SIM­PLE MINDS

Q (UK) - - Contents - PHO­TO­GRAPHS: AN­DREW COTTERILL

Join us in Glas­gow as Scot­land’s big­gest band look back on 40 years of mas­sive suc­cess, re­treat and resur­gence.

SIM­PLE MINDS had the world at their feet in the ’80s, the post-punk band who com­man­deered sta­di­ums be­fore U2. But they lost the war to their Ir­ish ri­vals and spent the next two decades in re­treat. Tom Doyle meets the Glaswe­gians on home turf as their band­wagon gath­ers speed once more.

as a fa­mil­iar cry of “Whey-hey” sails through the cold Glas­gow air. Jim Kerr and Char­lie Burchill, the time-served, two-man core of Sim­ple Minds, al­low them­selves a smile. Wher­ever the singer and guitarist (both 58) go in their home­town, it seems, they are in­stantly recog­nised, tooted and whey-heyed, lo­cal he­roes for more than four decades. Not that they’re strangers to the light­hearted and some­times sur­real abuse for which the Glaswe­gian pop­u­lace is leg­endary. Kerr re­mem­bers that a cou­ple of years back they were be­ing pho­tographed in the pair’s old south Glas­gow coun­cil es­tate of To­ry­glen. A young radge wan­dered up and asked the singer, “You a rock star?” “Er… well…” Kerr re­sponded. “Bet I can tell you the band you’re in…” said the young wag. “Go on, then,” the singer chal­lenged him. “And he goes,” Kerr re­lates now, “‘Uh, uh… f-f-fuck­ing Bea­tles!’ and ran away.” He and Burchill burst out laugh­ing, while stood hav­ing their pho­to­graph taken out­side an aban­doned church in the Gor­bals, the once-no­to­ri­ous area of Glas­gow grimly famed for its acute poverty and ra­zor­wield­ing gangs. Both spent their ear­li­est years a lit­eral stone’s throw from here, be­fore their fam­i­lies were de­canted in the ’ 60s two miles south to the rel­a­tively mod­ern To­ry­glen. At the age of eight, they first met while play­ing on a mound of build­ing sand. They are two men who have known one another for half a cen­tury. Today, Kerr and Burchill take Q on a tour of their old haunts, kick­ing off in the Gor­bals Sound record­ing stu­dio where they’ve just made their 18th al­bum, Walk Be­tween Worlds. The build­ing is a former youth club where as teenagers they played their first ever gig in a band called Biba Rom. This af­ter­noon the two sit to­gether and rem­i­nisce on the still-ex­ist­ing stage, as Kerr re­mem­bers, “It was some­body’s birth­day party and there we were play­ing Heroin by The Vel­vet Un­der­ground.” A short peo­ple car­rier drive away, they pose out­side their alma mater, Holy­rood Sec­ondary School. In a house across the street, they’d re­hearse with their old punk band Johnny And The Self Abusers as Prip­ton Weird (Kerr) and Char­lie Ar­gue (Burchill). The singer re­calls one mem­o­rable prac­tice ses­sion when their sax player couldn’t use his in­stru­ment be­cause a mys­te­ri­ous cul­prit had re­lieved his blad­der in it, leav­ing the horn “full o’ pish.” Then it’s on to the Waver­ley pad­dle steamer ferry float­ing on the River Clyde, where the band filmed part of the video for their 1983 hit Wa­ter­front. No one seems to be man­ning the boat today, so we all sneak aboard. Five min­utes later, a bloke emerges through a door hold­ing a bucket. “Is it OK if we take some pic­tures here?” asks the Q pho­tog­ra­pher. “Aye, fair enough,” replies un­flap­pable bucket bloke. “It’s funny,” says Kerr, sit­ting in the same spot where he once sat as a newly-fa­mous 25- year-old. “I don’t wal­low in nos­tal­gia. I kind of chuckle at the idea of com­ing full cir­cle. But I think we do carry this city with us some­how. You wouldn’t doubt that Spring­steen’s from New Jersey. We know fine well that Scot­land is the rock that we were cut out of.”

Two hours later and three miles east, the lat­est, sev­en­piece in­car­na­tion of Sim­ple Minds are run­ning through a dress re­hearsal on the stage of the Bar­row­land Ball­room, ahead of the first date of a tour be­gin­ning the fol­low­ing night where they will play Walk Be­tween Worlds in full, along with choice hits and art-rock cuts from their past. Bar­row­lands, as it’s known to the na­tives, is a bril­liantly scuzzy relic, vir­tu­ally un­changed since its ’ 60s hey­day. It’s a venue known the world over and par­tic­u­larly loved by bands who are reg­u­larly thrilled and ter­ri­fied by its wildly up-for-it crowds, lobbed plas­tic pint pots of lager and sprung dance floor that bounces un­der your feet. From 1970 on and for over a decade, Bar­row­lands lay shut­tered and empty, due to its punchy Fri­day night dance­hall no­to­ri­ety and a never-cap­tured se­rial killer nick­named Bi­ble John who picked up his three fe­male vic­tims there. “Bar­row­lands was in­fa­mous,”

