Simple Minds: Live in the land of light. Plus: a new album!

As Simple Minds enter their fourth decade of making and performing music, Scotland’s most successful rock band return to South Africa to play hits like “Alive and Kicking“, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)“, “Waterfront” – and visit a country they helped reach democracy.

Simple Minds - Charlie Burchill, Mel Gaynor,  Jim Kerr, Andy Gillespie, Ged Grimes

Simple Minds – Charlie Burchill, Mel Gaynor, Jim Kerr, Andy Gillespie, Ged Grimes

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the “Weekend Argus” of 2013/08/18.

Simple Minds have topped the charts for decades, with songs like 1985’s smash hit “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from the film, “The Breakfast Club” to the album “Graffiti Soul”, which hit the UK Top Ten in 2009. Alongside the feel-good, slow-dance and stadium anthem songs were political works like “Belfast Child” and “Mandela Day“, and the band headlined “Nelson Mandela – An International Tribute for a Free South Africa” at Britain’s Wembley Stadium in 1990, alongside Peter Gabriel, Tracey Chapman and Hugh Masekela and with the recently-freed Nelson Mandela in attendance. Musically, the band has straddled art-rock and avant garde inclinations, pop and stadium rock hits as well as folk and instrumental pieces. They’re listed as key influencers by artists as diverse as Moby and Primal Scream, and  have been sampled by a new generation of artist like David Guetta and Nicky Minaj. Through it all, though, Simple Minds have always aimed to be an unforgettable live band experience and, following the success of their “5×5” international tour (playing five songs each from their first five albums), frontman Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill return to South Africa after shows in 1995 as part of their international “Greatest Hits” tour.

“We definitely did do a bit to try and change things, and that obviously makes it more special for us, because we’ve got some sort of dialogue with the country.”

– Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr on songs like “Mandela Day”, and headlining “46664” and the 1990 “Nelson Mandela – An International Tribute for a Free South Africa

Simple Minds co-founder and frontman Jim Kerr answers the telephone at his hotel in Italy with a confession. “Here we are, me and Charlie Brooks, my songwriting partner, behaving like kids, riding around on Vespas and eating one too many ice-creams. But all that will change in a few days time when we start listening to our drummer banging away on a snare for hours at a time. Then, we’re looking forward to coming to South Africa. It’s belated. It’s been a long time, and we only had one opportunity to play in your country, and we enjoyed it immensely. I imagine that everyone says that, but it’s true for us.”

Part of Kerr and company’s happiness at playing in South Africa is their involvement in the cultural boycott against this country’s apartheid government, part of chipping away to achieve change and democracy in South Africa. “Chipping away,” says Kerr. “I think that’s a good way to put it. We definitely did do a bit to try and change things, and that obviously makes it more special for us, because we’ve got some sort of dialogue with the country. We’re looking forward to getting there, and giving it a hundred percent. Because that’s what we do and, because of that, we’ve managed to have a lengthy career, that I hope will continue.”

Simple Minds was born in 1977 when Kerr and Burchill formed the band following the demise of their first project, a Glaswegian punk outfit called Johnny and the Self Abusers. Since then, there have been countless nights on stage, in stadiums, then back to smaller venues, and then filling stadiums again – with countless repetitions of the same songs. What is it like for Kerr, to have done that, and still be doing it today?

 

Simple Minds co-founders Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill

Simple Minds co-founders Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill

 

“I think you’ve got to be a special type of person to do that, talent apart,” he says. “There are a lot of talented people who hate touring, and singing the songs that an audience wants to hear. Maybe they see it as routine, or whatever. We don’t feel like that. When we’re on stage, we are there to be of service. If it was just about you, then you’d stay in the garage and play the songs for yourself. Here, we’re playing for people who have maybe grown up with the songs, or maybe never seen you, or maybe they’re seeing you for the fifth time. Let’s face it: we’re lucky and we usually get a generous welcome before we’ve even played a note. But every night you’re being judged, and you have to deliver, and we try to do that, beyond expectation. It’s a nightly challenge, but it’s a great feeling when you’ve lived up to it.”

“One minute you’re up in front of thousands of people, and the next minute you’re driving past the stadiums to play a little club. But what are you going to do? Cry to your mummy?”

– Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr on a four decade career

The band has, of course, had it’s ups and down: some related to the group, some personal and some as the products of changing times and tastes.

Kerr smiles about that, and the rise and fall of the mid-80s and early-90s “stadium rock bands”. “We, along with other bands from our generation, helped make that happen and when that generation came to its dusk, as always happens, they got it in the neck from the generation coming up,” he says. “They’re tired of you: they’ve heard you and your big face has been all over MTV, and it can get very desperate and the wheels can come off a bit – and, indeed, they did. A bit. I can make it sound like a breeze now, but we didn’t like it: one minute you’re up in front of thousands of people, and the next minute you’re driving past the stadiums to play a little club. But what are you going to do? Cry to your mummy? You can sit it out and say, ‘We’re marathon men, not sprinters’. We looked at people who’ve been in the game a long, the real greats. I remember something that Neil Young said once, and he’s always full of great quotes and who knows which ones he’s more or less serious about, but he said: ‘It doesn’t count what you do when you’re a young man. That’s easy. It’s what you do when you’re older that really comes into play’.”

‘It doesn’t count what you do when you’re a young man. That’s easy. It’s what you do when you’re older that really comes into play’.

– Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr quoting Neil Young

So, with a successful “5×5” tour in the bag, and an international “Greatest Hits” album and tour underway, what’s next for Simple Minds.

“There’s an amazing momentum, actually,” says Kerr. “We’re not only doing more shows than you could imagine at this stage of the game but, over the last two years when we’ve not been playing, lo and behold there’s a new chapter! We’ve been writing songs and – whisper it – it might even be a double album!”

With dozens of song and album hits in Britain, America, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, and with seminal albums like “Once Upon A Time“, “Street Fighting Years” and a hallmark of live recordings, “Live In The City Of Light“, what is it like being on the cusp of releasing new material onto the mercy of the critics and the fans?

“What can we do?” says Kerr. “You can only do what you know, which is write the songs, and play them and produce them as well as you can. Then, once it leaves you, it’s all a bit of a lottery”

This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the “Weekend Argus” of 2013/08/18.

Simple Minds (Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill, Mel Gaynor, Andy Gillespie and Ged Grimes) play Cape Town on Sunday 3 November (Grand Arena, GrandWest Casino, 7pm) after a show in Johannesburg on Friday and Saturday, 1 and 2 November (Big Top Arena, Carnival City, 8pm).

 

Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr - Alive and Kicking

Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr – Alive and Kicking

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