Don't you (forget about him)
Launched to superstardom by The Breakfast Club, Simple Minds are close to being hip again. Lead singer Jim Kerr talks to Barry Egan about growing up in Glasgow and sharing Christmas dinner with his ex-wives Patsy Kensit and Chrissie Hynde
U2 producer Daniel Lanois was quoted recently about the making of The Unforgettable Fire album in 1984. "U2 wanted to do something different. They had been listening to New Gold Dream by Simple Minds as a point of reference, a record they liked," Lanois, who co-produced Unforgettable Fire with Brian Eno, said. "The panorama of the ambience appealed to them. I think that Bono wanted to get to a place that was wider than stripped-down rock'n'roll, so we allowed ourselves the flexibility to embrace the colours that Eno and I had been developing."
For Jim Kerr, growing up in working-class Glasgow in the Sixties and Seventies the panorama wasn't of ambience but of bleak hopelessness. "Glasgow was on its knees," Simple Minds lead singer Jim recalls.
"There was an element of 'We're from a loser place' and then Jock Stein [Glasgow Celtic's manager] came out and won the European f***ing cup [beating favourites Inter Milan 2-1 in 1967] which made us maybe think, 'We could be a winner from here'."
He was born on July 9, 1959, in Glasgow's Toryglen Estate (of Irish descent, his grandparents, he says, emigrated from Ireland to Glasgow). His mother, Irene, was a machinist in a factory making army clothes. His dad, Jimmy, was a brickie's labourer. He remembers that his parents took in a local kid and looked after him for years.
He can also remember his friend Barney listening to Kraftwerk and learning Russian to be a bit different. That certainly did the trick. Barney's dad came into the bedroom one day while they were listening to some out-of-kilter Krautrock -- "Baader Meinhof punk bands" Jim recalls -- and frantically swotting up Russian, and told the young teens: "I know what you two are!"
Jim and Barney waited to be told. "You are spies. And you are poofs!"
Jim met a fella by the name of Charlie Burchill when he was eight. Charlie's family were from the south side of Glasgow. Charlie's mother knew Jim's mother. The Kerr family had moved there from the Gorbals to these high-rise concrete flats where Charlie and Jim met and formed a bond that would last all their lives.
"Charlie and I wanted to be Kafka! We wanted to be Baudelaire! But we were housing-estate kids. But we didn't know that we had a limiting working-class thing. It was before drugs and heroin hit Glasgow. There was just hash. There wasn't a seedy side and no one was dying."
The only dying was Jim's hair colour. Jim and Charlie Burchill are the only two original members left of the group that formed in late 1977. "We went hitchhiking when we were 17 to see The Sex Pistols. We ended up going all around Europe. We wanted to see the world. I think we've always been restless," he adds. "That's why I think I live in Sicily now and Charlie lives in Rome," Jim says.
The star has lived with his Japanese girlfriend Yumi in Taormina for almost a decade. Jim recalls that he first went to Sicily with his school when he was 14. It was then, he says, that he discovered: "The world was in colour -- the Glasgow of my childhood wasn't the vibrant city it is today."
The Scottish Sunday Herald in 2000 estimated Kerr's personal wealth as £40m. Despite the relative hardship of his childhood in Scotland, Jim more than made up for it in his latter years in terms of glamour.
In 1984, he married the lead singer of The Pretenders, Chrissie Hynde, after she'd left Kinks singer, Ray Davies. Their marriage lasted six years and in 1992 Jim married English actress Patsy Kensit. She divorced him in 1996 and married Liam Gallagher of Oasis. Jim has a 17-year-old, James, by Patsy and a 24-year-old daughter, Yasmin, by Chrissie.
His eyes light up in delight when I point out to him that someone recently told the Daily Mail: "Jim was the right man at the wrong time for Patsy, and they both know that. They know too much about each other to go back, but they get on brilliantly."
"That's a really interesting thing to hear you say it. Someone said something recently about when you fall in love with people -- I think it is what you can do for them, that makes you feel good. And that is part of it as well," he adds. "With both my wives, I think at the time I met them, ... I'd hate to make myself sound stoic and pragmatic ... I think I brought something a bit concrete. Chrissie had lost her confidence. I reminded her how great she was. Chrissie is 10 years older than me."
