a play - and it just fell into place.
I played for about three days and it was just
'do you want to join?' 'Yeah, why not?' I've
known them for years though, because when I
first went out to the States with The Pretenders,
Simple Minds supported us. That's when Jim met
Chrissie and all that, and Mel Gaynor lives
just around the corner so I've always kept in
Do you know why
Giblin left the band?
"I don't know
why they fell apart really, because what he
did on 'Street Fighting Years' was brilliant
- he's a very clever player. Obviously it didn't
work at the political level of the band, but
it was a very good opening for me," he smiles.
"I was very glad of it."
in at the deep end, Malcolm duly set off on
the band's '89 world tour. 75 dates from May
to November, including their biggest gig so
far at Wembley Stadium and the Italian show
recorded for the 'Verona' video. Hard work but
fun, I persume?
It was the most enjoyable tour I've done in
my life - a bunch of excellent, straightforward
people. All the crew and management were on
the line so it was really nice. There were people
there to do everything other than wipe your
arse, basically. Everything else is catered
for and you're playing, nothing else. It's the
same with recording - the band have their own
studio in the middle of nowhere, private, and
it's a really good atmosphere."
Did you get nervous
before playing such a big tour? "This sounds
terribly blase, but I don't tend to get nervous
before gigs. When I first started working with
The Pretenders we went straight into massive
stadiums in America - 50 to 100,000 people -
so the nervousness isn't really there any more.
I actually enjoy the adreneline rush before
you go on, so where other people might get butterflies,
I just can't wait to get out there and play.
They are a very straightforward band and have
no preconceptions about their starquality as
it were, but just want to play, so that's great.
There must be
highlights and lowpoints on a project that long,
was Wembley, definitely. The lowpoints were
a couple of gigs in Belgium, just when a very
good friend of mine was killed over here, so
that was tough to get through. But it was a
good learning process, using that emotion to
The band didn't
go to America this time - any particular reason?
"Well, they liked
'Don't You Forget About Me' and 'Waterfront'
type of songs, but I think with the last album
- being a bit more political in a European way
- they left it alone. It did quite well on import,
but I don't think it even got a general release.
But I think there has been a few sackings over
there and there's now the right people in the
right places and there's an offer to go over
there and use some American musicians. So there'll
probably be a lot of touring to be done in America
The other half
of the Simple Minds rhythm section is of course,
the living legend that is Mel 'forearm smash'
Gaynor. What was playing with him like?
"Oh he's just
the best, no question. He's very intuitive and
he listens. His monitor system is very good
so he listens to every nuance of every player
and drives it along - and as soon as you think
he can't take it any higher, he'll step up a
gear and give it more power. He's just a natural
In recent years
the Simple Minds sound has filled out into a
spacious, almost progressive rock sound - a
stark contrast to the tight style of the four-piece
"Yeah, The Pretenders
were very raw, while Simple Minds are more anthemic.
There's a terrible conception that they're trying
to copy what U2 have done, but the different
aspects to the bands are miles apart. It's just
that commitment to the music, that power, that
makes it sound like that. But Jim's changing
again. The new stuff is more back to the 'Once
Upon A Time' sort of stuff - a lot more rock
'n' roll, a lot less political.
Was this eight-piece
band the largest you've played in?
"Well, I played
with an eight-piece band years and years ago...
called Rocky Sharpe and the Replays."
What, the Rama
Lama Ding Dong Rocky Sharpe?!
"Yeah," he laughs.
"I did two albums with them and one or two gigs,
but that was about it. The Variety Club in Batley
was one I think, where you come on after the
bingo and there's juggling poodles in the break..."
follows as Malcolm reveals earlier affiliations
that could make even the most hardened of session
"A claim to fame
here - I was involved in the Tight Fit organisation.
Remember them? It was basically Clive Cawder
and Tim Friese-Green, and I did all the singles
with them and a couple of dance records - one
with Angela Rippon," he grins, shaking his head.
"Obviously not great, but it was constant work
and you just went in there and done it."
Laugh? I nearly
bought a round. Foster was still in search of
the band ethic though - as he admits, "session
work can be really cold. I haven't really got
that session attitude - switching on to a song,
playing for three hours and switching off again."
some more ill-fated projects...
"I played in the
pubs and clubs for years. There was an amazing
circuit in London in the seventies - it's gone
now which is a kind of a shame. It's like being
in the studio - you're under scrutiny. You're
playing somewhere small and you see someone
in the audience who you saw the week before
playing some really good bass and you think,
'God, he's going to be listening to me'. You
try something flash and bugger it up... big
embarrassment. But that's what's it's all about.
If you want to play in some unique style and
be recognised for that, then you have to go
through that. The more pubs and small clubs
you play the better."
"After Rocky Sharpe
I did something with Mud... then Wishbone Ash,
just a few things here and there. Wishbone Ash
was really funny, because I was in rehearsal
with them for a week and I just couldn't hear
myself play, they were so bloody loud. The gear
I had with me just wasn't up to it! I had to
stand right by my amp trying to hear what was
going on, but they just said 'you're too introverted,
you don't move around enough. We don't want
you any more!' They were a nice bunch of people,
but ridiculously loud!
"This is up to
about '82, and through a few connections, my
brother got in touch with Jimmy Honeyman-Scott
and he phoned up Robbie to play guitar with
the Pretenders, 'cos Jim'd had enough of playing
guitar and wanted to play keyboards. Pete Farndon,
their bassist, had been sacked, and then he
and Jim died... But things got going again after
a few months with me on bass and Robbie on guitar."
That must have
been strange - the two deaths must have affected
the atmosphere around the band?
was going through a weird time as well - she
was having her baby and going through the bust-up
with Ray Davies. But she thrives on that 'pain
of life' thing, it provides a good inspiration
for her writing. But we went to America, made
'Learning To Crawl' and toured that. It was
the first time I'd toured America and we were
playing much larger places than I'd expected."
Was the move from
pubs to American stadiums daunting?
"I enjoyed the
whole aspect really. It'll be a bit more difficult
next time, with having a child at home, but
generally it's a very enjoyable process. You
are chaperoned through it and you approach these
cities on such a level that you're not too bothered
about things - you stay in great hotels and
you're chauffeured around. I love flying and
I love meeting people, and you can learn a great
deal from musicians over in America - they've
got a great knowledge of music.
"Over there they'll
drive 150 miles to see a gig, you drive straight
into the gig, its got good parking, cheap tickets
and you're guaranteed a good show because everything
is geared towards the gig. You get tons of radio
play, lots of TV adverts, it's all geared to
bringing people in. Over here... I didn't even
know Prince was playing at Wembley! Then there's
Knebworth, Glastonbury - and we really should
be hearing more about these things."
Come 1986 and
the preparations for the recording of 'Get Close',
there were more upheavals in The Pretenders
hadn't been playing much - his playing wasn't
as good as it could of been. And Chrissie basically
sacked him. My whole argument was that Martin
Chambers was the rhythm section of The Pretenders
and it didn't really matter who was playing
bass. So I just said I didn't want to be involved
any more. I went off to do... well, very little
for eighteen months basically," he laughs.
"Then, I got another
phone call from Chrissie saying that the band
she had was crap and could I come back! So I
went over and toured 'Get Close' right until
the end of '87. I suppose I've had the luck
to be in the right place at the right time.
I think I've always given the best of my ability
and never tried to shit on anybody. I enjoy
what I do, basically."
Minds must have been Foster's biggest musical
challenge to date. Not only did he have to take
over from Giblin, but there was also the legacy
of Derek Forbes, whose fluid lines had a central
melodic role in the band's earlier material.
Was it difficult getting to grips with their
like Someone, Somewhere In Summertime is a classic
bass line, but very clanky, very Rickenbacker.
I just play it as i would have always played
it - a lot more bassy than Derek would have
used. But then the band's progressing, the bass
is more of a foundation now.
importnat with Mel, because he's a very busy
player. And Charlie's really coming out of his
shell and a lot of the nuances are reliant on
him now, as opposed to Derek or John. Before,
Mick and Charlie would play this wall of sound
which John or Derek would play these intricate
lines over. But it's nice now because it allows
you to pick and choose the particular points
where you want to accent. But one of the things
I like about Simple Minds is that they chop
and change their styles within their musical
Do you play fretless
at all for some of Giblin's parts?
