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INTERVIEW – Jim Kerr, Simple Minds – November 2014

| 29 November 2014 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Jim Kerr, Simple Minds – November 2014
By Shane Pinnegar

To some, Simple Minds will always be synonymous with the ‘80s Bratpack movie The Breakfast Club, and the theme song that they performed, Don’t You Forget About Me. To Jim Kerr, though, the band is forever evolving and is a relevant force to be reckoned with, with new album – their 16th! – Big Music just released, a recent retrospective box set and a host of artists like Primal Scream and Manic Street Preachers citing them as a key inspiration.

Simple Minds Jim Kerr 01

In Britain last month, Q Magazine bestowed their prestigious ‘Q Inspiration to Music’ Award upon the band, presented by James Dean Bradfield of Manic Street Preachers. Kerr is noticeably humbled by the attention, and thrilled with the response Big Music has received thus far.

“Yes. Shaking my head in disbelief!” he laughs warmly. “In the past we’ve had albums that had good reviews, but I can honestly say that I don’t think that we’ve had an album that’s had such comprehensively good reviews. So that’s… you know, I would rather have that than not have it.”

The last five or ten years have seen a dramatic reappraisal of the band’s work, during which they’ve gone from being viewed as ‘just another ‘80’s band’ to elder statesmen, of sorts.

“Yeah, indeed,” says the Scottish singer. “I mean, that was probably summed up best a couple of weeks ago when we were given [that] prestigious award… in London at the Q Awards. Basically a lot of acts over the last few years have been claiming Simple Minds have influenced them. It’s not something I could have seen happening, if you’d asked me four or five years ago.”

Simple Minds - '80s style

Simple Minds – ’80s style

Kerr says he finds the suggestion that the acknowledgment was way overdue to be laughable.

“No, it’s not for me to say it’s overdue,” he insists. “You know, [I’d] be a prat if I said that. But there had been an increasing amount of, suddenly seeing your name around a lot more than you used to, and there had been a sort of momentum. But it was still a surprise, nevertheless.

“James [Dean Bradfield] from Manic Street Preachers, God, he is really fought our corner – he really stuck up for Simple Minds. In years when no-one in the UK media seemed to agree with him! But yeah, I mean the coolest thing for me, with Manic Street Preachers – my own daughters, they’re huge Manic Street Preachers fans, and [after hearing Bradfield sing the bands praises] for the first time ever, suddenly took notice of Simple Minds!”

Simple Minds had released five albums before their first big hits Promised You A Miracle and Glittering Prize, in 1982. Up until that point they’d been unfairly labelled a ‘lesser U2’, or lumped in with the post punk New Wave movement, but the truth is that their early albums were unique, experimental, exploratory works of art. Kerr affably concedes the point.

“Thank you very much, for saying [that] about the earlier stuff. I think the guys that I’ve worked with, the guys in the band, I think they have amazing imagination, on those first albums. They were ahead of their time.

“And as for the other stuff, well, it was great that a couple years ago, a book came out about the making of The Unforgettable Fire by U2 – who I love. Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, who produced those albums, talk about how when they met the band, they had been listening to [our] album New Gold Dream, and wanted to get a bit of those textures and stuff like that, so I think there was a lot of cross pollination between different bands at that time.”

Simple Minds 01

When the hits did start coming, Simple Minds – more than almost anyone else of the era – seemed to master delivering irresistible pop songs with arena rock production and power. It’s a rare gift.

“Oh, when people talk about Simple Minds, I always think, you know, ‘which Simple Minds are you talking about?’ Are you talking about the early days one? Are you talking about the big MTV years? Are you talking about the pop stuff? Are you talking about the politic stuff of Mandela Day and Belfast Child? I mean, there’s really been a lot of Simple Minds within Simple Minds, and yet it’s always the identities, maintained so, I mean, that comes down to use have a very wide eclectic musical taste, but it also goes back to the fact, again, that those guys could play those different styles and pull it off.

“And so, you know, we should not be so disappointed if people like a certain state of Simple Minds, but not another state of Simple Minds, or tuned into a part of the story and tuned out to another part of the story. I mean, I could see why that could happen.

“But, listen, if I get into a taxi and the taxi driver goes, ‘oh, you’re the guy in Simply Red?’ And I go, ‘no…’” he laughs, “and he goes, ‘I love you. You’re in Simple Minds,’ I go, ‘yeah,’ and he goes, ‘I love you, I love Don’t You Forget About Me.’ I go, ‘great, what else do you like?’ and he goes, “I don’t know!’”

