’Don’t You (Forget About Jim)’
Best known in the U.S. for their 1985 number one hit ‘Don't You (Forget About Me)’ from the film ‘The Breakfast Club,’ Scotland's Simple Minds have evolved from a post-punk art rock band influenced by Roxy Music into a grand, epic-sounding pop band along the lines of U2. Growing out of a Glasgow punk group called ‘Johnny and the Self-Abusers,’ guitarist Charlie Burchill and lead singer Jim Kerr quickly put together the band Simple Minds in 1978. Their early efforts leapt from one style to another with albums such as Life in a Day, Real to Real Cacophony and the Eurodisco of Empires and Dance laying the foundations.
The group began a transition to a more accessible pop style with the albums Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call, originally issued together and subsequently split up. New Gold Dream became their first chart album in the U.S., but then their tour-shy drummer McGee quit to eventually be replaced by Mel Gaynor. Following the Steve Lillywhite-produced Sparkle in the Rain, Jim Kerr married Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde.
Once Upon a Time was next up and went gold reaching the U.S. Top Ten. A live album and the uncompromisingly political Street Fighting Years squandered Simple Minds' commercial momentum, however and it wasn’t until 1991's Real Life that personnel changes and audience loss left the group's future viability in doubt. But Kerr and Burchill were not to be deterred and in 1995 Good News From the Next World was brought forth. A short tour of North America soon followed, but Simple Minds' direction also quickly faded and so taking a break they waited until 1998 to release Neapolis, but that too wasn't critically acclaimed. Kerr and Burchill then signed to Eagle Records in early 2001 and constructed their first covers album, Neon Lights and in the summer of 2002 issued, Cry, Simple Minds' first batch of new material since 1995's Good News From the Next World.
Catching up with Jim Kerr after a recent show in Michigan I first wondered what it was that maintained his thirst for the stage after nearly 25 long years. ”The stage can be a barrier like anything else, but if you can get rid of it as a barrier it’s so much more. I think music is a great thing, but is only music. And certainly without the audience it’s pointless.”
But after nearly 25 years what’s the secret ? ”I don’t know if it’s so much a secret. I think it’s a desire. A desire that’s never been completely fulfilled. I’ve always enjoyed making music, for the most part ‘cause at different times you’re more connected than at others, but I guess it’s still what we enjoy the best. Another thing is that the time has just gone so fast. It’s very hard to believe that it’s twenty-five years, it is. But I guess we’re still passionate about the next song and every time a new idea comes off it and in that moment you don’t think about twenty-five years. But you think about the songs you’ve just written and not about particular successes or failures. You’re just very in the moment and we still enjoy that.”
You’ve just released Cry after a long four year gap and now I hear that you’re already onto the next album ! ”Yeah, you’re right it was a long hiatus, or whatever you wanna call it, but the good side of that was that not only did we recharge, but when we came to work on Cry the ideas were like a torrent. Everything was fertile again so we actually left Cry not with the tank empty, but with so many ideas. In fact some of the most exciting ideas were held back and that’s why we’re confident that with these ideas in store that it certainly won’t be the same gap again.”
Tell me more about the collaborations with Planet Funk for Cry ”Well, I live half the time in Italy and the whole electronic dance thing is huge in Italy. A lot of house music and a lot of them have through the years discovered our catalogue and so it’s really them – and I don’t mean this arrogantly – but it’s really them that have beaten a path to our door. And in the case of Planet Funk we were so keen to work with them, ‘cause originally I was going to do something for their album; and indeed I did do a track with them, but while I was there I asked them if they had anything that would be good for me ? They said that they were kinda embarrassed that they had this one tune that was a real Simple Minds rip-off, but after I’d heard it of course I identified with it instantly. I didn’t think it was a rip-off. I thought it was definitely coming out of the cultural dance like us, but it was interesting that we had to go outside us to probably find the most Simple Minds of tracks.”
Simple Minds – where did the name originate ? ”A David Bowie song, ‘Jean Genie.’ Bowie and Roxy Music, Peter Gabriel were really big influences on us, but particularly Bowie when I was a kid and when Charlie was a kid. His influence cast a long, long shadow on the band. So, he has a song called’ Jean Genie’ and there’s a lyric in the song that mentions something about Simple Minds.”
