Tuesday 24 October 2017

Simple Minds unplug the stadium sound

Still alive and kicking after 40 years on the go, Scottish demi-gods Simple Minds have left their electronic roots behind for pastures acoustic

Golden oldies Simple Minds are playing Dublin this June
Golden oldies Simple Minds are playing Dublin this June
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

In 1982, New Musical Express's resident guru Paul Morley wrote of Simple Minds as "post-ABBA". Rather than taking it as a damning criticism, Simple Minds's resident guru Jim Kerr, years later, saw that comment as part of the mythology around the music of the band and the British music press in particular who fed that mythology.

"The music papers could articulate a feeling in the air. John Peel could play your records, which was great, but then the papers put a context around it. Also, the Morleys of the world helped create this narrative around it."

Whatever about post-ABBA, in 2016 Simple Minds went post-electric. Their direction took a camp-fire turn with the album Acoustic. With Mojo magazine dubbing it a tad melodramatically their "best album in 30 years", Acoustic featured a tambourine-heavy re-working of Promised You A Miracle, a mandolin mash-up of New Gold Dream plus a folked-up Don't You (Forget About Me).

Simple Minds are now bringing that stripped-back performance to the Olympia Theatre in Dublin for two shows (and the Waterfront in Belfast) in a few months. It will be a sort of homecoming for Jim, who lived in Dublin with his then wife Patsy Kensit from 1992 to 1995.

"I have known Ireland," he told me. "We came as kids to Bray in the 1960s for four years on the trot. And Killiney didn't feel a million miles from Scotland.

"Bono found us a house up in Killiney," Jim continued, not adding that Daniel Lanois once said about the making of 1984 U2 album The Unforgettable Fire: "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 The Unforgettable Fire with Brian Eno, said in reference to Simple Minds's iconic fifth album released in late 1982. "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."

Kerr said that one of his all-time favourite lines was from Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo: ''Only dreamers can move mountains." Kerr added that dreamers have got a bad reputation, because people say dreamers never do anything.

"You need courage to dream," declared Kerr, who was born on July 9, 1959, in Glasgow's Toryglen Estate, to Jimmy (a brickie's labourer) and Irene (a machinist in a factory making army clothes).

Jim recalled how his friend Barney listened to Kraftwerk and learned Russian "to be different". One day Barney's dad came into the bedroom while the two teens were listening to some "Baader Meinhof punk bands" and while Barney was pointedly talking Russian...

"I know what you two are!" he roared. "You are spies!" the exasperated dad told young Jim and Barney.

As for Jim and Charlie - Charlie Burchill, the guitarist in Simple Minds - they met when Jim was eight. Charlie's mother knew Jim's mother; Charlie's family were from the south side of Glasgow; 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 hit Glasgow."

It was before Simple Minds hit the world. Don't you forget about them.

Simple Minds play the Olympia in Dublin on June 7 and 8

Sunday Independent

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