THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM
Steve Sutherland gets a hard dose of reality from Simple Minds
Steve Suntherland – ‘Meldoy Maker’ – 19th September 1981 (UK)
Some curse it, even more encourage it, but there’s no avoiding that physically cramped psychological chasm between the lip of the stage and the stalls’ front row. Something happens there: something special, something weird, something wonderful, something worrying – something showbiz. I’m sitting in an Edinburgh bar, Saturday lunchtime, discussing (dissecting!) last night’s Simple Minds show with singer/songwriter Jim Kerr “That bit when you stalked off stage after the first number and made that grand re-entrance mid-second song stripped of the ol’ tweed jacket… very effective.”
“Yeah. You know what happened? I had to throw up. I was so nervous and I didn’t want to do it THERE, in front of the audience on that nice clean stage, so I rushed to the wings and… bleeuch!” Some while – four lagers (me), two cokes (jim) to be precise – later: “What about the intro to that new number? Was it? “Seeing Out The Angel”? That bass and drum beat building up unaccompanied. How’d you plan that at such a short notice?” “Oh, after ‘Love Song’ you mean? That was horrible. I looked around and Charlie and Michael were gone – they thought it was the end of the set as we always used to finish on that number. “I just said to Derek ‘for Christ’s sake play something’. They were already in the dressing room when they heard the bass and had to hurry back on. There’s gonna be a real post-mortem later…” He laughs.
Simple Minds won’t shrug that one off, won’t fake it in a fantasy, don’t forget too easily. They’re constantly careful over their set, worried about their audience’s (especially last night’s stilted) reaction, concerned about their reputation, anxious over their power of influence, infuriated by the insurmountable gap between their intentions precisely, proud of their achievements, aware of their progression, obsessed with the need to improve. “At one time in our interviews, we were always praising others, our influences, but at this stage, now, we really don’t feel below any band at all.”
Simple Minds’ present priority is to reach more people accurately; to construct meticulous atmospheres capable of communicating on record, on stage, exactly the emotion intended while remaining oblique and none-too-obvious. Simple Minds seek new ways and the fact that I’m here, demanding answers, is painful proof that, despite that chilling confidence and mounting monotony, the perfectly honest performance is far from fruition. Simple Minds dream the impossible dream – reality: “I want to achieve greatness I think,” says Jim. “Greatness and something. I’d just like to do something that I know is great and, as yet, I haven’t fely anywhere near it…”
Chief cause of current frustration is the double “new” album set, “Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call”; a satisfactory sample of Simple Minds now, an effort that should shame most bands stupid. It should/will reach a bigger, wider audience than any Minds’ product ever before. But that’s not enough – it’s a disappointment – it hardly begins to further their personal vision: “I’m pleased with it, yeah, but I feel it’s a tiny bit one-paced and samey. A lot of the songs on this album, and the last album, have been based upon repetition as opposed to drama – bringing it up and bringing it down – and although I like that, we’ll have to give it a bit more thought in terms of when we’re actually taking it on tour.
“It’s funny. We were talking about it last night and, subconsciously, I feel the new album’s the end of a phase for us although we didn’t realise it or speak about it at the time ” We never saw it as any double album kind of thing – that frightens me because straightaway ideas of a concept and an onslaught of music, of something ending up really out of focus – but once we’d done ten to 12 backing tracks, it was obvious it wouldn’t all fit on one album yet no-one could make up their minds which to leave out. “I think we were subconsicously clearing everthing out so that next time we go in to record, I’m sure – though I’ve no idea what it will be just now – it’ll be on a totally different level altogether.”
In the wake of “Empires And Dance”, one of last year’s finest, fiercest, most well focused offerings, “SAF/SFC” is something of a let down, a chip off the block too self-indulgent to communicate much beyond chaos – not slipped standards, more a pioneering promise unfulfilled by their many altered circumstances. They left Arista recently because “they found us a really hard band to market – saw the Gary Numan thing and thought we should be in on it”, and signed to Virgin where the atmosphere’s more conducive – “DAF coming out of the offices instead of Barry Manilow”. – They lost drummer Brian McGee to married bliss, hired ex-Zone Kenny Hislop on “impermanent terms” and, “just for change’s sake”, put all prejudice aside to record with hippie-hero-turned-popular-pro Steve Hillage (“we knew we’d get a lot of snide remarks but we aren’t concerned with that; we wanted a sound and Steve, with his mutual interest in Krautrock, really impressed us with his treatments”… After all that, the final vinyl statement seems a remarkably unadventurous affair.
Only “Love Song”, the single, suggests any development towards a lighter, more accessible, more immediate sound although Jim remains remarkably candid: “To tell the truth, Steve, when it comes to singles we just listen to the promotions department or whoever it is who’s gonna take it to the BBC because they should know best as to what stands the best chance. For a long time I thought of us as just an albums band because we’d never recorded isolated singles, they were always taken from the albums.
“But, whereas a lot of the stuff we’ve done before has been subdued on the surface, I’d like to try things that are obviously attractive and have a bit of substance and backbone.” Simple Minds aren’t about to be duped into satisfaction by “Love Song” ‘s certain commerical success. They see all too clearly that, important as these things are, all the trappings – proper promotion, careful control over packaging, value for money: all the things that should be taken for granted but are turned to marketable virtue by other, lesser bands – are no subsitute for substance and integrity. For having something to say and saying it.
The Minds’ message is… “Message… that’s a horrible word – suggestions going on’s better. I think we’ve a lot of ambiguities going on. I’d like to think we’re not the kinda band who are absorbed with the superficial world of just being in a band and doing what you do. I think we pay a lot of attention to… I don’t know… newsy things. We do get caught up in it.” “Take ‘Boys From Brazil’: last year we spent a full year in Europe and when we came back, we’d got a totally different picture of Britain; found the attitudes, in Glasgow especially, really kinda frightening. All these new-Nazi movements and things, not really with depth but people getting involved from some romantic point of view.
“I’m sure that’s where a lot of our lyrics came from. The verse at the end of that is so ambigous; on one hand it’s like a fairy story saying that ‘Not just a boy that’s crying wolf/No, someone else is screaming up at your door’, on the other hand, if that isn’t heavy imagery…! “It’s very easy for people to see us as just lost in big cities, hollow travellers naming exotic places to impress people, churning out pictures, but I like to think that’s just the surface and backgrounds and settings.
“I mean, I have to work that way. I couldn’t go out and tell people what to think because I don’t know – I’ll make a decision, wake up in the morning and I’ve changed my mind. It’s like none of us vote – that’s terrible but we don’t really know who to vote for, don’t really know enough about it but we wouldn’t want our right to vote taken away.” Simple Minds fully understand, yet struggle with, their dilemma. They continue to work within the creaking confines of popular music – the crassest medium, seldom capable of communicating anything beyond black-and-white – tired of, tormented by, yet tethered to all the tricks and angles.
“The thing is with us that in this day and age, when lots of bands are getting by on the strength of particular movements and becoming the leaders, like last year the Teardrops and Echo, this year the Postcard and Spandau thing, we’ve always been outsiders. “It’s good in a way because we’re packing out big halls like we did last night but we feel we haven’t had to cheapen our music to get vital airplay, we haven’t had to do any arrangements that we didn’t want to do or attach ourselves to any category or movement that was currently hip of fashionable or anything.
