The hour might be early by the standards of most rock stars but Jim Kerr is in a warm and genial mood. After a barren decade his band Simple Minds are enjoying a career renaissance aided by a change of strategy suggested by their management.
First came an attempt to reconnect with their original fanbase and critics alike by performing the fondly regarded five albums that the band released between 1979 and 1982 live. Months later followed a Greatest Hits + tour that initially focused on intimate venues then expanded to arenas. Finally, last autumn, they released a new album, Big Music, that was greeted with their best reviews – and strongest airplay – since the early 1990s.
Today 55-year-old Kerr happily reflects on a job well done. “I think you can say the band played a blinder there,” he chuckles. “If you had said five years ago that Simple Minds would be getting an award from Q or a mention in the NME saying you must listen to all that stuff it would have seemed highly unlikely. It’s been great to have this fantastic momentum.
“We were all getting excited when we met up in Glasgow last week to rehearse for the European tour. It’s a great time to be in the band.”
Like a few of his contemporaries, Kerr admits he’d begun to write off the popular appetite for albums as a thing of the past. “I think we all gave up, thinking people don’t want to listen to new stuff, that we’re never going to be on the radio, that we hadn’t got the time or the energy we had when we were 22. Simple Minds needed that commitment both live and on the record to make absolutely clear that not only had we got our mojo back but the blood was pumping in our veins again. That seems to be what’s coming across.”
He bursts into laughter. “I’m getting a big head here, I can feel it swell,” he says. “Don’t worry, it’ll all go pear-shaped soon enough.”
Harking back to classic albums such as Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call for the 5x5 Live shows clearly galvanised Simple Minds. “I knew we would enjoy it and we really did,” says Kerr. “It was full of surprises.”
Far from feeling mere nostalgia for the old songs, he found their “fresh and contemporary” sound something to build on in their new material. As a consequence the band seems to have regained a sense of urgency lacking in post-Millennium fare such as Cry and Black & White 050505. Kerr cites the fact that “we’ve made music the central core of our lives again now the kids are all grown up” as an important factor in Simple Minds’ rejuvenation. He points out that in the last ten years “we’ve never stopped working and writing”.
“Being a working band, the momentum of that has brought us back to where we are right now. It has a core relation to everything else in life,” he explains.
A key track on Big Music is the song Honest Town. Kerr wrote the lyric in memory of his late mother, Irene.
“So many Simple Minds songs are about journeys or travels but the song Honest Town is about a specific journey; it was sad but beautiful,” says the singer, recalling that shortly before she died four years ago, his mother “came bounding down the stars” and asked him to drive her into Glasgow. Although his father protested that there was heavy snow on the ground and “they’d said on the radio and television that no one should go out”, his mother insisted, saying she wanted to “get clothes for the Christmas dance from Marks and Sparks”.
Kerr recalls: “The drive into town happened to be past so many landmarks of her and my life – where we grew up, where she married my Dad, where she worked as a factory girl. She was warbling away. She said, ‘Glasgow is an honest town, I’ve loved my life here’. She was making peace with her whole life. I didn’t realise that at the time, but I remembered the phrase ‘honest town’. It was such a pleasurable thing for me to do and to hear how much she loved life.”
Through thick and thin, the most enduring facet of Simple Minds’ career has been the friendship between Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill. Kerr admits while he briefly contemplated calling it a day a few years ago, his pal of more than 45 years always shakes his head whenever the question of them splitting up is brought up in interviews.
“There was a point for me, it may have lasted over a weekend – there did not seem to be any energy or impetus of creativity,” Kerr explains. “But they say that the hour before the dawn is the darkest. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you get a grip.”
The singer sees their friendship within a “classic tradition of British bands of our era” who met at school, college or art school. “Separately it does not add up to that much but together it’s very potent.”
Their shared enthusiasm for the band – “There’s nothing else we wanted to do with our lives” – is clearly infectious.
“You have to be a type,” he says, “to put your life on hold for the next five months. But what’s not to like? We have to be in Lisbon next week.
“Some people fall out of love with it, they get bored or it does not suit them, whereas here we are, we feel enthused with the album and with the live show as well. The challenge gets us up and running into rehearsals early.”
Such is the spirit within the camp at the moment Kerr can envisage the band going on into their sixties. “Our diary is pretty booked up over the next few years, we’ll be gigging until I’m 60. Anyway they say 60 is the new 40,” he smiles. “It’s going well so I don’t see why not.”
n Simple Minds play at Bridlington Spa on April 4 and Sheffield City Hall on April 12.