Jim Kerr back from the road to Katmandu
Jim Reid – ‘Record Mirror’ 10th January 1984 (UK)
Simple Minds have been away. Away from Glasgow. Taking a trip from British pop. They’ve moved many miles and they’ve shifted musical direction. The ambience of ‘New Gold Dream’ has been replaced by a more direct, dramatic attack. Simple Minds have moved closer to rock music. “I think the last album was a total thing,” says Jim Kerr. “On the last LP we were obsessed with a pursuit of perfection. The LP was almost coffee table-ish, you could sit down and talk over it. Although we really liked it, there is another side to us. ‘New Gold Dream’ was obsessed with a quiet power, willpower. But this album hasn’t got any time for dreaminess or willpower, it’s really straight for the jugular.
“Our rock is dead hard – it hasn’t got rock cliches, but rock dynamism. We’re going for the giant sound. A giant sound without pomposity.” Jim Kerr has a slight stammer, but he says all this clear and straight ahead. Kerr sits right in the middle of the Simple Minds mystery; a group that straddle both pop and rock sensibilities and yet remain, after six years, no more than a super cult group. High on tour revenue, low on top ten singles.
“I think it’s great, I’d much rather be number 13 for five years than number one for six months. I just think that at our pace, we watch, and learn, and grow, and we know it’s us. At our own pace we can handle it as we grow each year. I just think that the chief thing with us is that we really love what we do, and we’re getting good at what we do. We do make mistakes as we go along, but we live and learn.”
Kerr talks a lot about Simple Minds working at their own pace, about Simple Minds’ forays into foreign parts not being tours, but adventures. he also talks about something called ‘the gift of vision’. What I wonder is this novel approach to songwriting? “It’s a lot of things – it’s a feeling inside, a confidence. The whole inspiration for us comes from living and learning, keeping our eyes and ears open.”
That’s the artistic approach. But don’t pop groups have to bow to commerical pressures as well? What makes Simple Minds take their own route whilst others stand in line for the next video shoot? “We’re just strong. We don’ have to make records ‘cos we’ve got a really big live following throughout a lot of countries. We love making records, but it’s not our bread and butter, we’re satisfied playing live. “The trick is not to put anything out unless it’s good, unless it’s the best you can do, because you only get a few chances each year. For me it disnae matter when a record’s out, whether it’s in ten years time, as long as it’s good. I think that’s the way it should be – your head should be on the chopping block, if you put out a bad record it should sink.”
This is all fine enough, but one wonders if Kerr’s vision of a world tour as a ‘great adventure’ is just a smokescreen that hides a very ordinary rock treadmill. Similarly it could be argued that the group’s use of producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Big Country) is an attempt to tap America’s current infatuation with British rock sounds. Kerr disagrees. “I don’t know what to say – we just wanted to do it. It disnae matter whether it’ll be a good record for Africa or America or what.
“Steve’s been going to our gigs for three years and we were going to work with him sometime. We were planning to work with Alex Sadkin and if we worked with him people would have said it was a conscious attempt to break the charts, so you just can’t win.” Lilly white’s production certainly gives the group a crisper, harder sound on their current single ‘Speed Your Love To Me’ and on the forthcoming album ‘Sparkle In The Rain’. But this dilemma, the poppier ways of Sadkin or the rockier ways of Lillywhite remains at the heart of Simple Minds failure to break big. Artistically and commercially.
Kerr acknowledges the diversity in the band. “We’ve got a better bass and drum section now than any funk band in Britain and a guitarist and keyboards player who could play on Genesis or Roxy albums.” Kerr may be right, but I wonder if that’s a strength? I shouldn’t think Kerr worries too much about these contradictions, he’s happy for his group to be moved by their own creative impetus, not the vagaries of the British pop market. Movement, musical or personal, is never very far from Kerr’s mind. Travel, new people, new places are the things from which he draws inspiration.
“Charlie and I went to India last year for a break. We got these motorbikes and went to Katmandu, Nepal and right to the border of Tibet. It’s weird when you’re thousands of miles from home, but when you’re thousands of realities from home it’s even stranger. “You go along these roads that are still being built, and see all these Chinese guys, about the same age as you, working. You’re looking at them, but obviously you can’t communicate much at all. But there’s always something in people’s eyes and expression that gets through.”
“It’s a wee bit like being in a TV documentary. When you’re in a drastically different place for a short time you feel like a ghost, you’re there but you have to pinch yourself.” Having travelled the world with Kerr, it’s a bit disconcerting for me to get on the bus back to Rot her hit he. Jim’s attitude may smack of pretension, but as long as Simple Minds continue to pursue their own course, I’m not going to knock it. Gosh, next stop Bermondsey…
TAKING KERR OF BUSINESS
Simple Minds: On the banks of a New Gold Dream? Or Simply wet? Don Watson fathoms it out with Jim Kerr.
Don Watson – ‘NME’ 3rd September 1983 (UK)
Whump! It’s that point when the aeroplane’s acceleration borders on the terrifying, when there’s the momentary flash of fear, the back of your stomach meets the front, and a hidden rush of energy is released. Capturing that momentum and harnessing its energy is an art of which Simple Minds are masters. Their music has, for me, become synonomous with travel. ‘New Gold Dream’ evokes arriving at the Gare St. Lazarre at five in the morning. Taking off for Dublin, just at lift off, I could hear that moment in ‘Theme For Great Cities’ when the melody soars from behind the clouds.
If, as Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld recently quoted from the futuristic manifesto, “There is a new dimension to beauty – the beauty of speed”, Simple Minds have become its greatest aestheticians. Movement courses constantly through the molten moments of Simple Minds’ mission, movement as a means to an end and as an end in itself, physical, spiritual and musical movement interwine until, as in all romantic dreams, the search itself becomes the reward.
Now, for Simple Minds, the movement has, for the moment, come to a halt. After months of pursuing the New Gold Dream across Europe they played their last date of the tour in Dublin before returning to London to work on a totally new set. “When something finishes,” as Brando observed in Last Tango In Paris, “it begins again.” So I flew out to Dublin to catch the transition between end and beginning. For someone who, during performance, glows with such weightless grace, Jim Kerr is an ungainly figure offstage. His hair, previously sleek black, now falls over his forehead in a wispy mop of natural auburn, his nostrils flare from a still untamed nervousness and his eyes bulge from a face swollen from lack of sleep.
Every now and again he’ll shudder to a halt in the middle of a sentance and stare, with a desperate look, over your shoulder as he stumbles on the edge of a stutter. Beneath the nervous exterior, though, there’s a constant store of energy and enthusiasm which frequently bursts through during the course of the interview. “Yes” he’ll say with a strangely removed excitement, “that’s right,” and launce into a restless stream of words. Often he loses literal meaning along the way, but maintains an instinctive sense, and a power of pure likeability that makes you feel precisely what he means.