“People have been coming up to us and saying why haven’t we quite broken through when people who are meant to be our contemporaries have, but this is our forth album in two years and I still feel it’s happened too quick. “We’re still really vulnerable I think; we dislike people who don’t really like our music and yet don’t believe people who really like it – always want to know why…” Jim Kerr is, at present, far more articulate off stage than on; a better thinker and talker than artist or performer. Two weeks ago he was 21. The astounding potential is that it’s about the most optimistic idea that’s occurred to me all year.
IT’S TIME WE GOT OUR CROWN
says Jim Kerr of Simple Minds. John Gill doesn’t disagree.
John Gill – ‘Sounds’ September 19th 1981 (UK)
“Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down, And the dews of night arise; Come, come, leave off play, and let us away, Till the morning appears in the skies.” ‘ (William Blake, ‘Nurses Song’, from ‘Songs of Innocence!) Confused? You won’t be – once you’ve read the mirror-stanza that ends this piece. Put simply, Simple Minds have undergone a change like that documented in Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence & Experience’ – although it’s by no means as drastic. And come to think of it, the wild, lusty shaman-revolutionary Blake isn’t a bad name to invoke when talking to James Kerr – Man, Myth & Magic.
In his review of ‘Sons And Fascination/Sister feelings Call’, the NME’s admirable Chris Bohn (no lie – these playground antagonisms/rivalries get on my tits) made a comment to the effect that the ‘Minds can no longer dine out on their image as naive young innocents at large in Big Bad Europe.’ The main point of this latest vinyl birthday is that that is precisely what Simple Minds have graduated beyond. And that shouldn’t diminish the power of ‘Empires And Dance’; if anyone can produce a band who can put the European Neurosis to dance-time better (excepting Kraftwerk’s squibs and DAF’s bitter ironies), I’ll wrestle with a Kimono dragon.
But ‘Sons’/Sister” ranges from the universal to the particular. Experience has brought further subjects within their vision; quite literally, from angels to nazis. They have the guts, the drive, the rhythm-poetry-inspiration to do it and say it. I almost feel like a parasite on these earthy rock ‘n’ roll Schweizers, enjoying a vicarious moralism. I’d like to walk right up and buy them a drink (in fact, I probably did. Things got rather emotional.) They were playing a gig in Edinburgh during the ‘Festival’. That handsome town thronged with foreigners brandishing American Express Traveller’s Cheques and ‘Scotch’ Phrase books. (Joke: and that was only the English). The packed gig at the Odeon was one of their worst; simply because the wrong PA had been supplied by the promoter, and the mix went awry. Regardless, their muscular love burned through the mess. Only Virgin mafiosi Simon Draper could resist the urge to swing…
This was only the third gig they had played in Britain during 1981; the previous two being one in England and one in Scotland. It was also the first performance they’d given at all since March (the small club tour of the US). Three months of that period out of the public eye they had been in the studio recording ‘Sons’. With Steve Hillage. “We decided we wanted a change from John Leckie,” says Charlie Burchill, by the way of explanation. “Purely because we wanted to see what the difference was, and we wanted to change just for the sake of it, really. Simon Draper (him again!) said ‘there are a few people we know, new producers, and we’ve got some examples of their work’. We just heard this track by Ken Lockie, and it sounded amazing. We asked who produced it, and they said it was Steve Hillage.”
“And,” Jim laughs, “we thought, ‘Old Cabbage-Head’!”
Collapse of stout parties.
“Although we’d been interested in music, one of the bands we’d never heard was Gong, or Steve Hillage. We’d heard a lot of bands of that era. I knew – ” Jim coughs thetrically, “- Steve’s image, and we knew there was a giant contrast with our image, but we heard the backing track stuff, and we said ‘Who’s doing this?’ They said ‘Steve’. We met him, and he was talking about a lot of European bands – Can and Neu! and things – and it just seemed that we had that in common.” “We were aware that he was quite innovative,” says Charlie, “and had a lot of theories… There was a lot of new ground broken in the chemistry between us.”
Obviously relishing the chance to flout hollow Rock trends, Jim sneaks, “Quite a lot of people have slagged us since we used him. Not because of the sound or anything, but because they thought we should use some ultra-trendy producer. We thought, ‘Fuck that!'” Hillage (who denies all those rumours that he had a tree in a pot trucked into the studio so that he could talk to it) and they got on well, although the production process did give him heart palpitations. “I think he started getting pissed off towards the end,” Jim admits.
“Well,” Charlie counters, “There were thousands of pressures, weren’t there, really?” They admit they’re rather difficult to produce these days, having developed “a kind of stubborn streak when other suggestions are made.” But the need for an objective earhole was obvious to them, and Hillage was ideal. I went pale and queasy when told he was at the desk on the album, but the stratospheric piledriver sound on ‘Sons’ will dispel even the most cynical of listeners.
The album appeared as an almost-double simply because they had so much material. “We had 15 backing tracks,” says Jim, “and our songs never tend to be just three-and-a-half minutes, so we knew from the start there was too much. A lot of tracks we do, because of the reptition in it – we feel you need so much length before you can get inside it – we had these ideas for fifteen backing tracks, and it just wasn’t possible to do a single album… the main thing was that we went through a period of having a lot of ideas.”
This isn’t simply a case of going through a prolific period; more a sense of get it out while there’s time. “I think somehow,” Jim says, “subconsciously, we’re trying to get all this stuff out because… I just think it’s this feeling that now is the end of the first stage for us. Of our first days.” “I think we are just clearing ourselves out,” Jim continues, “because I do think it’s the end of some kind of phase.”
Could you explain that? “I think there is a connection between ‘Empires And Dance’ and this album, somewhere, and because of that it won’t go on. Whatever we do next, album-wise, I’m sure we don’t have any idea now of what it will be like. I’m sure it’ll be something radically different, because I think there’s a big difference between the second and first albums, and the second an third, but with the third and this, the difference isn’t that big.”
After an honestly derivate first album, ‘Real To Real’ signposted their direction. ‘Empires And Dance’ re-routed it fabulously; ‘Sons’ refines that detour. “We thought we were forming and breaking conventions as well with ‘Empires And Dance’, ” says Charlie, “And with the fourth album – it’s strange. I find it’s a great deal afterwards that I can get a picture of it.” ‘Sons’ is a slapping, pumping extension of the ‘Empires’ sound. They’re not too sure where it’ll lead them, but are also adamant that they won’t stand still with what has turned out to be a ‘successful’ sound. Of the risk inherent in progression Jim says, “Well, we’re going to risk something if we stay the same.”
They deny that it’s the Hillage/Studio production values that distinguish the album – Charlie asserts that although some of the technology may have been wanting, ultimately the sound is a “question of character.” “I just think fuel is one of the major things that entered into us for this album,” he says. A major distinguishing factor of ‘Empires And Dance’ was it’s European-ness, but there’s no uifying theme to ‘Sons’ at all. The lyrics are also a mite elliptical, fragmented even. “I don’t know,” Jim says, “The lyrics are collage, anyway. I don’t sit down and write songs and verses. I’m just constantly writing and adding things, taking lines that have been written over a period of a year and piecing them together.
