Come to the
heart of the Trossach mountains, breathe the
fresh Perthshire air, and discover a troupe
of weary travellers footsore from their labours
upon the stadium circuit. For here Simple Minds
are recharging their spirits, recording an album
and rehearsing for a world tour. The new perspective
is "more humble", they assure Mat
Mat Snow - 'Q'
Magazine - June 1989 (UK)
Under the heptagonal
valuted roof of their spanking new private studio,
Simple Minds are breaking in their new boy.
He is Malcolm Foster, formerly of The Pretenders
and now Simple Minds' third bassist, and he
seems to be finding the equally new Simple Minds
song Kick It In a touch tricky. Far more at
ease as he beats the dust off his kit is Mel
Gaynor, the band's fourth drummer.
Of the original
members, guitarist Charlie Burchill drags a
bottleneck along his strings for that blueswailing
train-whistle effect, and communicates over
the din using his version of bookmakers' tick-tack
with Mick MacNeil, who is steaming away in a
similarly rootsy manner on that vernerable rock
instrument, the Hammond organ (both have been
listening closely to The Band of late, and Charlie
admits to being "a closet Dire Straits
fan"). Cooling her heels, meanwhile, is
violinist Lisa Germano, as is percussionist
Andy Duncan. Likewise underemployed is singer
Jim Kerr, who cuts a resplendent figure in his
fiendishly pointed cowboy boots and eye-socking
At length, however,
Jim tires of waiting for his cue and so joins
us on the gallery that overlooks the rehearsal
proceedings. The shell of this lavishly appointed,
wood-panelled studio set the band back £100,000
- a bargain considering that the house commands
one of the loveliset views in all of the British
Isles - that of Loch Earn deep in the Trossachs,
a symphony of limpid water, russet slop and
As fo the studio's
recording equipment, jim doesn't care to put
a price on it: suffice to say it's good enough
to tempt producer Trevor Horn up from his glittering
SARM studio complex in West London in order
to finish off with his collaborator Steve Lipson
the ninth Simple Minds album, Street Fighting
Years. "Well, the studios are so expensive
to hire, so being Scotsmen we prefer to pay
ourselves," Jim chuckles, "Like, you've
heard how they invented copper wire? Two Scotsmen
fighting over a halfpenny!".
the live album, we hadn't had a break in our
lives for more than two or three weeks. It was
very much living for the minute, and eight years
went by so fast. We did seven studio records,
a live record, and I defy anyone to do more
dates. Though we didn't know it at the time,
I think we were pretty exhausted in every way
- artistically and physically. It was time to
take a long break. When we came here it really
felt like home in a spiritual sense."
is a very Jim Kerr word: "Organic"
is another. On the more physical plane, Jim
is settling back into an armchair in the very
room where the new Simple Minds album was written.
What might Jim have found for inspiration as
his exhausted muse renewed itself? Gilt occasional
tables, easy chairs and plump, buttoned footstools
strike a note of elegant repose; carpet in an
oatmeal shade fitted throughout gives respite
to the footsore and sufferer from eye-strain.
Art prints from Vienna hint at occupants of
a certain discrimination; an empty fireplace
used as an ashtray, on the other hand, does
not. A single drumstick lying abandoned on the
marble-topped coffee table bears eloquent witness
to the work done hereabouts; and in pride of
place above the mantelpiece, a framed football
shirt as worn by the captain of Inter Milan
which was swapped for the green-and-white hoops
of his counterpart, Bobby Murdoch, after Celtic's
famous 1967 European Cup victory testifies to
the pride of Glasgow. But what of the higher
things? The pengiun Celtic Miscellany and Nora
Chadwick's The History Of The Celts offer a
clue, but Jim laughingly admits he's got no
further than page 60 of the latter.
Outside, in the
fresh Perthshire air, we may find further sources
of rejuvenation. Well-tended flowerbeds and
an immaculately manicured lawn slope down to
the drive where parked higgledly-piggledly are
the band's cars - an Arthur Daley style Jag
for Charlie Burchill, a Mitsubishi jeep for
Jim. But it is that breathtaking view across
the loch and up the mountains into the mist
that surely has set Simple Minds' creative well-spring
once more bubbling forth. It is most definitely
"organic", and quite likely "spiritual"
home - all the things he'd put aside for years
- became important again. And not just for Jim,
but for Charlie and Mick too, the men who make
the music which inspires the words in the Simple
scheme of things. For the next chapter in the
Simple Minds saga, Jim was determined to make
a break with the band's immediate past, and
review the world from the perspective of common
humanity rather than just as territories to
"I was aware
of the end of the '80s coming up, and like it
or hate it, we were one of the major bands,"
Jim states with due modesty. "This record
had to show, apart from in a commercial sense,
that artistically, as opposed to peaking, we
had used the last 10 years' experience to make
something new and alive. A new strength, a new
pragmatic. That coincides with us as people
as well - though we don't sit down and analyse
how we've changed and stuff."
The fruits of
his "new pragmatic" are to be found
in Street Fighting Years, an album which many
will regard as their finest since 1982's New
Gold Dream. Jim describes it as more "humble"
than it's multi-million-selling predecessors
Sparkle In The Rain, Once Upon A Time and the
double live album Live In The City Of Light,
and indeed it is.
first heard the live album I thought, What a
great night! What dynamics! But is that it for
us - rousing choruses and crashing drums? There
didnae seem any room for subtlety, and we always
seem at our best when we're not trying to be
powerful, but there's an underlying power coming
through. That had been evident in some of the
records from the past but had kind of gone.
We enjoyed the highs of getting into the big
league, selling records and playing stadiums.
It was thrilling but it has the same sort of
rhythm when it gets to that magnitude. It bacame
a sort of crusade and on some days we loved
the sort of sportingness of it but at the same
time we achieved our success with a record (Once
Upon A Time) that I'm not going to start slagging
off but it was not an artistic high - just a
good modern rock/pop record which did not look
into the band's soul or any of that stuff. We
were a lot less precious when we made that album;
we just had two months, so let's go. That may
sound completely mercenary but for us it was
Like U2's The
Unforgettable Fire and Springsteen's Tunnel
Of Love, Street Fighting Years follows an almost
military tour of the world's stadiums promoting
appropriately widescreen, declamatory albums
(respectively War and Born In The USA). In common
with the former records, more focused, personal
and latently powerful, Street Fighting Years
is an even greater departure for Simple Minds:
where once they were soarwaway symphonists,
Simple Minds now deal with burning issues -
things that have come to their attention first
from the headlines, like South Africa, and matters
they've found on their own doorstep, like Northern
Ireland and the imposition of the poll tax on
the music is searching and asking questions
as opposed to trying to have answers lock, stock
and barrel," says Jim. "It's instinct
not logic. I'm attracted to that; I like actors
who can never articulate but give off this heat,
like De Niro. You mention Springsteen; it's
true - you hear him speaking and he's bumbling
away, but he's got an instinct as opposed to
For anyone who's
grown up with Simple Minds' dizzying futurism
and celebration of sheer scale and surface allure,
the idea of an instinctive humanity bumbling
away in their breast might come as a surprise.
younger it's natural to completely reject the
past," Jim reasons. "You think everything
before your time is outmoded, corrupt, null
and void. You either feel alienated and react
to life voyeuristically, or else you try and
transcend it in variuos ways - drugs, drink,
join a rock 'n' roll band. The rock 'n' roll
band is a great way of escaping, especially
when the movies you're seeing, the books you're
reading and the whole existentalist thing is
swilling around. When I try and a get on those
days, it's like a suspended animation."
we've come through the voyeuristic phase, when
I hear a song like I Travel (a Simple Minds
classic from 1980), what pisses me off or embrarrasses
me is it's our On The Road, our version of kerouac
in Europe: there were bombs going off on Bolonga
train station and in synagogues, and Baader-Meinhof.
This was the year before Brixton and Toxteth
and you could feel the weirdness. When I listen
to the song, I sing it in the most affectedly
way, whereas now, eight years on, if something
happens, it appals me: how do I reject this,
how do I show my protest, how do I take a kick
at this? In the past there was all this artfulness
- as distinct from art - that is awful."
got a lot to do with it," laughs Mick MacNeil,
the rake-thin keyboardist from the Isle of Barra,
and the original Simple Minds token Protestant.
come through your adolescence, and you're going
out of Glasgow fro the first time, and so you
write about all these things you're taking in,"
agrees the affable Charlie Burchill. "Now
you're older and a bit more mature, you reflect
more, especially on your own doorstep. Since
being back we've been here; we watch the news
and read the paper. Like, we were in Brazil
(headlining a four-day festival in January 1988),
and when we came back we saw in the news about
the landslide where we'd just been, and it makes
you think. And you go to Ireland and meet ordinary
people who give you impressions which before
you'd never have bothered with. Even in America,
you go to Washington expecting to find the White
House and instead you see incredible black poverty.
These things are constantly making an impression,
building up your consciousness and concern."
difficult not to feel like that," chimes
point we do realise that being in a band we
have this opportunity to say something, to make
some sort of statement, even if it's just 'Here's
this piece of music'," continues Charlie.
"In the end, if you can articulate what
you fell.....Like, when we were in London we
had a couple of black guys come up and say,
'Brilliant, what you're doing.' We hardly get
recognised by anyone, especially in London,
but getting involved in Mandela Day obviously
meant a lot to them, and that was great."
by Jerry Dammers to take part in a show celebrating
Nelson Mandela, Simple Minds were the first
act to give a definite commitment, swiftly followed
by Dire Straits, Eurythmics, Whitney Houston
and the rest.
