Street Fighting Years Articles & Reviews


Life In A Day
Real To Real Cacophony
Empires & Dance
Sons & Fascination
New Gold Dream
Sparkle In The Rain
Once Upon A Time
Live In The City Of Light
Hollywood Rock Festival
Nelson Mandela Concert
Street Fighting Years
Themes (Volumes 1-4)
Verona
Real Life
Glittering Prize 81/92
Good News The Next World
Néapolis
Neon Lights
The Best Of Simple Minds
Cry
Early Gold
Alive & Kicking Tour 2003
Summer Tour 2004
Silver Box
Black & White 050505
46664 Concert
30 Years Live Tour
Graffiti Soul

Do Not Disturb

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 Snow.

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 gold jacket.

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 Do Not Disturbappointed, 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 snowy peak.

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!".

"Up until 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."

"Spiritual" 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" too.

Friends, family, 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 be conquered.

"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.

"When we 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 so exciting."

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 Scotland.

"I think 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 an intellect."

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.

"When you're 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."

"But now 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."

"Age has 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.

"You'd just 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."

"It's really difficult not to feel like that," chimes Mick.

"At this 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."

When approached 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 on.

"I've got 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."

An unforeseen 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.

"When we 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!"

"It's amazing 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 Breweries.

"Drink's 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."

"There's 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.

"He's always 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."

Eyebrows might be raised when he sings the line you wrote, "Money can't buy me".

"I didn't 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?

"The '80s 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 say?"

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.

"Because 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?

"Yeah, that's true."

"Doing interviews 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.

"When we 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."

Sting perhaps, 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 Amazon.

"Sure, Sting 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?

"I thought that was particularly weird as well."

So you would think twice before, say, writing a song about marriage?

"We never 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.

"You have 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.

"Organically, 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 a start."

"Charlie 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!

"Anything 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.

"Pop stars 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!

"Marti Pellow 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!'"

 

 

Street Fighting Years

David Sinclair - 'Q' Magazine - June 1989 (UK)

 

Michael Jackson, 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.

Charlie Burchill 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)

 

 

Street Fighting Years

CMJ New Music (US)

 

Simple Minds' 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 Fighting Years'.

 

 

Street Fighting Years

Mike Soutar - 'Smash Hits' (UK)

 

'Street Fighting 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)

 

 

Street Fighting Years

Scottish Sunday Mail (UK)

 

Simple Minds' new album Street Fighting Years is due to be released on May 2 and this week I had a sneak preview.

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 eloquent opponent.

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 heard it.

"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 a winner.

 

 

This Is Your Land

'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.

 

 

Street Fighting Years

Chris Brazier - www.newint.org (US)

 

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 U2.

 

 

Street Fighting Man

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.

Terry Staunton - '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.

"Sometimes 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.

The growing 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. Street Fighting ManBut their music has hardly ever addressed political situations, preferring to deal with what Jim calls "the fantastc".

Historically, 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 pop.

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.

"For me." 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 of things.

"When yuou 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.

"The music 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 beyond.

"We were 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.

"I wasn't 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.

"I'm trying 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.

"The pressure 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?

"Yeah, we 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.

"Somebody 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."

Nelson who?

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.

Jim's management 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?

"Left-wing 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.

"There could 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.

"I'm pissed 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' on.

"In America 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 whole regime.

"When Jerry 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?

"Well, he 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.

"I'm not 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 off.

"But, we 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 they do.

"There was 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 world calling

Kerr's affiliation 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 the open.

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.

"It went 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.

"Anyway, 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.

"What I'm 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'.

"I began 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.

"I remember 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.

"We came 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 doorstep."

That's entertainment

Chairman Jim's 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 it's place.

"First and 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.

"That's why 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.

"The same 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 Satin'."

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 living in.

"If there 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.

"One song, '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.

"There's 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.

"Again with '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.

"Everything 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 witness.

This previously 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?

"When we 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 so long.

