box of demos, sessions and lost album.
- October 2004 (UK)
trawl through demo, session and concert detritus
traces Simple Minds'25-year career from 1979,
when they were still a Magazine supplement,
through to the 1988 stadium bombast of "Mandela
Day" and beyond.
Yet it's likely
to be of interest mostly due to the inclusion
of Our Secrets Are The Same, recorded in 1999,
yet stuck in contractual purgatory until now.
It finds Kerr and Burchill still a bit in
the slipstream of '90s U2-tastefully epic,
techno-fringed and extravagantly exasperated
("Death By Chocolate" and "Neon Cowboys")
with the wickedness of a world gone wrong.
(3 out of
Simple Minds are back releasing records again,
but as lead singer Jim Kerr points out to
Neil McKay, they never really went away.
Neil McKay -
'Belfast Telegraph' - 26th November 2004 (UK)
may be gone and forgotten in the eyes of the
record-buying public, but singer Jim Kerr
is adamant that the band are very much alive
and kicking. Contemporaries and friendly rivals
of U2 in the mid to late 1980s - indeed for
a few years the Scots seemed the more likely
to translate their promise into world-straddling
success - Simple Minds gradually faded from
view in the 1990s. They still released albums,
albeit much less frequently than before, and
to a diminishing audience, but as Kerr frankly
admits "we ran out of juice".
And while U2
unleash their long-awaited new album, Simple
Minds celebrate 25 years in the business with
the low-key release of a five CD box set,
Silver Box. It's a treasure trove for fans,
with dozens of previously unreleased demos,
session and live tracks, and their 'lost'
1999 album Our Secrets Are The Same.
were a bit ambivalent about the box set,"
says Kerr. "It was a record- company idea,
but once you decide to do it you want to make
sure that the artwork is good, and the mixes
are good and all that stuff. "Then towards
the end you think that it isn't a bad idea.
It proves that you do have a history. I think
the fact that we could include a whole album
of unreleased material - to me it gave the
whole thing substance. EMI sat on that record
(Our Secrets Are The Same). They liked it
when they were given it, but when it was about
to be released everything ground to a halt
for six months when rumours about EMI merging
with Warner Brothers started.
guitarist and only other remaining member
of the band) and I had a meeting with them
and to be honest I got pretty anti-social,
and let's say talks broke down, and the album
lay there. In a way it became this mythological
thing, our ghost album. Every band worth its
salt has one of these up their sleeves so
in a way it kind of took on a presence. But
it is good to see it getting out at last."
peaked in the UK with their 1989 No 1 single,
Belfast Child ("we shot part of the video
in the shipyard and we shot another part on
a rubbish tip. We were wondering how other
bands got to go to glorious locations and
we found ourselves standing on a rubbish tip
in Belfast," Kerr recalls with a laugh) but
their star faded throughout the 90s.
"In the 80s
we had seven or eight records, and in the
90s we had only two or three, so although
we never actually ground to a halt, as far
as the punters are concerned we probably had,"
says Kerr."We had worked non-stop for 10 to
12 years and if you run out of juice you've
got to put your hand up and step back. You
won't get us blaming anyone else or pointing
the finger - we enjoyed every minute of it,
and still are, and indeed through stepping
back you do get a renewed energy again.
"We had a great
time, but personally I paid the price a couple
of times for being all over the place. Now
when we do things it's a lot more low-key,
except for the minutes we're on stage; they're
not low-key at all, they're as ecstatic as
Kerr and Burchill
are negotiating for a new record deal, and
are about to go into the studio in Sicily
where Kerr has a home. So, can they be contenders
again? "It would just be wrong for us to ask
for more than what we've had, but at the same
time, give us a shot and we'd be up there.
Our thing came apart, the wheels came off,
but at the end of the day we sold more than
20m records. We didn't do badly." Silver Box
(Virgin) is out now.
- 'The Guardian' - 1st October 2004 (UK)
If you chucked
out most of discs three and four from this
beefy five-disc box, you'd be left with some
fascinating insights and lost nuggets from
the past and near-present of Simple Minds.
Over a 25 year career, the band have gone
from eclectic experimentalism through clapalong
mega-pomp and back to something in between,
and that trajectory is captured here.
consists entirely of unreleased material,
with demos and radio sessions covering the
Minds' earlier years; previously unreleased
live recordings documenting the shouty, lumbering
1980s-to-1990s; and a complete unreleased
album, Our Secrets Are the Same, on the fifth
disc. The album, dating from 1999, was scuppered
by legal wranglings, but it's some of the
best music the band have made in 20 years.
Tracks such as Death by Chocolate or Happy
Is the Man recall something of their old pioneering
spirit, and show a fascination with the process
of recording rather than with prancing about
in front of a sea of cigarette lighters.
in the band's history will be gripped by the
first two discs. There are 1979 live recordings
of their earliest songs, such as Life in a
Day and Chelsea Girl, which display precocious
focus and imagination. And there's an excellent
batch of demos from the Empires and Dance
sessions, produced by John Leckie and mostly
very close to the finished versions. From
1981, there are demos of songs from Sons and
Fascination, including the long-lost Life
in Oils, and powerful performances of tracks
from New Gold Dream recorded for David Jensen's
Radio 1 show. You can hear the wheels starting
to come off during a horrific 1985 live recording
of New Gold Dream from Barrowlands in Glasgow,
which goes on for hours and features synchronised
bellowing from Bono and Jim Kerr. And the
rest of the mid-80s live materials is dismally
oveblown and over-long. But maybe they're
on the brink of a critic-defying comeback.