"At the conceert
the pop stars said things to a varying degree,"
Jim reflects. "Some people wouldn't say
anything at all: some people would say garbled
messages: some people would dedicate a song
to the ANC or SWAPO; some people saw it as a
birthday party, which I thought was particularly
weak considering his birthday was not for another
five weeks; some people saw it as a charity
concert which depressed me - pop stars giving
a tenner while the rest of the world is looking
to be careful what I say here. The effort that
old ladies put into Church jamborees is a whole
industry on it's own and it's a great thing,
but I'm not interested in giving a tenner to
this or 10 grand to that. But I find the idea
of writing a song fantastic and challenging.
It's like Victor Jara said: you can cage a singer
but you can't cage the song. Songs live on:
people learn them and pass them on."
consequence of Simple Minds' particular outspoken
stand on Mandela Day was the empurpled reaction
of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, the conservative
MP for Perth and Kinross (coincidentally the
constituency in which falls Simple Minds' Loch
Earn retreat). "They're just scum....left
wing scum," raved the castle dwelling laird,
notorious for his Oriental-style wardrobe, on
the front page of the Scottish Daily Record
the week after the show. "These so-called
stars like Annie Lennox and Jim Kerr are just
our to line their own pockets.... and what Annie
Lennox and Jim Kerr said at Wembley came out
of no love for Nelson Mandela. It came from
a desire to make money." Leaving aside
the paradox of being both left-wing scum and
purely mercenary, the exotic Tory knight's outburst
provoked outrage in the Minds camp: a few of
the band's Glaswegian friends proposed paying
Sir Nicholas a visit and setting him straight
on a couple of points. Jim had to dissuade them
gently, and the matter has only recently been
resolved afetr legal mediation.
came back from London after doing the concert,
putting in all that work and getting nothing
from it, to come back home to Glasgow and read
the front page of the newspaper calling us scum
really angered me," recalls Mick. "A
creep in a sari who lives in a castle calling
us scumbags! I just wanted to hit the guy!"
to think that rock bands used to throw TVs out
of the window and be into drugs, and now look
at who the arseholes are," fulminates Charlie
in his mild-mannered way. "This guy dresses
up like an Indian maharajah and is probably
out of it every day on the booze. It's a bad
day when bands have to get up and sing about
poll tax; what happened to the Labour Party?
I'm sure it must confuse a lot of people nowadays.
That's the most heartening thing: here's this
geezer on the front page of the paper looking
a complete prat, saying we're left-wing scum,
but most people will think, what an utter idiot!"
A smaller but
no less telling controversy in which Simple
Minds were involved last summer was their well-publicised
refusal (along with Deacon Blue and Hue &
Cry) to accept sponsorship from Tennent Caledonian
the biggest problem in Scotland," Charlie
- no teetotaller himself - reckons. "Marriages
spilt up, kids are beaten up through drink;
it's not doing anyone any good."
nothing worse than a gig with a dodgy atmosphere,
when there's alcohol about, especially as now
a lot of the younger bands are getting offers
from Tennents Breweries," agrees Mick.
Indeed, with the
exception of musical equipment endorsement,
Simple Minds have instructed their management
to turn down all offers out of hand without
even referring to the group. "It cracks
me up that everyone's aware nowadays that there's
a war between Coke and Pepsi, like with football
everybody knows the names of the directors nowadays
when it used to be only the names of the players,"
muses Charlie ruefully. By one of those ironies
sent to try us, guest vocalist on the song This
Is Your Land is Simple Minds' long-standing
hero Lou Reed, who has in recent years put his
rock 'n' roll credibility at the disposal of
Honda motorcycles and American Express.
tried to find the truth; he's always tried to
make sense," says Jim. "You always
think of his nihilism and decadence, but I was
amazed when I met him how absolutely lucid he
was. I was expecting someone shell-shocked."
be raised when he sings the line you wrote,
"Money can't buy me".
ask about it," sighs Jim, "but when
he asked what I wanted him to do a parody of
Lou reed. And he said, Everybody else is doing
it, so why shouldn't I?
are very yuppified, and I'm not talking in terms
of Filofaxes, carphones - or Mitsubishi jeeps
for that matter," Jim warms to his theme.
"It's very much a matter of isolation and
dog-eat-dog; there's not a lot of community
stuff going on. The cynic sees something as
it is, not how it could be. Of course mandela
Day was a great idea, of course Amnesty International
is a great idea; but it's not enough just to
say right on. What are you actually going to
do about it? With us and U2, at the heart of
the music is a spirit of life. And a lot of
the words were induced by the music. With Belfast
Child, I first heard the melody a few days after
Enniskillen and like everybody when you see
the images I was just sick. What else can you
Jim related those
feelings to his personal grief for a Glasgow
friend murdered in a fight a few months before.
"In the second
part of Belfast Child I'm trying to relate to
people in Northern Ireland who've also lost.
I'm trying to talk about the madness and sadness
and emptiness. I'm not saying I have any pearls
of wisdom, but I have a few questions to ask.
When I'm asked on American TV who my heroes
are, rather than saying Lou Reed or Bob Dylan
or someone who goes without saying, I say there
are these people called Amnesty International
and what they are doing I think is rather heroic.
It only takes about 30 seconds.
i'm a parent myself, I feel responsible. In
years to come I can imagine my daughter saying,
What was going on? What did you do in particular?
If you really felt that way, did you ever write
a song about it?"
What did you do
in the global consciousness war, Daddy?
is a thing that came to me because Charlie and
Mick had other stuff to do and I ended up being
the best at it of all of us. You get used to
being at the forefront, but naturally I was
not like that before," says Jim with barely
a ghost of the stammer with which he was painfully
stricken when first he came to public attention.
"it's been weird for me to come from being
not quite a loner or recluse or outsider or
anything weird, but pretty much. I'm still a
bit like that. When they're getting steaming
with the local bobby or whatever, I'll be trying
to drive North to the very tip.
"I just love
the idea of movement and spaces and what places
might be like," he returns to the central
theme of his songs. "It's frustrating that
I don't have the time to get below the surface,
but I've got a lot more confident; if I'm travelling
and I go into a bar, I'll go up to someone and
hassle them to tell me what it's like to live
there or what the local issue is. Before i would
never have spoken to someone unless they spoke
first. My desire hasnae diminished. On tour
if it's a day off, I'll do the long drive, the
26 or 28 hours. You don't have the chance to
stop and see places, but at least you have the
feeling of what it might be like. It could be
the light or it could be the road - whatever
the dynamics are of that particular place.
were in Brazil, I detested the Copacabana. It
wasnae for me: the beach was fucking polluted,
full of tourists and junkshops. I couldnae wait
to get outside. To get to the life was so heavy
you had to go in a pack and have local guys
with guns with you as well."
John Lydon reports
very much the same thing.
"He was on
the radio the other day talking about that,
going on about these 'pop stars' who go to places
like that and have their pictures taken; my
brother bsaid, this twat's talking about us!
But it's not like that; you go and try and touch
the atmosphere. It seems such a wasted opportunity
just to sit in the Hilton - I'm not complaining
about that side. I just guess you want it all."
offers an example Jim might follow - the global
village rock star!
"I can see
his motive exactly. The guy's got everything
he wants and it's not enough, so he puts it
aside and tries to look for something more,
something to contribute. The fact that he's
a successful singer and songwriter is something
he's going to use."
There are easier
ways to publicise yourself than sailing up the
really needs the publicity the same as Springsteen
really needs it. He thinks of something outside
these four walls as opposed to the'70s attitude
where you collect 20 rollers and drive them
into swimming pools. You could say you can't
win, but of course you do win because you do
what the hell you lie. Sting is obviously on
some kind of spiritual journey as well, and
he's trying to do it practically. Who knows?
He doesn't need the money or publicity."
Perhaps it's a
voracious ego that drives Sting. In his film
Bring On The Night, he made sure the cameras
were in the delivery room to show us his girlfriend
giving birth. Would Jim do that?
that was particularly weird as well."
So you would think
twice before, say, writing a song about marriage?
even had any pictures taken. We had one guy
taking pictures personally for us and he sold
them to the press!" Jim shrugs with exasperation:
"That's how I feel about my thing. Art
and life are entwined but at the same time there's
areas you just would not want..." Jim trails
off, plainly reluctant to dissect his relationship
which had started with a whirlwind romance when
Simple Minds and The Pretenders ran into each
other in Australia and which was knotted in
a private ceremony in New York in May 1984;
a year later their daughter Yasmin was born.
For the record, Jim's unswerving line is that
conflicting workloads and preferences for home
- Jim just outside Edinburgh, Chrissie Hydne
in London - did for their marriage, though not
without a struggle to keep it together, Today
they are amicably separted.
to be on your guard. If you deal with an endless
thing like this (our interview) for three or
four months, if you really listen to people,
it would drive you off your head. This guy from
one of the music papers said to me, tell me,
what is the hardest thing about being Jim Kerr?
Give it a fucking rest! D'you think I think
about myself that much? Don't get me thinking
I'm worth thinking about that much! Who would
want to go into analysis like that? But you've
got a duty to talk to the press and radio, you've
got a duty to analyse. That's why people end
up with crazy egos - though I'm not blaming
you for Sting being like that."
Analysis of what
makes SImple Minds tick is clearly something
Jim strnuously resists.