Perhaps it’s just a certain amount of the past we happen to have in common, a common stretch of history along the banks of the Clyde. Although Simple Minds have never made much of their Scottish roots, there’s a power in that past that exerts its control on even the freest spirit. There was an indication on ‘New Gold Dream’ that Kerr was turning to matters closer to home, to a lyrical romanticism that was more distinctly Scottish than anything the band had done before. Now it seems that, at the very time I come to interview him, there is an increased feeling of national idenytity creeping into Kerr’s work.
“I’ve never thought of myself as a Scottish person, I’ve never been patriotic in that sense,” he begins, “but last year I’d had a bit of a block on writing for a while and I was feeling a bit disturbed by that. Then I got back to Glasgow, and it was pissing down with rain, and somehow getting back there was like rediscovering an identity, a realisation that although it was nice to think about all these exotic places this was where I was from, and I realised that you can gain a great deal of strength from the place where you were born.
“The only thing is that feeling is so often abused. In Glasgow particularly the image has always been that ‘hard man’ bit, and most of the singers have been gravel voiced, bluesy groaners that drink whiskey by the bucketful.” Interestingly enough, though, the creative explosion that has occured in Scotland over the last few years has worked to counter that stereotype, not only with the new breed of Scottish groups but with Bill Forsyth’s cinema.
“That’s right,” he agrees, filled with further enthusiasm, “there is a connection when people go to see Forsyth’s films, they come out using words like ‘beauty’ that have never been associated with Glasgow before, and the same words have also been used to describe ‘New Gold Dream’. Its good people are seeing there’s more to the place than the immediate impressions they get from seeing the slums.”
The one new song included in the Phoenix Park set was ‘Waterfront’, a wide screen epic with a rougher edge reminiscent more of the power of ‘Empires And Dance’ than the smoother dynamics of ‘New Gold Dream’. As Jim points out, with that LP they were experimenting with the idea that “a whisper really could be louder than a scream,” a progression that included numerous accusations of blandness. To anyone that listened, though, there was a power of optimism in that collection that continues to run through ‘Waterfront’. The romantic force is the same – but this time they’ve decided to scream it.
The song itself was inspired by Kerr’s return to Glasgow, although its sentiments are no more restricted than those of his European songs. “People were always asking me why I didn’t write songs about Glasgow and the problems there, but it was because I felt it would be hypocritical. I could have written about it from a bird’s eye view because, although I wasn’t there, my family and friends were – but it just wasn’t me. With this song, I feel I’ve got the combination right because I was there when the idea happened, but it still has that cosmopolitan feel to it.
“Wherever I go there is something that always takes me to the water; if I go for a walk I’ll always end up by the river. “This particular time I walked right along the front, and Glasgow was packed with empty ships, like ghost ships. Even from the factories you could hear from the echoes and acoustics that they were all empty, just shells. And it was kinda special for me because all my people, my grandfather and that, worked on that front. So I was looking about and there was this real sadness. I hope it doesn’t sound too romantic, but I had a fantastic view, which I didn’t know you could get from there and I couldn’t help but feel… you can sit around and say it’s all finished, industry’s finished. Glasgow’s a ghost town, but the river was still going through, and there is a force there that you can’t hold back.
“It was just moving on and moving on, and that is to a great extent how I go through it – you can wallow in it for a while, but you somehow come up saying ‘It’s more than that’.” Like most of the worthwhile music of today, Simple Minds take despair as the basic premise and move on from there. Quite apart from the rivivalist hammer horror schtick currently being peddled by black clad goths, the songs of the moment are mostly from graveyards like Sheffield, Glasgow and New Cross. In Simple Minds’ case, though, there’s a force of optimism rising from the realism.
While ‘Empires And Dance’ crawled with imagery of marching men across central Europe and a continent with a chronic lanuage problem, there was a creeping wonder seeping through the follow-up pair of ‘Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call’. That collection, although it suffered from a rushed and hyperactive recording rate, contained the germ of the feeling that was to create ‘New Gold Dream’ that giddy sense of awe that called to mind the image of a kid staring up at a skyscraper.
“Really,” Jim wonders, “it’s brilliant that you say that… because I lived in a skyscraper for 14 years,” he brays. “I do love that feeling of size, though, and I love the feeling of looking up and even if its so massive, having that sense that if you really forced yourself enough, you could shadow that and…” he trails off, clenching his fists together, struggling to express his excitement, “and just… I don’t know, get up there.”
If the ‘Sons/Sisters’ collection expressed the desire, ‘New Gold Dream’ attained what seemed at the time an unscalable height. Criminally unrecognised as a modern classic, it reels with a dizzy excitement of being on the top while the world is spinning. “When that LP was finished,” he recalls, “I remember phoning up Bruce, our manager, and saying ‘We’ve really kinda surpassed what we should be’. And he’s going ‘It’s two o’ clock in the morning, what are you rabbiting on about’ and I wuz just going, ‘You don’t understand!
“Those backing tracks were just so enormous I was just really afraid of trying to find a voice and a sentiment that could match them. Inside I knew that I had them but it was just a matter of bringing it out without going over that fine line that divides grandeur from pomposity. Eventually I had one day left and I was just forced to do it. I had all these pages with phrases on them and I just formed the structure of the songs as I went along. “Then, when I came out and I knew it had worked it was just a brilliant feeling, but a feeling of danger that you’d attained something that you’d got no right to, you’d reach a point you really shouldn’t have reached.
“We were worried in a way that once we reached that point there would be nowhere else to go, but it never seems to work like that. It’s like growing up in the one room and you think you’re getting really big, then you grow to the level of the window and you realise there’s so much more out there.” It’s that naivety that has distinguished Simple Minds; naivety not in the sense of ignorance or childishness but an openness and a continuing will to learn.
“There’s absolutely no world weariness about us, some bands travel from Manchester to Liverpool and they’re fucken’ world weary, whereas we like to take something from anywhere that we go. “There’s always the Graham Greene’s of the world who’ll say no matter where you go the place is fucked. The technicalities might be, but there’s always incidents that show that the rest isn’t and it’s the incidents that make the world turn.”
Is that an attitude that’s hard to keep up, or does it have a strength that perpetuates itself? “It must have because nothing seems to even give it a bash, nothing dents it for a moment, but it’s not as if we wander around with a determined idea of ‘Ah things will be better’ but I can’t help thinking, even when people throw it in your face, that this is not the end, it just can’t be the all and end all.”
But wasn’t ‘Empires And Dance’ fascinated with despair? “Yes, because it was there, but once you’ve come through it what’s the point of getting bogged down? We did it at a time when people in Britain were going ‘War, what war?’, because in Britain things were still OK, but we’re missing fascist bombs in Munich and the whole Paris synagogue thing. You could just feel it spreading across Europe, that discontent. So what could you do apart from write it down?