"Yeah. For 'Street
Fighting Years' I got hold of a pre-production
Yamaha electro-acoustic. (The APX b12F, as reviewed
in May's Guitarist.) It's a really beautiful
instrument but I'll probably get rid of it now
because there's not much I could use it for
on this next album. It is a pretty difficult
instrument to play, though. It feeds back a
lot, and harmonically it's awkward - when you
try to get clean notes to sustain. But it was
a great way to start a gig - go on with this
thing and fight with it for five minutes then
throw it away. No problems 'til tomorrow night!
"My main bass
is built by Roger Giffin - I've actually got
three of his.My main one and a fretless are
from 1983, when he was in his peak building
phase - they were actually the first two basses
he ever made. Then I've supplemented those with
one of the new Wal MB4 MIDI basses, which I'll
use on this album a lot more I think. Steve
Lipson, the producer, is really into the different
sounds of things, so I've basically got it to
allow him to expand as he wants. I've also got
a couple of Warwicks - a 4-string and a 5-string
- the Yamaha acoustic, and an old Danelectro
Longhorn which I use for those horrible, filthy
sounds. It's this perspex blue, really cheap
and probably worth around £100 new. But its
got this very distinctive sound to it - a sort
of early Entwistle clank, all top and bottom
with nothing in the middle.
"And i put it
all through Ampegs - SVTs and 4x10 cabinets,
always. I've got very few effects, just a Roland
echo and a Korg digital delay. I'm trying to
get hold of a Minimoog rack - basically and
old Minimoog that's been put in a rack so you
can get all these distorted sounds for bass.
And I use Samson radio mikes, but that's it.
I actually prefer just the bass straight into
the amp. For a long time it was just a Precision
and the Ampegs, and I drifted into the effects
because of Simple Minds really - they require
lots of slap-back echoes and stuff. It's a new
thing for me really because I am a bit of a
you as a bass player?
"My main influences
would be Carl Radle of Clapton's band, who's
just a wonderful country and rock 'n' roll bass
player. McCartney, obviously. Chuck Rainey,
who did all the Steely Dan stuff. And Willie
Weeks who played all the early Aretha soul stuff
and then the Doobies. He's played on just about
every record you could ever imagine on Motown.
If it wasn't Jerry Jenner or Carol Kayne, then
it was Willie.
"The best albums
to listen to would be 'Sgt Pepper', because
of the parameters they used on that album...
well, there aren't any. 'Royal Scam' by Steely
Dan, which is my favourite album of all time.
It's just the best, cool playing. Any Elvis
Presley album, just for the feel and groove
of it, and any Crusaders album for the same
reason, because of the way they changed people's
ideas about jazz and rock 'n' roll. And the
new Kylie Minogue album - because it's crap,
and if you play nothing like that, you'll do
What do you feel
about jazzy rock types who've almost turned
the bass into a lead instrument?
"Well, it's very
clever playing I suppose, but i prefer to pick
and choose, and not walk in knowing I've got
to play a hundred noted a minute. I'd much rather
be minimalistic about it, leave holes and allow
other people to come through.
is very clever as well. He builds things up
slowly, there's no rush and the sontaneity of
the players allows the track to change direction
half way through. 'Street Fighting Years' was
a different way of recording. It was recorded
in six or seven different places and stitched
together like a jumper. I think it worked. A
lot of people berated it when it came out, but
I think that's because they didn't listen to
it enough. I defy anybody to say it's not a
good album for what it is - and it sold alot
of copies, which is the bottom line really."
Is money what
attracted you to the business?
"I suppose it
does everybody at the beginning. my heroes at
the time were Elton John and the Stones and
you just think, 'Oh that's kind of cool'. But
after that, you find the enjoyment of just playing.
It's great to go and play with a reggae band,
and then go and play skiffle or whatever..."
Acting like some
probing careers officer, I ask Malcolm what
he'd like to be doing in ten years time. To
his credit, he has an answer...
"I'd like to be
living in Australia as opposed to here. It's
a beautiful place, very independent and a good
music scene. It's still in the genesis stage
down there - there's some great bands coming
out but the production leaves a little bit to
"I would like
to get into a bit of production, but just carry
on with what I'm doing really. I don't ever
see myself stopping playing, be it in the local
pub or in front of a million people on TV -
it doesn't bother me."
over-used? Jim Kerr thinks it might be - which
is why Simple Minds' new album marks a move
away from lofty conscience pricking. "I
used to say, dreams are all," he tells
Phil Sutcliffe. "Now I'm saying, Quit dreaming,
this is real life."
- 'Q' Magazine - May 1991 (UK)
staying here," says Jim Kerr, the broth
of his Glasgow accent as thick as ever. His
upturned palms take in not only the airy "umbrella
suite" - cutely bedecked with paper parasols
- which his record company has hired for interviews,
but the pastel luxuriance of the Halcyon Hotel
in general. It's his usual London pied-a-terre
during frequent trips away from his home beside
the Forth Bridge. In fact, he says, contrary
to the habitual rock star lament, he enjoys
staying in expensive hotels wherever they may
be. "I don't think, you know, it's, uh..."
He pauses, plainly on the brink of some reference
to "guilt feelings", but then decides
against any form of apology. "It's so good,"
again, Jim Kerr enjoyed every moment of Simple
Minds' last tour, in 1989, as well. "Life
just couldn't have been better for us then,"
he declares. "The three years off the road
we had before that put it in perspective. There's
a lot of perks to this life and I still have
a bit of a soplifter's mentality towards them.
You don't know how long it's going to last and
I'd hate to look back and think I didnae enjoy
it. With Live Aid I know we played. I've seen
the video, b ut I do not remember one thing
about it. It was just, whoosh. So I thought,
I'm not going to let that happen again. I'm
gonna take a couple of moments to savour things,
whether it's the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam
or watching AC Milan at the San Siro stadium.
Because this is pretty remarkable."
Now the upturned palms indicate his life at
To find Jim Kerr
in such gung-ho mood is hardly a surprise. He's
the good guy with the good ideas who translates
them into good deeds (be it organising Mandela
Day or refusing massive sponsorship from a brewery).
But he's also the career campaigner who's constantly
said things like "I love success, I love
to see winners" and "I want to achieve
greatness" (1981), "I'm interested
in cleaning the board, sweeping the world"
(1982), and "I'm one of the few people
in britain who still believes in the rock monster"
(1989). He's self-made and proud enough of it
to have once butchly proclaimed, "I've
dragged this band up by the balls!"
Jim Kerr has always
expressed both the best of intentions and the
biggest of ambitions and, at 31, he's made a
lot of his speechifying come true. On the other
hand, it hasn't been the easiest of years fro
Simple Minds - losing their original manager
and keyboard player and, at the concert to celebrate
Nelson Mandela's release, finding themselves
in a bizarre and potentially disastrous confrontation
with friend, hero and fellow good bloke Peter
The '89 tour was
a comeback of sorts. Their previous multi-plantinum
albums, Once Upon A Time and the double Live
In The City Of Light, had seen formerly friendly
critics turn on them. The accepted line was
that they had become "pomp rockers, repackaged
and trimmed in American chrome". then,
introduced by the distinctly quiet and sombre
Belfast Child single and otherwise laden with
serious politics, Street Fighting Years at least
passed muster with the reviewers. But as soon
as they got out on the road again and fell into
"rockists" habits like playing loud,
jumping about, shouting "Hello, Paris!"
and the like, they were back in the critical
According to Kerr,
though, these slings and arrows were brushed
aside by the fans' reaction. "The press
have never stopped us doing what the hell we
like," he says, with some fervour. "You
see, we had the small comfort of 40,000 people
every night getting into it..." (Well usually
more like 12 or 15,000 - but lots, nevertheless.)
for me, playing live was better than ever. Until
that tour I'd always been so nervous about the
shows that daytime on the road was fairly miserable.
I was fraught, brow furrowed - look at these
lines!" He proffers a corrugated forehead
for examination. "I puked a lot too. That's
one reason I used to be so thin. Mind, there
were a few times at those early gigs with punk
audiences where I thought it might come in handy.
They'd all be gobbing at me and I'd think, Wtach
it, I've got a secret weapon here."
he could never exert quite that level of alimentary
control. Instead, many a gig would be interrupted
by the singer's unscheduled dashes for the dressing
room, all too ofetn aborted for undignified
depostion of diced carrot in front of the drum
to matters base and physical, and recalling
that this band once styled itself"the thinking
man's Motorhead", had Jim - his marriage
to Chrissie Hynde broken up a year or so earlier
- regressed from New Man to less enlightened,
"laddish" ways back on the road?
weather was beautiful, everyone was very friendly,
there seemed to be lots of days off and I made
the most of them and... how do you mean 'laddish'?"