I've been writing words since I was five, and
I don't know why - it's just there. Why does
MacNeil play chords that are a certain size
and grandeur? He's not a pompous chap. Perhaps
you could say that he's from Barra where there's
nothing but sky and sea, so bigness is nothing
to him; he feels at home in it."
Sting and Peter
Gabriel I think are entirely admirable,"
Jim resumes his main theme. "They might
look out of their depth or pissing in the wind
as even I said about myself during the Amnesty
thing; some nights you think, what's the point?
Everywhere in the world there's people being
locked up and done in. But if the effect of
some concerts is that two people are set free,
try telling them it isn't worthwhile; try telling
them if we had thought about it then backed
out. In the band, whatever we've learned, we
certainly didn't get it at school; it's come
through experiences in the band and people we've
met. Music has helped us battle ignorance. And
if music helps people feel less lonely, that's
and I had an experience when we last played
Milan," Jim reminisces. "We were driving
to the stadium, San Siro, and when we last went
on a hitchhiking trip (between leaving school
and forming their first regular band, Johnny
And The Self Abusers, Jim and Charlie thumbed
it around Western Europe)... and I mentioned
that trip a lot because it is a good symbol
of this band and our career; we put out our
thumbs and we went, we never asked where we
were going and never tried to get to a particular
place; and through that trip we broke a lot
of ties with Glasgow and got emancipation -
it became a bit of a spiritual flight. But anyway,
we were driving to this concert, eight or nine
years on, and as is typical of Italy the place
was chaos and the driver got lost and we ended
up going through where the crowds were teeming
in; we were late and it was pandemonium. We
were sitting in the back of this big car and
recognised the area and couldn't work it out
where. Before, we'd spent only two nights in
Milan, sleeping in the train station and the
square in front of it. And as the car turned
round, that's where we were - the place where
we'd sat and said we should get a band together
and quit just talking about it; you've got a
guitar and I've got words - we should just do
it and see where it takes us!
is possible when you're 17 - if it's going to
rain tonight, we'll just vibe it to stop! And
if sitting on the San Siro steps we'd have said
that this would be our destiny, they would have
certified us on the spot!"
And should Jim
ever get carried away - heaven forbid - by the
great cities, great crowds and great adulation,
he has only to ponder a chance meeting just
the other day at Heathrow Airport on his way
to a video shoot in Spain. For likewise in transit
were Marti Pellow, permanant-grinning singer
with Glasgow's Wet Wet Wet, and the great Kenny
Dalglish of Liverpool FC.
I can handle, but with footballers I get starstruck."
Jim leans forward to describe this intimate
moment. "I'd met Dalglish a few times and
he's a steely character. He's definitely my
Roy Of The Rovers; I saw him play for Celtic's
reserves and he was the kind of person who in
the dying seconds would kick the ball and it
would hit a seagull and go in! I told him that,
and I also told him that if this record went
through the roof, I'd buy him back!
was with him - a Rangers supporter; he looks
liked a Rangers supporter - and they came over,
and all these people young and old came up,
including these teenage girls who made straight
for Dalglish and asked him for his autograph.
Of course, Dalglish loved it - 'I beat you guys
at this as well!'"
- 'Q' Magazine - June 1989 (UK)
Bon Jovi and even Genesis may sell more records
and tickets than Simple Minds, but with Street
Fighting Years the band has arrived at that
coveted place in the superleague constellation
that is reserved for the act which can burn
with the brightest sense of mission.
Jim Kerr has become
a master at talking up the business of making
music, never wasting an opportunity to describe
his trade in terms of spiritual and mystical
reference points to which the tag of greatness
can be readily attached. Now, over three years
after their last studio album, Once Upon A Time,
the bond has finally produced a collection to
justify that attitude.
The first thing
that strikes you about Street Fighting Years
is how quiet much of it is. The album starts
with the sound of a solo upright bass leading
into the rolling piano chords of the title track.
In various songs, especially the slow, reflective
refrain of Let It All Come Down, Jim Kerr pitches
his vocal in a new, silky low register. The
full-length version of Belfast Child and Peter
Gabriel's Biko only gather momentum after wistful,
meandering intros, while even among the teeming
shoals of sound that propel the uptempo Wall
Of Love or Kick It In, there are placid eddies
where Jim Kerr's singing slips from a yell to
a whisper. But there's no mistaking the iron
fist at work within the velvet glove. The utterly
beguiling melody of This Is Your Land, featuring
a deadpan Lou Reed, cloaks a stinging rebuke
on the issue of the environment while gently
leading the listener up towards the panoramic
splendour of the instrumental coda. Everything
is right about the album.
has discovered the joys of slide guitar, and
his judicious contributions season the production
with a modish dash of roots-rock flavouring.
Lyrically, the switch from the vague impressionism
of the past to a questioning manifesto embracing
the popular international issues of the times
- Mandela Day, Biko et al-seems both natural
and timely. Even when the music takes off into
the vast dramatic sweeps that will roll like
huge breakers to the back of the stadiums of
Europe this summer, there is little that could
fairly be described as bluster. Simple Minds
have done more than make a landmark album. They
have assumed the mantle of authority.
(5 out of 5)
CMJ New Music (US)
association with the human rights organization
Amnesty International is apparent on Street
Fighting Years, the band's first studio album
in close to four years.
While this album
perhaps thankfully lacks the inspirational anthems
of the Sparkle In The Rain era (which were fine
at the time), the streamlined band-they're down
to a basic trio, with help from Stewart Copeland,
Sting drummer Manu Katche and Mellencamp fiddler
Lisa Germano-focuses attention on the passion
of the lyrics, which have a political awareness
and social consciousness that keeps those spots
where the music falls short up on a high level.
On songs like
"Mandela Day" (the theme song for last June's
Wembley Stadium event), and the cover of Peter
Gabriel's "Biko," Simple Minds shows their concern
for South African affairs. They bring it closer
to home on the heartening epic "Belfast Child"
(with their lyrics sung to the tune of the traditional
Scottish song "She Moved Through The Fair,"
it is by far the stand-out gem of this LP) and
the first U.S. single, "This Is Your Land,"
with added vocals from Lou Reed. Also check
out "Soul Crying Out" and the title track 'Street
Mike Soutar - 'Smash
Years' is Simple Minds' first 'real' LP for
over three years. Since then they've released
a sort of greatest hits double album of live
'workouts' called 'In The City Of Light', toured
the world a number of times, and slimmed down
to three members.
This, their tenth
LP in ten years, is packed with the kind of
crowd-rousing flag hoisting anthems that everyone
expects from the Minds, except this time they've
entirely forgotten to include the chorus in
any of the songs. All the tracks are about ten
minutes long, too, which means that although
they'll probably sound epic played live, they'll
probably drive you quite mad in the comfort
of your own bedroom.
(6 out of 10)
new album Street Fighting Years is due to be
released on May 2 and this week I had a sneak
The faithful will
not be disappointed.... and the doubters will
be converted. It's their best work yet. The
standard of Belfast Child and This Is Your Land
is maintained throughout. And there's one stunning
song called Soul Crying Out, a resounding cry
against the poll tax, of which Jim Kerr is an
I caught up with
him before the band set off on their 14-month
world tour. "We set out to write songs about
these times and, to do that, it's hard to ignore
the politics" he said. Jim is as understandably
excited about the album as everyone else who's
"We want to show
that the last 10 years has been an apprenticeship,
and now it's going to get really, really interesting"
he added. Jim says the songs are better, the
singing is better, and that the band is at it's
best. "It's music that has a spirit of life
behind it, if that doesn't sound too psuedy."
I'll forgive you that one, Jim. The album is
This Is Your
'Smash Hits' (UK)
At first this
sounds alarmingly like the sort of music you
hear in an adverisement for an Abbey National
pension plan.It starts off with some highly
atmospheric rumblings and swooshes, and continues
with Jim Kerr doing a passable impression of
the recently deceased Roy Orbison.
These days he
thinks he's some sort of a social commentator
and so feels perfectly justified in telling
everyone about "churches and steeples" and "big
city people" - which is all well and good if
you like that sort of thing (and granted quite
a lot of people seem to find Jim a bit of a
hero figure) but it is just a trifle pompous
all the same.
"This Is Your
Land" probably makes a very valid point if you
listen to the whole thing, but there's slim
chance of finding out what it is because by
then, one has probably retired to one's kip.
Chris Brazier -
This is the album
which is certain to propel Simple Minds - already
fantastically popular - into the mega-league
inhabited by the likes of U2 and Springsteen.
And, like those two acts, this one wears its
political heart on its sleeve: there are songs
here about Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Belfast
and the environment.
The world is no
longer a simpleminded question of chasing rock
success: like Sting, singer Jim Kerr has discovered
his conscience and quite rightly wants to use
his stature and popularity to spread the word
about injustice. So far so good. And so too
is the readiness to look beyond the stadium-rock
bombast into which they were fast slipping and
investigate the more contemplative pastures
little seen since their best record, 1982's
New Gold Dream. But for all that Street Fighting
Years is a touch disappointing. Trevor Horn's
production has its usual epic scale and denisty
but the songwriting is often too pallid to match
it: Kerr's Mandela Day, for instance, suffers
badly by comparison with Peter Gabriel's Biko,
even in the rather anaemic clothes that song
appears in here.
There is feeling
and there is form - but overall Simple Minds
haven't quite come up with enough substance
to stop them being marked down as an inferior
On the eve of
a controversial new single and the first album
for more than three years. Jim Kerr talks candidly
to TERRY STAUNTON about marriage, Mandela the
immorality of the Poll Tax and the remodelling
of Simple Minds.