“One line can be the image of a song, and the rest can be padding. If it came to a lyric sheet, I’d now rather take a line from each song. I’d think you’d get more of a focus. It’s becoming more of a schizophrenic thing. Of course the lyrics are very important, but in terms of values and that, I wouldn’t care if no-one at all paid any attention. They’re all pictures in themselves, every line’s a different picture. It’s the atmosphere of words. It could be for the sound, or it could be for the meaning, or for the image of the word. They deal with a lot of images and ambiguities.” Ambiguities suggesting the ‘Minds are wising up; noting the horror, but giving it enough rope, fighting fire with fire, allowing the viral verbals to multiply but… A dangerous game.
“Some of these songs seem like the most lightweight we’ve ever done, but others are the heaviest. But even the lightweight songs are so only on the surface. ‘Love Brings The Fall To 70 Cities’; inside that there are two lines which contradict that sentiment; “in cities heavy moving and breathing“, and “The need to draw some blood somehow.” I love that contrast, where you can have a song that, if you want to spend enough time listening to it, you’d get a worthwhile description or image. Although we don’t go around writing about the problems of our times, I think a look at our lyrics will make people think, ‘Yeah, that’s really heavy’. Not heavy, but cynical, the utmost in cynicism. I’m not cynical for the sake of it, but I’m not entirely sure what prvokes it.”
‘Empires And Dance’, they’ll agree, was an album born out of a reaction against their experience of Europe; they saw Ulrike Meinhof getting a cop bullet in the back of the head while the rest could only see transvestite clubs and the too thrilling decadence of Berlin. Yet ‘Sons’ has no recognisable ‘theme’. One could talk, crassly, of ‘Boys From Brazil’ and the book/film of the same name. An epiphany of sorts ensues.
“That was concerned with seeing, in Britain not in Europe, that almost total neo-Nazi romance, which is really dangerous. There are lines in that, like ‘Not just a boy that’s crying wolf’, and ‘Someone else is screaming up at our door’. I was really pleased with that. And the lines about babies (‘Babies cannot manage crocodiles‘). It is a fascination with that style.
“It’s just really dangerous. It isn’t about the book, but that was a starting point, and you see this kind of glossy movie tie-up in the streets. Rather than find a base-line, like ‘Death to the Neo-nazis!’ we wanted to… it is ambiguous. But I’m sure some of the criticism is going to be, ‘If you’re so concerned and involved, don’t be so ambiguous’.” You took the words right out of my mouth. Isn’t the point of transmission that it be received? And received correctly?
“Yes,” Jim says. “Obviously we don’t want to see anything like that glorified, or anything taken the wrong way. It was just a point, a motivation. It is a game we play, and when it comes to lyrics I think we’re too scared to commit ourselves; “I’ll take a stance”, or “I’ll take a stand.” “I don’t think it’s fear or anything like that,” says Charlie. “Obviously, there are things on ‘Sons And Fascination’ that some people are just scared of.”
Because it’s too general, people can’t tag you like they could on the specific ‘Empires And Dance’? “Maybe,” Jim ponders, “It’s a subconscious thing. There’s this blurred picture on the album cover, which we’d never thought about. We just wanted to use it. It’s like when you’re doing the album, you’re so much inside it you can’t see it from the outside.”
“It’s ok singing about the problems of the world,” Charlie says, “but ultimately someone’s going to turn round and say what are you doing in a band? Why don’t you go and join that party, or become a missionary?” “I think,” Jim says, rather cynically, “You could throw our words away if you wanted to. But I also think that, in terms of if there’s anyone writing in music now of any value, I don’t think there are many doing it better than us.” How can you justify that? “In the past,” Jim says, “We’ve always paid praise to a lot of things, saying this is great and that is great, but at this time I’m finding the music I like is always from a few years back. There’s not much getting played that hits you.”
There’s a rising tone of ego here – healthy ego, not over-reaching, but a definite and surprising change from the kiddies-in-cardies PR of early ‘Minds. When saying that the ‘Minds sound is too ‘powerful’ to get radio play, Jim says that “to get radio play you have to be milky… Teardrop Explodes or something.” A soon-come ‘Starlines’ type Kerr collection in another paper also includes a veiled snipe at the Gumdrops.
“I’ve got something against everybody just now,” Jim says, getting surly. “I think it’s time we got our crown. I think it’s time. It pisses me off because I think the last three albums are as worthwhile as anything acclaimed in the past year or two. “I don’t want to come across as having a chip on my shoulder, but I certainly don’t think there’s anybody doing what we’re doing better than us. As I’ve said before, I’ve always paid tribute to the bands who have influenced us, but right now, with the potential I feel inside us, there’s no other band I’d rather be in. I hope that doesn’t come across as bravado, but I really do think there’s no-one doing it better.”
It is resent, but not of the ‘I have a right to be a star’ variety. It’s resent – perhaps directed towards his earlier naivety – at being stuck for too long on a label that hadn’t the faintest clue what to do with the ‘Minds. Perhaps tellingly, that label was swallowed by Europe’s biggest manufacturer of tacko schlagermusik. But while those years toiled on, it became more and more likely that Simple Minds would turn out to be a name that was always mentioned but rarely thought.
“Yeah,” Jim says, in a despairing flashback. “That would break my spirit, very quickly. But I think, well, if there’s anyone worth buying it’s us.” “I think we’re a band that will always be interesting in terms of a vogue type of thing. We were talking about bands, a lot of bands came riding on the crest of a movement. But what are we part of?” There’s a lot of “optimism” surrounding Simple Minds at present, but he takes that as it comes. Disarmingly, he only looks at success in terms of good work done by the record company or gig promoter. If that goes wrong?
“If we don’t sell enough, we just don’t get to make, and that would be horrible.” There is, however, the reassuring buffer that, unlike the majority of bands, Simple Minds can exist as an album band, and he’d see it as a personal victory against the “system” if they could live on without the pressure to produce hit singles and play that star game. Meanwhile, we’re left with a gem of a band finally receiving their due recognition. Chris Bohn was wrong. Age and bitter experience have wrought something magical from the band who stumbled out with ‘Life In A Day’.
Kerr taps confused humanity in such a way that I really don’t give a flying one if you think all Rock lyrics should be limited to words of two syllables or less. Simple Minds’ music has a sweetly jarring soulful swing about it, saying more in their amalgam of European and English music while others (hi, Ultravox) prefer to root around in the garbage left out by Neu and Cluster. Numan/Strange/The Spands reveal their latest frock. Simple Minds reveal their blazing souls.
Those dismal others are produced by ad-men. ‘Sons’ was produced by human beings who are frank about their confusion, passion, lust, hatred, ignorance, fear, love, visions, sentimentality, arrogance, favourite food and inside leg measurement. It’s all frightfully uncool, but then you’re a sucker if you put a penny on any of these bimbo cults and movements. Simple Minds are the only band whose outlook I can wholeheartedly endorse. They’re a design for living. And last week their album went straight in at number 14.
MINDS OVER MATTER
Rock City, Nottingham 17th September 1981
Vince Moren – ‘Sounds’ September 26th 1981 (UK)
It’s a long way from the Berlin Wall to this sweaty little closet in the darkest depths of the East Midlands. It’s a great gulf to cross, between the two cultures, the one of cold, soulless people who are striving to live under the shadow of political oppression, and the other of lads and lasses putting on their best lacy finery, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, going out for the night to celebrate, show off and enjoy themselves. Getting drunk, trying to pull a bird, trying to forget about their day jobs, or lack of one, and lifting themselves up from lives of the gloriously mundane.