Steve Lillywhite produced Sparkle In The Rain which proved a huge commercial success. Was he the turning point for the band ? ”Not really, because New Gold Dream was really our first successful album just before it. If anything, Lillywhite gave us a more rock feel. New Gold Dream was the thing that in some places took us out of the pop charts and we started writing more sculptured songs and on the back of that success we started playing much bigger venues. And I think, naturally playing those bigger venues and playing constantly the band became more of a rock band And I think Lillywhite either enhanced that or brought it to the forefront. But, we liked him a lot.”
Tell me more about your first punk band with Charlie, ‘Johnny and the Self-Abusers’ ! ”Yeah, it was the first one for the both of us. We loved live bands and we always wanted to be in a band that would get out and play live, but we never had the confidence until the whole punk movement came. What I loved about the punk thing was that it was less the music and more the attitude and the spirit that anyone could give it a go. Up until then to play live you felt you had to be technically efficient and a virtuoso and the whole punk thing of just getting up and thrashing away was highly appealing. It was summer of madness and a summer of drinking a lot of cheap wine and along with some friends from school we formed this band ‘Johnny and the Self-Abusers.’ But it only lasted a few months, but we recorded one single which was probably the best thing about ‘Johnny and the Self-Abusers’ ! Timing was everything, because we split the day the single was released which the record company couldn’t have been very happy about that ! But, ‘Johnny and the Self-Abusers’ was a great catalyst for us and actually gave us the courage to get on stage and Charlie and I thought wouldn’t it be great to really take this somewhat more serious.”
Describe yourself in 3 words ”Restless, passionate and moody.”
Sum up in one word your memories of making these hit singles:
‘Promised You A Miracle’ - ”Euphoria”
‘Alive And Kicking’ - ”Confidence”
‘Sanctify Yourself’ - ”Good fun”
‘Up On The Catwalk’ - ”Bravado”
‘The American’ - ”Cool”
‘Belfast Child’ - ”Emotional”
Are you still in touch with Amnesty Int’l ? ”Not in a public sense, but I’m still a member.”
‘Don’t’ You (Forget About Me)’ was your biggest hit, but what’s the story behind it’s origins ? ”We were very, very reluctant to do it because we – as you may know – in the UK we don’t have this thing called detention and this whole ‘Breakfast Club’ was about American kids in detention. And we didn’t get it ! But what we did get was we liked Keith Fosse and we told him that he was cool and a nice guy, but we didn’t want to do a song. We didn’t want to do something that our hearts were not in and he said just to give him an afternoon. And that’s all it took. We had the demo and as a band we had all the breakdown’s and arrangements prior to going in, but the ‘la-la-la’s’ were meant to be temporary ! I was meant to write words to go with the melody, but Fosse was like ‘over my dead body’ ! And it turned out to be a great move.”
Do you have a fav album of yours ? ”No, they’re all disappointments,” he laughs, ”but having said that it was our best shot and I’m proud of them. You know, everything you do you say, God, that could have been better and indeed they could have been better. That was us at the time and I still think that in general there’s flaws in all of them.”
Is there a song you would love never to play again ? ”I’m not in that mode when I go and play. When I play live we’re of service and that’s my attitude. I’m not playing for me when I play live, I’m playing for them.”
Describe your music in 3 words ’Ah, that’s your job,” he laughs again. ”You’re the journalist. That’s your job and it’s just my job to make it.”
What truly makes you believe that you should still be up there singing after 25 years ? ”I just except now that this is what I do. Why does a shark swim ? It’s what it does.”
But how will you know that point when the end has finally come ? ”When you’re not enjoying it so therefore your heart’s not in it and you’re not connected to it. There was a point like that maybe three or four years ago and that’s one of the reasons for this gap. But we didn’t quit, but we took a step back rather than go on autopilot or go through the motions. And I didn’t even know if it was gonna come back and I was surprised that there was no panic. I was kinda accepting it. You know, it’s not always there. It’s not on tap, but I think that’s it, when you’re no longer bothered with it. That’ll be it.”
Chatting with Charlie quickly after the gig, I first asked him where his inspiration came from to still be part of the band after 25 long years. ”I think it’s because it’s some kinda inherent thing, I think. You know, there weren’t too many roads to escape where we came from, because it was industrial so it was usually soccer and music. But we grew up with music in our blood really. Our older brothers would just have great album collections lying around, so it was really only the most natural thing that we knew and I think that’s the bottom line. That’s what we are. We’re musicians. It’s the best thing on the planet.”
Ah, but is it better than sex ?! ”No, no it’s not,” he laughs.
Finally, what does Simple Minds mean to you ? ”Everything”
Interview and live concert photography by Russell A. Trunk
For more information on the band check out their web site at:
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