- 'NME' - 4th Febraury 1989 (UK)
Jim Kerr looks
out the window of his flat in South Queensferry,
just a few miles from Edinburgh, at the tranquil
waters under the Forth Bridge. Water-skiers
splash and tumble, dogs are walked on the beach,
and sightseers eat ice cream - in January! It's
an idyllic spot, but occasionally the beauty
of this part of Scotland can be spoiled.
I'm looking out at this great view, feeling
really good about the world and then everything's
ruined. Sometimes I see American nuclear submarines
making their way up the coast to the Polaris
base at Rosyth. It's a horrendous sight, it's
something that deeply offends me."
Jim Kerr is angry
and occasionally furrows his brow in despair,
as if the worries of the world are his copyright.
10 years ago Jim and his grubby Glasgow pop
group wouldn't have given the sub a second glance,
they might not have given a fig about their
fellow man, but not naymore. By his own admission,
Jim Kerr has grown up.
pains of Jim Kerr, aged 29 3/4
Simple Minds as
individuals have aligned themselves to Amnesty
International for years, as a group they have
lent their name to the organisation's protests.
their music has hardly ever addressed political
situations, preferring to deal with what Jim
calls "the fantastc".
the venom-charged aggression of young bands
mellows into middle-class, mid-Atlantic oblivion.
They lose their
sharp teeth and ultimately become oblivious
to their surroundings. For Simple Minds, the
process is in reverse. Their new EP weighs in
at just under 20 minutes: three songs of protest
that may face problems when national radio programmes
try to slot them into a show full of placebo
Two of the songs,
'Mandela Day' and 'Biko', will already be familiar
to viewers of laast year's Wembley concert and
fans of Peter Gabriel, but the lead track is
a different kettle of fish. 'Belfast Child'
is a taster fro Simple Minds' first album in
over three years, which will be with us in the
spring. It's called 'Street Fighting Years'
and features the group at their most provocative.
explains Jim, "it's like Simple Minds coming
from what was once described as a voyeuristic
sound, to a sound that is much more physical,
militant, and hopefully a lot more articulate.
"For a start,
we're 10 years older. When you're 21 or 22,
you're definitely writing by proxy, it's through
the books you've read and stuff, the films,
whatever. And although there is still a degree
of that going on, we're less kind of self-interested,
more interested in the big picture of the scheme
first get into a band as a teenager it's escapism.
You tell yourself reality is fucked and society
is fucked and you do your best to transcend
all that. You do escape it for a bit and it's
very self-indulgent, it's fantasy. But you cannot
escape reality, you can't escape society, society
is too clever. The whole punk thing of revolution,
when you look at it a few years later, it was
more like a satire. I don't think anybody in
the House of Lords batted an eyelid."
Jim felt a need
to get away from 'Sanctify Yourself' or 'Speed
Your Love To Me', he knew that this was a time
for change, that change coming in the form of
a six-and-a-half minute single which is very
unlike Simple Minds. It's based on a traditional
Irish song, 'She Move Through The Fair', complete
with whistles, accordions and fiddles.
came about when we first met Trevor Horn (who,
along with Stephen Lipson, has produced the
new LP) long before we started working with
him, and he asked us if we had ever thought
about recording a folk song. We had given it
some thought for years, in the same way as some
of our, erm, contemporaries had, I mean, it
sounds corny to say we were going back to our
roots, but that was about it, we were checking
out things from our personal past.
"To be honest,
I'd never heard 'She Moved Through The Fair',
but it turns out to be like the 'Be Bop A Lula'
of the folk world. 'Anyway, a couple of weeks
later I came up on the plane from London and
I was reading all the stuff in the papers about
the Enniskillen bombing. I mean, it had been
going on for years, but I was particularly gutted
by this one, with all the poppy imagery and
stuff. It just seemed to be heading for a bleaker
brought up in Glasgow amidst all that sectarian
thing, because Glasgow and Belfast are very
much alike in terms of mentality, even the industry
is similar. There were always closer links for
us with Ireland than with the rest of Scotland
and I began to think about Belfast and how for
20 years since I was a kid it's just been there.
it's like this eternal Rubik cube that nobody
seems to be able to do anything about.
thinking about the victims of that bombing particularly,
it was more the babes that were born that night
in the City, this week, and the kids that are
our age who've lived there all their lives and
have grown up with it, never knowing any different.
I hope they have more than just another 20 years
of this on their doorstep.
to identify with the continual pressure of the
person in the middle, who perhaps doesn't think
there should be Bristish home rule, but at the
same time can see no vision in Sinn Fein.
of being a teenager over there is incredible.
It's a macho tribal thing where you could be
forced into action just for a sense of belonging,
to be part of the gang and hang out."
Isn't there a
danger of the whole thing looking and sounding
contrived, like Simple Minds are toying with
terrorist subject matter to try and make a commerical
impact, rather than a social one?
have to be very careful about that. We're going
over to Belfast to do the video because it would
be a cop-out not to. At first we were against
it because the last thing we want to do is to
exploit it or have pictures of us looking like
The Clash, standing at the barricades and the
fuckin' off back home.
commented on the EP the other day suggesting
that, because we had 'Mandela Day' and 'Biko'
on it, we were saying there was a kind of apartheid
going on in Northern Ireland as well. I believe
there is, there's also an economic apartheid
about the country, but it's less focussed than
in South Africa, it's a much more confusing
situation, which counts for a lot of the pressure,
particularly on the youths."
The last time
Simple Minds appeared in public was at the Mandela
Birthday show at Wembley last June, when both
Jim and Annie Lennox came in for a bit of stick
fromScottish MP Nicholas Fairbaim, who accussed
both stars of disgracing their country and only
doing the shows to line their own pockets.
are still talking behing closed doors with Fairbairn's
solicitors, but the lad himself seems non-plussed
about the whole thing.
"I was quite
amused by it, but I was also aware that people
around me were on the brink of violence towards
that guy. The sting was taken out of it when
I heard about his reputation as a head-line-grabber.
I kind of thought that if the concert had gone
by without any reaction of that sort it would
of been a bit of a failure."
Weren't you hurt
by Fairbairn's remarks?
scum? I was quite chuffed in a way, and I just
put it all down to the mentality of the guy.
You could get into a whole thing with lawyers
and all that, but I would rather channel my
energies into something more positive, there
are bigger battles to be fought.
be a matter of pride and principle involved
and I would love to take some money off of him
and give it to the ANC, that would be a fantastic
coup if he has to pay up. But at the end of
the day, Fairbairn is nothing more than a midge
bite, when your own voice questions you and
you can answer it with a clear conscience you
know you're winning."
But are the consciences
of everyone who took part in the concert clear?
Jim feels the gig could have achieved more and
feels that some artists approached it cynically.
off about it right now sittin' and thinkin'
back on the whole thing. Who else has written
songs about it, who else id doin' stuff, who
else is gonna carry it through? I was pissed
off when I found out it was goin' on TV because,
as musch as I enjoyed it being done by the BBC
and being a thorn in the side of all them governors
down there, I knew that in a global sense there
would be sponsors, advertising, whatever. There
just seemed to be a lot of compromising goin'
it was disgustin', they even changed the name,
they called it Freedom Fest, and it was turning
into one big jolly birthday party, which didn't
really focus on the issue at hand. People were
forgettin' that Mandela was just the figurehead,
it was supposed to be a protest against the
Dammers got in touch with us, the idea was not
just to play, but to have a varied set and special
guests. Everybody was supposed to write a song
specifically for the day, which I thought was
a great idea, but we were the only ones that
did! beyond that, not many people did relevant
songs that would have focussed the protest."
What about George
Michael's set of significant soul covers?
blew it from the fuckin' start! Actually, I
loved taht Stevie Wonder song he did, 'Down
In Ghettoland', I thought that was great, but
he didn't sweat, he didn't get angry. Maybe
it isn't his style, but his speech went into
all this, 'Hey, you guys' showbiz rubbish. I
mean, why didn't he just say 'this one's for
the ANC or somethin'? None of them did any press
up front to let people know exactly where they
were at, nobody would do interviews with The
Independant or The Guardian.
lookin' to slag it off, but you have to think
of the things that came through. You see, it
wasn't a charity concert, alright, it made a
few quid, but first and foremost it was a protest
conceert, it was a political concert. It definitley
did get whittled down, but having said that,
I know South Africans were absolutely pissed
only needed Prince there, if he had turned up
- and he was asked - it would have made it.
He wanted nothin' to do with it, and we needed
something of that magnitude. If Bono had come
on satge, the whole mid-west America would have
known who Nelson Mandela was. I don't know if
a need to contribute, everything else is a doddle.
It was a doddle to go on stage, but there is
all this energy that needed to be used. Maybe
I'm naive, I tend to think anybody would have
done something, it would be a normal response.
I know hundreds of people who would have loved
to have stood on that stage and basically to
have said'Fuck Off' to that whole regime."
This is the
to Amnesty International used to be a very private
affair, he inherited his interest in it from
his father, but it took what he calls one of
Simple Minds' worst songs to bring it out in
To this day, Jim
is less than enamoured by 'Don't You (Forget
About Me)', a song written by Billy Idol producer
Keith Forsey for the movie The Breakfast Club.