Sex and drugs
and the usual.
he ponders. "No drugs..."
Within days of
the tour ending. Simple Minds went into an Amsterdam
studio and recorded their cover of Prince's
Sign 'O' The Times - much-maligned, but a hit
nonetheless. Jim and guitarist Charlie Burchill
(they met, aged eight, in a Glasgow playground
sandpit) took to the place, felt they didn't
want to stop, and had the outlines of 10 new
songs by the time they left just before Christmas.
But before they could get down to celebrating
a year spent at Number 1 somewhere or other
nearly all the time, the balance sheets from
the tour started to come in. Cue a series of
number (and emotion)-crunching conversations
between Kerr and Bruce Finlay, the former record
shop owner from Edinburgh who had been the band's
manager and friend since 1979.
happy on the business side," says Jim.
"The outcome was a bit ramshackle."
You mean you didn't
make enough money?
I'd hate people to think we're saying, Poor
us. And we weren't ripped off, nothing like
that at all. But it's a big, big business. Things
had to be handled differently.
Sadly, they couldn't
agree on exactly how. Bruce Finlay broadly confirms
Jim's view of their parting, though adding that
the "reorganisation" proposed by Kerr
would have cut his percentage and demoted him
as underling to a hypothetical hard-nosed financial
wizard. "Simple Minds are hungry for success
and more success. Perhaps that has become an
obsession," he says, without rancour. "I'm
no heavyweight and that's what they want."
America they've signed to Randy Phillips, a
palpable potentate who also handles matters
fiscal for Prince and Rod Stewart. The little
local difficulty he faces is that, since their
Number 1 single with the untypical and hastily
cobbled together movie theme song Don't You
(Forget About Me) and Top 10 album Once Upon
A Time, in 1985. Simple Minds' US career has
been on the critical list and will shortly be
wheeled away to the morgue barring swift and
radical surgery. Meanwhile, in regard to what
the music industry knows as "the rest of
the world", Kerr says that "bruce
shoes are hard to fill," and day to day
affairs are still attended to "temporarily"
by their long-standing tour manager, Jim's brother
But that wasn't
all. They'd barely got back into the own "Bonnie
Wee Studios" at Loch earn, Perthshire,
to start recording the next album than they
realised another wheel had dropped off - apparently
Mick MacNeil, keyboard player, was no longer
with them. "he said he wanted to do other
things with his life," says Jim. "I
thought he'd get bored and come back, but he
didn't. And meanwhile the music went on."
So MacNeil quit
gradually, by a sort of osmosis, but Kerr's
feeling about it seems to have been much the
same as when previous original members and mates
from his teens, drummer Brian McGee and bassist
Derek Forbes, departed. They were "cruising".
They'd lost the consuming passion he demands.
If you get an idea when you're 12 years old
like I did, a vision, when you start the band
it's a bit like a boy's club," he says.
"You think the gang's going to stay together
forever, but things change. As well as the antagonism
and bile that comes from living so closely on
the road, people go off in different circles,
get married, have kids." He pauses, then
mutters darkle, "And when their wives start
joining the band...no." He doesn't elaborate.
"If that vision goes, it's a bit pointless
as Brian McGee remarked some while after he
left the band, "Once Jim gets his teeth
into something it comes away in chunks."
chunks clearly provided much of the character
which shaped Simple Minds' early albums from
interminable weeks of jamming. The charm has
been replaced piecemeal by the craft of experienced
sessioners Mel Gaynor (drums, the last to join
as a full member - ie on shares not wages),
Malcolm Foster (bass) and now Someone else (it
was Peter Vitesse, occasional sideperson to
Peter gabriel and Kate Bush, on the record but
it won't be on tour).
a sadness," says Jim, "but the good
in it is that communication's much faster. I
still love the idea of bands. But 10, 12 years
together like that, it's a bit unreal. Write
democratically, by committee, and what do you
get? Yes songs. So now me and Charlie are waiting
for the icy moment when we look at each other
and say, 'Who's next? You or me?' No, that'll
never happen. Fuck it, it'll sort itself out."
feels like coming back to your own private thoughts,
your own unquiet thoughts," he says of
Simple Minds' thenth album, Real Life, out this
month. "The bring-your-own-soapbox routine
was what we wanted to do with Street Fighting
Years, but it was very draining: I've got to
write a song about Mandela, about Belfast, about
the poll tax. I'm sure I will go back to those
things, but we have to cool it for a bit. At
the moment I've got people coming up to me and
saying. Have you written a song about the Gulf
War yet?" he shakes his head and puffs
out his cheeks in exasperation.
He says there's
no theme, bu the title track may serve as a
keynote at least. Equipped with the latest variant
on Simple Minds panoramasound, it's a Walk On
The Wild Side sort of tale about a London girl
who flies into New York, the "land of her
dreams", and lives her life in a day by
getting married and, somewhat inconveniently,
murdered inside 24 hours.
been a big thing in Simple Minds' lanuage,"
he says. "We've used the word in a postive
sense. But I wrote Real Life after I'd seen
an Ominbus programme about voguing." It
showed how the dance cult, seized upon by Madonna,
had become a peculiar form of performance art-cum-competitive
sport in New York gay and transvestite community.
"As the story emerged there was something
heartbreakingly sad about these people and their
dreams which they could never attain in a million
years. There was one particular girl who made
a big impact, very waif-like, but she was a
hooker and in the end she got wasted. It made
me think. Dreams are killing you if they're
as wild as those people's."
It's quite something
for Jim Kerr to grant his notion admittance
to the world of Simple Minds. When they were
making significantly-titled New Gold Dream album
in 1982, he took an enormous fancy to Werner
Herzog's movie Fitzcarraldo (the story of an
eccentric who tries to drag his ship over the
Andes) and in particular to its epigrammatic
sub-title. "Only dreamers can move mountains."
It seems to have crystallised his fondness for
visionary, inspirational rhetoric to evoke and
promote the band.
a richness to us, a hugeness," he'd say,
or "Euphoria probably isn't the right word,
but what am I going to call it? Grace? Majesty?
Momentum?" Praising Van Morrison, he said,
"When he writes it's like he's got a direct
connection to the centre of the universe."
When they played Wembley, he said, "It
was a pub gig! I've never gone on stage and
thought the place was too big". he preached
the universality of Simple Minds' music, "The
big 'people's bands' were The Clash and Paul
Weller. We felt. They're not people's bands
at all, they're London bands. They're not international,
they're not even worldly, and we have all that
quality inside us, inherent and boiling."
At the start of
their global success in 1985, he said, "I
love the idea of rock music which shoul be used
to inform or communicate or even, dare I say,
The Minds' world
tour for Amnesty International and their many
other campaigning songs and concerts followed
that stadium-size statement. Perhaps he'd brought
all the dreams back round to reality - somehow,
for a while, combined all the contraflowing
instincts imbued in him since his extraordinarily
happy childhood in an eleventh-floor Glasgow
council flat where his lefty father stuck a
picture of Lenin on the living room wall, his
devout Catholic mother responded with Jesus,
and they both honoured a portraitn of the late
the Fitzcarraldo thing," he says, "but
he's completely off his head, that Herzog. I
don't know what that says about me. Well, we
all ger carried away. In Real Life I like the
sense of irony about what I used to say: dreams
are all, without dreams you cannae live, all
that. Now I'm saying, Quit dreaming, this is
Real Life. I like the sense of recoiling. There's
something very point blank about it."
As Jim Kerr considers
his visions and realities, how they relate to
Simple Minds and how much they mean to him now,
it's worth recalling that this is a man who
has several times described the break-up of
his marriage to Chrissie Hynde as the outcome
of a straight choice between his wife and his
"If it wasn't
for Peter Gabriel I don't know if I'd be ina
band," says Kerr. The first band he ever
saw was Genesis, probably at the Glasgow Apollo
in 1974, with Gabriel performing The Lamb Lies
Down on Broadway. The connections have continued
ever since, by design and happy coincidence.