(4 out of
- 'Plan B Magazine' (UK)
Okay, so context
is everything. Take that as a given. If you
didn't already know it, the context of the
early Simple Minds is that of the post-punk
fallout, the time when everything hinted at
by Punk came to fruition. The time when the
raw r'n'r spit and holler gave way to strange
dreamers of psychedelic cities in the sky,
the time when the Punk spirit coalesced with
a love of Krautrock motorik electronics and
hinted again at returns to its glam Art School
roots. If you didn't know it already, the
context of the early Simple Minds is that
of a sketchy, edgy debut album with a clutch
of moments to raise an eyebrow. It's that
of a dark brooding second album filled with
madcap midnight walks down European post-war
side streets with the warped ghosts of an
early Roxy Music for company. That of a third
album that took the European dreaming further
and created a soundtrack to inward journeys
through smoky Budapest railway station cafes
and booking halls. Presented here, the Peel
session and John Leckie produced demos for
those albums are fascinating moments that
remind me that the connections between this
early Simple Minds and the mighty Magazine
were more than skin deep. So, the early Simple
Minds were magnificently strange. They got
album set Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings
Call was a gem of rhythmic hypnotism, an expressionist
masterpiece of angular guitar bursts to the
heart, keyboard stabs in the eyes and elliptical
bass lines making rhythm and melody all at
once. It sounded threatening, celebratory,
melancholic and inspirational. The Steve Hillage
demos found here are edgier, emptier than
the albums themselves, and are no less impressive.
These were recordings that cast eyes backwards
and forwards all at once; that drew from the
past and that dared to dream of where Pop
might go in the future. But the future got
Had Simple Minds
broken up in 1982, had they suffered some
tragic suicide or death, we'd be seeing lengthy
magazine articles telling us all how influential
and important they were. Instead, Simple Minds
descended into a nightmare world of Stadium
Rock of the worst pomposity and inflated egoism.
Sure, the New Gold Dream songs BBC radio sessions
collected on CD2 still have some optimistic
sparkle. But by the time the disc ends on
monstrously overblown 1985 live recordings
from Glasgow (with guest appearance from Bono)
and a Live Aid rehearsal you know the game
is up. Stadium Rock, Pringle sweaters and
Casual crews with Stanley knives: context
is everything, indeed.
listens to a band going from art-school cool
to global fools - and back again
- 'NME' - 28th August 2004 (UK)
Silver Box It's hard to believe, and much
of this lavish five-CD set of live and demo
rarities doesn't help, but - honestly - once
upon a time, Simple Minds were cool. As angular,
theatrical and plain weird as Roxy Music,
Sparks or The Futureheads, in 1979 they were
true underground stars. Listen to the live
version of 'Life In A Day', 'Premonition'
from a 1979 Peel session or the demo of 'thirty
Frames A Second' and you hear strartling pre-echoes
of the starchy, uptight Euro-funk that also
underpins Franz Ferdinand.
CD2 finds the
band hitting an early peak with 'Promised
You A Miracle', where their nervy invention
is welded to a fuck-off chorus, and the groove-heavy
atmospherics of 'Hunter And The Hunted'. All
good. Then, in the mid-'80s, something terrible
happened. U2 became enoromous and the Minds
found their own take on what was called, in
all seriousness, The Big Music. Bono appears
on a live take of 'New Gold Dream' that's
nearly 13 minutes long and 'quotes' from The
Doors' 'Light My Fire'. It's immeasurably
bad. The Live Aid rehearsal of 'Don't You
(Forget About Me)', finds Glaswegian Jim Kerr
singing in a Lahndahn accent. As a cultural
artefact it's interesting - once - but you'd
have to be mentally ill to want to hear it
By CD3, 'Waterfront'
- a neat throb of a single - is bloated into
ten-plus minutes of wanky noodling and 'Ghostdancing'
is so clearly in hock to U2's 'The Unforgettable
Fire' it's embarrassing. By CD4 it's time
for 'Belfast Child' God no! Miraculously,
though, CD5 the band's 1999 'lost' album is
So, devour CD1,
check out two, throw away three and four and
burn five. Lesson learned.
never the coolest of the New Wave of 70s bands,
but Simple Minds eventually achieved the Glittering
Prize of stadium stardom. Classic Rock talks
to frontman Jim Kerr about the journey from
Glasgow pubs to being one of the stars of
Live Aid. Buying into the New Gold Dream
- Classic Rock April 2004 (Issue 65) (UK)
started our first arena tour of Europe, in
the early eighties, I remember thinking: 'Yes,
this will work, but wouldn't it be great if
we had some songs that were fucking built
for these things'. That was probably the first
time we started to get calculating in that
frontman Jim Kerr is acknowledging a pivotal
moment in Simple Minds' career. Rock stars
will cite all manner of influences on their
songwriting: love, longing, lust et
cetera. But cavernous concrete halls?
Not really, of course. But Simple Minds saw
their chance and went for it. Rock music in
the 80s was defined by scale as much as anything
else. It was the era of big arena rock that
grew into massive stadium rock. Simple Minds'
resonating riffs and swirling, widescreen
songs rose to the challenge.
at the other bands that were playing these
places and thought: 'How do they do it?'"