But it's success made him think more about the
power he had as a pop star.
to Number One in America, our first hit over
there and it was probably the most hollow thing
we ever did. We didn't really like it, but we
thought it would be a way to get America to
recognise us, get them to listen. I know a lot
of people got tons of enjoyment from it, I'm
not knocking that, but for us it was effortless.
what it gave us was a kind of instant high profile,
tons of media coverage. We were prime time news
in America! So I was going into these interviews,
and it wasn't so much the questions they were
asking me, it was the questions I started to
ask myself. I thought to myself, 'right, you've
got a microphone in front of you here, you've
got a chance to say something, but have you
got anything to say? If you've nothing directly
to say, then you start to ask questions, it's
the next best thins.
writing just now is an honest response to what
I see going around, and probably there is a
feeling of guilt there. You see events from
30, 40 or 50 years ago and you think 'Why did
people let that go on, why didn't they do something
about it? I can imagine in years to come my
kids asking me about South Africa or Central
America and screaming at me 'you had your chance
to rock the boat, you could have done something
in your own way'.
thinking more and more about it, and now I think
that me writing a song is equivalent to me throwing
a stone. I think stone-throwing is good, as
much as Amnesty is all about peace and non-violence.
I'm running out of patience. For me, the song
should be a weapon.
when we did Amnesty shows we left leaflets on
chairs to tell people what was goin' on, real
idiot board tatics, and we would come out of
the gig feeling great, as if the roof was gonna
come down. Then we would see the pamphlets had
been made into paper areoplanes and were strewn
all over the place. Your own voice starts asking
you 'are you mad, are you just wastin' your
time?' But then you find out that people have
been given their freedom partly because of our
actions. Amnesty went on the record about that.
It just gives you the encouragement to do more,
it shows what can happen when you apply yourself.
Are you not wary
of being accused of becoming a rent-a-cause
kind of group? If you wave too many banners
people will doubt your sincerity?
"it's a difficult
thing, but I feel that anything we do in a political
sense is all based around the idea of freedom,
it all comes down to the notion of a free life.
The idea of drawing attention to something means
you have to pick up the banner because the rest
of the media isn't picking up on it.
in for some stick because we didn't really get
involved in the miners strike, but I felt the
miners in South Africa were having a much rougher
deal. You see, we felt there were already things
being done for the miners here and their case
was being put across. Charity doesn't necessarily
begin at home, I mean we've done our bit for
Scottish issues in the past, we've just given
away our last pennies to the Toryglen housing
scheme, which is like a spillover for the Gorbals
housing estate where we grew up. They asked
for a pittance to help build a community centre,
and I think you should contribute on your own
thoughts, previously confined to the stage as
soapbox, have noe found their way into the studio.
The aforementioned single 'Belfast Child' points
the way to a new Simple Minds where "the
fantastic" is dispensed with and, to use
Jim's words, the "articulate" takes
foremost, what we're doing is entertainment,
but entertainment doesn't have to be hollow
or vacuous. The best entertainment I can think
of has always illuminated and articulated, right
through Bertolt Brecht, Jacques Brel, or the
Spanish poets during the revolution. These people
could articulate something in a nutshell and
still make it entertaining.
it's great to write a song which takes an idea
and hits the nail on the head in three minutes,
even if it doesn't explain things in detail,
but nods to what's goin' on. That Prince song
'Sign O' The Times' is a great example, he summed
up the month that it was released, and there
was still room for romance at the end, I mean
it was fuckin' brilliant.
with Little Steven's 'Sun City', you get such
a charge from it, it's so different from the
cosiness of 'We Are The World' or something.
It was so urban, anyone who says rock 'n' roll
is dead obviously hasn't heard that song. Everyone
wants to write something timeless, but you run
the risk of ending up with 'Nights In White
And so to 'Street
Fighting Years'. Jim squirms when he tells me
it's vaguely conceptual, it reflects what he
calls the "age of chaos" that we're
is a theme, and I think people will recognise
one, it's that every song has to do with some
kind of conflict, both in the worldly sense
of Belfast, South Africa, Chile, whatever, but
there's also the songs about a kind of inner
conflict - the age of chaos.
'Soul Crying Out', came about through being
in Scotland for the past couple of years and
seeing the emergence of the Poll Tax, and the
thing that offends me is the immorality of it.
I was trying to imagine, which isn't really
too hard, how it's gonna put a lot of people's
backs against the wall up here and eventually
down in England, and the desperation that's
gonna come through that.
one called 'This Is Your Land', which might
sound terribly contrived, but it's probably
because we've been up here recording it amongst
the very elements, the mountains, the sea the
sky. You see all this and then you see the nuclear
submarines passing your window. It's obscene,
and people should take charge of their land
and not let it happen.
'Wall Of Love', that came from being on a TV
show in France and being asked my opinion on
the Berlin Wall at the time of it's 50th anniversary.
I was pissed off with the mood in the studio,
there was a right wing MP spouting off as well,
so I just said I liked it. I liked the wall.
There are other walls around us, walls of bureaucracy,
walls of racism, but at least you can see the
Berlin Wall. That doesn't freak me, it's the
unseen walls that are the problem. One day we'll
see the Berlin Wall come down, I believe that,
but I don't know about these unseen walls.
seems to be about this same age of chaos that
I believe we're going through. If you're gonna
write, there comes a time when you have to bear
unheard political thought means the new Simple
Minds could find themselves a whole new audience
when they set off on a world tour later this
year. But how will the diehards deal with the
changes, will Jim be alienating his old audience?
released the live album last year, we were absolutely
adamant that it was the end of a thing, a phase,
whatever. As much as we always want to play
the 'Waterfronts' or whatever, we had to reinvent
ourselves and that's why this album has taken
out loads of stuff, stuff that we would have
gone with in the past. If you write a certain
type of song, you can easily write the same
thing again with your eyes shut, you can write
another 'Waterfront' or 'Alive And Kicking',
it's not testing you.
"On the last
album ('Once Upon A Time') we went easy on ourselves,
we just wanted to make a modern pop/rock state
of the art record, we were happy to do that
at that time."
do you feel it was too close to it's predecessor,
'Sparkle In The Rain'?
"It had to
be in some ways, we were trying to consolidate
on something. You see things working well, especially
when you're playing live, and the subconscious
tells you to carry on, and you tend to sit back.
I'd like to think of what we've done before
as a learning process, just put it down as an
It's a brave move
when you consider you may well have had success
sewn up for the next few years at least.
smart's a better word, because not to do it
would have been stupid, you just don't get away
with it. And that's terrible. I'll tell you
where this is a brave move - if it's brave at
all - is in commerical terms. Our last album
was technically our first successful one in
America and that was three and a half years
ago. I don't know what the radio stations there
are gonna think about it when they hear it,
if they hear it."
already got INXS if they want it, but I think
the order of the day is something more. Life
affects you and your art should reflect that.
Unless you're one of these machine-like Heavy
metal bands, things are gonna fuck you up, things
are gonna happen in your life. In every other
art form except rock 'n' roll, it's normally
when people get old that they usually hit it,
because of experience.
write with a youthful burn which is always attractive,
but I think the real pearls of wisdom come from
people with experience, they've had highs and
lows, they've had to take pain as well."
Jim Kerr's pain
has been public in recent months, with the news
of his break-up with Chrissie Hynde. This is
not the place for details, suffice to say that
while Jim has been rediscovering his tranquil
homeland, Chrissie still yearns for the London
life. How has Jim taken it, has the break-up
helped or hindered him on the album?
because it hasn't affected me in as much a way
as people might think. The thing that was getting
to me was that I hate the idea of failing, which
is a queer thing because you're always gonna
have to fail to learn.
"And I don't
like the idea of contributing to the breakdown
of a family unit, it comes back to this age
of chaos thing, that is one of my big panics.
It sounds like I'm being really glib about it,
but we'd have to be here all night to understand
it and it really wouldn't be right to do that.
changed. If you give an oath, which I have only
done once in my life, you really want to see
that through, but there's so much involved beyond
those traditional values. I'm a Scotsman - I
don't mean that in a nationalistic sense - but
I live here, and when I'm in London I can't
write a song. I don't know why, I just can't,
I can't get the perspective.
"But I am
very lucky to have such a great family and Chrissie
Hynde will always be part of that family and
I think now I'm much stronger because that notion
of failure has gone. We got out really good,
a mess was avoided, although the press tried
to do a bit up here. I think there was only
one picture of us together which someone fuckin'
around us have known for a year, but we never
went overboard, even when we were together.
We were very un-Rod and Britt about things.
is the greatest and she loves being in London
and she should have somebody there, somebody
that isn't gonna be away all the time. But I
was working on the record and thinking about
loads of other things. Okay, the family was
breaking up but any time I was about to go into
a self pity, real pressure, like not having
money to heat your home, not being able to pay
the bills, that's pressure."
the Poll Tax, nuclear submarines, unseen walls,
apartheid and the need to reinvent his band
would point towards a fairly depressing set
of songs from Simple Minds in this age of chaos.
"Nah, I think
it's stunningly beautiful, I think there's an
underlying faith, a euphoria. I think it's great
to be able to recognise that the world is being
fucked up, rather than just turn your back on
is glorious as opposed to being depressing.
It wasn't so much a concept but it became apparent
that the songs were tying in somewhere. I think
there's an overall feeling of hope, if there
wasn't we really wouldn't put it out. Some people
say that the dreamer has the easy way, it's
just dreams. But there's the other thing of
daring to dream, you've seem something else
and you've got no choice but to do something,
it's there pushing you on."
You may say Jim's
a dreamer, let's hope he's not the only one.
