Eighties band Simple Minds are back on the road again. Duncan Seaman talks to front man Jim Kerr about the band’s long career.
Formed in the white heat of punk rock and New Wave yet raised on glam, prog and electronic pop, Simple Minds became perhaps the ultimate band of the MTV generation with their worldwide hit Don’t You (Forget About Me), en route to stadium-filling superstardom.
Yet exactly which phase of the Glasgow band’s career you identify with is a divisive issue within the millions who’ve bought their records over the past 35 years.
It’s a point acknowledged by Jim Kerr, their frontman through thick and thin over three-and-a-half decades, as the band gears up for a greatest hits tour.
Critical reverence is generally reserved for a quintet of albums that Simple Minds recorded in the flush of youth, between 1979 and 1982. Yet the records that the public bought by the lorryload were Sparkle in the Rain, Once Upon a Time and Street Fighting Years, came later. These were albums in which the band favoured a grander sound and a more politicised outlook than before.
“I don’t think we lost anything; I think we changed,” reflects Kerr, now 53, on Simple Minds’ transition from cult act to stadium rockers.
“It’s one of the things about Simple Minds – people would say which Simple Minds? The art rock? Electronic? Post-punk? The pop? The political? We even did folk music with Belfast Child.
“I don’t think we lost something; we added. When you do that there is a loss of innocence.”
Simple Minds’ forthcoming Academy Group tour is the second stage in a masterplan to reposition the band for the 21st century. Shows last year focused on their first five albums – Life in a Day, Empires and Dance, Real to Real Cacophony, Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call and New Gold Dream (81, 82, 83, 84) – reissued in the corresponding box set 5x5. Now come the big hits.
“It was the second part of the plan, really,” says Kerr. “A few years ago we got new management and a new relationship with our record company.
“Our whole catalogue had not been worked on for some time. As we were simultaneously working on new stuff we thought we should refresh [older] things with new sleeves, remastering.”
Retracing those old steps has clearly been an interesting exercise for Kerr and long-time band mates Charlie Burchill and Mel Gaynor.
“I think the band is special,” Kerr recognises. “Those early albums, I don’t think any of them reached perfection but there was a lot of great imagination going on.
“It was enforced bravery – we did not know who we were, really. We had to investigate – in doing that, a lot of gems were uncovered.
“It was an interesting period in the band. We did five albums in two and a half years. As I recall, we seemed to be touring all the time. There was a creative energy and a physical energy in the band.
“We were one of the few bands of a new generation coming up. A lot of people liked it. Fast forward to us being on MTV five times a day, our records were being sold in Tesco, I can see why for some people it’s no longer for them.”
Performing songs such as I Travel and Sweat in Bullet for the first time in years was refreshing.
“Some of them I knew it was going to be fun [to perform again] but I really did not think we would connect as well after this time as we did,” says Kerr.
“Some of them are like an old jacket I would not wear any more or would not fit.
“We knew it was an exercise in nostalgia when we did that. You can’t go back, that was then, this is now. The emphasis was to conjure up those times.
“Thanks to the band, I think a pretty good job was done.”
In 35 years in the music business, Simple Minds have witnessed considerable changes that have revolutionised the industry, yet, at heart, they remain true to themselves. “It’s amazing the things we’ve seen come and go,” Kerr says.
“One of the things about us is, fundamentally, we never change. We look for a melody, look for words, we play it live, take it around the world.
“It’s great to have at least two things that are continual.”
April 13, O2 Academy Leeds, Cookridge Street, 7pm, £42.18. 0844 477 2000. www.ticketweb.co.uk
The band that music fans did not forget about
Simple Minds produced a number of critically acclaimed albums in the early 1980s and are best known for their No 1 hit single Don’t You (Forget About Me), from the soundtrack of the John Hughes film The Breakfast Club. They are also known for the No 3 US hit single Alive and Kicking and the No 1 hit Belfast Child.
In 1986, the band was nominated for the Brit Award for Best British Group. The band has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide. Significant former members include bass guitarist Derek Forbes and keyboard player Michael MacNeil.