Would Simple Minds live up to these peoples’ expectations? Their hopes were high. The intro tape of ‘Theme For Great Cities’ (Nottingham a great city?) from ‘Sister Feelings Call’ built these hopes to fever pitch, then… Simple Minds appeared, decked out in their best New European suits, and launched into their opening number – the mix was so bad I’m still trying to work out what it was. All we could hear was heavy bass riff and the synithesiser.
Holding together this shambles was Jim Kerr, who must rate alongside Vic Godard and August Darnell as one of the most original stage personalities around. His movements are fluid and betray the fact that he is a star by the way he carried them off as if he’s floating in another atmosphere. The audience are near enough to touch but daren’t. Although physically he’s near the front row, his personality radiates around the hall. The Minds dispensed with the first number as if it were a poor soundcheck but as soon as they launched into ‘Changeling’, recorded over two years ago, they assumed control. It stands the test as a timless classic. They were beginning to communiacte. Blue lights turn to red and it was all systems go.
’30 Frames A Second’ followed next and it was time to notice the rhythmic talents of the Minds’ new drummer. He has what is by most standards a medium sized kit, yet it is utilised to provoke feet to dance, not be just another sound facet. His high points come in ‘Sweat In Bullet’ (Simple Minds’ heavy funk song) and at the start of the anthemic ‘I Travel’, where he turns the frenetic Euro-disco beat into a percussive celebration. We were privileged to hear the latter twice in one night, and we all responded by moving like men possessed. Derek Forbes’ bass-playing has gained a greater fluidity in the last twelve months, and his feeling has spread through the whole group giving their music a far greater intensity and power.
Simple Minds set out to enertain and don’t tour purely to promote new product, but to give enjoyment. They limited the amount of material from the new LP, knowing that most of us would be unfamiliar with it and wouldn’t find it as rewarding as songs like ‘Real To Real’, ‘Celebrate’ and ‘The American’, where we all chanted the chorus. However, when they did play the new songs like ‘Wonderful In Young Life’, ‘In Trance As Mission’ and ‘Sweat In Bullet’ they came across with much more effect. If you’ve been a fan of Simple Minds for years, then seeing them live will increase the intensity of your love for them. If not then it will make you want to begin an affair. They are (almost) perfect.
Garry Bushell – ‘Sounds’ August 8th 1981 (UK)
Simple Minds are another ‘sound of young Scotland’, but these poor darlings are still bogged down in sombre electro-disco when just everyone knows funk is where it’s at, cats (or so alot of people who don’t dance tell me). They’re so uncool they’ve even got the horrendous Steve Hillage producing.
SIMPLE MINDS PROFESSIONAL PUPILS
Simple Minds bubble under. Mark Cooper tries to get them on the boil.
Mark Cooper – ‘Record Mirror’ September 26th 1981 (UK)
The sound of marching feet and moving trains, crumbling statues and foreign voices lacking a translation, refugees and immigrants, the masses on the move – you’ve seen it on your TV set, the black and white film flickering, the jerky dance of uncertain motion. Now you want to find a soundtrack for the film and a disco dance that captures the pulse and the mad mayhem movement of such times, such lives. If it’s Thursday, it must be Simple Minds.
Jim Kerr speaks quietly and sometimes with difficulty, threatening a stutter while he puts a point across. He’s a familiar of the rock interview, knowledgeable of all potential criticisms of the Minds and capable of dealing with the same, if not always of seeing them off. Jim Kerr is the soul of politeness and his belief in the present majesty of the Minds is total: “I think it’s time that we began to get the kind of recognition that we deserve and that we’ve earned. I’m just fed up with a lot of pretenders getting all the limelight while we have to struggle. We’ve made four albums in two and a half years that deserve an accolade, who else has done that, who else is doing that at the moment?”
Simple Minds aren’t quite succeeding in making that final leap into star staus; popular they are, sure enough, and ‘Sons And Fascination’ has charted hard and high so far but the Minds aren’t quite getting the airplay or the reviews that Kerr feels are their due: “We’ve been accused of making hollow travel music but we’re not sending postcards from exotic places, there’s a lot more to us than that. If it was hollow travel music, we’d probably have hit singles; as it is, our singles don’t get played enough for that to happen.
“We’re not going to be a constant source of documentaries or travelogues, our music is always changing. I think the reason we don’t get played more is that the music shocks them too much, there’s too much passion in it and that makes people uncomfortable.” Kerr’s conviction is complete: “I’m scared that bands like us don’t get heard, it terrifies me,” Three years’ work and records that ascend in quality as the Minds develop and Kerr is confronted with the churlish reaction of such as yours truly. He’s just read my album review and he’s got some points he wants to make and I’ve got some arguing to do. The suggestion that Simple Minds trade on the pseudo exotic for their effect has particularly got his goat. What am I to do?
Jim is a hard taskmaster; he expects the best from himself, recognition from others and yet he’s wary of all other opinions of his music: “I hate people who don’t like us and I don’t believe people who do.” I’m not quite sure where that leaves Jim and I, with me coming on friendly and lukewarm and him coming on friendly but a bit put on. Two months before Jim and the rest of the band had tried to explain the Minds’ interest in things European and American: “I just can’t stand these bands who ignore the fact that there’s a world outside their hometowns and a language outside all the rock and roll cliches. If we’re pretentious, what are we pretending to be? Unless you’re going to go through the rock and roll language, it’s good to write about different things, real things, buildings, roads, whatever.”
True enough, but there’s no doubting that Simple Minds’ attempt to write about the world they see has resulted in them developing a style so rapidly that already they’re in danger of boxing themselves into a corner. If ‘Empires And Dance’ established the Minds as one of the most powerful and compelling bands in operation, ‘Sons And Fascination’ often threaten to turn inspiration into formula. The Minds are in danger of becoming travelling namedroppers who rely on a mystique borrowed from “abroad” to manufacture a sense of mystery and power that has no depth.
“They’re a number of bands who’re more guilty than us of this tendency to name an exotic place in order to impress. Our European thing came from spending almost a year travelling and working in Europe. As a band we’re very open and impressionistic, wherever we go, we get caught up in the world we’re in. In our songs we’re trying to understand the world without preaching. The best movies always mix a certain amount of social fibre with image and imagination.”
Impressionable the Minds certainly are. It’s an endearing quality yet I’m forced to wonder how deep their impressions go; the Minds seem all too content to be overwhelmed with the world rather than to investigate it; to argue with it seems outside their range. Impressionable, the Minds seem content to be impressed. This enables them to make a music that throbs with the power that they see around them in the new industrial world, that echoes their impressions and their awe. Yet this condems them to remaining wide-eyed boys, professional pupils travelling a road of images that belong more to TV than any concrete experience.
The Minds explain the romance of travelling: “There is a great deal of romance implicit in movement. Travelling brings out the actor in everyone. When you’re in a foreign country you have a lot of freedom because you can’t really understand how that country works from the inside. As a result you feel free enough to say and be what and whom you want; and because people don’t know who you are or where you’re coming from, they’ll believe you are who you say you are. Your cultural baggage is left behind, it’s almost as if you’ve been born again.”