Spark - Infested
remarkable success of their album 'Street Fighting
Years', Jim Kerr and his band have embarked
on a year-long world tour. Next week they arrive
in Britain for a string of sell-out dates. Ian
Gittins travelled to Zurich to witness the dazzle
and the drizzle of their epic three-hour show
and talks to Kerr about translating his grand
vision onto the stage and the art of stadium
Ian Gittins - 'Melody
Maker' - 22nd July 1989 (UK)
"There are some
nights where there's a feeling in the air, and
I really do think that the walls are gonna come
down," says Jim Kerr. "I don't know where that
comes from. I've been going to a lot of shows
to see the greatest and even then there hasn't
been that spark, where you just hit it, and
it fucking rises above. The whole thing is more
than it's part. The parts are average, when
you look. It's the sparks inbetween that make
So, Simple Minds
live in the city of... not much, really. Zurich
is nothing. Spick, span, tidy and sexless. It's
hard to get to know, harder to love. The Swiss
swish by with their neat knack of seeming distant.
Even the river doesn't want to know. You'd wait
a good while here for the spontaneous passion
Jim Kerr claims to revere.
Not that this
matters. Simple Minds have eased into town to
do a job. They're on one more leg of a world
tour which is keeping them busy all thw ay through
next May. And however sterile the town may be,
a devoted crowd will appear as if by magic tonight.
Jim Kerr knows this. It always happens. "Street
Fighting Years", their new LP, is selling out
all over the world and folks want to come along
to see 'em act it out. It's only human nature.
Can it work? Well,
that's a different matter. Critical voices on
"Street Fighting Years" were spilt. Most saw
it as a step in the right direction, after the
pedestrian plods of "Sparkle In The Rain" and
"Once Upon A Time". Most saw glints of life,
a few dreams, Jim Kerr re-locating himself.
Simple Minds, who used to sound as if they had
invented laws of motion, seem to be telling
themselves once more that there is more to live
shows than yelling, bawling and beating their
chests. They are trying to unlearn all the bad
stadium habits they'd picked up. Perhaps they
are even trying to be intimate again.
And intimacy won't
be easy in Zurich. the Hallenstadion, the night's
venue, is a huge sports complex, capable of
holding 10,000 people. It'll need every last
place. This is Simple Minds' second night here,
and the city ain't sated yet. A mix of wired
young kids and bearded, serious types throng
the vast hall, waiting for the first spark.
And in a wooden gallery aptly called the Jury
Box, 20 feet from the ground and maybe 100 yards
from the stage, I'm to gaze and see if Simple
Minds are guilty of the hot air, bluster and
pomposity they've been accused of, or if a warming
glow still shines at their core. In short, to
see if Jim Kerr is still cutting it.
A few hours previously,
Jim Kerr settles himself back into a big comfy
hotel chair and eyes me up with a grin and a
sigh. Out of the window stretch green gardens.
Hills are behind him. Last night was a truimph,
tonight will be the same. All's well with his
world. He's just seen off the girl from the
Daily Mail, digging for dirt about him and Chrissie
Hynde, and he'll see me off as well. No bother.
You don't stumble across many souls as ordered
and in charge as Jim Kerr.
And he's keen
to talk about Simple Minds with me. I wasn't
sure he would. he's not so keen on Melody Maker,
not since his last interview, with John Wilde,
that tilted the scales against him more than
he thought fair. He took note of that. Yet he'll
still tske time for me, because it's a new day,
a new chance. Jim Kerr doesn't bear grudges.
And he gives a lot of thought to answers. Few
words are wasted.
So I ask him
if when he's up onstage, playing to thousands,
does he ever feel like he's speaking for all
of them? An everyman
"No, never. I
feel like I'm speaking for myself. On a night
where there's a postive feeling, I happen to
think there are a lot of people in the hall
that coincide with my feelings, or whatever,
but I never feel I'm speaking for them. And
I never feel, I have to stress, I have any answers.
With a few people, you get all the lights, and
a really powerful sound and so on, and illusions
set in. It can seem like I'm trying to be some
kind of shaman. In fact, I just cannae dance!"
Jim Kerr likes
a joke more than you'd guess. Does he ever feel
lonely up there?
"Not now. At one
point, maybe. The bonus for me on this tour,
the greatest success, is I've lost my nerves.
They always worked to our detriment. I used
to think they give it an edge and when the nerves
go, the edge will go. But the nerves have gone
and I'm really enjoying it. Really, really enjoying
it. It's a long show, but we've worked hard.
The balances are good. The dynamics. I think
a few years ago, we were getting into big halls
for the first time, we were trying a bit too
hard. Now, we're really proud of this."
So what makes
a great Simple Minds gig?
"I'd like to think
it shares things with other good rock bands."
The Glasgow burr pauses, "All the elements on
display. Key elements being, it goes without
saying, energy, atmosphere, some kind of sensuality.
Even sometimes some humour, on this tour. Even,
dare I say, a bit of sexuality!"
"No, ha ha! Just
When Simple Minds
enter to thrill 10,000 in the Hallenstadion,
they enter. Dry ice billows. Smoke bombs. We've
had a 10 minute pseudo-orchestral swirl, and
now we get a squall of bagpipes. Overkill isn't
in it. But the Swiss are on a roll already.
"Willy Korn" runs a giant logo to the side of
the stage. I can't see at all, so head for the
back, right up in the gods. For the Minds, you
need to be there.
So heads stretch
as far as the eye can see, feet stamp and sway
and Jim Kerr heads straight into "Street Fighting
Years". Straight for the jugular. He's on a
ramp, behind the drummer and finds a great first
moment. As he pauses to whisper, "Here comes
a hurricane", lasers riddle the hall and the
drums crash to a climax as he descends to the
masses, discarding his coat. Lights strafe every
inch. That's good.
The Zippo flames
spark up, a Scottish flag waves in the crowd,
yet there are signs of stadium lumpiness already.
Kerr is bellowing like an ox, "And I loo-oove
you!", as the music loops. It ends and we get,
"Let me see your hands!" Zurich obliges, He
runs to the speakers, falls to his knees. "Are
you all right?" It must make you go funny up
there, but I'm gobsmacked how many stadium tricks
he crams in in the first 10 minutes.
So they go into
"Wall Of Love", an epic rant from the LP. The
word "love" lights up huge behind them. I'm
worried. Is it all going to be this obvious?
Maybe not. I've been told they're playing for
for the black and white people of South Africa!"
bawls Kerr as guitars blast.
Does he see the
irony? I'm not sure. It's a crucial point. I'm
uneasy already. Where Simple Minds used to keep
things simple, but with an intricate, swelling,
layered ease, now they're explaining for idiots,
with huge blackboards and cue cards. Subtlety
is absent. Slogans bounce off the walls, deafening.
I wish we could see the sky. That would help.
These songs need all the room they can get.
yells Jim. A sea of lighters spark up. It's
all about, y'know, history, tradition, belonging,
that sort of bag. There's a violin solo and
Kerr's up there, among it all, trying to ride
the waves of music, milk it, walk on it, touch
every last person in the hall with his words
Make no mistake,
Jim loves it. Fault Simple Minds on many grounds,
sure, but don't accuse Jim Kerr of lack of sincerity.
He means every last word of this. He wants this
music to touch everyone.
Jim Kerr's trying very hard.
Do you find
Simple Minds hard to dicuss, Jim? Is it intangible?
that's the thing. Music comes instinctively,
and then you're meant to talk about it logically.
No wonder I come out sounding woolly!"
So you can
kill the inspiration, by over-analysis?
mean, who knows why you move from one chord
to another? Why your insides rise? How can you
explain it? And how can you explain it to somebody
who's not getting it? But on a good night, that's
what it is. There's a spiral going on. It's
going up. It usually feels dead positive now.
It's very rare you see a crowd feeling positive
these days! And if you get 12,000 people och,
it's something! I went to a lot of shows last
year to experience the thing out front. Prince,
Jackson, all that stuff."
So, do you
belong here now? Are these wide-open spaces
your natural environment? Kerr's voice drops
three octaves. I get an intense nod.
think so. When you're up there, and open to
the air and elements and everything. It just
felt right, and there was a crowd there, and
I was watching them come in, and there was a
sense of occasion I just enjoyed being part
of it. It was never fashionable to play these
places. It sill isn't. You pay the price in
critical terms. But we always wanted to try
them out for ourselves, not listen to what anyone
else said about 'em. try it and decide what's
real and not real.
in Brazil last year, a huge open-air thing,
and the week before did some dates in Glasgow,
in Barrowlands. And the music just couldnae
breathe. It wasn't right. Which doesnae mean
we'll never go back to the small places. I think
we will. Everything goes in circles. But it
won't depress us."
Do you write
for those big spaces?
it's funny, y'know. Look at some things tonight,
from the new album. There are some really quiet
moments that I thought wouldn't work. And ironically,
they're more powerful!"
not just volume?
stuff like.... breath. And drama. When we were
writing songs I thought we were writing these
little songs, with the most simple sentiments.
And then people started talking about them being
anthems! And I thought, no, they're little songs!
And now it's the songs that I never thought
would work that are the showstealers."
Breath and drama.
These are the words Simple Minds should deal
in. But onstage ain't looking so good. They're
firing into "Soul Cring Out", the
anti-poll tax epic, and Jim is shouting, hard,
loud, bullying. Guitars which should be liquid
are harsh and abrasive.
day!" he yells, looking to some bright,
vague future. As a realist, Jim Kerr is a mug.