Kerr continues. "And it's all about the
big gesture. You can't be cool in those places.
There were people who were giants compared
to us but they died there. Elvis Costello
didn't work, Van Morrison didn't work, Paul
Weller didn't work."
But Simple Minds
worked. As did the smarter 70s surviviors
and their other great contemporaries from
the 80s, U2. "The first time I saw U2
I had no doubt that they would become what
they are now. Because they wanted it. they
wanted it every bit as much as Madonna wanted
it. And it wasn't just them, it was their
management, their road crew, everyone around
them. It was both intimidating and inspiring
to see. It wasn't just to be rich and famous
or whatever, it was because it was there to
be had. They smelt it and went for it.
"To a degree
it was the same for us. It was like, 'America
is giving you a shot, better go. Might have
to compromise'. And being the kind of band
we were, it was, 'Compromise? No way'. But
in fact you're compromising every day of your
life. You walk across the street and you compromise.
It's knowing when to compromise and how to
contrast with another of Simple Minds' contemporaries
Echo And The Bunneymen. A band at least as
gifted musically, but so crippled by cool
that they couldn't be bothered to reach up
and grab the glittering prize, and sat there
waiting for it to be lowered into their lap.
To cap it all, Bunneymen frontman Ian McCulloch
frequently vented his sarcastic spleen on
Simple Minds and U2 as both sped by them en
route for the arenas and stadiums.
it comes from the kind of people you are,"
Kerr offers, effortlessly refusing to rise
to the bait. "Some of the guys in Bunneymen
I knew hated touring. And you could see it,
because some nights they would be good and
some nights they would be awful. Ultimately,
at that level a bad gig is unacceptable to
an audience; they won't come back, and they'll
tell their mates.
U2 took a more stoned approach to it, while
we tended to treat it more like the European
Cup: it's there, we're gonna take this; so
we're gonna play this festival in Holland,
we're gonna get on the bill and we're gonna
make the biggest noise. That was our attitude."
not cool. It is, however, ambitious - arrogant,
even. "That's true," Kerr agrees.
"And you can try too hard; you can come
a cropper. You can be too keen. We certainly
had our moments."
But Simple Minds'
attitude surmounted their 'moments', and propelled
the band to the top of stadium rockers by
the latter half of the 80s.
a decade-and-a-half and now you can count
the number of guaranteed stadium-fillers on
two hands - maybe one. Rock music has revised
its new gold dream So too have Simple Minds.
After 20 years of single-minded determination
their energy and creativity began to wane,
and the new millennium found them in something
of a trough. But they re-emerged in 2002 with
their first album of new material for seven
years. Reinvigorated, they toured again, and
spent the last half of 2003 on the road with
the appropriately titled Alive & Kicking
Tour, back in the halls and arenas they used
like we're existing in our own quiet little
thing," Kerr says with obvious satisfaction.
"Every night there's a good crowd going
And not just
the nostalgia seekers. "Not at all,"
he confirms. "The other night I noticed
two really attractive girls down the front.
Unfortunately in between them was their dad.
But they were all really into it. And that's
By the time
you read this, Kerr will be back in Scotland
working on a new album with Simple Minds co-founder,
guitarist Charlie Burchill, who fashions the
band's sound and has shared the whole adventure
with Kerr while remaining resolutely invisible.
But while the frontman may have enjoyed more
of a rock-star profile, he has also mantained
his privacy. Despite having gone through a
couple of 'celebrity' marriages to (and subsequent
separations from) Pretenders frontwoman Chrissie
Hynde in the 80s and actress Patsy Kensit
in the 90s, Kerr has cleverly avoided becoming
fodder for the tabloid beast.
Today he's at
his old record company, EMI, to finalise the
track-listing for a box set of rare tracks
spanning Simple Minds' career; he has already
compiled a visual history on the Seen
The Lights DVD package. having kept his
eyes fixed firmly ahead for so long, Kerr
is still not entirely sure why anyone would
want to look into various recesses in Simple
Minds' history, although he admits that if
I was holding a tape of a Roxy Music gig from
1972 he'd grab it out of my hand. "Or
Genesis, or Lou Reed's Street Hassle tour,
or Bowie's BBC sessions; I can get into the
comparing the session version of 'Width Of
A Circle' with the album version. I suppose
I didn't think it would happen with us."
As a teenager,
Jim Kerr consumed rock music avidly through
the first half of the 70s, courtesy of the
Glasgow Apollo. "I had a ticket to see
Bowie on his 'Ziggy Stardust' tour, but I
trod on a needle on the day of the show and
my foot swelled up like a ballon. So the first
gig I saw was Genesis on their 'Foxtrot' tour.
And the physical thing of hearing that volume
and seeing the lights and stuff... I'm not
exaggerating when I say that I knew my life
was about to change.
months afterwards I saw Roxy Music and Bowie's
'Aladdin Sane' tour, and I was aware that
this other world existed - not just the music,
but of exotic art and lifestyles. But it was
all a subculture. There was no MTV, no pop
columns in the dailies. When I saw Bowie I
didn't know about him taking Andy Warhol and
Jean Genet and Lou Reed and making something
new out of it. I didn't know about any of
that, it was just, 'He's from Mars'. The language,
the clothes, the attutude, the sexuality...