“At that time I felt terribly young and that all I could do was record fragments. Then a year later the whole thing had raked through Britain and a year later again people did know what a war was in Britain. By that time, though, I’d gone through it and to go back to that would just have been too easy.” So why the countdown to 1984 in ‘New Gold Dream’? “The year 1984 has no significance to me whatsoever, as far as I’m concerned we’re not afraid to look forward to the future and that is just stating the case.”
There’s an increasing strength and boldness about Simple Minds, a belief which is almost religious. That one subject though causes Jim to clamp his jaw. “I just can’t talk about it,” he says, “at least not until I feel capable of articulating the way that I feel.” Does he believe in God? “Well, I’m not vain enough to think that everything I do comes from me alone, I believe it comes through me and I channel it. I don’t feel comfortable talking about it, though, it’s something that makes me feel very vulnerable.”
Is there a limit that you place on yourself then? “No, I was talking to Bono the other night, he’s the one person I have most respect for within music and we were really firing one another up. But certain things that we were saying… I don’t know… I think we could get ourselves in trouble.”
Why? “Because there are no limits, so there’s no holding back. The only real danger is when the music stops and you’re left with a personality that the music has entranced in you. Then the music stops and you could go out on to the street and just do something. I could envisage the situation when I could,” he stops again and grips the air,” …I don’t even know, but I do know that there is a danger in some of my ideas.
“When we were in Germany some people really hated the kind of optimism that I had. One journalist particularly I know would have liked to punch through my skull to it. I realised then… It comes down to belief really, a lot of people just get smashed out because of what they believe in and what they’ve done through their beliefs, whether they’re planned or spontaneous actions. “You think about sitting in a room and nothing’s really happening and you just get up and kick something.”
There is an energy and an aggression in Simple Minds right now and it erupted on stage at the Phoenix Park show. “My head is just spinning with all these new ideas,” Jim told me before he went on, “we’re just going to storm our way through that hour.” And they did, in a performance that was almost frightening. It was fitting that the last show was in Dublin; there was something tangibly right about the setting as we drove along the shabby waterfront of the Liffey towards the site.
The final coincidence lay a quarter of a mile from the stage in the shape of the huge metal cross, straight from the cover of ‘New Gold Dream’. “Erected in memory of The Pope’s visit,” our taxi driver told us proudly. “The Pope used our PA when he came to Glasgow,” Jim announced, adding mischeviously, “I hope he didnae catch anything,” and continuing to chant, “The Pope’s got herpes,” as I glanced nervously at this taxi driver and the madonna on his dashboard and wondered whether he was going to throw us out.
A Catholic upbringing, they say, stays with you, whether as a belief or a desperate blasphemous urge, it seems that Jim just can’t decide which way to go. “Mind you, Mick, our keyboard player had a protestant upbringing and his was the weirdest of the lot, his old man used to get drunk and talk to the dead. You’d go round there and his mum’d be watching the telly, and his old man’d be lying on the table talking to the dead, and Mick’d be sitting there in the corner with his synthesiser goin’ ‘Ach will you shut up’.”
On stage, from the first number, all traces of Jim’s nervousness is gone. His hair lifted into a crest by a slight cross wind he leaps towards the audience screaming “Come out, come out, come out of the raaain.” The tension crashes out through the immensity of that sound and WHUMP! The front of your stomach meets the back.
A CHANGE OF SKIN
On the eve of Simple Minds’ third Oz visit, Phil Stafford strains to disentangle Jim Kerr’s brogue from the phone lines. Meanwhile Adam Sweeting checks out the Minds’ current perfromance at a home turf gig…
Phil Stafford – ‘RAM’ 20th January 1984 (AUS)
The thunderous lurch of Waterfront threatens to bring down the battlements as Jim Kerr makes a lunge for it’s chorus… ‘Step on up to the Waterfront, a million years from today’. More than a few miles away from New Gold Dream as well, the luxurious confines of which album saw Simple Minds all but banished to the cocktail lounge. It was almost too refined, too richly contoured for effective translation to the live arena – which became the band’s natural habitat for much of 1983. A contradiction in terms…
“New Gold Dream was a very quiet album, an album more obsessed with quiet power,” Kerr explains. “The idea was to use the Dream as a weapon, almost like a willpower. This one may have the same kind of targets, but it’s not really the time for willpower anymore; it sets out to take different situations and physically shape them.”
“This one” is the third for the resilient Scottish band, and it’s called Sparkle In The Rain. Yet another allusory title, but the metaphor implies stark contrast. It may well be as painstaking a studio creation, but this recording exudes far more aggression than either of its predecessors. It’s the resounding upshot of twelve months’ of solid roadwork, and fairly throbs with accumulated energy. An extensive touring schedule took the band to North America and through most of Europe, after first previewing New Gold Dream in Australia some eighteen months back. And after so long on the road, it was no surprise that the Dream was slowly mutating into a nightmare.
“We’d come to a sort of standstill at one point,” Kerr recalls with dread. “We tried to write some new songs, and to be honest, they sounded just like New Gold Dream Part 2, and that obviously wasn’t good enough. “We just kept playing live and tried to forget about records for a while. We always seem to work more by instinct as opposed to planning, so it comes as no surprise that with the amount of live work we’d been doing that we’d have an album that sounds very much like Simple Minds Live.”
Sparkle In The Rain may in fact come as plenty surprise to some. Recorded over two months at London’s Townhouse studios with the abiquitous Steve Lillywhite at the controls, this thing rocks with walloping clout. It’s a brutal slap across the sensibilities of anyone who sunk too deep into the lavish pile of New Gold Dream, and leaves its oblique symbolism behind in a rush graphic, pointed imagery. The colour scheme is black and white, with Kerr’s lyrics in particular sharpened to a realist edge. It’s like he’s woken from a gentle, literary stupor, looked around and got angry at what he sees.
“I think it’s really crept up on me now; I’d previously avoided the spokesman-for-current affairs tag, but I find it seeping in. I’d like to think my resentment at the British malaise is not cynical, I just think it’s better to be honest and to take it from there. What I’m bitter about is the way Britain presents itself media-wise, and I just can’t stand the whole Thatcher regime.”It hits you when you leave Britain – when you’re here, you never think of it as a island, ‘cos the media still paint it as the centre of the universal or something, when we all know it’s hardly that. That’s what I’m saying in the songs, that things may be down but I don’t like to wallow in the muck.” Rather, he shoots out of it like some jet-powered phoenix, waxing positive through the homeland gloom.
“I’m not trying to say that if you close your eyes things will go away, but we’ve been through a realistic patch where we all just pulled everything to bits, and I feel that despite it all, I’m glad to be alive and glad to be writing. And the band feels so good as people now, whereas on some of our earlier work, the writing might have come across a little nihilistic through the personalities.
