Simple Minds have smartened up their act. With their Good News From the Next World tour, they’ve set out to kick the stadium-rock image and regain their street cred once and for all. Alastair Mabbott talked to frontman Jim Kerr on the eve of their Scottish tour.
0 Bournemouth! Where King Crimson invented progressive rock more than a quarter of a century ago. Where a hotel room corpse and a stolen backdrop inspired The Fall to write their rollicking classic ‘Bournemouth Runner‘. And where Jim Kerr now sits on the balcony of a grand-looking leisure centre. gazing over the placid. glittering bay. his presence unnoticed by the ticket- holders for tonight‘s Simple Minds show milling beneath.
ln marked contrast to their 80s stadium pomp- fests. Simple Minds are playing more intimate surroundings on this tour. In Scotland. that means three nights in the Usher Hall. three in the Aberdeen Capitol and four in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Such scaling-down doesn't mean that the band are about to curl up and die — by the end of the tour. they’ll still have played to over a million people — but Kerr is quite candid that the decision to play smaller venues this time around was a market-led rather than an artistic decision.
‘Usually when people say they want to play the little clubs it‘s because they fuckin' have to. so we‘ve got much more dignity than to try and pull that one.’ he says. but he also seems to relish the challenge of playing to crowds of 2000 as well as 50.000. ‘lt’s important to be able to do both. And neither level is more important than the other.
‘And in the case of Glasgow and Edinburgh. being home and being in the place we started from. I think the idea of turning up one night in four years in the SECC or lngliston wouldn‘t have been right.‘
As cliched as it sounds. Simple Minds returned to the charts reinvigorated after a three-and-a-half-year break. After watching keyboard player Mick McNeil] walk away from the band — ‘We haven‘t spoken since he left.‘ says guitarist and co-writer Charlie Burchill. ‘lt‘s never been resolved’ — they coasted along on autopilot. as Kerr describes it. distracted away from the music by a thousand other things. Their I991 album. Real Life. suffered as a result, and they even considered calling it a day,
‘Some of the better songs we‘ve written were on that record.‘ says Kerr as some kind of mass competitive swim takes place in the water nearby. ‘but we made a dead recording. People say. if it was that duff why did you put it out. but we genuinely didn’t know.‘
During the break they struggled to get back their hunger for songwriting and just as they were ready to make an album hooked back up with producer Keith Forsey. the man responsible for their biggest worldwide hit. ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)‘. Wasn‘t his
18 The List 25 Aug-7 Sept 1995
‘Whenever we end up, or however we
nose at little out of joint after the somewhat ungrateful way Simple Minds dismissed his song in the press al'terwards'.’
‘Maybe a bit. We were a bit bratty about that. But that was because we were a bit insecure about it and we were trying to express why it‘s had this success and we've had so little to do with it. We felt kind of guilty about it. and it's a bit silly because. at the end of the day. looking back on it. nobody really cares. They hear the thing and they like it or they don't. That’s ()5 per cent. The rest is . . . industry talk. basically.’
The return of the Minds to the live stage has not been an unqualified PR triumph. While
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reviews of Good News From The New World generally hailed it as the band's best album for years. they were spiked with snidey asides to the effect that Kerr and Burchill must have been partaking in rather too much of the good life. Nowadays. when people marvel at Jim Kerr‘s legendary girth. they’re usually talking about his waistline. Even Q 's double-page spread on the album was unkindly headed ‘PORKY‘.
Today. though. Kerr looks unexpectedly lean. kept in trim by the equipment in ‘Jim’s Gym‘. a small room set tip backstage wherever the Simple Minds circus alights. Twenty minutes on the running machine ensures that by the time the band hit the stage. the singer’s already sweat- plastered and pulsing with adrenaline. Which brings us to today’s burning question: in 1995. can Simple Minds still lzl.’ hl.’ lzl.’ hi.’ lt'/I()()(l/l- ()ooh-oh.’ with the best of them‘.’
At the very least. the gig proves that they‘ve definitely recaptured a punch that was severely lacking the last time they played in Scotland. In a set as ﬂab-free as Kerr himself. they‘ve despatched with the new songs by the mid-point and punch out a solid block of hits and favourite oldies till the end of the night.
What's most impressive — and stands to lure back many of the old fans that gave up on them
end up, I think we’ll have gone full circle to that kind of stuff. I love the idea at songwriting, and when we write a song like “Hypnotised” we feel, hey, this is a great, great song, it’s a song that maybe anybody could sing.’
when the Minds started singing about catwalks. waterfronts and getting sanctified — is how the two New Gold Dream tracks ‘Someone. Somewhere In Summertimc‘ and ‘The Big Sleep‘ merge so seamlessly into their best new song. ‘l-lypnotised’. It’s something of a relief. After years of crashing anthems and rambling epics. they can still offer tip moments ofdelicacy and modest grandeur.
Such is the condensed vigour of the new. scaled-down Simple Minds that it could cast their ‘stadium-era‘ records in a new light. After all. they were alone among the stadium-rock aristocracy by being fans of the likes of Can. Magazine. Cale and lino (‘such an inspiration.‘ says Kerr). When you think about it. even on brash singles like ‘Ghost Dancing‘. they retained enough of their art-rock roots to render them a bit of an oddity among stadium superstars. ‘Aha. mm-hmm.‘ says Kerr. He’s pleased. ‘Although we would have the dynamics. and be playing the same kind of venue as Springsteen for example. he would never do anything like “Waterfront” or “Book Of Brilliant 'l‘hings".‘
Considering their early cinematic soundscapes and instrumentals. and the fact that they sound a little ambivalent ' about some of the music they’ve produced in the last decade. you might expect Kerr and Burchill to be looking for kindred spirits amongst the ambient sculptors currently operating. If they’re not. it’s partly because. as Kerr says. they’ve got so much material of their own in that vein to listen to.
‘lt‘s music that speaks volumes to me. even though there‘s no voice or lyrics. but I haven’t really heard much. When New Age came in. the soft-focus I didn’t like. I prefer it when it has a kind of urban-ness to it.‘
In fact. one of Kerr's favourite tracks of their recent output is an instrumental mood-piece called ‘1355‘. an additional track from the ‘She’s A River‘ CD-single.
‘Whenever we end up. or however we end up.’ he muses. ‘I think we‘ll have gone full circle to that kind of stuff. I love the idea of songwriting. and when we write a song like “Hypnotised” we feel. hey. this is a great. great song. it’s a song that maybe anybody could sing. It feels like there’s something classic about it. But we hear a lot of our pieces getting used on TV and getting sampled. Even the new record. which —— although it‘s a very mainstream record I think it’s speckled with lots of noises and blips and bleeps that say a lot about the stuff that we have in the vaults.‘
Simple Minds play Sun .i—Tue 5 at The Usher Hall, Edinburgh and Sun lO—Wed I3 in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.