As soon as Simple
Minds formed, in 1978, reviewers began comparing
them with Genesis (a damning thing to say about
a young band at the time). then two years later,
when Minds' relationship with their first label
Arista had run aground and, says Kerr, "things
were looking almost over for us", Gabriel
offered them the support spot on his European
tour. Not only that; he befriended and took
responsibility for them, ensuring they had ample
time to soundcheck, and personally persuading
the promoter to pay them £500 a night
rather than the £50 which had been their
fondest hope beforehand.
Later, as their
relative positions in the rock pantheon shifted,
Kerr sang backing vocals for Gabriel on the
So album, squirmed himself into knots of embarrassment
when he found that Simple Minds were headlining
over their friend and benefactor at an Italian
festival, and sang Biko with him at the first
Mandela concert, the "70th Birthday Party".
year's Mandela Freedom celebration was to prove
quite a strain on mutual respect and affection.
The pressure was on for all the artists under
the microscope of worldwide television. But
Simple Minds were playing live for the first
time ever without Mick MacNeil and amid consequent
rumours that it would be the band's final gig.
Moreover, Kerr was in some personal turmoil
over the political upheaval the event represented.
"At the first concert, everyone was shouting
for the freedom of Mandela, but I don't think
any of us expected it to happen so soon,"
he says. "It was a dilemma for me as someone
who had contributed to the cult of personality
around Mandela when he was a prisoner, the man
in the iron mask so to speak, being used as
a symbol for the need to end apartheid. Then
suddenly this rather fragile old guy has to
come out and deal with the myth we'd created."
During the build-up
to the concert, Kerr had been told that Gabriel's
camp wanted to go on before Mandela's speech.
Simple Minds were quite happy to follow him.
But when, for unspecified security reasons,
the police brought the timing of the speech
forward, Gabriel's set was moved to closing
the show and from then on things turned sour.
manager, Steve Hedges, got in touch beforehand
and wanted to manoeurve around," says Kerr.
"We weren't very keen. Deep inside I felt
that there'd been a general wimpiness from their
side, a preciousness which I couldnae understand
and I was cheesed off with it. Then again on
the day Peter himself asked if he could change
places with us, but there didn't seem to be
any reason why. We were all psyched up to go
on at the agreed time and, just then, we didn't
care about anyone else's fears or problems so
we said no."
But then the sustained
ovation for Mandela - nine minutes, "terrible
radio" as a fretful Beeb person remarked
- and the measured tread of his message to the
world threw the revised schedulen out of wack
once more. Towards the end of the speech, Hedges
and Gabriel rushed into Simple Minds' dressing
room demanding that they cut two of the four
songs they were scheduled to play because otherwise
BBC2 would be off the air before Gabriel got
a semi-detached observer by then as Simple Minds'
ex-manager, watched the battle of wills from
the sidelines. "Steve Hedges said that
Peter was always being the nice guy and losing
out," he recalls. "Jim and Peter showed
a lot of restraint in fact, making their points
very articulately. But it was a shame to see
two great artists arguing about their position
on the bill - especially on an occasion like
through your door a few minutes before you're
due on stage, it's wildly..... unprofessional,"
says Kerr. "I couldn't believe myself -
I'm looking at my hero and what I'm saying is,
You've got a fucking cheek!"
But he did agree
to cut Simple Minds' allotted four numbers to
two to accommodate Gabriel. Then, quite definitely
unknown to any of them, the controller of BBC2
who was in the stadium extended the broadcast
by half an hour and Gabriel ahd all the time
he wanted - which did nothing to cool Kerr's
and Peter Gabriel really are two of the nicest
guys in the business," says Findlay. "They
both have ruthless streaks, though, they couldn't
survive up there without that. What happened
was bad, but forgivable."
it down to nerves on Peter's part," says
Kerr diplomatically. "We're still talking.
The last time I spoke to him he was telling
me he's trying to devise a way of recording
in the car, because he gets all these great
ideas when he's driving. Imagine doing an overdub
on the motorway! That's Peter, I guess he doesnae
work like other people."
A seasoned operator
like Jim Kerr knows the importance of detail.
He plays the tricks of the trade impartially
on himself and others. Some days before this
interview he stopped listening to the Real Life
album to remove the temptation to mess about
with it as infinitum. Meanwhile, he was witholding
the tape from the Virgin offices because he
wants everyone concerned with "working"
it to come to it fresh when the promotional
It's a high-powered
campaign. At home the objective is to sustain
the glory with a fifth consecutive Number 1
album. But in America it's more a matter of
square one on their first tour in six years,
realistically returning to 2,000-seat theatres
rather than the sports arena of the mid-'80s.
The world tour takes a turn around the bigger
British barns during July and August. "Non-stop
for 12 months and then head for the hills,"
says Jim with relish. "That's what I like
to do. It's a bit of a bank job actually."
The hills, when
he makes it, are quite literal whether they
be around the studio at Loch earn or in the
highlands and islands when he takes off alone,
as has been his habit for the past several years,
at the wheel of his "slightly dented"
I'm probably moonlighting as a loner,"
he says, "It must be awful to be really
lonely and I'm not. I choose. I like freedom.
For me, the greatest thrill of having a certain
success and money is getting the credit card
so that you can go to Rio or to India tomorrow
if you want.
mean that in a flash bastard kind of way."
he adds, succumbing - on this occasion at least
- to the gremlins of guilt.
Whispery - Vague,
swooning Simple Minds marry art and commerce
Mat Snow - Q Magazine
Much has happened
to Simple Minds since their 1989 album Street
Fighting Years topped the album charts in nine
countries. Chief of which was the replacement
of keyboardist Mick MacNeil in controversial
circumstances by veteran sessioneer - he counts
Jethro Tull among his campaign medals - Peter
Vitesse. Fans, however, will discern no dramatic
new challenges to the ear - if anything, Real
Life is perhaps too smooth a refinement of the
sound of its best-selling predecessor. One senses
that the occasional brickbats the band received
when they were conquering the world's stadia
a few years ago have hit home. Produced by Steve
Lipson, Real Life is an album that wants to
sound big yet is terrified of also sounding
pompous or bombastic. Amazingly, it largely
succeeds, through a number of devices increasingly
familiar from records by the likes of Sting,
U2 and Phil Collins.
Courtesy of Malcolm
Foster, there is the pensive bass, humming to
itself with a discreet but statesmanlike authority,
whilst drummer Mel Gaynor keeps plenty of power
in authoritative reserve. The churchy atmosphere
of Vitesse's organ matches the band's frequent
recourse to gospel harmonies when they want
not only to underline the chorus but to feminise
the vocal texture dominated by the hunky Jim
Kerr larynx - which itself spends more and more
of its time in a whispery lower register. You
can still picture its owner live and in excelsis,
but rather than blaring the word, he vouchsafes
it confidentially like a sage of the hills.
Quite what the word is, of course, remains one
of those mysteries. Kerr has largely forsaken
the issue songs (albeit not too controversial)
of 1989 - Belfast Child, This Is Your Land -
without returning wholesale to the sense of
wonderment and scale that characterised Simple
Minds when they were still critics' darlings
in the early '80s. Instead, he aims for a sense
of stillness and intimacy at the heart of the
symphonic sweep when he sings of love and love-related
things with a swooning yet manly vagueness that
subordinates lyrical specifics to the surge
of the music.
One can confidently
state that when he intones "when you cry, it
rains, Africa", Jim Kerr is on the side of the
angels, but agreeably uplifted though one feels
in the company of all these songs, one remains
none the wiser about the small print conveyed
with such a sense of import. Cynically, one
might observe that any problems discerning the
narrative of such as the title track on the
radio are easily remedied by buying the record
and the enclosed lyric insert (Mick Jagger always
buries his vocals in the mud of the mix for
just this reason). The commercial success of
Real Life can be in no doubt. It is, however,
worth noting that one of the countries where
Street Fighting Years did less well was America.
The new one is better positioned to restore
their Stateside eminence, containing in Ghostrider,
the single Let There Be Love and Travelling
Man, FM radio-friendly anthems that subtly evoke
such chart-bestriders of yesteryear as Waterfront.
Jim Kerr is a man with a mission other than
to line his pockets, but he also wants to cast
his net wide. As a marriage of convenience between
art and commerce, Real Life will be hard to
(4 out of 5)
Jon Homer - Teletext
Following an album
as good as 1989's triumphant 'Street Fighting
Years' was never going to be easy for Kerr and
Co. But with 'Real Life' they've made a bloody
'Real Life' Isn't
as overly political as previous recordings and
yet still has the Minds trademark of dramatic,
crunching rock chords and intricate melodies
that creep up on the listener. Fans of the band,
incidently, will love it.