AnoTher cAr zooms by, AnoTher horn TooTs in recog­ni­Tion,

says Kerr. “But peo­ple also spoke about it with great af­fec­tion. “Grow­ing up, I al­ways saw that sign,” he adds, re­fer­ring to the venue’s hu­mungous street frontage, erected in 1960 to blare out its name amid flash­ing neon stars. “It’s an amaz­ing throw­back to the past.” The venue was closed un­til Sim­ple Minds shot the live per­for­mances for the Wa­ter­front video here, as part of a free gig for fans, lead­ing to its re­open­ing. “Ba­si­cally, the Bar­row­lands has thrived ever since,” says Kerr, with pride. “Any­where we go, if we meet the guys from the Foo Fight­ers or Iggy Pop, they go, ‘Aw man, the Bar­ras, it’s fuck­ing fan­tas­tic.’ It’s been syn­ony­mous with Sim­ple Minds from 1983.”

At the time, Sim­ple Minds were al­ready five al­bums into their ca­reer, hav­ing quickly evolved from Johnny And The Self Abusers. That band’s fi­nal 1977 gig was staged in what Kerr re­mem­bers as a “re­ally heavy disco” in Glas­gow’s city cen­tre named Ter­mi­nal 1, where nut­ters would smug­gle in ice skates to use as weapons. “Ice skates to a disco but there’s nae ice,” Burchill rightly points out with a laugh. “We used to call it Ter­ri­ble 1.” That night, the DJ spun a copy of Donna Sum­mer’s just-re­leased I Feel Love. Burchill and Kerr’s minds were blown. “We went, ‘We need to get a synth… punk’s fin­ished,’” says the singer. So be­gan a run of highly in­ven­tive, fu­ture­headed Sim­ple Minds al­bums, from their 1979 de­but Life In A Day through to 1981’ s twin LPs Sons And Fas­ci­na­tion/Sis­ter Feel­ings Call. They were pur­vey­ors of an art­ful, syn­thy mu­sic in thrall to Krautrock and Ber­lin-pe­riod Bowie and Iggy. Sim­ple Minds even met the lat­ter two in 1979 at the fa­bled Rock­field res­i­den­tial stu­dio in Wales, where the Glaswe­gian band used to make their records, edit­ing them down from hours of speed-fu­elled jams. “Iggy came in look­ing for a bit of hash,” re­mem­bers Burchill. “Bowie comes in wear­ing a black jump­suit, hold­ing a can of Heineken and a big bit of cheese,” says Kerr. “I think he had the munchies. Then about two in the morn­ing, they said, ‘Oh, we’ve been work­ing on this song and we want every­body to come and join in on the cho­rus.’ It was a track called Play It Safe [ from Pop’s 1980 al­bum Soldier]. Iggy changed the words, [ adopts Iggy-ish drawl] ‘You’re too sim­ple minded.’” “Es­pe­cially in that weird, sur­real

“You wouldn’t doubt that Spring­steen’s from New Jersey. We know fine well that Scot­land is the rock that we were cut out of.” Jim Kerr

Rock­field en­vi­ron­ment,” Burchill notes, “it was off the scale.” Ar­riv­ing on­stage the next night at Bar­row­lands, Sim­ple Minds open their set with four songs from their in­spired and pro­duc­tive first era, in­clud­ing the hyp­notic, mo­torik disco of I Travel and Love Song. Fans from all over – Japan, Aus­tralia, Amer­ica – have trav­elled to Glas­gow to hear them de­but the new al­bum, though it’s the Scot­tish devo­tees, some of them bear­ing Sim­ple Minds tat­toos, who go con­spic­u­ously men­tal. When the fa­mous sign out­side the venue sud­denly ap­pears in elec­tronic form on the back­drop be­hind the band to in­tro­duce new, Bowie-ish an­them Bar­row­land Star, Kerr loudly ded­i­cates the song to “To­ry­glen, Glas­gow!” The re­sult­ing roar threat­ens to blow the roof off the gaff.

Sim­ple Minds be­came main­stream pop stars in 1982, with the dis­ori­en­tat­ing, cut-up funk of Promised You A Mir­a­cle. It was the year when the post-punks were fill­ing the charts with strange and art­ful hits. In­stantly they were lumped in with the preen­ing, teatow­elon-the-head-wear­ing New Ro­man­tics, though in re­al­ity they were a tougher bunch who con­tin­ued to tour hard in the back roads of Europe. “Those bands weren’t do­ing that,” Kerr stresses. “We thought we were the real deal. You had to be great live.”