Simple Minds delight in this passive mystery, this cinematic freedom. Jim always did, right from growing up in Glasgow: “For 12 years I used to lie awake at night listening to the trains going back and forth to London, perhaps that’s when I got interested in the sound of travel.” Simple Minds celebrate that sound; they capture the pulse and the power and the big beat. Wide-eyed and impressed, they stare out of windows. Jim Kerr has some peculiar loves: assassins and corporations.
“I just love big coroprations. We were driving in America through a desert wasteland when suddenly we see this giant building, a multi-storey thing and it says ‘GIANT CAN CORPORATION’ on the front. It looked really impressive, it had to be a front for something. “Jim’s eyes fill with wonder, the mystery of it all amazes him. “We are impressionable, that’s our lifeblood. That’s what’s so exciting, we don’t know where the next impression is coming from.”
Assassins are Kerr’s other current favourite, he’s thrilled, frightened, impressed to discover that the man who attempted to assassinate Reagan stayed at the same hotel as the Minds used in Washington: “We could have been staying in the same building as a person who tried to blow the head off the President Of The United States. That’s not romantic, it’s bloody frightening.”
Yes, Jim. But there’s another part of him that clearly does find such possibilities romantic. Or so it seems two months later; “I’m thrilled to bits with events like that. Assassians really intrigue me. He’s really alone for the moment that he’s pulling the trigger. He’s stepped completely outside the norm and for that moment he’s seized a kind of power, he’s stopped being ordinary.”
Thrilled by power, intrigued and impressed by the horrors of the modern world, Simple Minds float on the outside and celebrate their detachment, little boys lost in a skyscraper world. I think they’re capable of doing more, of challenging the world. Jim doesn’t agree, he feels they’re already doing it. “Critics tend to place so much importance on words. Half the time I use words for their sound as much as for their meaning. I don’t like bands that are into sloganeering, I’ve always liked mazes and labyrinths.
“Anyway none of us are sure enough of anything to be able to tell anybody what to think. We work with atmospheres and moods yet our music has a spirit and a soul, a humanity, that’s lacking elsewhere. One of the songs on the new album has the line ‘Encourage your dreams’ I think that’s one of the most positive lines that have come out this year.”
While Simple Minds step outside day-to-day-life, they travel through it, on the outside like that assassian, on the run as if they were fugitives. And fugitives they’ve become in rock’s whirligig of fashion: “To get caught up in any one of these superfical trends is ultimately death for a band. We used to look at the American charts in disgust and look at it here now. Bucks Fizz and all, just as bad. “There’s a lot more to life than fashion. New romantics now means people like Spandua but it should mean bands like the Cure, ourselves, New Order, bands mixing a kind of romance with a sense of realism.”
At the moment, Simple Minds are exactly that, content to be fascinated, intrigued, impressed. Content to remain amazed, they’re built an awesome and powerful sound that attempts to impress as they have been impressed. Mostly they succeed but then they’re limited by the fact that they’re not attempting enough. There’s a lack of range on ‘Sons And Fascination’ and I think it’s a lack rooted in Simple Minds’ refusal to get involved. When they come in from the outside, they’ll bubble over. And I know I’ll like it…
APOLLO THEATRE, GLASGOW 19TH SEPTEMBER 1981
‘Record Mirror’ September 26th 1981 (UK)
Disappointingly Simple Minds’ progression into the big league remains only partially fulfilled. Live, they seem less self assured and composed than on vinyl – creating and falling into the same musical traps. Gone are the instant disco motions of ‘Empires And Dance’, to be replaced largely by plodding, enveloping would-be ambient epics which lose out in the transformation from record. Still the Minds’ can’t resist staging a hackneyed climax of their four most recent singles – a manoeurve presumably to please the crowd, but one which does little to urge the set towards the expected heights, only to see the aim achieved much more skilfully by the moody and haunting ‘Seeing Out The Angel’, a truly magnificent closer.
And still they insist on duplicating numbers for the encore. The audience of course respond, but more because of familiarity than because they’ve developed any better second time around. If anything it’s on the numbers you least expect that they excel. The dark, sombre improvisational ‘League Of Nations’, Jim Kerr’s breathless vocals dressed by Mick MacNeil’s distant eerie keyboards frills remains as one of my most memorable Minds stage moments, while the passionate, unfolding lyrics of ‘Sons And Fasciantion’, plus the stilted unease of ‘Thirty Frames A Second’ with Derek Forbes superb bass artery providing a strong contrast of new and old.
But they seem content to concentrate on their resepective roles, and as a unit labour over melodies and riffs that should be more fluent and free, turning too many into leaden, sprawling monsters. An atrocious sound mix, where what you hear depends on what you’re prepared to listen out for, re-inforces their current onstage dilemma. They seem uncertain of whether they want you to get up and dance to a succession of Euro – rhythms, or whether they want you to bask in a cloudly ambience that they seem hell bent on foisting on you. Being honest, Simple Minds should appreciate that live the fusion isn’t working well enough to be easily palatable and they’ll dismiss the smiling faces and congratulatory back slaps as no more than typical home town fervour.
THE STAR-CROSSED PROGRESS OF SIMPLE MINDS
Glasgow’s Simple Minds have spent the last three years building a well-deserved reputation with critics and the public through their back-breaking commitment to touring and a single-minded determination to keep pushing their music forward from its early Bowie and Roxy-derived beginnings. Yet commercial recognition has consistently eluded them, leaving the band heavily in debt to the company they left last year – Arista – and with high expectations of their new label, Virgin. THE FACE untangles some of the threads of the complex history behind this frustratingly slow progress and finds a stronger, wiser band with – surprisingly – its optimism firmly intact.
Steve Taylor – ‘The Face’ October 1981 (Issue 18) (UK)
Almost there: not before time Simple Minds stand poised on the brink of unqualified success. “Sons And Fascination” is an excellent album, in spite of an almost wilful-seeming obscurity about the songs themselves and a danger of over-extending sound ideas and compoundind their inaccessibility with a vocal style that buries the majority of the lyrics.
Though this article will try to disentangle some of the business history which has held the band back, it has to be said that they have always had some substantial musical problems too… well, things that only become problems as such when a band begins to ponder the scale of its record sales and ensuing success. Simple Minds reached this point some time back: “To be honest,” says Jim Kerr, their singer, “we didn’t really think about selling records until the third album.”
All in all, their sojourn with Arista records – the period covered by their first three LPs – has produced sales of around 110,000 albums and 100,000 singles, according to their manager Bruce Finlay. For a recognisably ‘successful’ band, figures like that would hardly be the beginnings of one hit in this country alone; Spandua Ballet’s 45s are supposed to sell around the 400,000 mark. Finlay is understating the case when he describes those sales – half of which were in Europe – as “neither a disaster, nor a success.”
Nevertheless, there has always been a strong feeling that Simple Minds would come through. Musically, because they’ve developed rhythm at the expense of melody, they were bound to be played to death in the clubs while the radio gave them the cold shoulder. The high-tech Moroderisms of “I Travel” shook the likes of The Rum Runner up a treat, but it’s taken the subtler treatment applied to “Love Song” to insinuate it into the singles chart.