I'd just never seen it. Anywhere."
But Kerr learnt
quickly, and his special vantage point at
Glasgow Apollo taught him something else that
was to prove valuable later: the 'big gesture'.
brother was a security guy there, and he'd
sometimes sneak me into the balcony. Up there
it was like, 'They don't know I'm here'. But
Freddie Mercury knew you were there. Alex
Harvey knew you were thre. Steve Harley knew
you were there. Lou Reed was stoned and wouldn't
know anything. And The Eagles wouldn't care;
but then they were about something else."
Kerr and Charlie
Burchill, who'd been mates since the age of
eight, decided to form a band while they were
hitch-hiking through Europe, a trip that confirmed
to them that there was more to life than Glasgow.
And because it was 1977 it was obviously going
to be a punk band. Johnny & The Self Abusers?
That'll do nicely.
always been opportunistic as a band,"
Kerr says. "I wasn't one of those kids
who hated everything that had been going on.
I mean, if Pink Floyd or Genesis had a new
record out then I was interested. But where
punk really hit the maek for us was the live
music scene in Glasgow, which was really laconic,
lazy; there were endless bands playing Wishbone
brought up on music that had a different level
of creativity. And while I knew that Little
Feat were a great band, I needed more than
that. I needed stuff that was myserious, enigmatic.
And when I heard punk it was, 'Oh, right,
there's something we've been missing here'.
It was that primitive element.
was a lot of dross in punk, but those first
records that we heard were really fucking
good: Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads,
The Sex Pistols, The Stranglers. The whole
thrust of the thing, and the fashion. To me
it was coming out of groups that I knew like
The Tubes and The New York Dolls.
wasn't a stretch for us. And what I liked
about it was not so much the Malcolm Mclaren
stuff about anarchy and all that, but more
the Lou Reed school of 'get up there and do
it'. It was, 'Get your mates and make a noise'."
In the true
spirit of punk, the six-piece Johnny &
The Self Abusers spilt up on the day their
only single, 'Saints & Sinners', was released
by Chiswick Records. Half of them headed back
to the 60s to form the Cuban Heels, while
Kerr and Burchill took a more experimental
route with Simple Minds, taking the attitude
of the new wave and blending it with the melodic
sensibility of art-rock faves like Roxy Music.
was Simple Minds who revived 'Saints &
Sinners' last year, including it as an encore
on their touring set-list. "We did it
out of a sense of fun," says Kerr. "We'd
been listening to bands like The Strokes and
The White Stripes and we were thinking, 'Hang
on, we've heard this before'. When we were
making that kind of noise we were being influenced
by The Ramones and The Damned. And the song
went down great even though most of the audience
didn't know it."
Back In 1978,
it took the emerging Simple Minds a while
to achieve a settled line-up. They were on
the third one by the time they played their
first gig, and there was more changes before
they got a record deal with Arista at the
end of 1978. "Most of them were forced
on us," Kerr explains. "For three
years we had very little success and therefore
very little money. And as much as Charlie
and I and some of the others were committed,
others were perhaps not so committed.
we got off to a really good start. We wrote
these tuneful, pop-oriented songs like 'Life
In A Day' and 'Chelsea Girl'. We did some
demos, and I hitched down to London and dropped
them off at various record companies. Within
a couple of weeks the phone started ringing
and it was ,'Come on down to London. We've
got you a support slot with The Only Ones'
or whoever. But I'd refuse and say, 'We're
from up here, and this is where we play, and
if you want to see us you'll have to come
up here'. That was kind of unheard of back
then. But it worked. We had a Sunday residency
at the Mars Bar Club, and we'd been making
tapes for friends, so when these A&R guys
came up they saw us in this tiny place with
about a hundred people all going nuts.
were pretty good by then. We couldn't really
play, but we had the lights and everything;
we had girls and singers. Our first review
in the NME said we were 'destined'. I think
we gave off this vibe of, 'We're taking all
the good stuff here; we're taking Television
and Magzine and even a bit of Cockney Rebel."
With half a
dozen record companies interested, Simple
Minds signed to Arista. "It was all very
exciting at that stage," Kerr recalls.
"We went into Abbey Road studios with
John Leckie, which for us was incredible.
I mean, we didn't really know what a producer
did, but his name was on all these records
that we liked, like XTC and Magazine.
we were in Abbey Road, straight down from
Glasgow, and it was suddenly, 'What is all
this? But the record just wasn't there. It
was stillborn. In hindsight someone should
have said, 'Your Glasgow demos sounded great.
Do your record in Glasgow'."
first album, 'Life In A Day', peaked at No.30
in April 1979; the title track single failed
to register. "Everyone was saying it
was a sure-fire winner. We'd even got a spot
on The Old Grey Whistle Test
on the strength of the demos. So we were left
with our tail between our legs," the
singer recalls. "It looked as though
we'd been hyped; but we weren't Secret Affair,
you know, we hadn't come along as part of
some new movement. We had something, but it
wasn't on the record. We never had a dilemma
about the influences we were taking, because
we knew we could make something out of them."
(Which some of the band's John Peel Session
tracks from that period certainly bear out.)
our second album was scrambling for a vision.