'Real Life' and 'See The Lights' build slowly,
full of grace and power, while other tracks
hint at the Simple Minds of old while remaining
very much in the present.
There are some
rather worrying Americanisms creeping into Kerr's
lyrics (An attempt to resusitate the band's
US career?), which are really the only weakness
All of which bodes
well for Simple Minds live, later in the year.
I'll see you there!
(4 out of 5)
Tony Thompson -
Simple Minds are
and take no notice of certain gapheads writing
for other less-well read music mags, one of
the best bands ever.
No question! 'Let
There Be Love' is a track which builds slowly
to a dynamic climax of wailing guitars and Kerr's
limited but highly effective vocals.
A welcome breath
of fresh air.
single of the
- NME (UK)
Before we start,
it has to be said that I've never been wild
about Simple Minds. In fact I probably know
less about them than I do about the internal
politics of Portugal, ie, bollocks all.
What then qualifies
me to comment upon this magnum opus? A piece
of work on which Simple Minds have poured a
year of their life? Isn't it rather like asking
a chimpanzee to negotiate the beauty of Picasso?
Well, actually, yes. But a fresh perspective
wouldn't go amiss. A view of the album as a
single entity, rather than just another chapter
in the biography of Simple Minds.
There are disturbing
memories that have steered me clear of Simple
Minds in the past. They remind me of gaudy 18th
birthday parties in Morecambe where the only
track the rugby players would leave their seats
and beer for was 'Alive & Kicking'. Once upon
the dancefloor they would embark upon a ritual
(in much the same way as they'd all sit upon
the floor and preten to row to the theme of
Hawaii Five-O) which entailed marching on the
spot for ages until it came to punch the air
for the crashing guitar bits. But time passes
and wounds heal, and if anything I really want
to like this album. Partly because all the old
hacks around here reckon Simple Minds went down
the pan years ago and are never gonna meet the
high standards of their early '80's period.
Mostly, though, because Britain has such a wanky
thing for the underdog. Why can't we celebrate
enormous acts? Isn't success what we always
want for the bands we like?
But then people
say 'Oh they've blanded out, they don't do anything
for me anymore'. What do you expect? All Simple
Minds stuff sounds similar, they aren't a crap
Indie band releasing a tawdry atmospheric drone
in the name of art. This is big time.
Which brings us
to the album. Erm, it's crap. Damn. But not
because they used to make stonking anthemic
tunes or because they've yurned into charity
bores. Simply because this album's romantic
scope is so very unromantic. Unlike, say REM,
I cannot imagine sitting on a balcony in Paris,
on a sunny day, reflecting on beauty whilst
this album plays. It doesn't work on its intended
level. It's a failure. It's meant to be a change
from the universal inspection of the past couple
of Simple Minds albums to a view of personal
I'm sure Kerr
and Co aren't fickle people, but if this is
introspective then it has no depth. 'Let There
Be Love', the single, is pompous and dull. Neat
sentiment but bereft of any atmosphere. 'Women'
has some nifty bongoes a la Prince's 'Time',
while 'Stand By Love' has a cool intro that
manages to sound like a Bounty advert and Bob
Dylan at the same time.
But what a voice
Jim Kerr has. Trying ever so hard to growl some
depth into his performance, but groaning fake
sentiments every time. Putting the lyrics on
the sleeve is a foolish move. "the city looks
pretty tonight/Oh hold now let's go 'til morning."
It's a cheap shot but they're asking for it.
has an annoying fiddly drum pattern while 'Ghostrider'
starts off on a funky rocket but has a keyboard
part ordered from Kentucky fried Chicken. There
is, however, one truly beautiful song called
'Rivers Of Ice'. It starts off real slow and
mellow but unlike the Simple Minds norm it doesn't
burst into bombastics after the first verse.
It remains quiet and charming with more passion
than the rest of the LP put together.
'Real Life' just
washes over me, leaves me cold. it doesn't touch
any emotion, not eben hate. How many sad people
must there be in our sacred land to propel this
straight to number one?
(1 out of 10)
Back To Reality
Minds' new blockbuster, 'Real Life', has provoked
a scalding response from some critics of their
blustery pomp rock. But Jim Kerr is unrepentant.
'We've always done what we wanted to do, regardless
of what was hip or what was not hip,' he insists.
- 'Melody Maker' 20th April 1991 (UK)
of this album was about this time last year
and the backdrop to it was very traumatic, because,
after 12 years, we were saying goodbye to Michael
MacNeil who, as you know, had been with us from
Jim Kerr is explaining
how, just before they started work on the new
'Real Life' LP, Simple Minds were reduced from
a creative trio to just Kerr and guitarist,
co-writer, co-conspirator and childhood friend,
"I knew there
was tension - there's always tension in a band,
various diagreements and stuff," he muses.
"You know, it gets better then it gets
worse, then it explodes. But I thought that
our bond was, erm, unbreakable, and, as I say,
this time last year we found that it wasn't
came to a head at the end of the band's last
world tour, when Kerr and Burchill decided to
start work almost immediately on a new album.
"We loved the tour and we ended up not
feeling tired, but feeling charged up,"
Kerr recalls. "There was no need to go
on holiday. Charlie and I wanted to write instantly,
because it had been three years between 'Once
Upon A Time' and 'Street Fighting Years', and
we didn't want to wait any longer."
But MacNeil had
other plans. "First thing I knew, he's
saying 'I wanna do other things in my life',"
recalls Kerr, "which, although we were
a bit shocked, I could understand - 12 years
is a long time and he has a kid and a wife.
I could understand, but deep down I thought
he'll get bored after two months, he's upset
now, he's tired. I said 'Look, we're gonna write,
and you join us when you want.' If he'd said,
'I'm quitting', I think Charlie and I would
have been really freaked out because we have
never written without him for 10 years. We thought,
'this is gonna be interesting, we've never done
this before, this is different, and he'll join
he pauses and gives a little laugh, "it
doesn't look like he's coming back."
Despite the trauma
of MacNeil's departure and the further upheaval
of a rift with longstanding manager, Bruce Finlay,
Kerr appears surprisingly relaxed and eager
to talk. No topics seem to be off limits or
too personal for him to consider thoughtfully,
honestly and articulately. He's on good form.
In part, he attributes this to his revived enthusiasm
liked being on stage before, nut I'd get so
nervous the day before, it was a bit of a love/hate
thing. Then I found on the last tour all my
nerves had gone, replaced by just excitement
for an evening, as opposed to worry.
years, I suddenly felt very confident, because
everything was going so well - the band was
really cooking in rehearsals and we had a great
set.... I couldn't wait to play 'Belfast Child'
and 'Street Fighting Years' and the band in
rehearsal sounded fantastic, and the album seemed
to be Number One in every country.
"And I think
something that dawned on me was that when you
go on stage, with 30, 40, 50 thousand people
there who've bought tickets four months in advance,
they're not coming to examine you. Maybe there
are two dozen people there to examine you -
and they are you guys," he says meaning
in general aren't coming to examine you, they're
coming because they like the music, and to have
a good time, and they're coming wanted it to
be good. The stage had become a natural environment
and I thought if I can have a good time doing
this, what the hell! What's there to be nervous
In fact, Kerr
became so relaxed during shows that one night
he simply walked off the edge of the stage -
and broke his arm! Apart from pain, what did
that feel like?
was nothing compared to the humiliation,"
he laughs ruefully. "It was ironic because
it was two nights after having played Wembley
Stadium, and we were then in a small town on
the border of Holland and Germany. Everyone
was saying that after Wembley this would be
very ant-climatic. But of all things, the audience
was so over the top that it was just a steaming
show. But I don't know what happened, I just
seemed to have a Condor moment... and just took
a walk and that was the end of it.
Part of Kerr's
renewed confidence stems from Simple Minds'
triumphant appearance at the Mandela 2 show.
Mandela concert was a unique pressure for us.
We hadn't played for about two-and-a-half years.
Not only were we playing without even a small
warm-up, coming on stage right after a two-year
break and appearing with all the creme de la
creme, Sting, Dire Straits and Whitney Houston,
but it was at Wembley Stadium as well...
"It was the
first time we played there, and some people
had said that we couldn't play there, that it
wouldn't work, that we wouldn't reach the back.