As a dreamer, he aims high.
is better. Here's how the Minds should be. There's
a great, pulsing flow of bass as Kerr peels
off his jacket. And some good theatre. He leaps
from a ramp, legs tucked under him, as a spot
picks him out in the darkness. Not for nothing
do they use Prince's lighting man. Then "Ghostdancing"
is introduced, a harsh, lurching mess of sibilant
hiss and blaring guitar. My spirits sink. Zurich
dissolves into cheers. A version of Van The
Man's "Gloria", to mark Jim Morrison's
death 19 years ago to the day, is coarse, lewd
So, time for pause.
How do I link the smart, fired romantic who
talked to me today of symmetry, delicacy, music
as a pulse, with this stadium monster up there?
How can the gap be so huge? Jim Kerr thinks
his band is conveying warmth, power, love, vision
to these screaming hordes. i don't doubt his
faith. But this is a blaring racket. A messy
sprawl. In the bid to include all, touch everyone
with this nobly ambitious music, Simple Minds
are falling over themselves. Spelling it out
so large, it's an insult. His dream of a music
of vast beauty is becoming a nightmare.
Yet must it? "Book
Of Brilliant Things" rings out, and is,
for a second, all that Simple Minds should be
- weighty, and glorious. But tonight, sadly,
it's merely weighty. Likewise, "Don't You
Forget About Me", is turned here from a
tiny, frozen moment into a mad monstrosity.
I sink into reverie and watch a balloon bob
on a sea of fists like a cork on the waves.
Jim Kerr is reaching the back, sure. But he's
using a megaphone to do it.
We have to admire
the Minds' ambition, but the stadium's winning.
An ugly drum solo wins huge cheers. Why? Are
these people stupid? is this all they want?
Then Jim leaves the stage for an accordian/acoustic
instrumental, picked up by a whistling, thundering,
cheering crowd. here's terrace culture. The
song's dull, but a mass of Zippos light up again,
piercing the dark. It looks very moving. When
they go out, it's like watching a city die.
Are you still
in charge of all this, Jim?
"We are now.
Having a break was crucial. I don't know how
we arrived at it, but I think we've got a perspective.
We managed to think, this is the core, this
is the heart, this is what makes it tick, what
makes it sell. This is what gets it across.
This is real. This isnae real. This is mundane,
but useful. Before, I was wide-eyed about the
whole thing. Now I can be mercenary."
How has it
a lot less patient. I want to go in and shake
things, rattle them or turn them around. I'm
a lot less afraid of falling on my arse now
than I was. I think I'm a lot less precious
now. i mean, so much has changed since we first
started, personally and artistically. So much
has changed in 10 years. I feel a lot more relaxed,
and clear, about things. But I probably still
have the same fears and joys."
I hit Jim with
my Simple Minds theory: at their very best,
their songs are a spark of feeling blown up
to fill an arena. A pulse, amplified. That they
need that elusive spark to work. i ask him,
does he ever write a song without a spark, and
hope it comes along later? trust to luck?
good question," he says, and ponders for
a while. "I think the whole thing with
us, cos there isnae a songwriter who sits down
and sees the whole thing, is that we're a bit
of jigsaw. To get one of us writing, we need
the feeling there to begin with. Charlie may
play 10 fine things, and one of 'em just....
communicates. Usually the feeling or the spark
grabs me first and makes me think of a line,
or something already said. It arrives... yeah...
Are you ever
touched by wonder at it? That millions hear
your whims, your fancies?
there is an irony in bands. Look at the irony
of Bruce Springsteen. The bar band from New
Jersey, then he goes on to become the new Elvis.
It's strange. Some people like our music cos
it's good to dry your hair to. Other people,
it'll actually change their next few months
of thought. Or it becomes their code. You know
how you put on a record, and somehow the world
feels different, you feel less alone. You know
somebody feels the same way. Somebody's articulated
more tangible now than you were. You sing of
Ireland and Africa and ecology. You used to
sing about the inside of your head.
songs have to be that way. But 'Street Fighting
Years', that little track, that's inside my
head. It's sheer, and it's extreme. And I give
up trying to say why it should be that way,
or whatever. But I hear the words, and I hear
And high up over
Zurich, Jim Kerr gives me a serene smile.
I'm thinking in
the Hallenstadion, take off all the stadium
mockery, the big boots, the clumsy clutter,
and Simple Minds could be a hell of a band.
One who embrace hope and symmerty. Who have
roots in beauty and destiny. Who are intense
idealists. Who try to make sense of these times,
cos they care. Weak humanism aside, Jim Kerr
is still driven by a sharp, urgent, biting sense
of wonder. He's still keen to learn.
But he's talking.
"This is about a town called Glasgow. It's
rainy, cold, grey, industrial, got a great football
team, and we love it!" The Minds swing
into "Oh Jungleland." It's liked being
kicked in the bollocks by a camel. It sounds
like his descripton of Glasgow. It doesn't soar.
Once again, delicacy is trashed. So are spatial
tension and dynamics. Where Simple Minds should
be a divine throb, it's more a frantic din.
he cries, but he's running on the spot. Just
puffing and panting. I came to praise Simple
Minds, not to bury them! But I'm bulldozed into
a grumpy blankness. A dull stupor.
Is he trying to
hard again? Well, he seems pretty relaxed up
there. Jim Kerr, looking down on 10,000 grins,
really think it's working. He thinks this huge
music can be seen radiating from his own golden
vision, his sense of faith. But up there, at
the back, all I can see are dire heroics. it's
not good. He punches the air, I want to punch
want us to do 'New Gold Dream II', and we don't
want to, so that's that," he told me earlier.
But no, Jim, we don't want that, Just some care,
some space, some silence. A sense that music
can be sacred.
And they can still
do it. "Big Sleep" is suddenly here,
a welcome break from histrionics. It sounds
like a vast dream. In those days even the titles
fitted. This could be Jim Kerr, in a dark room,
thinking to himself, and suddenly I'm jerked
back to life. Here's what they do well. Here's
what counts. Zurich's taken aback, at this swap
of a feather for a sledgehammer. Yet it's working.
It pushes to a climax. It's visionary, able,
And over, A thump
and crash of drums, and it's "Kick It In",
a stubbed toe-ender from "Street Years".
Here's where they reach their nadir, here's
where they're Big Country. And Kerr, the hall
in his hands, stabs and stumbles until one line,
where he pauses for a full minute, savouring
the dramatic lull before bursting back in to
howl, "Don't let the demons in!" Zurich
goes mental. I frown.
At best, Simple
Minds flow like quicksilver. At worst they hiccough
and fart. There's a lot of wind being passed
Are you still
an innocent person, Jim, or has this made you
about certain things. I don't think I'm innocent
about the promotion of records."
Do you trust
people easily? Strangers?
I do, yeah. Aye."
a romantic. Your talk is always of nature. All
your metaphors and hyperboles come from there.
the things that stop me in my tracks,"
he says grinning.
the force of logic, y'know. You can talk to
the guy who's been to university, then talk
to the other guy... Like, in Scotland, there's
a gardener where we work, and we're working
with all this hi-tech gear, Japanese, and it's
worth a fortune, and he just comes up, with
his face like it's made of wood, and he'll pick
up this fucking seed and go, 'This is the most
powerful computer in the whole world'. And I'm
much more into somebody like him. It's just
the way I am. I'm usually grappling for something
to say anyway. These images - people think when
I'm doing this that they're vague. I think it's
an international language."
Do you use
them because the vague is more evocative than
And it's international, cos they're symbols.
The oldest symbols since the start of time.
It's instinctive to me, as well. And a lot of
Celtic writers, it's what they use. The backdrop
they set their vision on."
And it used
to suit the Minds because, at their most basic,
they were elemental like a throb of nature.
Jim lights up.
great! Or a heartbeat, or something. That's
a great way of putting it. I've always just
called our music a glorious noise. A shiny racket."
It's not polite,
but I start to giggle. That doesn't sound very
complimentary, does it? A shiny racket?
"Well, it is.
It's a big racket. A glorious noise, whatever.
i like beauty, y'know. i also like intensity.
That's what I love. And on a good night, I think
we can achieve it."
So I'm searching
for beauty and intensity back in the Hallenstadion
and finding mostly a shiny racket. But Simple
Minds, let it be said, come alive a few times
tonight, and, one of them is "Let It All Come
Down". A mere murmur on the LP, it sounds like
it's trying to tap the very process of motion.
It's elusive, golden, a liquid hum. And I realise
our view of Simple Minds is all wrong. They
didn't go from "New Gold Dream" and divinity
straight to "Sparkle In The Rain" and dross.
No band loses it that quickly. rather, they
reached a superb peak, then showed signs of
decline which "Street Fighting Years" has begun
to arrest. Yet looking round me, as Kerr stands,
hands high, before a wall of golden noise, there's
still a lot to do.
comes next. "this is a song for peace in Northern
Ireland," Jim declares, and Zurich roars approval.
But, really, what did they expect him to say?
"Here's one for the petrol bombs?" It's the
overtness, the lack of guile, that's niggled
me all night.
Still, his voice
is cutting, chiselling tool, there's some kind
of melancholy. In here, it makes more sense
than it did crammed into a radio. The economy
of scale works. Until Jim gets excited again,
starts to bluster, and the whole seemly, seamless
symmetry rips apart. Til the headaches start.
The dynamics sink.
But I'm not bored
shitless by Simple Minds tonight. That'd be
a lie. I'm just puzzled - longing to be touched
by the vast circus, keen to see past the stadium
antics, hoping to find some kind of vision.
I stare hard, give him all the help I can, even
hold my breath a few times, but it's not working.