“But I do live in great fear of writing and making a point and then coming across like a hypocrite, ‘cos I’ve watched a lot of other people in bands having to eat their words. We do have points of view, and it is hard to express certain situations in the lineup of a song. And sometimes I think if I’ve got a story to tell, I’ll write a book!” Or read another author, and Kerr’s done just that on Sparkle In The Rain with a lucid interpretation of Lou Reed’s Street Hassle. An odd choice of cover to be sure, so from whence the stimulus?
“During the European tour, we kept playing that track on the bus ‘cos it’s got such a beautiful riff. And then when we went in to rehearse, Mick (MacNeil, Minds’ keyboardsman) began playing it. “We thought, ‘God, when people do cover versions like Motown numbers or Beatles numbers’, but here was this quite obscure song with a beautiful feel – we began playing it live, and the effect was quite classical; it’d bring a hush over the audience.
“It was a hard song to try; ‘cos Lou Reed’s version is so incredibly sensitive. But we thought if we’re gonna do a cover, then we should at least put something of ourselves on it.” The song is suffused with all the quasi-religious reverence that marks a Minds performance, though it’s one of the few downbeat moments on the new album. Elsewhere, the frantic fervour is buoyed along by Steve Lillywhite’s typically monumental production (drums as megatonne depth charges under livid guitar-keyboard crossfire), in direct contrast to the more sober inflections of Peter Walsh’s New Gold Dream treatment.
As Kerr puts it. “There’s always been a rawness we’ve held back on. In the studio, we’ve always gone for a much more kind of sophisticated sound. On Dream we achieved a certain kind of ‘perfection’, and now – whether it’s just a reflection of the personalities or not – it’s more on the edge. “We’ve all grown a lot; I think you’ll see a giant difference in the band since the last tour. There’s been a giant improvement – I think we were all a bit larger than life, but now it’s just so upfront, pushing and in control.”
We’ll get a chance to assess the strength of the superlatives at Narara ’84. And don’t think the Minds are at all short on the ‘festival experience’. They’ve become veterans over the last year, performing at no less than a dozen open-air extravaganzas during 1983. As difficult as it might be to imagine the band in this sort of alien environment, the new-found bluster and intensity of Sparkle In The Rain appears tailored to the big arena. “We see festivals as a challenge,” says Kerr. “When you do a festival, you’re really in the hands of the gods. Often these events can become battle-of-the-bands type things if the attitude is wrong..
“If you’d asked me this time last year, I think I’d have had a very narrow view of the situation. It’s easy to sit back and criticise these things, but actually getting up there and trying to do it is a different thing. It’s certainly not how I thought I’d be. Like it doesn’t have to be 30,000 hippies sitting in the mud stoned out of their brains. And it’s a challenge for us to go in broad daylight – no lights, no lasers, none of your big screens – and just through playing, get to someone up the back. People say it can’t be done… I think it can.”
That sort of negativism was directed at the band about six months ago when they knocked back an American tour as main support to the Police. Where most middle-rung acts would gladly sell body and soul for such an opportunity, the Minds were immovable. They were also exhausted to the point of collapse, and bored to the brink of stagnation. “We felt we’d come to the end of the line; we could play all the songs with our eyes shut. And to go on doing that just wouldn’t have been the same – we’d just be going through the motions. We still had the energy to get up on stage, but our heads were bursting with all these new ideas and we just had to get them out first.
“Obviously people said, ‘This is your chance,’ the album went in at No.30 or something, and a lot of people thought we were crazy. “But there you go, and I think with all due respect to the Police, I think if our future were in the hands of ten or twelve dates with them, then I don’t think we’d have much of a future. We’ve always moved at our own pace, and I’d like to think that it’s the best thing for us to do.”
It seems more a case of moving beyond their own pace, if the strenuous activity of the last twelve months is any indication of Simple Minds’ renewed sense of purpose. Rounding off Sparkle In The Rain is a comparatively subdued instrumental, appropriately entitled Shake Off The Ghosts. Positivism in the face of paranoia? Jim Kerr is similarly succinct. “I think we’re expressing a change of skin, to be honest.”
BARROWLAND, GLASGOW 21ST DECEMBER 1983
Adam Sweeting – ‘RAM’ 20th January 1984 (AUS)
With their new single Waterfront making a healthy dent in the charts, Simple Minds decided to defy the odds last month and combine a free gig in Glasgow with a spot of video-shooting. The location they chose was Glasgow’s old Barrowland Ballroom, in the heart of the city’s market district called the Barras.
Barrowland, which hasn’t been used for concerts since the old package-tour days of the sixties, also has a bit of a dodgy reputation, largely thanks to the activities of the notorious strangler, Bible John. He used to pick up his female victims at Barrowland and then strangle them while reciting from the Bible. Three detectives are still working on the case, which was never closed.
But no matter. The Minds had been due to play three nights at Barrowland just before Christmas in any case, the place having been chosen as a substitute for the recently-deceased Tiffanys. After wrapping up a couple of months’ recording a new album in collaboration with Steve ‘Natural High’ Lillywhite, the Minds were bored with sitting around in Japanese restaurants, bars etc. and decided the only thing was to get up there and play. So, after a couple of day’s rehearsal of some of their new songs at Nomis in London, the men sped up to hometown Glasgow and crashed feverishly through final preparations for the gig on Sunday afternoon.
As the video crew clumped around the hall with camera dollies and assembled great lumps of scaffolding which swayed unsteadily above the mixing desk, the band busied themselves with refining the new material. Having recorded the songs on multi-track with all known gadgets, the trick was to refine them down to their performable essence without sacrificing any raw power. This was swiftly achieved, and even during rehearsals it was becoming clear that the new songs are rougher, tougher and altogether more hostile than the material from the ineffable New Gold Dream. The Minds, possibly wary of mutterings in certain heretical quarters that New Gold Dream was “coffee table” music, had thrown all excess baggage overboard and aimed ruthlessly for the jungular. Rock group? Why the hell not?
By Sunday afternoon, a crowd in the region of a thousand-ish was heaving at the doors of Barrowland. Video director Tim Bevan, a man hilariously afflicted with a classic Oxford accent in the middle of Tam country, scuttled through the doors. When they were at last let in, the weight of numbers almost succeeded in destroying the giant catwalk the video men had spent the afternoon building.
The Minds’ set was compact and straight to the point. Waterfront was stretched and restructured, finally reaching cacophonous dimensions, and Speed Your Love To Me (probably the next single) blended brute force with the Minds’ familiar hypnotic momentum. Jim Kerr’s dad, Jimmy, was particularly impressed with the brisk rhythmic crossfire of Up On The Catwalk, though guitarist Charlie Burchill’s parents vanished abruptly when the band left the stage.