If people liked it, it was by default. It
became enigmatic, it was this, it was that,"
'Real To Real Cacophony' wasn't anything in
terms of the chart, although ironically the
media, who had been smelling a hype, suddenly
decided that an album so non-commercial simply
had to be 'visionary'.
Simple Minds were building a reputation as
a live band. "Nothing was happening sales-wise,
but live we were making an impression,"
Kerr says. "We were learning our trade,
getting better at it night after night. Promoters
were instantly booking us back and we'd be
doubling the numbers.
Sounds started publishing
this New romantic chart every week, and suddenly
we're in at number five because Rusty Egan's
playing a new mix of one of our tracks. Obviously
there was that whole Bowie/Roxy axis with
the New Romantic thing, albeit with a Donna
Summer disco beat or a Giorgio Moroder synthesiser,
not to mention bits of Kraftwerk and Eno and
those were our influences too, but it was
already in the music rather than us going,
'Oh here comes the New Romantics, let's jump.
In fact it was actually tracks from 'Real
To Real...' that were being played in those
clubs, probably because they sounded like
something from Bowie's 'Low' or 'Heroes'."
we did sit with New Romantics, our influences
were more diverse than that. And like all
of them, I guess, we tried to pose. But we
weren't that good at it; we're too open to
be cool. But we had a punch, a rock 'n' roll
punch. We might not have had a ton of slapstick
on our faces, but we would get the thin Lizzy
crowd because there were two ot three songs
that were just wallopers. Maybe that's why
we sometimes appeared to have one foot in
something and yet not be totally committed
So Simple Minds
sat with the New Romantics without ever playing
their subscription fees, while they continued
to search for an identity of their own. And
while videos of their time exhibit some fashion
crimes, they are nowhere near the disasters
perpetrated by the likes of Duran Duran and
And Dance' album in 1980 showed more promise,
but the double 'Sons And Fascination'/'Sister
Feelings Call' the following year was the
first album their live following could identify
with as the band wrapped their dance, funk
and electronic pop around a defined groove.
The album reached No.11 and 'The American','Love
Song' and 'Sweat In Bullet' became stand-out
breakthrough came with 'New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84)'
in late 1982. "That's when things came
together," Kerr offers. "The alchemy
worked. We grew out of our influences into
something that was us. It was Simple Minds,
it wasn't Ultravox or Roxy Music or whatever."
thing was that the band's identity was solidifying
even as their line-up underwent more upheavals
- something that has been a regular occurrence
throughout their career. 'New Gold Dream'
was recorded with three drummers, including
Kevin Hyslop (ex-Skids), whose small but significant
contribution was to give 'Promised You A Miracle'
the oomph that helped it into the Top 20.
That track opened up the airwaves, and 'The
Glittering Prize' and 'Someone Somewhere In
Summertime' took advantage.
'New Gold Dream' stayed in the UK album chart,
and fanned out across Europe as well as making
inroads into America. Simple Minds toured
after it relentlessly, pausing only to hook
up with producer Steve Lillywhite.
The first fruits
of their collaboration, 'Waterfront', ended
the year on a high for the band, and the 'Sparkle
In The Rain' album early in 1984 yielded more
of the arena-size hits that reflected Simple
Minds' growing stature. "We were getting
better and better," Kerr recalls. "We
were playing our arses off everywhere. We
were going to Australia, South America, and
every night we were killing the audience."
The secret to
their cracking America was more touring, backed
by heavyweight radio promotion. But by late
1984 the band were getting frustrated, because
although they'd fulfilled their half of the
bargain, despite having mover to Virgin Records
they couldn't get 'Waterfront', 'Speed Your
Love To Me' or 'Up On The Catwalk' away as
singles. "We were pissed off because
'Sparkle In The Rain' was doing well everywhere,
but in America we were still on the college
circuit," Kerr says. In fact they were
so pissed off that when the gift horse did
eventually show up the band did their best
to kick it in the mouth.
the tour the record company apologised for
not getting behind us. They said: 'You were
right, we were wrong. We didn't see it, but
now there's a momentum there and we need something
new from you now'. And we were going, 'Too
late, we've been touring for fourteen months
and we haven't got anything. You'll have to
wait for the next album'.
quite arrogant with them. But they came back
a month or so later and explained about this
movie called The Breakfast Club, and Keith
Forsey, who'd done the music for Flashdance,
apparently had a song for us. We said: 'What
do you mean? We write our own songs'. And
they were going: 'He really wants you to do
it, and it would be good for you'. But we
were just: 'Fuck off, no chance'. It went
on like that for weeks.
the record company is pleading with us and
Keith comes to see us while we're writing
songs for the next album and says: 'Please,
give it a shot'. They've got some duff studio
in Wembley booked in a couple of days, we
didn't really like this song, and I'm going:
'I can't relate to the words. I'm going to
write them again'. But I was so disinterested
I didn't get round to it. I just thought,
if we go in and do our bit, it's not going
to happen and we can all move on. So we went
in, added the intro and other bits, and the
track sounded great!
thought it ['Don't You (Forget About Me)']
would just be part of the soundtrack, but
of course it becomes the main song. And not
only do they release it as a single, it goes
to number one. We called it The Black Hit
From Space, after that track on The Human
League's 'Travelogue' album, about a song
that arrives from nowhere and takes over the
The second part
of Simple Minds' 1985 double whammy came in
July when the band appeared at Live Aid in
Philadelphia and, along with Queen and U2,
made the most of their 20 minutes of unprecedented
global exposure. Bob Geldof reckons they were
the best performance to come out of the American
show. And the result was that the band made
that transition from arenas to stadiums.
about Live Aid was that not only did audiences
see it but promoters saw it as well. And they
came to bands like us who could fill two or
three nights in an arena and put together
a stadium package. But Live Aid made you realise
something else: that the audience is the star.