I can't find it. And as the band flounce off,
bidding Zurich goodnight, I'm left adrift.
It isnae there,
your ambition come from? Have you always wanted
to do it all?
"Aye. Well, that's
what I've always thought. What's the point in
being in a band and your fucking ambition is
to get a John Peel session! But for some people,
that's the be-all and end-all. Somebody said
to me last night, about Echo And The Bunneymen,
they could hsve done what we did, and he was
saying it was good they didn't want to. But
they didnae have the heart for it. It was there
and they had to look it in the eye, and they
didnae have the heart! Our band's not like that.
Why not take it the whole road, even if you
get it wrong on the way? What's the problem
with that? Maybe you'll find the path again.
If you're gonna be around for 10 years, you'll
do some things of merit and some things not!"
you, nowadays? Your heart or your head?
"The things that
really get me going are instinctive. That's
probably the heart. And then the head comes
in after. The head's the fucking crap side,
actually. It fucks the good things up. It starts
asking questions, and you start listening to
people and you're made vulnerable that way,
y'know. You start analysing it. Start thinking
'Oh, I've gotta be good tonight cos there's
12,000 people'. As opposed to just doing it.
Or our head starts thinking, 'We're selling
out Wembley Stadium.' Don't think about it.
Just do it!"
Are you searching
for some truth? Jim, who has a slight cold,
clears his throat. I've bowled him a full toss.
He wants to enjoy it.
"I think so. Somebody
said last week the idea of Lou Reed and Simple
Minds together was wrong and nihilist, the dark
side, the gutter poet, whereas we're all bright
and shiny-goldy! And maybe what we have in common
is both our albums, from different parts of
the world, are both trying to look for some
truth. trying to make sense in these times."
Is it within
"I want to say
yes, but at the same time... Ideally, some people
say you shouldnae look too far. But I was brought
up with a horizon. I always knew there ws something
And screams. The Hallenstadion is alive, and
there's no way the Minds can fail to come back.
But how they come back! Oh dear! When they return,
Simple Minds don't so much give the cynics an
open goal, as boot the ball into their own net
themselves and smoother each other in kisses.
It's social conscience time, and a grubby, clumsy
plod through The Issues. "Sun City" is first,
Kerr's histrionic declaration joined by the
thoarts of 10,000 Swiss who are highly unlikely
to ever get asked to play there.
So they howl for
South Africa. Is it worth the botha? No one
actually disagrees with the sentiments, it's
just so bleedin' obvious! Likewise, "Biko",
Gabriel's mournful anthem, takes a full 15 minutes
to unfold, all static drums and pious chants.
I think by now I'd prefer a song about Bilko.
Well, that's not true. The Minds do keep reaching
high, being mighty. It just means when it goes
wrong, like this, they come a mighty cropper.
rise into the night - but isn't it mere terrace
solidarity? Souldn't the name as easily be Ian
So it's almost
over. A bleak "east At easter" follows, Kerr
crooning some guff, and then a final "Alive
And Kicking" - one last burst of vigour, one
final flourish and the night is done. The balancing
act over. Simple Minds have squashed Zurich,
who approve heartily with force and volume and
power. They painted with big, fat, broad strokes,
launched an ambitious rock, whcih got partway
there, and then collapsed. Jim Kerr still has
a genius, and a vision in his head, but he's
so dazzled by big lights that he can't spot
the flaws. Can't see the errors. Even those
of us who have loved Simple Minds have to shake
They huffed and
puffed and sweated. But they didn't get there.
The Minds in Zurich couldn't sustain and translate
their vision. Jim Kerr tried to juggle space,
motion, time and beauty. He dropped them all
with a massive clatter. The rest of the world
is still waiting to see the circus and Simple
Minds have a lot of fine tuning to do.
Last time Jim
Kerr talked to the Maker, he said after each
show he thinks, "Great! Another one over!" Tonight,
for all the wrong reasons, I agree.
Are there still
great songs in Jim Kerr waiting to be written?
"Och, that's a
great one! I think we're only starting and that
isnae modesty. A few crackers came up on this
album. There are things from the past we're
recognising again and I think we're winning
the battle of being a big band. Being outside
it. Having our ears open, our eyes open. We
don't feel successful at all. It's a thrill.
In the eyes of the industry we have the tokens
of success. But real success is the people who've
been doing it 15 years more than this.
"We are wet behind
the ears. We've only started to play."
Last album of
the eighties from Scottish band Simple Minds.
The album is produced by Trevor Horn, which
always means a grand sound with lots of background
instruments. This is also the case on this album,
which makes the Simple Minds sound far less
simple (no pun intended) than earlier albums.
Especially Let It All Come Down, a wonderful
Simple Minds ballad, has benefited from using
Trevor Horn as a producer. Apart from Belfast
Child and Mandela Day, songs like This Is Your
Land (featuring Lou Reed on background vocals)
and the mentioned Let It All Come Down are the
highlights of this great album.
Jim KerrŐs voice
is smooth sounding throughout the whole album
and the guitar of Charlie Burchill on a song
like Kick It In is classic Simple Minds. They
couldn't have made a better album to end the
Tom Demalon -
All Music Guide (US)
Their first proper
new release since the commercial breakthrough
of Once Upon a Time (a live album intervened)
and Simple Minds makes a decidedly, noncommercial
Years is a moody, dark affair. The music is
yearning and most of the songs are politically
charged lyrically. It was a move that could
(and did) bring commercial failure. However,
Street Fighting Years is an artistic and elegant
album that might lack immediate choruses but
draws in the listener.
The title track
takes some dramatic turns that give the gentle
melody added thrust. "Take a Step Back" pulsates
and "Wall of Love" rocks with conviction. Slower
tracks like the brooding "Let It All Come Down"
and a spirited run through the traditional "Belfast
Child" are well done.
tracks include a version of the Peter Gabriel
classic "Biko" and the soaring "Mandela Day."
It might not have satisfied the band's newly
won fans, but Street Fighting Years is an interesting,
enjoyable album with some truly lovely moments.
facts About The Legend That Is Simple Minds
'Smash Hits' -
February 1989 (UK)
Minds' first tour bus was a minibus which used
to be owned by a school for the mentally handicapped.
It cost their parents £350.
Kerr's grandfather made his fortune in New York
before losing it all and returning to Glasgow.
Simple Minds were Jim Kerr (vocals), Charlie
Burchill (guitar) and Brian McGee (drums) and
they were joined in 1977 by Mick MacNeil (keyboards)
and Derek Forbes (bass).
changing their name to Simple Minds, the troupe
were a punk rock band called, er, Johnny And
The Self Abusers. They released one single "Saints
And Sinners", in November 1977 and promptly
spilt up that day!
Burchill brought his first guitar with 3,500
cigarette coupons his mum had saved up for him.
6: As a
lad, keyboard-player Mick MacNeil once appeared
singing and wearing a kilt with his brother
on a embarrassingly crap '70s TV programme called
group released nine - nine!! flop singles before
finally having a hit with their tenth, "Promised
You A Miracle", in 1982.
Burchill can (apparently) read three books at
the same time and exist on only two or three
hours' sleep a night.
single "Belfast Child" is a version
of a traditional folk ballad called "She
Moves Through The Fair". It was Trevor
Horn (the boffin who produced Frankie Goes To
Hollywood) who suggested that Simple Minds record
some sort of folk song, although the group had
been thinking about doing so for some years.
father is an ex-building site labourer who often
goes on the "road" with the Minds.
Jim was young, he and Charlie went on a European
"'70s grand tour" i.e. they "hitch-hiked"
around Europe on practically no money at all.
doesn't drink alcohol as a "rule".
was an alter boy when he was a nipper.
a vegetarian because he believes that an animal
has a spirit and soul just like a human.
Simple Minds appeared at the Nelson Mandela
tribute concert, a mad Scottish MP called Nicholas
Fairbairn accused both them and Annie Lennox
of being (ahem) "left-wing scum" and
a disgrace to Scotland.
who took part in the Mandela concert was supposed
to write a song for it but only Simple Minds
did (the "Mandela Day" song on the
You (Forget About Me)" which went to Number
1 in America in 1985, is considered by Jim to
be one of the worst songs Simple Minds ever
recorded. Perhaps because they didn't write
it in the first place! (It was done for the
soundtrack for the film 'The Breakfast Club.')
McGee left the group in 1980 and Derek Forbes
left in the summer of 1985. Since then they've
had some difficulty keeping hold of drummers!
days Simple Minds current line-up seems to be
Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill and Mick MacNeil,
although they still use mel Gaynor on drums
and a bass player called John Giblin.
Minds new LP (their tenth in ten years) will
be called "Street Fighting Years"
and will be released in late April of this year.
the end of '85 and middle of '86, Simple Minds
played 118 - 118!! - dates across the globe,
all of which were dedicated to Amnesty International
(an organisation that campaigns for human rights).
At two dates (one in LA, one in London) all
of the proceeds were given to Amnesty.
Burchill used to build violins when he was in
his teens - and he played one on stage during
the group's early days!
was one of the few kids in his class at school
to pass his engineering exam, despite not doing
any work for it. But he decided not to pursue
a glittering career in girders because he always
felt he was "destined" to become a
famous pop star.
younger brother Paul (now the Minds' tour manager)
had a trial for Celtic FC as a lad.
the Minds first started to play live in Glasgow,
they invented a blue plastic head which sat
on top of a speaker and revolved gently while
they played the first song. They dumped it because
it looked "too much like Doctor Who"!!