After all this, the video session exuded a faint air of farce. The plummy tones of Bevan, who addressed the crowd through a megaphone and ended each sentance with “Okay?”, drew massed roars of “spot the loony” and “England’s out”, and of course the tape machine broke down several times, leaving the Minds trying to mime to dead silence. Once they finally got the ball rolling, though, the crowd joined in with rare zeal, clawing up at Kerr as he cavorted down the catwalk and trying to grab Charlie Burchill’s ankles when he got too near the front of the stage.
Afterwards, bassman Derek Forbes thanked the crowd for their patience and said they’d see them again at Christmas. For the first time ever, Kerr had to be escorted through a waiting mob by police. “Not bad, are they?” muttered one of the coppers as the band left the building.
Adrian Deevoy comes in and out of the rain to relate a tale of four great if Simple Minds enthusing about the new LP, and reticent Jim Kerr insisting that all that sparkles is neither New Gold Dream nor a Glittering Prize. But first let’s talk about cakes…
Adrian Deevoy – ‘International Musician’ February 1984 (UK)
Concept as cake. In retrospect it was inevitable that the rich, layered gateau that Simple Minds produced last year would leave an uncomfortable aftertaste. New Gold Dream, sweet but rarely sickly, with it’s excess of whipped cream, proved too palatable for some although the gluttons couldn’t get enough. A lush synthesizer base garnished with syrupy bass and hundreds and thousands guitar constituated a deep, soft foundation for Jim Kerr’s golden cerebral meanderings. These days,
after the half-baked experimentation of Life In A Day and Real To Real Cacophony was superseded by the sweet edibility of Empires And Dance and Sons And Fascination, Simple Minds have eschewed the pending icing that New Gold Dream threatened, to make another music from a different kitchen. Charlie Burchill, Derek Forbes and Mick McNeil could dance. They feel they have arrived. The new album has captured every breath of emotion and every pained moment of twisted musical movement that has come to them in the past year.
Jim Kerr could cry. The album has lifted the usual burdens of guilt, failing and love. Lyrically it’s been a positive exorcism and a journey into unexplored regions of his soul. No-one is wondering why he is singing in excelcis. Having found a friend in Steve Lillywhite and sanctuary within the walls of the Townhouse and The Manor, Sparkle In The Rain, is a discovery for Simple Minds. Strength through simplicity and producing sound as an emotion is the key to the sheer life of the album. The band are positively bubbling in the foyer and Jim Kerr is sitting quietly in his room.
Bearing in mind that bubbles burst and silence often matures into thought I opt for the band’s ideas on Jim, the album and their present attitude. Later Jim will talk about the band, the album and Jim. But that is, as I said, later. Meanwhile, the minstrels see the new album as more of a Rock cake. Charlie: “Whereas the last album was a pleasure to listen to, a sort of coffee table album, this one is a real sweat to listen to, and whereas the last album stimulated certain emotions this one will stimulate different ones. You certainly couldn’t go to sleep to it. It’s much more Rocky and there’s not so much holding back on it. It’s not quite screaming solos and big riffs but it’s a lot less restrained than New Gold Dream. Playing live all last year really changed our approach. We really were expressing ourselves a lot more.”
Is it possible to channel that adrenalin into the more relaxed atmosphere of composing? Derek: “Well we went into Rockfield for a while and really worked the songs out pretty well. But that gives you a bit of an odd outlook on the songs because you’re all playing in a hall all at once, which is different from playing in a studio where you tend to put the songs under a microscope and you end up reconstructing everything. I don’t know if it was particularly worth it but in another way it does give you a new sort of light to look at the song in while you’re writing them.”
Charlie: “I think it’s hard to tell how writing changes, it’s probably easier to examine the changes that happen in the period that lapses in between writing albums. We toured a lot and that translates itself into the music when you come to writing again. We tried a lot of new ideas out when we played live and we played outdoors a lot, which effects your concept of the sounds you produce. We also played in a lot of different countries. That alters your perspective as well.
“I think we missed the point a lot when we tried to get a live sound on the other album because the way you tend to think about a live sound as a sound with all the characteristics of a live sound, like echo and reverb and so on. But that isn’t it, it’s a performance thing, a personally thing, and even though this album has overdubs and everthing it has much more as it has a real feel.”
Mick: “We did the songs in batches of three. Like we’d do three at the Townhouse then three at The manor and so on. They didn’t fall into any sort of categories, it was just a lot more interesting that way because you were dealing with complete songs all the time. When we did New Gold Dream it was like bass and drums and then two months overdubs and then the vocals.” Was New Gold Dream a consummate recording? Was it the end of one particular train of thought or the beginning of a new one?
Charlie: “We reached a point where we recorded New Gold Dream when we were ready to do something polished, and although it does include references from the other four albums this album is different. In a lot of ways New Gold Dream was the end of an era of sorts, although there’s never been any obvious continuity between albums. If the last album was comparable to Genesis this one is comparable to the Stones.” Mick: “But it has got some soft pieces on it as well. It’s just not as finished sounding.”
Derek: “There are a lot more bits to catch onto. It’s not continuous and it doesn’t have all those monotonous bass lines that I used to do. It was more varied for playing bass on. Iv’e never done loads of bass overdubs before or played lots of different bass lines. I did anything from three to eight overdubs using different lines and different bases. it was really interesting – quite a turn around. I think the fact that we went into the studio quite organised helped, though. The songs were the healthiest they’ve been at that stage and that leaves you more time to play with.” Of course the most intergral part of the machinary was newly adopted producer Steve Lillywhite. Simple Minds are in love with his attitude.
Charlie: “Whereas Pete Walsh was concerned with the cosmetics of sound, Steve used raw spontaneous sounds and that, for us, was a lot more valuable. We also double tracked a lot of things on the last album which made it very clinical and locked out. “Everything seemed to have a place and it was pleasant for New Gold Dream but it was all very regimented. The new album is the exact opposite and it’s largely due to Steve. It was like anything goes, mistakes and everything. We re-wrote a song completely on the last day of our recording time. We’d written it and finished it and then we decided that we didn’t like the structure or the parts, so we totally reworked it and Steve didn’t flinch when there was three hours to go and it was only half finished. I mean we’re quite famous for re-structuring songs in the studio but that would have killed most producers.”
Simple Minds, the group, and Jim Kerr live together on their own as a musical unit and a lyrival unit. Neither interfere with the other as both are confident within their own field but naked and ignorant without. The only call for a merger comes where vocal melodies are written. Mick “Jim oftens sits and writes while we’re playing and he jots down ideas that are inspired in him by the music. Some tracks lend themselves to a certain melody but sometimes I don’t know how he finds a melody because there is so much going on. He often picks a very unusual melody because of his technical ignorance.”
Charlie: “But he’s quite melodically minded really. He doesn’t place so much of an emphasis on the rhythm, which always makes things quite interesting. You should hear him trying to sing over a tune for the first time. He doesn’t quite know the music and he grasps around for a melody, searches all the possible ideas. He often forgets them once he’s found them too. Next time we play the song he’ll have totally forgotton the tune. It seems that he remembers a melody only when it’s very definite.”