"We've chucked 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."

In retrospect, 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 apprenticeship."

It's a brave move when you consider you may well have had success sewn up for the next few years at least.

"I think 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."

"They've 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.

"You can 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."

Sparkle Through The Pain

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?

"It's amazing 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.

"Values have 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' sold.

"The people 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.

"Chrissie 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."

Marriage break-ups, 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 it.

"This record 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 Waters

Following the 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 communication.

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 this work!!"

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 toShark Infested Waters 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!"

What? Erotic dancers?

"No, ha ha! Just passion! Electricity!

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 three hours!

"This song's 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.

"THIS...IS...YOUR...LAND!" 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 and faith.

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.

Half-an-hour gone. Jim Kerr's trying very hard.

Do you find Simple Minds hard to dicuss, Jim? Is it intangible?

"Absolutely, 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?

"Yeah! I 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.

"Yeah, I 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.

"We played 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?

"Yeah, but 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!"

Good! It's not just volume?

"No, it's 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.

"Some sweet day!" he yells, looking to some bright, vague future. As a realist, Jim Kerr is a mug. As a dreamer, he aims high.

"Waterfront" 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 and clumsy.

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 changed you?

"Now I'm 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?

"That's a 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... the glow."

Are you ever touched by wonder at it? That millions hear your whims, your fancies?

"Aye! But 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 something."

Yet you're more tangible now than you were. You sing of Ireland and Africa and ecology. You used to sing about the inside of your head.

"Well certain 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 the music."

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.

"Let's go!" 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 him.

"Critics 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, poised, precious...

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 tonight.

Are you still an innocent person, Jim, or has this made you cynical?

"I'm innocent about certain things. I don't think I'm innocent about the promotion of records."

Do you trust people easily? Strangers?

"Instinctively I do, yeah. Aye."

And you're a romantic. Your talk is always of nature. All your metaphors and hyperboles come from there.

"Well, they're the things that stop me in my tracks," he says grinning.

"Again, it's 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 the specific?

"Absolutely! 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! That's 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.

"Belfast Child" 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, Jim.

Where does 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!"

What rules 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 reach?

"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 there.

Zurich roars. 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.

10,000 voices rise into the night - but isn't it mere terrace solidarity? Souldn't the name as easily be Ian Rush?

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 our heads.

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."

 

 

Street Fighting Years

80sexchange.com

 

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 eighties.

 

 

Street Fighting Years

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 follow-up.

Street Fighting 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.

Other noteworthy 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.

 

 

25 Indispensable facts About The Legend That Is Simple Minds

'Smash Hits' - February 1989 (UK)

 

1: Simple Minds' first tour bus was a minibus which used to be owned by a school for the mentally handicapped. It cost their parents £350.

2: Jim Kerr's grandfather made his fortune in New York before losing it all and returning to Glasgow.

3: Originally, 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).

4: Before 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!

5: Charlie 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 Junior Showtime.

7: The group released nine - nine!! flop singles before finally having a hit with their tenth, "Promised You A Miracle", in 1982.

8: Charlie Burchill can (apparently) read three books at the same time and exist on only two or three hours' sleep a night.

9: The 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.

10: Jim's father is an ex-building site labourer who often goes on the "road" with the Minds.

11: When 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.

12: Jim doesn't drink alcohol as a "rule".

13: Jim was an alter boy when he was a nipper.

14: Jim's a vegetarian because he believes that an animal has a spirit and soul just like a human.

15: When 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.

16: Everybody 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 EP).

17: "Don't 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.')

18: Brian 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!

19: These 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.

20: Simple Minds new LP (their tenth in ten years) will be called "Street Fighting Years" and will be released in late April of this year.

21: Between 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.

22: Charlie Burchill used to build violins when he was in his teens - and he played one on stage during the group's early days!

23: Jim 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.

24: Jim's younger brother Paul (now the Minds' tour manager) had a trial for Celtic FC as a lad.

25: When 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"!!

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