"But we went
on, and the sense of joy when we started 'Waterfront'
and the place erupted! I don't mean to sound
arrogant, but to me the whole day wnt up about
five on the Richter scale. It was there, and
our music was on course. That day we had 20
minutes to do our thing, and we had a song for
the event. No-one else seemed to have that.
We had the best song of all, 'Biko' by Peter
Gabriel. We really worked hard those 20 minutes,
and in the planning of it. And it was a great
The new album
- especially tracks like "African Skies"
and "Let The Children Speak" - recaptures
the rhythmic clash of classic Simple Minds.
Kerr credits producer Steve Lipson as the motivating
force behind the record, especially in tis early
stages which he'd kept from the "Street
Fighting Years" sessions.
"So we had
these rhythms early on and after 'Street Fighting
Years', we knew that if we were gonna make a
different record, we had to try and make the
arrangements shorter and sharper. Because 'Street
Fighting Years' was landscapes, and song building...
I love 'Street Fighting Years' very much, but
we had to avoid it. So that was it - no big
plan, but a couple of key pointers."
led Kerr and Burchill to explore brooding rhythmic
swathes that are much darker than the songs
on 'Street Fighting Years'.
The Children Speak' was a groove more than a
song and on 'African Skies' Lipson came up with
a tribal loop and Charlie did an interesting
thing, he played an almost classical European
melody over it.
"I was getting
this image of an Africa, not like we've been
talking about more recently, but of Sudan, or
the droughts. There's a beauty there but a kind
of futility as well. I kept getting these kinds
of images. Really beautiful landscapes, but
the hardest life ever. It seemed to me like
a really cracked, scorched-earth type of thing.
Very much a kind of impression-piece.
didn't have an overall theme," he declares.
"On some records a theme appears early
on, and that theme appears to make sense to
everyone instinctively. Whether it's 'Street
Fighting Years' or 'New Gold Dream'. With this
record there wasn't. It was a collection of
songs, as opposed to a theme.
"On the last
album we were involved in the big picture, the
big battles, apartheid, Belfast, poll tax, and
all these things, and there's something convenient
when you concentrate on the big picture - by
contrast, your own fears and battles and hardships
seem small and pathetic, even self-indulgent.
"And on the
last record I didn't want to come to terms with
a lot of things - and the big picture was something
you could wilfully escape into. So this record
is like a return to my realities - a return
to real life - it felt I was coming back from
the workfront with these songs to confront my
own fears and hopes and nightmares and a sense
of loss, though on a smaller, more private and
that you say there's no real theme because the
first side - lyrically at least - deals more
with love in a sense of personal relationships,
whereas the second side has a more universal
the first songs we worked on were definitely
the love songs or the more romantic songs -
'Let There Be Love', 'See The Lights' and 'Woman'
were the first songs that we worked on and they
were the ones with the pressure on because we
wanted songs we knew weren't like the last ones.
And then, when we had them under our belt, there
was a loosening up, and we worked on the songs
that covered real life - 'Let The Children Speak'
and 'African Skies' and 'Two Worlds Collide'."
After the way
the tabloids reated your spilt from Chrissie
Hynde as a fairly public spectacle, were you
worried that by returning to a more personal
style of songwriting you'd be exposing your
private life to unwelcoming public scrunity?
anyway," he sighs. "We played the
Mandela concert and Chrissie came on stage with
eight other people and a lot of tabloids said
that we were back together again. There's always
that thing. But with my songs, two lines may
be about me. That can lead to all kinds of interpretations.
I've given up on that type of thing, because
people will say what they're gonna say.
only reason I wouldn't bare my heart completely
is not because I'm afraid of what people say,
but because for 24 hours every day I'm not really
interested in myself that much, usually. I'm
not someone who can analyze my feelings so much.
only thing that's important to me is this: Burchill
makes this music, I don't know what else to
do but go with the emotional response that's
in it. I wouldn't sit down and say, "I'm
gonna write a song about a sense of loss, or
a broken hearted love song.' But if Burchill
comes up with this thing and if that says to
me 'broken-hearted love song' then I've probably
had some experience with it."
do you worry that critics accuse you of pouncing
on issues like apartheid merely because they
can't write songs about apartheid and not expect
a certain amount of examination. Our music already
had those things in the lyrics and we just made
them more concrete. If we'd done them again
on this record we would have been in danager
of becoming a paraody of it. That doesn't mean
to say that 'Street Fighting Years' was just
a phase, something we went through, and now
wer're over it. I'm sure it's something we'll
go back to at some point.
at the last Mandela concert, early on in the
day said, 'Don't you think people get really
bored with these concerts, don't you think it's
just the Eighties' phenomenon and that we've
had enough of them?' I said, 'No. Maybe the
media definitely has had enough, but the tickets
sold out in two days. So why don't you ask the
public how they feel?'"
What would you
say are the main songs on this album?
reasons, 'Real Life' is one, because musically
I haven't heard anything like it, although people
tell me that it's archetypal Simple Minds, hahaha.
I think that's a great piece. And I think that
'See The Lights', a broken love song, is the
I was struck by
the spareness of 'Woman'.
end is really haunting. I was so pleased with
the way the voice sounded, shadowy, it sounded
a bit like a murder mystery to me. Or something
very very spooky. It's all very sparse, which
is Charlie without Mick. Before, maybe we'd
have filled them out. But the sparseness is
others which are returns to familiar ground
musically. 'Travelling Man' is a throwback,
maybe even 'Let The Children Speak'...
new things like 'Banging On The Door' and 'Two
Worlds Collide' came from messing around with
the Prince song, which regardless of how is
was received, we did enjoy doing. An atmosphere
that maybe came from that got into this song.
We tried something with my voice that we'd never
At the time of
this interview, it was obvious that Kerr still
felt unbearably close to "Real Life"
- too involved to be able to judge the music
was only finished on Wednesday night,"
he says, "and I refuse to listen to it
until it comes out. Because if you do, I guarantee
you're immediately gonna want to start remixing
it. So I really haven't had time to get my manifesto
together in terms of the thoughts of the reader."
But, on a grander
scale, he seems to have no doubts about Simple
Minds' place in rock's rich tapestry.
"All I would
have hoped for has happened. The Eighties happened
for us with 'Street Fighting Years', and ended
with us being one of the biggest bands of our
genre, whatever that means. We survived the
Eighties, got through, kept learning, capped
it with 'Street fighting Years' and the tour,
great thing, but so what? This is the Nineties...
it's not that I wanna smash the mythology, smash
the past. I don't. But I don't wanna pay homage
to it or take any of it for granted, or get
into smugness. All we wanna do now is write
better songs, play better shows and make better
want to fall into the trap that maybe the bigger
bands of the generation before did. It would
be easy to get lost in that. I can't deny that
Simple Minds is an establishment, but there's
no reason that you can't reshape or redefine.
album we did that was as varied as this, ironically,
was our first one. Then we were just kids who
wanted to sound like Patti Smith, Cockney Rebel
and Lou Reed. That's only natural, you only
have your record collection, and you want to
emulate everything and you havent found it.
Some bands make a glorious debut, but not us.
We were trying to find our feet."
It's been a long
journey from "Life In A Day" to "Real
Life". What are your plans in the short-term
for us, we're gonna start our world tour in
America, where we havn't played for five years.
They didn't like the last album there, so they
didn't want us to do anything....unfortunately."
Any idea why "Street
Fighting Years" didn't do well in America?
he admits with a wry grin. "The subject
matter, really - they're not interested in Belfast
in Texas! It's terrible to generalise, I know,
but the radio just isn't interested in Mandela.
"I was frustrated
by that, but I had thought it might be like
that. They were looking for another 'Alive and
Kicking' or 'Don't You (Forget About Me)', and
we knew that album didn't fir with that. We
could have gone to play to just the loyal fans,
and I'm sad on one hand that we didn't go. But
on the other hand I'm glad because we would
have lost the momentum of coming off the tour
on a real high. We would have probably wanted
a six-month break; then it would have taken
another three years to do an album. So my attitude,
and Charlie's is the same, is okay, they don't
like it, so we'll do another album soon and
if they like that, then we'll go!"
he looks at me
and grins as he gets up to leave. As a parting
shot, he adds a final justification that almost
seems to sum up Simple Minds career to date.
done what we wanted to do, regardless of fashion,
of what was hip and what was not hip. And even
if we did things that seemed commerically the
best thing to do, we didn't do them grudgingly,
we did them because we wanted to."