Music never goes without influence and diverse influences always result in a strong challenge to the Common Mean. Charlie “You thought the last album was Genesis and Velvet Underground influenced? I thought it was Herbie influenced… actually it’s not like anyone I can think of immediately but it’s hard to do that with a new album. Mick “We’ve been listening to Philip Glass a lot lately; Marvin Gaye, Grace Jones, Joni Mitchell, Joe Cocker all those sort of people. We don’t keep our fingers completely on the pulse, we’ve got enough other stuff to listen to. I think it stops you from trying to compete unnecessarily. We’re still catching up with records that came out five years ago.”
Always having enjoyed an overt relationship with their equipment, Simple Minds have now become inspired by the choice available. A new sound processor offers a new dimension, a new instrument gives new hope. Charlie “That’s what new equipment has become to us. I think that really helps to bridge that gap between the technical bozo side and the artistic side. There’s a really strong link and that’s the brilliant bridge. If you’re going to write and you get a new echo unit it inspires you. The same with a new guitar, it’s pure inspiration.”
Derek: “I think with a new instrument you should always turn on a tape recorder before you touch it. Some of the sounds you get when you first experiment are the best you ever get. “But we’ve all changed gear in the last year. I’ve got an Alembic Spoiler and it’s fantastic. It’s a different sound altogether, it’s a much more classic sound now and it maked slapping make sense.”
Mick: “I’ve never really played a piano seriously before much but I used a Yamaha Grand on the album because they had one in the studio and I loved it so I’ve just brought a Baby Grand for the live shows. I’ve really started noticing dynamics. The subtlety was something I wasn’t used to at all. It sort of inspired me to get a Yamaha DX7 because that has a facility where you can programme in touch-sensitivity. Charlie’s got a twelve string as well now. We’re slowly turning into The Crusaders.”
Have you discovered the physicality of acoustic sound? Charlie”Oh yeah, the twelve string is great to play, you can actually feel the dynamics. It becomes emotional not just instrumental. You can thrash it or strum it gently and the response is immediate and from you.” Then there’s this Bond guitar innovation. Ridges instead of frets, buttons instead of knobs. What’s the attraction of the beast?
Charlie: “Well I find most guitars compromise between Fender and Gibson. Like Fenders are good for one thing and Gibsons are good for another and there hasn’t been a guitar that gives you both sounds and more sounds in between, and this new Bond does.” And it leaves the neanderthal guitar standing… “Basically the volume and pickups have little LEDs on the body of the guitar and they tell you the volume you’re playing at and the pickups you’re using. And the traditional pickup selector and volume and tone knobs have been replaced by buttons so you press two buttons to set your pickups out of phase or together.
“The fingerboard has ridges not metal frets because they’ve a lot more accurate and they don’t wear down and wear your strings down. The fretboard doesn’t wear either because it’s made of this stuff that… (laughs) doesn’t wear out. Actually I don’t know what it’s made out of… it’s a secret ingredient.” It’s called phenolic resin matrix. Didn’t you know that? Has it taken a long time to feel comfortable with?
“Using buttons is really fast once you get used to it and that literally took me a day. Getting used to the fingerboard, or the pitchboard as Bond call it, and not having any frets and having no boundries is a bit of a task, but once you do get used to it you don’t want to go back to a fretted guitar. I forsee that the only thing people will find strange is that, in effect, they’ll have to undo everything that they’ve learnt on the fretted guitar. As it is, though, I’m very comfortable with it and you can play it really fast because the neck and frets are so smooth… there’s also the fact that the body is made from carbon fibre which makes it solid but light.” So what will happen to conventional guitars once everybody has a solid Bond in their heart?
“I think it will give people a chance to lose that inhibition that they have away from Fenders and Gibsons. I mean you can learn on a Gibson or a Fender and you’ll always think that they sound great, but as you fluctuate between them you never get used to the feel and the sound at the same time, but this guitar means that the feel is always constant and all you have to worry about is the sound.” So what’s happened to playing a guitar in and that Gibson sound?
“Well really I don’t think people stick with a guitar long enough to play it in properly anyway. I mean people with ’58 Strats are usually very conventional players and the main thing about this that people should realise is that it is an innovative guitar. it’s stepping into regions that a lot of guitarists think is sacred and therefore this guitar is almost sacrilege – which is garbage. I think once people get used to this they’ll lose all their preconceptions about just having a vintage guitar and an amp and nothing between. Anyway I’m not sure if people really know what that Gibson sound is. There’s all this elitism but I’m sure a lot of them couldn’t tell the difference between a 335 and a Les Paul.” So what are the sounds that set the Bond apart.
“It’s much chunkier than a Strat, even though it works on single coils and it has the heaviness of a humbucker guitar. But if you want that very scratchy telecaster sound you just punch in back and front pickups, and then if you want to go back to your humbucking sound – so you can switch from rhythm to lead – you just punch one button and you’re back again.
“They’re hoping to develop a memory for pickup configurations for particular sounds so you can get all the sounds you want by only having to press a button. That’s a bit like the Vigier guitars, but the big difference is that those cost £1200 and these will cost £400, or £220 for a sort of mass market one. That’s brilliant.” And now you can afford whatever you want?
Charlie: “But you can abuse that. Spending a lot of money doesn’t always secure a good sound. I’ve got a horrible cheap Gretsch with terrible pickups but the sound is brilliant. Sometimes you can communicate better with something that has a cheap sound. Don’t you think? It’s not just a case of buying the most expensive equipment. It’s having the inspiration to know what to do with it.”
Mick “If you want, the effects can play themselves but that will only last up to a point. You can take advantage of them but if you don’t know what’s good and what’s right for you then it’s very easy to end up with something that’s useless.”
Strangely, you can never imagine Jim Kerr as being unshaven. But in the shadows of his hotel room a definite dark blue dampens his sharp features, his body is relaxed to the point of looking crumpled and his eyes are tired. Why wasn’t it an interview with the Jim Kerr five? “I’m not a musician. I write lyrics. Anyway that’s their area and although I am the mouthpiece of the band it’s nice to give them a chance to talk about what they do.” Are the band as alien to your activity as you are to theirs?
“We never actually sit down and write lyrics together but we often sit and discuss topics that will turn up in the lyrics later. Like there’s a track on the new album called East At Easter and it doesn’t actually refer to places like the Lebanon or anything but we’re concerned about the world we live in, and even though the song doesn’t mention names, we all know what it’s about in the same way as we all turned very quiet and watched the television when we first saw it.