When they get together and do that wave thing,
corny as it is, they were saying: 'We're going
to add our bit'.
did a stadium tour with all these screens
behind us, every time we showed the audience
they went mental. And I realised: 'This is
about them'. However many gigs they'd been
to see that summer, this was their cup final."
Once again Simple
Minds delivered the songs to go with their
elevated status. Their 'Once Upon A Time'
album may not have included 'Don't you (Forget
About Me)' - "Terrible! The rows we had
over that!" - but there were four more
hits to echo round the stadiums: 'Alive And
Kicking', 'Sanctify Yourself', 'All The Things
She Said' and 'Ghostdancing', the latter played
at Live Aid and dedicated to Amnesty International,
for whom they played some benefit shows later
Indeed, it wasn't
until they got to the stadiums that their
social conscience started to kick in, with
much of that conscience being directed against
South African apartheid regime that had kept
Nelson Mandela incarcerated for over a quarter
of a century. Simple Minds were among the
first to sign up for the Nelson Mandela 70th
Birthday Tribute at Wembley Stadium in June
1988, writing the stirring 'Mandela Day' for
the occasion. They also raised £40,000
for underprivileged children from three Glasgow
Barrowlands shows (the new name for the Apollo)
at the start of 1989. And the title track
of their 'Street Fighting Years' album was
dedicated to Chilean poet and writer Victor
Jara, who was murdered in prison by "right-wing
scum" General Pinochet and his henchmen.
Years' was an unabashedly political album,
nowhere more so than on 'Belfast Child', which
gave them their only UK No.1. "I was
brought up to take a view about these things,"
Kerr says. "It was natural to us, and
we were inspired by the likes of Peter Gabriel
and Robert Wyatt, who were doing great music
with questions at its heart. If you have any
kind of career at this level there'll be a
time when you write about what you perceive
as the issues of your time. I'm from Glasgow,
but my father's family are from Nothern Ireland.
And Belfast was always in the news."
of line-up changes at the end of the decade
left Simple Minds down to a core of Kerr and
Burchill. But that was scarcely news to anyone
who'd perused their album sleeves during the
80s. And they picked up in the 90s where they'd
left off, playing at Nelson Mandela's freedom
bash at Wembley Stadium, and in East Germany
soon after the Berlin Wall had come down.
But it would be another year before they released
their next album, 'Real Life'
By the end of
the world tour that followed, however, Simple
Minds were starting to feel jaded. And while
they were still doing well in Britain and
Europe, in America the returns were diminishing.
After 15 years of relentlessly driving onwards
onwards, the strain was beginning to show,
although they never fell victim to any of
the obvious vices that can turn a band into
it came close, but I don't think we came a
cropper over any of the potential pitfalls,"
Kerr says. "The major pitfall we actually
came a cropper over - and the only one I'd
change, given the chance - was thinking there's
endless energy. But there's not. Once it starts
happening, and you're making money for everyone,
you just keep running. And suddenly it's five
years down the line without stopping.
never complainers, though. We liked the work
and we liked the lifestyle. We loved what
it gave us. But there's that point where you've
reached it: you own the jumbo jet, but you've
got no fuel. And you know it. And that's terrifying."
There is, of
course, plenty of artifical fuel around to
lighten the load. "Yeah, but in my case
I realised it was an artifical culture. When
my daughter was born I think it changed me.
Up until then I'd have paid you to let me
do what I do. It was just as we were hitting
the jackpot, and I realised I was responsible
for someone other than myself. And I realised
that I wasn't going to see her. This whole
thing was taking off. We couldn't put the
brakes on it now, the least I could do was
to make sure we got the max out of it.
later, on tour, being in a room with a bunch
of jerks - part and parcel of the whole thing
- and I'm thinking: 'Who are these creeps?
My perspective had changed. And that's when
I got more... whatever you want to call it...
cotporate, career-minded, whatever. I mean,
it's all manageable until you try to have
a life outside it, and then it gets tricky."
The second half
of the 90s was certainly tricky, particularly
after 1995's 'Good News From The Next World'.
Kerr divorced Patsy Kensit and Simple Minds
divorced Virgin. The band signed to Chrysalis,
but 1998's 'Neapolis' (which saw the return
of bassist Derek Forbes and drummer Mel Gaynor)
seemed unsure of whether it was going backwards
'Our Secrets Are The Same', got shelved after
record company pre-millennial tensions (it
will be on the forthcoming 'A History', a
four-CD box set of early demos, rarities and
other previously unreleased material) and
they didn't really get back on track until
they'd switched labels again, to Eagle Records,
and confronted their influences on the covers
album 'Neon Lights', which included songs
by David Bowie, Patti Smith, Roxy Music, The
Velvet Underground and - ahem - Echo And The
Bunneymen. Now there's a perspective, where
before there was just a blinkered look forwards.
a wilful denial at times," Kerr admits.