Paul Evans - 'Rolling
Kicking off Simple
Minds' tenth album, ominous strings introduce
delicately threatening guitars, world-beat percussion
slams in, and Jim Kerr snarls, "Quit dreaming/This
is real life/Baby." Lush off-kilter keyboards
urge the mini-epic toward a crescendo that,
earnest and theatrical, recalls the group's
Most of Real Life
shares the power of the Minds' trademark stress
on atmosphere over melody; the remainder, however,
reveals the technique's weaknesses - sketches
passing for songs, gorgeous flesh without much
spine. What might have been the band's most
cohesive record misses, if only by frustrating
Spawned in a Glasgow
ghetto in 1977, Simple Minds turned from punk
outrage (their original name: Johnny and the
Self-Abusers) into an outfit flexible enough
for the spiritual uplift of Once Upon a Time,
from 1985, and the Third World advocacy of Street
Fighting Years, from 1989.
This time, Kerr's
lyrics evoke a mature tension of disenchantment
("Summer's gone and I can't tell you lies")
and romanticism ("Love will conquer everything"),
his from-a-whis-per-to-a-wail singing remains
dramatic, and the band plays smart - Mel Gaynor
is a shamefully underrated drummer; Charlie
Burchill is one resourceful guitarist. But a
fragmentary chant-along like "Let the Children
Speak" and the formulaic swagger of "Travelling
Man" drain the legitimate strength of the gemlike
"Rivers of Ice" and the savvy of "Stand by Love"
(a sort of Celtic-reel-meets-Spencer-Davis rocker)
- and the album doesn't quite add up.
Minds can't be faulted for lack of spirit. An
ongoing experiment, they combine craft and soul
with honorable ambition, and their themes -
of love and conflict, the mundane and the mystic
- remain serious and inspiring.
See The Lights
Jon Homer - Teletext
The second single
from the 'Real Life' album and probably the
strongest Minds track in some time.
'See The Lights'
finds Jim Kerr in husky vocal mood and the backing
is suitably atmospheric.A great melody, a chilling
chorus and a real sense of power under the surface.
Single of the
Alex Kadis - Smash
Simple Minds have
got this formula for making records: Step One:
A swirly, deeply atmospheric beginning (i.e.
they all play their 'synths' at the same time).
Step two: A low key, sort of nonchalant easy
bit (no tune to speak of). Step three: A moderately
rousing chorus (quite tuneful). Step four: Sing
tuneless verse a bit louder. Step five: Sing
chorus louder. Step six: Sing everything louder
and repeat until frenzy pitch is reached. Step
seven: Book about 50 years in the studio so
that you can perfect everything to a tee.
To be fair, when
their formula works it works brilliantly, but
when it goes wrong it's tragic. And, sadly,
the songs on 'Real Life' fall into both camps.
The good ones ('Real Life', 'Let There Be Love')
are the Minds at their best - i.e. they make
you want to rush to the nearest mountain top
and talk to the breeze, man. The bad ones, like
'Ghostrider' and 'Woman', just plod along in
a very torturous manner and if you forget to
concertrate it all sounds like one big long
song anyway! Oh well.
(5 out of 10)
Stadium, Manchester (10th of August 1991)
The Sun (UK)
Simple Minds may
not be my favourite band but they put on a superb
show at Machester's Maine Road Stadium. Watched
by singer Jim Kerr's new love Patsy Kensit,
the band ignored driving rain to put on a slick
two hour set.
The 40,000 crowd
lapped up songs including Alive and Kicking
and All The Things She Said. But the highlight
was an encore of Belfast Child which Jim dedicated
to freed hostage John McCarthy. As for the support
acts The Stranglers and OMD, the less said the
down to just the two members, the Simple Minds
have returned to the charts with their 'Real
Life' album. Chas de Whalley finds how guitarist
Charlie Burchill has re-built his sound from
the ground up...
Chas de Whalley
- 'The Guitar Magazine' Vol 1 No 6 1991 (UK)
says our photographer. 'My girlfriend really
'What is she,
deaf, no?' cracks back Charlie Burchill in a
broad Glaswegian accent barely softened by 10
years of Rock 'n' Roll globetrotting. This is
what I like to hear. A man with a sense of humour.
critics may well have dubbed them the most po-faced
and pompous bend ever to have strutted a stadium
stage. And altogether too seious for their own
good. But the description hardly fits guitarist
Charlie Burchill. The man I meet sports a super-confident
smile sure enough, and has a cheery word for
everybody, including total strangers. But I
could swear he actually blushed a little when
I ask him, somewhat cheekily, just how good
a guitarist he thinks he is.
'What? On a scale
of one to 10? Probably about two,' Burchill
laughs modestly. 'I guess I've got better over
the years. It's hard to mark your progress because
as soon as you think you're getting smart and
you're climbing up the ladder, you see someone
playing and realise you're miles away. Guys
like Ry Cooder. Or Robbie Macintosh who was
with The Pretenders for a while and is playing
with Paul McCartney right now. Ot Stevie Ray
Vaughan and Jeff Back and Jimi Hendrix have
to be the best ever.
'You see, I never
grew up with the blues. I was too young. The
first records I can remember getting off on
were the bands like The Sweet and Roxy Music.
And then punk. By then the Blues was labelled
Boring Old Fart musikc, wasn't it? So I only
got into it all much later when I began to realise
what 'feel' was all about. As my won style and
character as a player became more established,
and I got more confident in myself I started
looking back at those essential things that
I'd missed out on. Like Blues records and some
of the great old acoustic players like Davey
'I've come to
realise that there is a power in simplicity.
Round about the 'Once Upon A Time' album, and
more so on 'Street Fighting Years', I started
putting one or two Blues licks into a song and
I felt this incredible impact. It distorted
the way people thought about Simple Mionds.
Now I find I can be quite hammy about it and
throw in a real cliche here and there. And it
really works too. You can sense how it turns
brought up the Blues without my prompting him.
But the man sure done got 'em on his trail if
Simple Minds' most recent LP 'Real Life' is
to be believed. It's liberally sprinkled with
classic Blues licks. And much slide guitar too.
Yet there's hardly a suggestion of a 12 bar
chord sequence on the entire album. Indeed,
after the disappointingly limp 'Street Fighting
Years' collection, 'Real Life' marks a return
to the bold gestures and widescreen perspectives
of 'Sparkle In The Rain' or 'Once Upon A Time':
Classic Simple Minds Lps with which Charlie
Burchill - in company with U2's The Edge and
INXS' Farriss brothers - helped redefine the
role of the electric guitar in what was once
termed the Designer Rock Age.
'The early '80s
were really more about electronics. I can't
really speak for anybody else, but for me the
interest factor of the guitar lay in the colours
you could paint with it. All the different tones
and atmospheres you could create with echos
and wah wahs. Anything to get away from having
to play too many notes cos you were pretty terrible,
you know! But I suppose there was more to it
than that. I was competing with synthesisers
and trying to make the guitar sound bigger than
it actually is. It's just a little monophonic
thing after all and I was trying to make it
sound as polyphonic as possible. Sometimes I
think the reason the guitar survived through
the '80s when people kept saying it was going
to die is because it can be so powerful and
at the same time somincredibly vulnerable too.
'On those albums
like 'New Gold Dream' and 'Sparkle In The Rain'
I was using mostly Roland gear. Especially a
Roland 501 chorus echo unit through a JC120
without much distortion on the amp. In retrospect
I think it sounds terrible but people really
like it. Nowadays I play through a Marshall
which is something I swore I'd never do. But
I've tried just about everything else there
is and nothing beats the JCM 900.'
echo unit was an old Echoplex. He still has
it at home somewhere as part of a collection
of Yamaha and Korg boxes picked up and then
discarded over the last 10 years. Nowadays he
favours a tc2290 and an Eventide Harmoniser.
about good echo is that it will alter the way
you play and the way you write songs. You begin
to think of parts in terms of the sounds they
make and the effect they have on the dynamics
of a track. You don't consider their musical
value at all. We got quite deeply into all that.
But we've grown out of it now. We realised we'd
better get the parts right and the songs right
or else we won't be around for much longer!'
Sense a humour
aside, Charlie Burchill adopts a serious, even
conscientious attitude towards what is, after
all, his livelihood. He whiles away the empty
hours on tour, so he tells me, by experimenting
with tunings and trying to teach himself new
guitar techniques like Ragtime or Flamenco.