“It must be weird. We can have an idea for a song three months before we go into the studio then we’ll take a month to record it and then I can change the complete idea by the vocal I put on it or the title. You can see the concept changing in their heads as it happens. They rarely expect the vocal melody either because in a lot of ways I am technically ignorant or musically naive. “I never explain my lyrics readily to them. If they ask what the lyrics are about I tell them lies. We’re quite a sensitive band in that respect. I think I’d die of embarrassment if somebody read my lyric book.
Not so much by things I wrote a long time ago but just by the personality of it all. I used to get embarrassed by things I’d written a long time ago but I’ve grown to think that that’s vain and you have to accept that you have to walk before you can run. You can spend years being embarrassed by an old photo but eventually you get over that stage and learn to laugh at it or learn to live with it. believe it or not I can still see links between what we were doing then and what we are doing now. We’ve got back that rawness we had when we recorded Real To Real Cacophony.” What was attracting your attention around the time of the album?
“All things to do with power. Sex, money, war, even friendship. I always tend to write about the same things because they’re the things that fascinate me. I write about other people, like I write about the closeness of a friendship or the clumsiness of a friendship. I write about communication and pathetic attempts at communication. “In the past year I’ve found I’ve started writing letters to people and I’ll put them in an envelope and put a stamp on them but I won’t send them, but that doesn’t matter because I get things out of my system and writing is like that.
“I’ve always kept stuff written down in a book so a song could have a line from yesterday and a line from two years ago. They could come from me, they could be something you said last time we met. It’s me but there’s always an element of collage. “I always try to use very few words. I take two or three images for a song and then pad it out. I never really think I’m learning through writing songs but they do ask some questions of myself. “I’m amazed how easily the various ideas piece together. maybe the common theme is me. When I say ‘you’ in a song, I don’t always know who that ‘you’ is. I often wonder who it is. Like Someone Somewhere In Summertime I often think who that somone is. I’m very romantic like that. If I see a sunset I always wonder who’s on the other side of it.”
As the audiences get bigger do you hide further behind characters in your writing? “There’s always me in there. I’ll always find excuses to say it’s not but it’s always me even if I’m in somebody else’s shoes. I like to ghost write like that. “I suppose I do adopt a character on stage because I’m not an outgoing person. I get nervous if I do a big party with a lot of people. I get nervous before I gon stage or up until five minutes before we go on then it will be good or bad and there’s nothing you can do about it.
“There was this attitude last year that touring was the easiest thing in the world. It really isn’t. Touring has seen the end of many very good bands. Like The Associates, Billy McKenzie was rehearsing next door to us at the beginning of their last tour which was sold out. And three days before the tour was meant to begin, McKenzie was coming into our studio saying ‘it’s alright for you guys, you can play live’. But the fact is that we were working at it and they were just fucking around which you can’t do. You can’t expect things to just happen.” Does the fact that you’re with a reliable band help you to test those limits that at one time seemed so elusive?
“Last year we played a festival with U2 on the continent and I’d just never seen anything like them in all my life. They played two days and one day they were astounding and the next day they were three times better. I just stood there and thought ‘during this gig I’m not going to think of anything else but this band on stage right now’. I think the magical band is one that knows the sum of the whole thing is much better than it should be.
“That and a few other live bands made me think about playing live. Because as much as I enjoy playing live there was always a question mark over how far you could take it. I’m not so sure about that question mark now. I think that you can take it very, very far indeed.” As The Common Mean crumbles, Simple Minds remain in the wings waiting for the necessity of attack to rise again. The concept is becoming more delicious. Jim Kerr makes the initial incision. “There was an attitude when we were making the album that was very fresh and very naive, but it was that we could be one of the best youngish bands in the world.”
THE GLASGOW CHANCERS
That’s Simple Minds’ new name, apparently. Something to do with all the risks they’ve been taking on their new LP. Peter Martin hears tales about Stevie Wonder, meeting Bowie, broken noses, trips to Delhi and everything else they’ve been doing for the last 12 months
Peter Martin – ‘Smash Hits’ November 24th – December 7th 1983 (UK)
“It’s like a few years ago when we did ‘Real To Real Cacophony’ (Simple Minds’ second LP) and the popular bands were The Merton Parkas and Secret Affair. I just don’t feel part of it. Most hits sound like they come from the drawing-board. Last year we got a foot in the door with the hit singles, ‘Promised You A Miracle’ and ‘Glittering Prize’, and we could easily have come up with some little electronic riff or funk ditty – but we decided to wait and stay our ground.”
While I’m talking to Jim Kerr the results of this “wait” waft in. It’s the new Simple Minds LP and it sounds magnificent. We’re chatting in a console in Virgin’s Townhouse studios and in the next room sits producer Steve Lillywhite (of U2 and Big Country fame) mixing a track called “East Of Easter”. Lounging around him are the rest of the band, frantically tapping feet and sipping wine. Their press officer remarks that it’s like a dentist’s waiting room in there. You see, they’re about to undergo one of the most gruelling experiences of their lives… The Smash Hits Interview!
But first it’s Jim’s turn. He looks very casual in his brown tweed jumper and new haircut. Gone is the artifical black shock of hair; back are the natural brown locks. “We’ve changed a lot the past year, but certainly not in a contrived way. We just constantly played live, moving towards this heavier sound and suddenly it’s like we’ve woken up and found we’re there.” In fact they’ve taken so many risks with this LP they’ve given themselves the name The Glasgow Chancers. This change of heart – and direction – has come about through 12 months of constant touring, building in confidence as they went until they decided it was time to “stop holding back and go whoosh!”
“First we had this notion that we could be the best young live band in the world. So we toured and worked at it. But after a year of that our heads were bursting with new ideas, so we decided to make this LP.” So what have been the highlights of the past year? “Well, we met Alex Sadkin (who’s just produced Duran) and we decided to work with him – then we blew each other out.” That was February. The next month saw them touring Europe, while April and May meant the grand US hike. And there Jim had his nose broken by a jealous fan. “I was attacked,” says Jim, a smile barely concealing a look of disbelief. And then it was time for a holiday. One month off.
“Overnight me and Charlie (the guitarist) decided to go East. I’d read about India and I wanted to go. Japan was really trendy. So we just got on a plane. I slept all the way and as I woke up in Delhi there were millions of people around trying to sell us things, cum here and cum there. Very frightening.” In comes Charlie. “We went to Katmandu and the Taj Mahal. We even had this wild idea of climbing the Himalayas, but we decided against it.” They both agree that the most amazing thing about the place was the people. “They had an amazing beauty and although they were living in abject poverty they were so happy,” beams Charlie. Jim adds that he felt like a “Texan with my Sony Walkman. But that’s the way it is I suppose.”
But don’t expect to hear any Eastern influence on the new LP (which won’t be out until March ’84). “I know everybody would think we’d come back like a couple of Ravi Shankar’s with sitars on our knee – but that would be a bit cheap. Kitsch,” reckons Jim. They also agree that the most important thing about the trip was that it “rekindled” their friendship. “We evaluated what we did the past five years, seeing if it was worth going on. Obviously we decided it was.”
