IT’S AS SIMPLE AS THAT
John McNeive travelled to Brazil with Simple Minds and gives a unique insight into the burgeoning South American rock scene.
John McNieve – ‘Hot Press’ June 16th 1988 (IRELAND)
Simple Minds were busy rehearsing material and preparing for the recording of their new album when they were approached to headline at two major concerts in Brazil during the Hollywood Rock Festival there in January. This was the first opportunity they had had to perform in South America – a part of the world in which they’d often expressed interest and where they had been anxious to play for several years. hence, despite the fact that they hadn’t been planning any gigs, this invitation was one they found they couldn’t resist…
Brazil has led the way in bringing European and North American rock acts to South America, a part of the world which has until the last couple of years been by-passed by touring acts. But, since the ground-breaking Rock In Rio festival in January ’86 (which featured such luminaries as Queen and Rod Stewart), the trickle of visitors has become a stream: amongst last year’s were The Cure, Sting, PIL, and even The Bolshoi! The Hollywood Rock Festival though, was the next benchmark as, along with Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Simply Red, The Pretenders (for whom Johnny Marr guested on guitar), UB40 and Supertramp (they do apparently, still exist), all performed.
South America is generally, to say the least, somewhat screwed up, and Brazil is like any other South American country, only moreso. The problems it faces are typical of those which are found elsewhere in that sub-continent: it has the highest foreign debt of any nation in the world which, along with a soaring inflation rate, has left the economy devastated and the government a virtual puppet in the control of it’s debtors; human rights violations are everyday occurrences;
drug trafficking and organised crime are out of control etc. And then, of course, there is the poverty which, allied to a rapidly expanding population, is a desperate problem. Unemployment is vast, but those who have jobs are often little better off as the National Minimum wage in Brazil is the equivalent of about £34-a-month and has not been raised from that level for several years despite spiralling inflation. Many hold down one job during the day and another at night to enable their families to enjoy a modest lifestyle.
But Brazil’s problems are not to apparent to, nor of any interest to, the typical tourist. Rio’s beachfronts and harbours are dominated by high-rise luxury hotels and and blocks of comfortable apartments that are the homes of Rio’s affluent. You must penetrate this facade to find the squalid shanties of cardboard and corrugated iron structures that provide shelter for Rio’s less privileged and which tell Brazil’s story. Their residents have been driven to the cities by land developers and speculators and once there, finding what little land is available prohibitively expensive,
they’ve been forced to improvise. However, penetrating the facade and exploring the shanties is regarded as akin to lunacy by the tour guides, and by the police too, who apparently acknowledge that gun law is the only law that is respected in these “suburbs”. But despite the forebodings and warnings gone – Simple Minds included – persist in investigating these, the consequences of Brazil’s malaise, first hand. Jim Kerr later described this foray into Rio’s forbidden city as “chastening and educational.”
Pre-show nervousness is inevitable and before their gigs in Rio and Sao Paolo, Simple Minds endured sizeable doses. Apart from being their first ever performances in South America, the gigs were also their first major shows anywhere since their last world tour had finished over a year previously. And these were major shows: 50,000 attended their concert in Rio’s Sambadrome and over 70,000 at the Morumbi Stadium in San Paolo.
The band were unaware just how much Brazil knew about them, and were overwhelmed by the intensity of the crowd’s response at both shows. Despite their considerable absence from the concert stage, the band delivered a brace of tight and polished performances which betrayed no trace of rust. The likes of “Waterfront”, “Alive and Kicking”, “Sanctify Yourself” and “Don’t You…” met with roars of recognition and approval, however the loudest cheer each night was reserved for the encores when the band re-emerged sporting the sacred green and yellow Brazilian football strip. That this wasn’t regarded as blasphemy was a tribute to the extent that they had won over their Brazilian audiences.
While football may be a religion in Brazil, it’s not exactly treated lightly in Scotland either. Thus thoughts soon turned to that noblest of games as band and crew grew tired of slumbering around in the 100 degree heat. A challenge was issued and a tournament arranged with the honourable aim of restoring Scottish soccers’s tranished image. The battle-cry went up snd pool-side seats and cocktails were temporarily abandoned for the football pitch. The Simple Minds selection of Scots and ersatz Scots saw off a very moderate Pretenders selection without breaking stride to reach the final while UB40 were roundly thrashed by a team representing RCA Records Brazilian division.
The stage was set for an epic battle; Scottish steel versus Brazilian air (they’re very temperamental though, mind you). Passion ran high in a hotly contested final and the Scots performance was aptly described by Johnny Marr as “typically fiery”. But, with minutes to play and with the scores level at 2-2, the Brazilians scored in controversial circumstances following a disputed free-kick decision. Needless to say the ref was Brazilian.
Simple Minds returned home to resume work on their next album on which the first three tracks at least are being produced by Trevor Horn and Steve Lipson. The album, yet untitled, is scheduled for release in the early autumn. But they are already committed to revisiting South America on their next world tour, and such is their enthusiasm to get back there that the tour will in fact start there at the end of the year. And they are particularly eager to return to Brazil – the 3-2 defeat by their record company there still rankles!