Kerr laughs again, genuinely amused and, we suspect, happy that anyone is listening to any of his work at all. “Do I love that guy? Yes I do. He doesn’t owe us anything. If you even [only] like one song, that’s cool.”

Simple Minds Jim Kerr 03

The singer is supremely zen about many people knowing only a small period of his life’s work, agreeing with earnest that “we really have” come to grips with that side of fame in the music business. With sixteen albums full of songs – art he co-created – out there, it must be hard to deal with as an artist when a large part of your audience only wants to hear the big hits from decades ago.

“It’s a great challenge to have, you know?” he says, amused. “I would rather have that than be struggling, like ‘oh, we’ve only got four good songs.’ And what we’ve been doing is, first of all, we play songs throughout our journey, and maybe let’s see, maybe there’s twelve songs we play every night. The other ten chop and change. And people come along, they’re going to hear the songs they expect to hear. For the hardcore, they’re going to hear some chestnuts they would never have thought they were going to hear.

“There’ll be some surprises in there, as well,” he continues, “maybe a cover version here or there. Whatever we’re doing, we seem to be getting it right, because we’re playing to more people than we have since the ‘80s, and people are ecstatic by the end of the night, and that challenge, and the band, the band just sounds great. That’s the challenge we have every night. We have a laugh – the guys say, ‘this is a piece of cake,’ because we really know we’ve got the music, we’ve got the experience, we’ve got audiences to say that they pretty much love us before we’ve even played a note. All we have to do every single night is be brilliant!

“And that really is what it’s all about. Except we TRY and be brilliant! We’ve made music essential to our lives again. We’re either recording, rehearsing, sound-checking, social networking – just, you know, it’s like when we were kids, when there was nothing else in our life. What happened is that our own kids have grown up, and we have that space to do it again.”

Simple Minds 02

Big Music features twelve unmistakably Simple Minds songs on the standard edition, and a hefty eighteen on the deluxe version. There’s obviously no shortage of material, and Kerr says he’s always writing more.

“You know, the great thing is that now with gear, it’s so portable, so you can take it onto a five hour flight, or a one hour plane ride, and four hours to kill. You know, I can say that we find it, speaking of late, certain ideas you end up pulling your hair out, what you have left. But in general, you know, it’s therapeutic too. You’re working on it, and wow, [it] really sounds great, can’t wait to get to that later. So, we’re always tinkering.

“We’re always, always up to something – always, you know, always. Because, you know, creativity… I used to buy into that stuff that it’s [about receiving] the muse, you know. Either it visits you or it doesn’t. Bullshit! It’s a muscle, you’ve got to work it.”

Of the original serious line-up of Simple Minds, only Kerr and Charlie Burchill remain. Many others, in fact, have come and gone – and in some cases come back and gone again. I ask Kerr what it is about his and Burchill’s working relationship that’s endured, where all those other ones haven’t?

“You know, I could give you an impolite answer,” he laughs, “I’m so… how do I say this? There’s some guys you love to be in the trenches with, and there’s other guys… maybe not.

“Okay, that’s a more disingenious answer… a more polite answer is, ‘we’re all different, and some of us are marathon runners and some of us are sprinters.’!”

Simple Minds: Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill

We can certainly relate to that sentiment!

When pushed, Kerr can’t quite recall how many times he’s brought Simple Minds to Australia, but thinks it’s “between ten and a dozen times.”

“I would assume most artists you talk to tell you how much they love Australia and all that,” he continues, “and I don’t doubt that they’re genuine. But Australia played a huge part in Simple Minds. Australia gave us our first ever gold disc, gave us our first ever pop hit – thanks to Molly [Meldrum] and Countdown. And in doing that, it helped us believe we could be more than just a cult band. And that was a big, big deal, you know, the confidence [that] came through that.

“But apart from that, we’ve had some of the greatest times. I mean, I remember coming down to Australia for the first time. Having a snotty attitude, you know, as people from the UK would, and thinking, ‘yeah, what Australian bands?’ – who we had never heard of. But you’d hear these names [supporting you] and you’d think, ‘yeah, whatever.’ And then you’d turn up and they’d blow the socks off you! And I love [it], I love Australia. I would hope we’ll be down there, certainly by this time next year would be perfect!”

This story was originally published in edited form in X-Press Magazine’s 26 November 2014 issue

Category: Interviews

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