The pair go back a long way, going to the same schools and even living opposite one another in the same street in Glasgow’s Toryglen district. All four original members share the same working class background, whereas the latest recruit Mel Gaynor – session drummer on their last album “New Gold Dream” and full-time member since spring – was born in South London. His brother Gordon used to play guitar with Eddy Grant and Mel himself used to be with funk outfits Gonzales, Linx and Light Of The World. He also did session work for Heaven 17, Beggar & Co, Elkie Brooks, the Associates, The Nolans, Imagination and Samson (the heavy metal band).
So how’s he finding life with Simple Minds? “I seem to be fitting in perfectly. The day I stepped into the studio I found they had a completely different approach to music – they changed my whole attitude.” Keyboard player Mick McNeil also has a varied musical history. “I got landed with the accordian when I was nine. I started a band with my brother Danny – we used to play at local dances. We were called The Barnets. We even got on TV, Junior Showtime. I had to wear a kilt. For the next year in school I walked around with a red face.”
The “shy” one in the band, he still gets nervous onstage. But being in Simple Minds does have it’s rewards. “I got to meet Herbie Hancock. I went round to his house in America and his wee 13 year-old daughter opened the door – she’d been to see us the night before – and all her schoolfriends were round there wanting autographs, MY autograph. So here’s me standing next to one of my heroes sigining autographs.” Still, he managed to get Mr Hancock to play on their last LP, “New Gold Dream”.
Bass player Derek Forbes is glad to see that there’s more SPIRIT in their current work. “During one track, ‘Kick Inside’ – which Jim describes as ‘being as good as anything the Sex Pistols ever did’ – my fingers were physically bleeding. We did that track last and I just went really mad.” Apart from drawing cartoons about the day-to-day events in the studio, he’s written a children’s book – The Adventures Of Sally And The Moonpeople. And like Mick, he’s had the chance to meet a few of his musical heroes.
“I met Stevie Wonder in Hollywood at a Return To Forever gig (a group made up of Jazz greats). He said he’d played ‘Promised You A Miracle’ 40 times on the run. He was right into us.” And that’s not all. Derek and Jim have also met – and sung with – the group’s all-time fave, David Bowie. “We went up to Rockfield Studio to try and get him to play sax on our LP – ‘Real To Real’ – as he was producing Iggy Pop’s LP ‘Soldier’. But to our amazement he actually asked us to sing. We’re on quite a few tracks and on ‘Play It Safe’ it’s credited as Bowie and Simple Minds on backing vocals!” So what more can Simple Minds possibly do? Derek has the last word. “I’d like us to be the best band on the planet.” Don’t ask for much, do they?
SPEED YOUR LOVE TO ME
Martyn Ware (Heaven 17) – Smash Hits 19th January – 1st February 1984 (UK)
You’ll be relieved to know that I haven’t been bribed by Virgin to review this one well but nevertheless this is a very catchy piece of material from some great friends whose taste in music is not dissimilar from our own. This verges on the modern gothic but they had better be careful because it also sounds surprisingly similar to their last single. It will be a hit but the massive one they deserve will elude them this time.
SPARKLE IN THE RAIN
Passive 80’s fans may not realize that Scottish band Simple Minds recorded a wealth of material before their #1 American single “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from 1985. Sparkle In The Rain is their 6th album, released in early 1984. After experimenting with a variety of sounds (garage rock to art rock to synth pop). Simple Minds greeted the year of Big Brother with an all-out rock attack. “Up On The Catwalk” blasts out of the speakers with the twin attack of thunderous drums and rocking…piano!
Jim Kerr’s vocals are front and center within the first 10 seconds, but it’s ultimately the brilliant guitar of Charlie Burchill that sets the listener up for what lies ahead. “Speed Your Love To Me” is undeniably one of the best songs in the ‘Minds repertoire…while many bands with egotistical leaders bury a rhythm section under the vocals, Simple Minds bring out each instrument with thundering clarity. First single “Waterfront” starts out with a heavy, throbbing bassline before a gutteral crash of guitar, drums and keyboards. It’s one of the biggest 80’s hits in Europe.
The band have always worn their musical influences on their collective sleeves, and on this album, they paid their first real tribute by covering the Lou Reed classic “Street Hassle.” After an extended intro with keyboards and string samples, the song kicks in after a few minutes with earth-shattering drums and soaring guitars. One of the real gems of the album is the relentless “The Kick Inside Of Me.” Recorded live in the studio in one take, an interview with the band circa 1984 revealed that everyone in the band was left with bleeding fingers at the end of the session by rocking out so hard on the song! As with many of their records, the album ends with the lilting instrumental “Shake Off The Ghosts.” It’s a great showcase for the solid musicianship of this sorely under-rated band.
SPARKLE IN THE RAIN
CMJ New Music (US)
Simple Minds’ 2nd A & M LP finds Steve Lillywhite producing and he has given them a grand sound to match their lyrical ambitions, quite like (perhaps too much like) his other recent outings with U2, Echo and Big Country. Overall, it helps Simple Minds sound more cohesive…the words and music forming a complete whole rather than two antagonistic elements as in the past. Commercially, it has greater potential than previous records – even without an obvious hit single. The best: “Street Hassle” (the Lou Reed track), “‘C’ Moon Cry Like A Baby,” “Waterfront,” “Up On The Catwalk.”
SPARKLE IN THE RAIN
Heaven’s north of Scotland. Released two years after 1982’s beautiful and synth-slick New Gold Dream, Sparkle in the Rain continues that earlier record’s spiritual overtones while capturing Scotland’s Simple Minds at a turn in their evolution and the height of their creativity. The next few years would see the band reap the rewards of their years of hard work through the release of such enjoyable and more straightforward commercial hits as “Don’t You Forget About Me,”
“Alive and Kicking,” and others, and who could blame them. But it was Sparkle in the Rain that caught the essence of the band. Like a newly fashioned diamond, it is utterly unique and intense, and it could only have come from Messrs. Kerr, Burchill, Forbes, McNeil, and Gaynor, — Scottish sons all with a taste for the epic and the North in their veins. Even 14 years after its release, the album is charged with a pure and fresh urgency fueled by McNeil’s soaring keyboard tapestry, Burchill’s ethereal and razor sharp guitar, Gaynor’s crashing, Godzilla-has-come drumming, and Forbe’s pounding heartbeat bass.
Enmeshed in all this is Kerr singing lyrics more powerful for their imagery than for their meaning, but all delivered persuasively and, again, urgently, emotionally, truthfully. This is a record with its manifold ripped off, with its pistons pounding at dizzying speeds and heights. One can almost feel the heat and light, the expansive blue warmth of Scottish skies and a ride through Heaven. And it is glorious!