“You find out a lot about your­self when you’re driv­ing in a van past a sta­dium you’ve sold out, go­ing to a club that you haven’t sold out.” Jim Kerr

But as the band’s au­di­ences grew big­ger, so did their sound, los­ing some of its magic and mys­tery in the process. By 1983, Sim­ple Minds and U2, as friends and ri­vals, seemed to be locked in a bat­tle to be the first post­punk group to be­come the big­gest in the world. But while Sim­ple Minds had a US Num­ber 1 with Don’t You (For­get About Me) in 1985, at a time when U2 were still strug­gling for a big Amer­i­can hit, the Dublin band ul­ti­mately won the war. “Peo­ple have said to me, ‘Did you think they’d be the big­gest band in the world?” Kerr re­flects. “I say, ‘Yeah, cos they told us.’ They said, ‘We’ve got this whole thing mapped out. We’re gonna get all the Ir­ish on­side in Amer­ica.’ But we never strate­gised. I think one of the rea­sons why we’ve been able to sur­vive is we’ve never had any bit­ter­ness. We would never get to the stage of think­ing, ‘Well, that should’ve been fuck­ing us.’” In the ’ 90s, Sim­ple Minds lost their way and, by the end of that decade, Kerr had quit and moved to Si­cily. “Char­lie said, ‘What are you gonna be? A fuck­ing fish­er­man or some­thing?’ I went, ‘Fuck­ing maybe. But I’m just not gonna go through with this. We can’t go around like punch-drunk box­ers, just do­ing it cos they don’t know what else to do.’”

Come the new mil­len­nium, bands such as the Manic Street Preachers and Pri­mal Scream be­gan talk­ing up Sim­ple Minds as a key in­flu­ence. Later, The Hor­rors’ 2011 sin­gle Still Life was es­sen­tially an homage to the Glaswe­gian group’s early work. “Sud­denly,” says Burchill, “peo­ple who I’d never have thought were in any way re­motely in­ter­ested in any­thing we’d ever done were quot­ing us as their favourite band.” Sim­ple Minds them­selves de­cided to re­con­nect to their past with 2012’ s 5X5 tour, per­form­ing ma­te­rial from their first five al­bums. Af­ter years in the wilder­ness, first with 2014’ s Big Mu­sic and now Walk Be­tween Worlds, they sound like a band re­born. “You find out a lot about your­self when you’re driv­ing in a van past a sta­dium you’ve sold out, go­ing to a club that you haven’t sold out,” says Kerr. “There’s been a real great head of steam build­ing up through all those years.” Two days af­ter Bar­row­lands, Q ar­rives at the Round­house in Lon­don as Sim­ple Minds are run­ning through their sound­check be­fore a sold-out show at the Cam­den venue. Out­side, a long line of fans is al­ready snaking down the street and around the cor­ner. On the floor in front of the stage, a fig­ure in a black coat and dark green base­ball cap is madly groov­ing along as the band play their lat­est sin­gle, Sense Of Dis­cov­ery. Turns out it’s Jim Kerr. In his mind, as he will de­clare from the stage later, the Round­house re­mains the scene of leg­endary ’ 70s gigs by his for­ma­tive he­roes Patti Smith and the Ra­mones. Now that Sim­ple Minds are back on peak form, the pres­sure is on to get tonight’s show ab­so­lutely right. In his mind, there’s still every­thing to prove. “Some­times I’ve felt oc­ca­sion­ally em­bar­rassed that we fucked this thing up,” he ad­mits. “We have been given some kind of tal­ent, and some­times in a weaker pe­riod, I think, I never max­imised that. So, now, I feel this breath­less race is on.” Tonight, Sim­ple Minds ab­so­lutely throw them­selves at a more than will­ing crowd, as their new songs neatly dove­tail in terms of qual­ity with their clas­sic ma­te­rial. A sim­i­larly huge cheer rises up when the Bar­row­lands logo ap­pears on the screen. Over the next few weeks, Sim­ple Minds will trans­port their cor­ner of Glas­gow on­wards to Paris, Am­s­ter­dam and Ber­lin. If, un­like cer­tain other older bands, they never seem to be phon­ing in their per­for­mances, ac­cord­ing to Jim Kerr, there’s a very good rea­son for that. “About five min­utes be­fore I go on,” he told Q ear­lier, “I think, ‘Well, what are we say­ing here ev­ery night we go on­stage?’ We’re not just say­ing, ‘This is our new al­bum.’ We’re say­ing, ‘This next two hours… this is what we’ve done with our lives.’” Forty-plus years in and still count­ing. For Sim­ple Minds, it’s too late to stop now.

Sim­ple Minds’ cur­rent line-up (from left, Char­lie Burchill, Gordy Goudie, Cherisse Osei, Ged Grimes, Jim Kerr, Sarah Brown, Cather­ine AD), Glas­gow, 13 Fe­bru­ary, 2018.

Lucky Jim: Kerr with friend/ri­val Bono in Bel­gium, July 1983; (be­low) at Live Aid Philadel­phia, July 1985.

Old school: Char­lie and Jim visit their alma mater, Fe­bru­ary 2018.

Clyde me a river: Sim­ple Minds move on up to the wa­ter­front, left, in 1983 (from left, Jim Kerr, Mel Gaynor, Mick MacNeil, Char­lie Burchill, Derek Forbes); right, Burchill and Kerr in 2018.

Don’t you for­get about me: Jim Kerr points to the fu­ture.

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