I tell him she is a cougar. "But what a cougar," he laughs.
Jim met both his wives in and around hotel elevators: one waiting for an elevator and the other in an actual elevator. Patsy was in an elevator in Madrid when Jim got in at his floor. He couldn't believe his eyes, he says, because only the previous month he had seen her picture in a magazine and told someone: "I'm going to give her one."
"I'd never met her. I don't normally say things like that but there you are. She was filming a movie and we were doing a video. It was the reverse of Chrissie because she [Patsy] was 10 years younger than me. She told me she was five weeks already in Madrid filming and she was bored. We went out for dinner. A year and a half later we got married."
He says he is still close friends with both his ex-wives and has regular lunches with them both. "I am seeing Chrissie on Sunday for dinner," he says, "and I just talked to Patsy."
Being friends with significant ex-partners is a trick that a lot of men, however modern or urbane they think themselves, find difficult to master psychologically. Jim credits his success in this matter with his father.
"I learned it all from him," he says, adding that three years ago, he had Christmas dinner together with Chrissie, Patsy and girlfriend Yumi. "They all got on like a house on fire," he says, "They all had a few pot shots at me as well."
What's the worst thing they said about him? "That I was never there," he says with a laugh. "Which I wasn't. Timing is a whole other thing. You would say: 'What's the point in being married and not being there?' But I said to them: 'You knew I wouldn't be there. You make hay while the sun shines.' You can't say to the band the kids are, you know... well, maybe you can!" he laughs. "I know, what is the point in being together and not being together?"
He lived in Dublin from 1992 to 1995. "Bono found us a house up in Killiney," he says -- as you do.
"At that period I had got married to Patsy Kensit and she liked Ireland. It was just paradise to her. But I have known Ireland. We came as kids to Bray in the Sixties for four years on the trot. And Killiney didn't feel a million miles from Scotland. I thought I wouldn't mind my kids growing up in Ireland, but in the end it wasn't to work out."
His daughter Yasmin has a tattoo on her arm: the Latin phrase "sero sed serio". It roughly translates as "late, but in earnest". It could in fairness be about her father's band. After so many years on the go, through many troughs and peaks -- when their Don't You (Forget About Me) appeared on the soundtrack for The Breakfast Club movie in 1985 the band became huge worldwide -- the last decade, give or take a few years, was one of creeping irrelevance.
Thankfully, Simple Minds are close enough to hip again. Bands are now acknowledging Simple Minds songs such as Promised You A Miracle as moments in music that inspired them.
"My daughter was telling me the other day about Bloc Party raving about us on the TV. That is good to hear. James from the Manic Street Preachers also said some good things recently."
I ask Jim how he sees the continued success of his contemporaries like U2 and Depeche Mode. "It's good. The climate is more welcoming. We're suddenly back in," he laughs. "All it takes is someone to drop your name as an influence. Franz Ferdinand? My kids say to me: 'Look, he is going the same as you, dad!'"
Asked if he ever thought the band would have lasted over three decades, the one-time apprentice plumber turned multimillionaire smiles and says that Simple Minds came out of the remains of a punk band -- Johnny and the Self-Abusers -- so "if we had made it then to the end of the summer in 1976 it would have been an achievement. It wasn't about career or long-term plans. But from the first gig, chaos, I felt this is great fun. We were a school band."
They were initially derided by some critics as being a Yellow Pack derivative of Roxy Music and David Bowie. Not that it matters now after 20 Top 20 hits, 30 million records sold, five number one albums, a number one single in America and an epochal appearance at Live Aid in 1985 -- the band's surreal performance of Don't You (Forget About Me) at the Philadelphia leg of the show was considered one of the best of the day.
He and Charlie must get on to have been together for over 30 years?
"We live in separate parts of Italy," he laughs, "But we are not that unlike though. We pass at midnight: he is going out and I'm going to bed. He is into the darker arts. He is a night man. I'm up at the crack of dawn," Jim says with a smile, adding that he doesn't drink alcohol, which officially makes him "Scotland's only non-drinker".
It also makes him laugh, he says, that once upon a time, some people listening to the radio actually mistook Bono's voice on certain U2 songs as his. Jim must have been drinking.
Simple Minds play the O2, Dublin on December 9. Special guests on the night are OMD