They’ve never suffered from a shortage of advocates: often, crucially, they have been blessed with a surplus of enthusiasm over expert advice which has proved a genuine hindrance. Even now they’re being pushed by some quarters of their new record company, Virgin, with a bludgeoning aggression that is in danger of failing to allow the quality of “Sons And Fascination” to speak for itself.
Simple Minds, to start at the beginning, emerged from the musical confusion of immediately post-punk Scotland looking like strong contenders. Firstly they were well organised; long before a record deal was in sight they’d been putting away a fiver a week each, enough to buy a school bus in which they toured Scotland and slept while on the road. According to Bruce Finlay they were ‘totally together’, though this money sense didn’t extend to relations with the outside music business. One early associate describes them as being “extremely green in business matters.”
The same observer, however, also bears witness to the obvious charisma of singer Jim Kerr: “One of the few people in Scotland with real vision.” He added significantly that Kerr, though talented, “didn’t know where to go.”
Kerr already had some small experience of attempting to connect raw talent North Of The Border with the corporate purse strings over three hundred miles away in London – never an easy task, ask Midge Ure or The Associates. He’d been part of the punkily-titled Johnny And The Self Abusers who released a single on Chiswick in the winter of ’78-’79. They broke up on the day it came out.
Kerr was looking for other ways in; he sent a cassette of early Simple Minds tunes to an NME freelancer, Ian Cranna, for a reaction. Cranna, convinced that “they had an obvious spark; they were going to get somewhere”, agreed to manage them against his better judgement – mainly out of “protective, paternal instinct” and began playing the tape to record company A&R men on his periodic forays to London.
At the same time there was a minor revolution in A&R (talent scouting) strategy in som eof the more aware major British labels. Latching onto the rich pickings amongst young regional bands, but in despair at the inefficiency of their own sporadic jaunts outside the Greater London area, the majors began to appreciate the value of local, regional entrepreneurs with their ear to the ground. Looking to Scotland, they found a figure already establishing himself in that role: Bruce Finlay.
Findlay’s mother ran a record shop in Falkirk in the 1950s; as a nine-year-old he was impressed by the arrival of rock and roll through carrying cases of Elvis Presley 78s from the railway station to the shop. Through managing an Edinburgh record shop, Findlay ended up joining his brother in opening a very successful emporium in Falkirk in ’67, specialising in Summer Of Love imports from The Doors etc..
By the early ’70s, Bruce’s Record Shops had expanded to number eleven and one of his main suppliers, Island Records, were suggesting that he started his own label to combine the marketing side with Findlay’s enthusiasm for local bands. As Bruce’s became the biggest independent record shop chain outside Virgin, he toyed with management with an Edinburgh act called Cafe Jacques and helped Lenny Love from the Sensible label with The Rezillos.
Management wasn’t an extension of the successful record retail business, but an alternative to it. Virgin’s vigorous discounting (Branson invented it as a marketing ploy) set a breathless pace, as Findlay admits: “In the mid-’70s with Virgin and that it became big money, real capitalism and I didn’t like that, I’m not a big businessman.” But, when it came to bands: “I’ve always loved being involved.” The business management of Bruce’s shops went awry: “We’d been taken over by Guinness in 1976 – when we nearly went bankrupt. The cut price war was unbelievably fierce. We invested hard in two new shops, but didn’t increase our overall turnover to pay for it…”
When Findlay and Simple Minds crossed paths, he was setting up his own Zoom label, signing a distribution deal through Arista for a small number of singles by the Valves, the Zones, the Questions and others. Arista boss Charles Levinson heard the Simple Minds tape and suggested they signed to Zoom/Arista, with a cash advance from the bigger label, the idea being that they could retain Findlay’s close attention plus Arista’s clout.
Kerr, with characteristic quiet confidence, doesn’t feel that it was such a bad deal for Arista; “We were a pretty attractive package for companies, we looked pretty together.” They already had some of the stronger material to appear on the debut album in demo form, notably “Chelsea Girl” and “Pleasantly Disturbed”. The Arista/Zoom deal, according to Findlay, didn’t materialise as expected. “Their stuff still came out really as an Arista record.” Small labels conferred kudos then, as Kerr observes: “If they had any suss, they’d have played the Arista thing down.”
Ian Cranna, who’d been informed of the band’s lack of confidence in him as a potential manager by this stage, makes no bones of his lack of faith in Findlay: “He didn’t have what the band needed. I could see him leading them astray, which I think he’s done. They’re working-class Glasgow boys with something special. Bruce came from the Edinburgh middle-class and was very into the star trip of the whole thing.” The relationship with Arista got off to a good start however, something Kerr puts down to the fact that “after punk, the record companies were looking for something a bit more together.”
Arista’s keeness for the first album, didn’t coincide with the band’s, though: “We were really emarassed by the material and the production – the stuff was already 18 months old. When we took the second album into Charles Levinson’s office on the day we finished it, we realised they were expecting it to be just like the first. We played a tape of it to him, there was a lengthly silence and he said ‘I’ll have to play it to the rest of the company’.”
In the desperately faddy atmosphere of ’79, when the Pop Group were about to change the face of rock as we know it – and then changed their minds at the last minute – Simple Minds felt as if they were being sunjected to some strange conglomerate whims. Levinson flew over when they were gigging in Paris to tell them that he’d fly David Cunningham of the Flying Lizards out to Germany to produce them, if they’d only say the word. “We gave the impression,” says Kerr, “that were not going to work with somebody just for fashion’s sake.
“‘Empires And Dance’ (their third album) was a real strengthening thing we were really proud of it. That kept us from getting ultimate depressed. When we spilt from Arista it made us feel we’d get a deal, no problem.” Simple Minds’ disillusionment with Arista coincided with the “galling” phenomenom of Gary Numan’s success and the interviewers “who asked us if we’d been influenced by him”: Arista’s apparent shortcomings in marketing the group were thrown into sharp relief.
Levinson seemed to lose faith; according to Findlay, “He admitted to me six weeks after ‘Changeling’ (the single) flopped that ‘we knew it was never going to be a hit, anyway’.” A new head of A&R appeared, the improbably-named Tarquin Gotch. His first signing was Secret Affair; it was the summer of Noveau Mod. Findlay simply claims that Gotch “got totally into that fashion thing”. Kerr is less kind. While he concedes that Levinson “had ears”, his opinion of Gotch is that he relied too much on the music papers each week to tell him what was hip. The lack of empathy took a personal turn; when Gotch visited the band when they were recording at Rockfield studios in Wales, a person unknown poured “horrible food waste” over his car. Kerr says “he wasn’t into talking to us at all after that.”
Fashion weighed so heavily with Arista, claims Kerr, that Gotch was present at an Edinburgh soundcheck for the band a week after they’d left the label; buzzing with the “Futurist” schtick, according to Kerr, he wanted to re-sign them. The mutual loss of faith came at a curious cross in the band’s history, not least because the hard roadwork they’d put in throughout Europe had quite definitely paid off. The positive noises from their German company, Ariola, were particularly loud. As a result, they had to wriggle free, surrendering future royalties from their Arista back catalogue – which will start to shift as soon as they break through – against the debts they’d accumulated. “We felt a bit put out,” says Kerr. “We were hoping to get dropped.”
