Interview: Simple Minds
PUBLISHED: 09:32 03 May 2013 | UPDATED: 09:32 03 May 2013
They’ve come a long way since Glasgow’s small Mars Bar club; what hasn’t changed is their mission to be the best live band around. WAYNE SAVAGE talks to Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that people say to me - what Simple Minds are you talking about? The avant-garde, the art-rock, the pop, the ambient, the instrumental group, the political, the folk, the stadium band? We’ve been on one hell of a journey. To play all those different styles but at the same time be quintessentially Simple Minds is an amazing thing,” says Kerr.
Sound-scrapers, sound-shapers, soundtrack makers and serial chart-toppers; a lot’s changed since their early days at the Mars Bar in Glasgow, or when he and childhood friend and future Simple Minds guitarist Charlie Burchill used to sneak into the Glasgow Apollo to catch Lou Reed or Genesis; that’s when they weren’t hitch-hiking around the UK, following cult groups Van Der Graaf Generator and Doctors of Madness in the mid-1970s.
“The one thing that’s never changed through the years with Simple Minds is we enjoy playing live and going wherever that takes us,” says Kerr.
That includes a sell-out date at the UEA and at Newmarket Racecourse on June 21; part of their greatest hits tour. The band are celebrating 35 years with new greatest hits collection Celebrate, which includes new tracks Broken Glass Park and Blood Diamonds.
“We were brought up in Glasgow and as teenagers there really wasn’t much to do outside of football and stuff; but one of the things we loved was when bands would come to town. Charlie and myself and would go and see everybody, whoever we could.
“We always knew the bands that, as you say, put on a show. They somehow made you feel the gig you went to was the only one on the tour. Some bands come through and you can see they’re good but there’s an element of going through the motions and we never wanted to be like that.
“For the audience it’s the only night... they’re not going to see you in Amsterdam next week and they don’t care about you being in Manchester the previous night; tonight’s the night and the band should feel like that as well.”
It’s been a hell of a 35 years for the band, who have influenced acts as diverse as the Manic Street Preachers to Moby, been sampled by the likes of Nicky Minaj and Freddy Bastone and provided memorable movie moments for directors such as Cameron Crowe and, most memorably, John Hughes.
“People ask us ‘back then, did you think it would last this long’? Of course not, when you’re 16, 17, 18 you can’t see past the end of the month; you’re pretty much in the moment. If you’d asked us back then ‘what do you want to get out of this’ I think we would have said it’d be great to be in it for the long haul.”
Their back catalogue is brimming with hits; my favourite remains Don’t You (Forget About Me), from Hughes’ The Breakfast Club.
“That was an amazing thing to be involved with. That song became, as well as others, the song of a generation. I think last year in America it was like the 14th most played UK song on the radio. When you think of all the bands of our generation - and there are some great ones, from the police to Dire Straits, U2, etc - for that record... it’s almost doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to the people who grew up with it.”
Among Kerr’s best memories though is being the first to commit to the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium in 1988, an event for which they wrote Mandela Day, included on Street Fighting Years the following year.
“There’ve been so many (great moments), Live Aid, the first time you play Wembley, all that stuff; how could we ever forget them - they’re not iconic for nothing. However the Mandela concerts (they also played at the Freedom Concert on his release and his 90th birthday tribute) were something apart. We always think at some point down the road, when we’re sitting in the garden growing tomatoes as really old men, we can look back and see what things would make us proud.
““I’m so glad we had the balls (to do them) because you got criticism,” says Kerr, who remembers being branded left-wing, rock and roll reprobates by one of the tabloids of the time for taking part.
“For us it was the right thing to do. It’s different now, everyone thinks Mandela is arguably the most popular man on the planet. Back then there was a polarity, the British government at the time was still sort of pro-maintaining apartheid. He was still being promoted as a terrorist, a prisoner, this mysterious man.
“I remember when Mandela was eventually released and came to London for the first time. There was a celebratory concert for him and he talked to about a dozen artists in the room. He said something that’s stuck with me ever since. ‘When we were in Robben Island, when there was no voice allowed, we could always feel and hear the voice of the artists, and it gave us great sustenance. I thought ‘wow’. If Mandela says it, then that’s good enough for me.
Kerr, Burchill, Mel Gaynor, Andy Gillespie and Ged Grimes are also celebrating the last 35 years with new greatest hits collection Celebrate, which includes new tracks Broken Glass Park and Blood Diamonds.
Deciding what to include and what not too is difficult.
“We all have input but we listen to the record companies, the management, a couple of the main fan groups. It’s a great problem to have. When we play live there’s probably about 10-12 songs we play every night, foundations of the set. Then the other eight-10 we chop and change, we try to never make any consecutive gig the same.
“It keeps it fresh for us and if we’re feeling fresh the audience will the feel that. Broken Glass Park has been air-listed on some of the major radio stations and it’s been said it reminds people a lot of those iconic songs of Simple Minds.”
Which brings us to the local gigs. “I think some of the guys will (bet at Newmarket), if I did have a flutter it would be the first time in my life. We’ve worked with a few bands, crew, who’ve done the race gigs and all we’ve heard is good things, it’ll be a first time for us.”
“Please come and see us; we’d be delighted, hand on heart. The band is in spectacular form and we’ll play all the big songs you expect to hear, hopefully a few surprises as well.
“When we started Simple Minds, our objective was to be considered as one of the great live bands. A band that had the desire to go all around the world – playing everywhere and anywhere. That challenge is ongoing and we’ll be giving it 100%.”
■ Simple Minds play the UEA tonight. They will also be performing at Newmarket Racecourse on June 21
■ Celebrate: Greatest Hits is out now
■ Further listening: simpleminds.com
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