"It's that thing of being there, in the
moment, self-consciously contemporary, looking
at your peers. All that stuff. But actually,
what a luxury it is to be able to go out and
play to an audience that does know your catalogue.
At the same time, the reason we're making
another record is that we know we're going
to be playing live again, so we've got to
come up with some new stuff."
began this period of activity it felt right
and credible to be nostalgic. After all, we
do have a story to tell. Why should we shy
away from that?"
singer Jim Kerr recalls the death of punk
at the hands of Giorgio Moroder and refutes
claims that the 80s were all about Thatcher
Joel McIver -
Record Collector June 2004 (Issue 298) (UK)
On the eve of
release of a 5-CD Simple Minds box set taking
in demo, live and rare tracks, singer Jim
Kerr sounded like a happy man. And so he should
be - after all, his band were among the most
successful British bands of the era, reaping
a lucrative American dollar harvest with their
anthemic, stadium-sized tunes. However, as
those who were paying attention in the early
80s will recall, Simple Minds weren't always
just about big snare drums and fists-in-the-air
polemic: subtler influences were at work when
the band emerged from their Glasgow origins.
Will 'Big Jim' admit that he was almost a
the box set now?
part of the deal, if you're in a band which
is lucky enough to have had a long career
like we have, that a thing like this comes
out. It's like clearing the vaults. Six or
seven years ago I would have thought, is this
stuff meant to be heard? Is it worthwhile?
But since the advent of the internet everything
ends up in the public domain anyway, so you
may as well take what is there and get it
sounding good and packaged well. It's a thing
for the hard-core fans, and it gives them
a chance to get it in its best light.
feel like putting any of the Johnny &
The Self Abusers' music on there, I notice.
Believe it or
not, we would have liked to have done! As
much as that band only lasted about six months,
that's where the roots of Simple Minds come
from. Without Johnny & The Self Abusers
we would have been still sitting around today
talking about one day getting a band together.
In the whole of the punk madness, Johnny &
The Self Abusers was a catalyst for actually
getting up and doing it. It really enabled
us to do it in a less self-conscious way.
Before punk you wouldn't have gone near a
stage unless you could play like Eric Clapton
or Rick Wakeman! And punk said, anyone can
get up and give it a go - whether you're good
at it or not is always gonna be subjective,
but at least you can try. The great thing
we got out of Johnny & The Self Abusers
was that from the very first gig, as much
as it was chaotic and shambolic and not very
good on the ears, we knew that it was something
we wanted to do for the rest of our lives.
We knew that within the first few minutes.
& The Self Abusers fuelled by anger and
outrage like the rest of the punk bands?
No. The punk
that I related to was more the American punk
- Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, The Stooges
and stuff - and although there was anger there,
it wasn't like the British punk, which was
more politicised. For us it was more the fact
that you could learn three chords and get
a hell of a noise going. When you're 18 you're
just dying to let go, heh heh. In that sense
there were links to early rock 'n' roll, where
people just wanted to make this noise out
of natural exuberance. Noise that made them
feel 10 feet tall.
were influenced by Bowie and Roxy Music too.
We had them
in terms of language, yes. Unfortunately,
we couldn't play! That was the great thing
about Lou Reed and The velvet Underground:
if you could play three chords you could play
a dozen of their songs. Whereas Bowie and
Roxy, brilliant stuff although it was, and
also influenced by the The Velvet Underground,
they were more art-rock. There was a finesse
that I think we finally accomplished, but
not in the early days.
Reel To Reel
Cacophony and Empires And Dance are regarded
as quite avant-garde nowadays.
They came after
a lot of progress. We'd found Michael MacNeil,
our keyboard player for Simple Minds, who
brought in synthesisers and drum machines
and rhythm boxes and stuff. We left the rock
'n' roll Neanderthal thing for a while - in
fact, I remember a defining moment at a Johnny
& The Self Abusers gig in a terrible toilet
in Glasgow. It was full of skinheads, and
the last thing they wanted was us. That day
we'd sat down and done interviews with all
these punk fanzines, and of course we were
fuelled by lager and pontificating how punk
was the be-all and end-all. Then this guy
came over and said, you're on after this song
- and this song came on that I'd never heard
before. It sounds ridiculous to say it now,
but it was the first time I'd heard a synthesiser
record or a dance record - it was Donna Summer's
I Feel Love. It was these machines, and she
was singing this almost Arabic melody. And
I honestly remember going, punk's finished.
Ha! So, within months we had acquired sequencers
and so forth.
Simple Minds a New Romantic band?
Only in the
sense that Sounds magazine
had the first New Romantics charts - the first
dance and club charts - where you would see
Spandau Ballet, Blancmange and Soft Cell and
so on. After a while Simple Minds started
to appear in there. It was because the Blitz
club DJs were starting to play some of our
tracks, like I Travel and Changeling, things
that had grooves and sequencers and electronics.
We hadn't thrown our lot in with them, but
it was nice to start getting any kind of profile,
to be honest!
But you never
did the frilly shirts and all that?
No, we couldn't
afford them! The other thing was that those
bands all played art galleries and wrote about
Berlin and Cabaret Futura... and we were very
much in the van going up and down the motorway.
We were much more rock 'n' roll.