He’s adamant that the debts aren’t going to form a millstone around the band’s collective neck: “I don’t feel guilty about it, because we were only taking £35 a week (recently upped to £60). The money all went on touring. Every penny we’ve had is in a book and accounted for; it’s not ‘Where did that £20,000 go?’ That’d be disgusting.” Kerr’s grip on the practical realities of the band’s continuing survival is impressive – he’d set aside a whole weekend after our interview for sorting through the following six month’s finances with the management.
According to Ian Cranna,” With the total lack of empathy between the band and Arista after the second album, Jim Kerr grew up overnight. He was the leader of the band and he realised there were things he had to do, like go in and hassle Arista.” Cranna claims that the band suffered similar treatment to that which Iggy Pop complained of in a recent interview – underpressing of LP quantities: “‘Empires’ had an initial pressing of 7,500. They had no idea of the band’s stature. They doubled it and it still went out of stock.”
The band toyed with the idea of managing themselves around this time, merely employing an administrator. Fortunately, in one respect, the interest from other companies after the spilt from Arista was such that they needed Bruce Findlay around. Virgin Records had a long-standing interest in the band and, to prevent the kind of shifting enthusiasm that dogged them at Arista, they’ve signed “personally” with Virgin directors Richard Branson and Simon Draper.
Kerr is already pleased with the deal, partly because of the sales of their first Virgin single “The American” which doubled any previous single’s performance. And also because of the company interest in the recording of “Sons And Fascination”. “The way they’ve stuck their heads inside this recording is so much more than Arista ever did,” said Kerr halfway through the sessions, “It’s such a change from clueless remarks like ‘the bass drum could be higher in the mix’.”
As to the ever-tricky topic of management, Kerr admits an element of truth in Ian Cranna’s assertion that they’d considered parting with Bruce Findlay at the time of the Arista spilt. His reason, though, is that “when things go ultimately wrong you look for someone to blame.” Bruce, he says, “shielded us from a lot of real life, figures and debts and things. He meant it to be well-intentioned, but it made us a bit spoilt. The fact is that we never thought about selling records until we saw the size of the debts. We got very money-conscious again.
“My main disagreement with Bruce,” says Kerr, “was that he was too soft; he needed somebody to say ‘wait a minute’.” This now appears to be happening: Findlay is now in partnership with a former business lawyer Robert White, who Kerr describes as “the toughest man I’ve ever met”. Coming from the self-posessed singer that’s some praise: what exactly does he mean? “Well, he’s the sort of man who’ll come into the studio and say ‘I’m only a simple lawyer, I know, but wasn’t that violin solo an octave out’?”
SONS AND FASCINATION/SISTER FEELINGS CALL
Ian Cranna – ‘The Face’ October 1981 (Issue 18) (UK)
What can a poor band do when they’ve recorded too much material for one album and it’s all simply too good to chop and drop? Well, if you’re Simple Minds you top it up with a remix of your last single and issue the lot, intially as a bargain twin-album package and afterwards as two individual sets. “Sons And Fascination” is reckoned to be the stronger of the two (with “Sisters Feeling Call” to be available more cheaply later) though in fact it’s a pity this whole packaging distraction, along with the handful of rushed moments and incomplete ideas, couldn’t have been avoided by a little more studio time.
Still, what you do get is mostly first-rate stuff though the quantum jump in progress between albums hasn’t quite been maintained here. Both the lyrical motif of travel (for Europe now read America) and the creative use of funk rhythms from “Empires And Dance” often reappear here in modified form, though it’s a much more confident and sophisticated band offering their reactions to their changing surroundings. The most obvious change this time is in production, with Steve Hillage’s more open production leaving a much more warm, human feel than the condensed studio trickery of John Leckie.
Elsewhere the attractive melodic content is as high as usual, and if Jim Kerr’s lyrics have taken a turn for the more obscure then the moving hesitancy of his delivery communicates the urgency of the message powerfully enough. At it’s best the double set is superb (look upon “In Trance As Mission”, ye mighty, and despair!) and at worst merely average. At a time when really strong single albums are as rare as rocking horse droppings, a full eighty minutes of music of this consistently high calibre for a mere £5.75 from a band whose time is well and truly nigh must represent the bargain of the year.
THEIR FOURTH ALBUM, “SONS AND FASCINATION”, TAKES SHAPE IN THE PRESENCE OF IAN CRANNA
Ian Cranna – ‘Smash Hits’ – 17th / 30th September 1981 (UK)
The Setting: A beautiful, balmy summer’s day earlier this year at Rockfield Studios, a converted farmhouse tucked away in the lovely, lush green countryside near Monmouth in Wales. Inside the old stone building a lot of noisy activity is taking place – games of billiards and table tennis are in progress amid waves of laughter from the constant flash of Glaswegian wit among the five young men who, having finally got out of bed, are here to rehearse their new ideas into songs for an album. Like many young contemporary bands, Simple Minds are well into expolring and enjoying what opportunties for good times life has to offer but when it comes to music, suddenly it’s time to be serious…
The History: The sons of working class Glasgow families, vocalist Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill go way back together, a longstanding friendship cemented by hitching round Europe together during school holidays and by a common taste in music – less fashionable bands like Genesis or the unpredictable Doctors Of Madness (featuring one Richard ‘Kid’ Strange) as well as the more popular Bowie/Roxy/velvet Underground division. Together with drummer Brian McGee, Kerr and Burchill formed half of a short-lived amalgamation of two schoolboy bands during the summer of ’77 – yes, the legendary Johnny & The Self Abusers, who capped a less than earth-shaking career by splitting up the day their “Saints And Sinners” single came out on Chiswick.
(They’re gonna hate me for dragging that one up again but I still think it’s a good single.) Kerr, Burchill and McGee then stuck together and recruited the previously unattached Mick MacNeil (holder of many a medal for classical music) on keyboards and Derek Forbes, then a guitarist with a nondescript pop-rock band called The Subs (one single, “Party Clothes” on Stiff), to bring his creative talents to the bass. Calling themselves Simple Minds, the new line-up soon started packing out local venues with their imaginative, melodic blend of old and new waves – a rare treat amid the snarling power chords of the day. A contract was signed with Arista, to be followed by two years of frustration as Arista clearly had no idea of what kind of band they had signed. Three albums were issued – the poorly recorded, anxious debut “Life In A Day”, the startling rebirth with “Real To Real Cacophony” and the major leap to “Empires And Dance” – but a parting of the ways became inevitable. A Move to Virgin then took place, which brings us back to Rockfield and the five young men headed for the rehearsal room…
The Chemistry: The rehearsal room is a long, tall rectangular affair, the walls draped with yards of brown horsefair for soundproofing. Even with the windows are shuttered, keeping from view the distraction of the outside world. Watching a band at work can be an enlightening experience. At one end of the room sits Brian McGee at his drumkit. At the other end is Charlie Burchill plus guitars while Forbes and MacNeil occupy the middle ground. All four are playing around with a couple of tentative ideas while Jim Kerr squats silently on his haunches, forehead on his forearm, listening intently. The experimenting is clearly not working out. Glances are exchanged and the playing peters out. Kerr raises his head, “Play that bit in 9/8 time again,” he says. The rhythm section lock together and suddenly the spark is there,
Mick MacNeil slowly building a melody over the unusual beat. And so “In Trance As Mission” – the opening track of Simple Minds’ splendid new “Sons And Fascination” LP – is born. It’s a true band creation as well, as Simple Minds do not have a dictator figure. No one is afraid to speak. This also tends to mean that the band have become very hyper-critical of their music, a curious but compelling mixture curious but compelling mixture of enthusiasm and insercurity. “Before it seemed very straightforward,” Kerr recalls later, “but now there’s lots of questions going on. I think before we had a, let’s say, a amateur, humble approach to recording but now there’s an enthusiasm to do something really great. Before in articles we’ve always felt we were a shadow of, and so forth. Now we really feel we’re up there. Now we really rate ourselves!”