The study of chords and the theory behind them
he finds particularly fascinating.
'The voicing of
chords is so important. Invariably the most
powerful chords are the ones where you're just
using the top four strings but you're voicing
them correctly and you've got the top note right.
I've learned such a lot from playing piano,
where you have so much flexibility to develop
chord movements and recognise the relationships
between them. You suddenly realise that not
everything needs to have sub-bass on it. Steve
Lipson, the producer we worked with on 'Real
Life', was really into that. He and I would
sit down for hours and mess around with chord
voicings. And the thing is that, once you get
it right, you don't have to EQ the guitar half
as much, or put half as many effects on it.
You create the illusions in a different way.
Which is what all the master guitarists do.'
The hallmark of
a Simple Minds track has always been that magical
meld of guitar and synthesiser which created
an almost hologram-like illusion of size and
space and power without the bludgeoning chords
of Heavy Rock. But what was new and exciting
in 1983 became something of a cliche by the
end of the decade. So, reading between the lines,
did the recent departure of keyboard player
Michael MacNeil mark an attempt by the band
to re-assess and regroup? Burchill is reluctant
to be drawn into discussing band politics.
'Let's just say
that you don't need to have those clouds of
keyboards hanging there if you want to sound
powerful. Somebody like Todd Rundgren can do
it with one cheap analogue synth and create
something just as big and in your face. I suppose
that's the good thing about Michael leaving.
For years we couldn't get away from having five
keyboard pads on every track, supplying every
possible frequency range. It was like we were
hiding something. We recognised that cos we're
very critical of what we do. It was great creating
those atmospheres and people perceiving us as
big and powerful and triumphant. But at the
same time we like the idea of being a little
more vulnerable and taking the reverb down a
bit. There's been so much echo and reverb on
some of our albums, it's like we play it now
and it comes out of the speakers two months
Now Burchill is
the only musician left in the SImple Minds writing
team - indeed he and singer Jim Kerr are the
only two original members of the band that debuted
in a Glasgow bar as Johnny and the Self Abusers
some 14 years ago. And, whether by accident
or design, 'Real Life' is undoubtedly as more
subtle and relaxed album than it's immediate
predecessors. But it's not short on keyboards
either. Those parts Burchill doesn't stab out
himself are provided either by producer Steve
Lipson or sessioneer Pete Vetesse. What's new
is Burchill's enthusiasm for his Casio MIDI
MG 510 and MG 380 guitars. They play key roles
on the album, almost eclipsing Burchill's other
ecording favourites: a Gretsch White Falcon,
a Les Paul and a Gibson Chet Atkins 12-string.
'I use the MG
510 as my main stage guitar now. Not just for
MIDI work in the studio. It's brilliant for
slide. A guitar maker in Glasgow, Jimmy Moon,
changed everything on it for me. Pick-ups, whammy
bar, machine heads, the lot. It's better than
any single coil Strat I've ever played! It has
separate leads for the audio and MIDI signals,
I've also got the Casio MG 380 which will send
the two signals down the one lead and radio
transmit them too. In the studio I link them
up to a rack-mounted Kurzweil 250 Sound Mobile.'
favourite MIDI mixes are the trombone sample
in behind the guitar on 'Woman' ('It gives this
really breathy tone'), the strings and choirs
which add atmosphere to the various six string
parts on 'Ghostrider' and a subtle harpsichord
which provides an extra sparkle to just about
every jangly guitar figure on the album.
'The big myth
about MIDI guitars is that you have to adapt
your technique to get them working properly.
That's certainly true if you want to play straight
synthesised sounds. But I don't do that because
the MIDI tracks too slowly. It doesn't respond
as quickly from a guitar string as it does from
the direct connection a key makes. It's pretty
instant on the high strings nut on the low ones
there's a definite time lag. But if you use
the MIDI like I do, as an effects unit responsible
for only 1/8th of your sound, it doesn't really
matter. I switch it in like you might switch
in a chorus pedal or something. It fattens up
the sound in a way people don't expect and it
often confuses them into thinking they're hearing
a keyboard when it's actually a guitar.'
'Real Life' took
almost eight months to write and record. Ideas
conceived in the mobile demo studio Simple Minds
carry with them on the road were then re-examined
in Wisseloord Studio 7 ('a cupboard in Holland')
before recording began in earnest in the band's
own Bonnie Wee Studios in Scotland. For those
finishing touches like orchestras and choirs,
the band jetted between A&M studios in LA
and London facilities like Maison Rouge and
The Townhouse. Producer Steve Lipson walked
every step of the way with them, helping out
on writing and arranging and even playing bass
on most of the tracks.
'The demo process
merged into recording process. We were continually
re-assessing what we had. And for some reason
the simplest songs took the longest time to
get right! We'd normally start with a drum machine
pattern and Steve on bass and I'd sit at a Disklavier
MIDI upright piano with my guitar in my lap.
I'd put a few piano chords down for a verse
and then switch to the guitar for the choruses.
That's how 'Let There Be Love' came together.
It was basically a guitar riff with four pretty
standard guide chords we expected to alter later
on, although we never did. We needed to accelerate
into the chorus to give it that final thrust
which would allow it to hang effectively. So,
only to get a guide structure together, I suggested
we pick up the pace by making the chords change
twice as quick. Suddenly Jim said, "Oh
yes. This is definitely a bridge, I can get
into this!" and it was there.
'Our songs are
much more structured now than they used to be.
They were always based around atmospheres and
jamming. Which I suspect is true of a lot of
bands in the early '80s. We'd set up a hypnotic
bass line, I would play an arpeggiated figure
which would suggest chords rather than actually
state them and the melody line would spin off
that. It was like whatever happened happened
and every idea was an accident!
'Now I think it's
better to start off with a definite set of chords
and try to stick with them. This thing of dropping
overdubs, and atmospheric melody lines is so
easy for us. It's like falling out of bed. What's
difficult is having the courage and the belief
in your original idea to keep everything simple.
And to plan everything out properly. But there
are merits on both sides. Accidents inevitably
catch you on the hop and you don't get the time
to consider your next move. You're vulnerable
and exposed. And probably at your most creative
too, because it's like you've suddenly stepped
out of yourself and over the line into something
'The 'Real Life'
album is full of them. Like on the track 'Woman'.
We decided we'd end that with a guitar instrumental
coda over the same chords as the verse. And
that it would only happen once in the song.
But the whole thing began to get a bit boring
until, quite by accident, I played a bottom
E which should never have worked because the
last note of the top line is an E flat. But
they were far enough apart from each other to
suggest this E major 7th chord which so shifted
the mood of the track that we went back and
completely restructured the song with the new
coda pattern as a major hook. That sort of thing
happens all the time.
'Making the album
was a little like painting the Forth Bridge.
Just when we thought we'd finished a track we
realised we had to go back to the beginning
and start again!'
'There's one special
tuning I use all the time. I don't know if it
has a name, or whether I invented it myself.
'Basically I drop
the B on the second string to an A and tune
the D on the fourth string up to an E. I discovered
it one day when I was trying to work out a Joni
Mitchell song and I couldn't figure out the
tuning. She hit a row of six harmonics and I
though: Those must be her six open strings!
'I tried to dissect
it. As it turned out, it was nothing like her
tuning at all. But it's great round A and F
and it works for Gs and Es as well. I call it
A neutral. I guess it's more like a cross between
and A minor and a suspended 4th.
'The third is
neither major nor minor. You can hear it most
obviously on 'East At Easter' but I use it all
over the place because I feel really confident
with it and I've explored it a lot. I know where
all the chords lie.
"So if I
want to do something conventional in that tuning
I can do it. The best thing is that every so
often you go to hit a lick and forget you're
not in standard tuning and by accident come
up with something you'd never have dreamt of
playing in a million years.
'You learn by
those mistakes and add a bit of your vocabulary,'
bag of tricks:
System with Sycologic hard disc
Akai S1100 Sampler
Roland R8 Drum
Roland M160 Channel
Roland PC 200
Voce DNP 1 Keyboard
2 x Bose Roommate
On The Road:
Newholme 6-string acoustic
Casio MG 510 MIDI
Casio MG 380 MIDI
Gibson Chet Atkins
Semi acoustic (specially customised by Derek
Morley WVO wah
Roland GP8 SC100
pedal to trigger Eventide Harmoniser TC 2290
Yamaha Rev 7
Kurzweil 250 rackmounted
Marshall JCM 900