Bowie, Roxy and the other influences on the
New Romantics so strong in Britain?
Well, the first
three gigs I saw were Genesis with Peter Gabriel
- and you can imagine the impact that made
on me - then Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, and
then Roxy Music. And then I saw Lou Reed when
he was doing his blonde hair and make up.
For me, it was like, this is the shit! This
is the stuff! I think a certain amount of
people grew up with these bands and went back
to them after punk. Bowie was still the catalyst,
because him and Eno were still doing those
very influential records. They had expanded
beyond the rock 'n' roll language and for
me, a kid in Glasgow who had been brought
up very much in a meat-and-potatoes industrial
city... If there was a sound of Glasgow, it
would be a hard-graft whiskey-drinking kind
of music. It held no appeal to me. So when
Bowie and the rest of these people wheeled
into town, it is not an exaggeration to say
that my life changed. I knew that there was
something else out there. And it wasn't just
the music: you can look at Bowie and say that
he did the kabuki thing and the Velvet Underground,
but then you've got no source of reference
- he came from fucking Mars! You learned that
there was so much more out there in terms
of language and books and culture that could
be incorporated into rock 'n' roll. And it
had an edge, whereas a lot of Yes and ELP
and Genesis - as much as I liked it, because
it was the only thing around and it got your
parents annoyed - it was more Jon Anderson
singing about trout and rainbows. Which was
fine, but then you had Lou Reed singing Walk
On The Wild Side and Bowie singing Jean Genie
and Bryan Ferry singing about blow-up dolls.
And I was just part of that generation of
kids that went on to have bands. Siouxsie
Sioux would be the same, Howard Devoto.. so
much of it leads to Bowie, Roxy, Iggy and
The Velvet Underground.
Peter Gabriel in 1980. How important was this
to your career?
It was crucial
in many senses, because - and it sounds rather
mundane to say it - but we'd been round and
round and we were sort of learning our trade,
but through him we went to the big arenas,
which was incredibly unfashionable. Stadium
rock was the antithesis of punk and cool and
New Romantics and stuff.
It was more
acceptable in America, though.
never really politicised, they just threw
everything in and if you had a good tune..
they probably liked us in the same way that
they liked, say, The Cars. But the Gabriel
thing took us into those rooms and, apart
from him being an absolute gentleman - if
you're a support band, you never get that
- we saw how our sound worked in those places.
I've seen people who I admire, and who are
far better geniuses than us, whose sound just
does not work there. Our sound worked there
and that was a great inspiration to us, because
commercially we weren't selling anything at
the time. On the one hand there was a doom-laden
picture, but with the live thing we were going
on to being booed and shunned, but coming
off getting encores and growing nightly.
by many that Simple Minds had changed into
a rock band by the time of the Waterfront
was that the New Gold Dream
album took us onto our own big stage and got
us onto festivals. Also with that album we
came across the drummer Mel Gaynor, who started
out as a session drummer. We were playing
these 60-70,000 crowds in places like Belgium
and Holland, and enjoying it, seeing how our
sound could work - and after doing that for
a year, by the time we came to record that
was the natural sound of the band. Also, we
worked with Steve Lillywhite, who was working
with U2 and Big Country, and he was one of
the few guys at the time who could get you
to make a rock 'n' roll record in your own
way. We had a cracking live sound at the time
and it was working. We were loving it. There
was something very powerful and joyous about
it, which was captured.
Did you ever
see The Breakfast Club?
funny because I relised the other day that
I hadn't seen it since it came out and we
were shown the rough version. At the time
we thought, this'll never work, but of course
with hindsight it's become one of the cultural
landmarks of the time. Last year Don't You
Forget About Me was the most played 80s song
on the radio. Think about the songs from the
80s - The Police, U2, Blondie, whatever -
that makes it a song for the generation that
went to high school there. It was a beautiful
gift to us.
Do you agree
with some pundits' view that the 80s was the
selfish 'Me' decade?
No. I can understand
that view because people immediately home
in on Thatcher and Reagan and the yuppies,
but for us in the context of our band the
80s were about Greenpeace, Amnesty International,
human rights, anti-apartheid, Nelson Mandela,
the Berlin Wall coming down, Lech Walesa...
I mean, what do you want? Serious, serious
issues. There was a point when it felt that
things were coming together. In terms of bands
like us and our ilk, there was a great idealism
always work though. Remember Red Wedge?
No, it didn't
always work, because it's got to entertain.
It has to. When we were asked to do the Mandela
concert in 1988, it was so important to us
to cross over whether we agreed with the cause
or not. It still had to be a great show: Live
Aid, what a great show. It's always a polemic
thing: I remember people saying that Live
Aid was the pits because before then, people
didn't really play in stadiums that much,
and also you could say that it was the start
of the whole CD generation, with rock becoming
very corporate and global.. but there are
always opposing views.
the reissues received in 2002?
the biggest critics are the fans. I recall
looking at the websites and all the postings
on there and although you can't keep everyone
happy, everyone seemed to like the sound.
Either the new mixes or the improved sound
quality. Whenever a new piece of technology
comes up, you're pretty much forced to do
these things because the industry starts to
produce records in that format and you're
like, we can't be left out. I have to be honest
and say that the albums were reissued for
that reason, rather than because of any inherent
desire. When you have a history, it's important
to keep it current and up to scratch.