The Explanations: “Something grand, I think,” muses Kerr, casually potting another billiard ball to send yours truly to yet another heavy defeat. He’s talking about the lyric he’ll add later to the music now filtering out from the rehearsal room into the games room as Burchill’s guitar is worked in and “In Trance As Mission” slowly takes shape. Simple Minds’ lyrics are Kerr’s department. though he’s not keen on the idea of their being taken away from the music. So it’s the images and the atmosphere of a song that the band are keenest to get across? “Yeah,” Kerr nods, “that’s really my interest. I used to buy albums on the strength of the atmosphere of song titles if I hadn’t heard the band before.” These days, he enthuses, inspiration comes from everywhere – plays, films, actors, documentaries, magazines, books… The band’s previous single, “The American”, was in fact inspired by the bright colours of an exhibition of modern American art that Jim had visited before he’d even been to The States. It’s this openness to their surroundings that causes so much of their work to be associated with travel. “When I travel,” Jim offers, “it’s almost trancelike. If I look and see a house or something,
I don’t think about what kind of architecture, I think who built that house and what happened to their families. Your mind goes off in all kinds of places. Some places the atmosphere is just so thick – you just feel some places and it’s really, really inspiring.” It has been suggested to Jim that Simple Minds should tackle issues closer to home instead of travel. Kerr’s answer is that he’d feel a hypocrite for suggesting that he had any affinity for that sort of dogma, never having been bored or unemployed except through choice. Not that he shuts himself off from the world. For instance, the new album track, “Boys From Brazil” (inspired by the book on escaped Nazis) deals with the recent rise of new Nazis like the National Front, but from a side angle instead of tub thumping. Kerr also criticises Spandau Ballet for romanticising dangerous ideas with “Musclebound”, which he describes as “really sick”. Simple Minds’ own music Jim sums up as cinematic food for thought. “You do get a chance to travel and talk to a lot of people of our own ages from different countries,” he says. “You just get more and more things that piss you off, or just find out more things – it’s more education than politics and beliefs. That’s the vehicle I choose; it really is education. I think if I was totally concerned with the problems of the world I’d be a missionary or something, as opposed to working for Virgin Records…”
The Outcome: The album is now complete, of course, and “In Trance As Mission” is wonderful, easily the equal of anything Simple Minds have done so far, with its majestic, melodic cruising drive. That and the rest of the music from the Rockfield and later sessions can be found on the band’s new bargain twin album pack. “Sons And Fascination” contains the tracks the band are most pleased with, while “Sister Feelings Call”, (an appropriate line from the title track of the other) will embrace the rest – by no means rejects – and will be available at a reduced price after the Siamese twins have been separted. Drummer Brian McGee left the group on completing the albums – giving up the touring he disliked so much to marry his girlfriend and settle down – but his departure has, if anything, pulled the other four closer together.
(No permanent replacement for Brian is expected; former Zones drummer Kenny Hislop will sit in for the current British tour.) Never, says Kerr, has the situation in the band settled. Although they’re almost like a different band now, so much have they developed during their four albums in two and a half years, it’s interesting to recall their earliest days when the young, unknown and unsigned Kerr and Burchill vowed to create something too good to be ignored, something that would secure the genuine appreciation they’re always looked for without having to compromise for the sake of getting on the radio. “We’ve always said that there was something traditional about us,” Kerr agrees, “like we admired these bands of the seventies who didn’t really come through until their third or fourth album. I think despite trends and fashion we’ve always come up with something that’s been too good to throw away. I think we’re beginning to see some reward for that now.
SONS AND FASCINATION/SISTER FEELINGS CALL
It should be no surprise to many that the early work of Simple Minds has aged far better than the breast-beating rock band they were to be come in the late 80’s/early 90’s period. Common consensus has it that ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)’ is the true classic but spare a moment for 1981’s ambitious double-set of ‘Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call’.
It is an 80-minute opus of electronic music with a decidely European sound following on neatly from the early Ultravox albums. ‘The American’ and ‘Love Song’ gave the group their first hits since ‘I Travel’ and although this recording is considering more commercially viable than the first three long players – they had just signed to Virgin Records after all – there is a high standard of artistic merit on show.
A cursory listen to ’70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall’ is like listening to a space-age elevator opening and closing and the first title track brings an unlikely case for marrying together slap bass, Oriental keyboards and Jim Kerr’s gothic vocals. ‘Seeing Out The Angels’ is an indication of the prettier textures incorporated on their next album whilst ‘Careful In Career’ proves that they had not totaly discarded their post-punk routes. Admittedly the slap bass use becomes wearisome after a while but this is a highly presentable example of what Simple Minds thought the future would sound like from 1982’s perspective.
LOCARNO, BRISTOL SEPTEMBER 1981
Martin Slade – Bristol Evening Post ‘My Best Gig’ (UK)
The summer of 1981 was a truly great one for this 17-year old. I had just returned from my first holiday with my mates-eight of us, sharing a flat together in Torquay. I was also earning a wage for the first time in my life. I felt like I owned the world. One of my mates suggested that we go to see Bryan Eno’s band Magazine. I was not really a fan of their music but went along anyway as I was a great lover of live music. I was looking forward to the gig as the day arrived and we were full of anticipation as we took the stairs up to the Locarno, passing skins, mohicans, punks and rockers on the way.
The support band were to be a band called Simple Minds. I remembered a lad that we met in Torquay, wearing a white all-in-one jumpsuit, urging us to see them when we had the chance. As they took the stage, I was struck by their raw energy. Like a rough diamond, they has vitality and enthusiasm that I had not seen before, and I remember thinking that with good production, they would make a decent band. The set was magnificent. Charlie Burchill’s guitar work was superb and he looked so cool, nodding his head in time with the music as he strummed. Mike McNeil’s keyboards were totally atmospheric and Jim Kerr’s vocals had a gravelly raw quality that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. His voice frequently gave out momentarily during the show, he was putting so much into it and he was wearing a white all-in-one jumpsuit!
They must have performed their entire early repertoire during the hour they were on stage, from early classics like ‘Life In A Day’ and ‘Chelsea Girl’, through ‘I Travel’, right up to their then-cuttent material like ‘Love Song’ and my favourite ‘The American’. It seems incredible to say this but the apperance later on by Bryan Eno’s Magazine was almost an anti-climax! The following day, my mate and I spent all afternoon trawling the record shops for “Minds” material. We brought a couple of their albums, which we played to death over the remainder of the summer. The last time I saw the Minds play live was 10 years ago this month. Cardiff Arms Park was the venue and it was worlds away from a smoke filled Locarno (there were a hundred times as many people there for a start). Their performance was both professional and perfected, but they had lost none of that energy and agreesion that made them so good to see live some eight years previously. Despite this, it still wasn’t quite the same, the rough diamond had been cut and polished.