INTERVIEW: Jim Kerr – “40 years of Simple Minds has been beyond our wildest dreams”

Jim Kerr

On 1st November, Simple Minds will release 40: THE BEST OF – 1979-2019, a new compilation album that covers all 40 years of the legendary band Simple Minds recording career. It captures their early experimentation, cross over chart successes, right up to their new imperial phase represented by songs from 2015’s Big Music and last year’s Walk Between Worlds, which was their highest chart success in over 20 years, charting at number 4 in the UK. Mark Millar caught up with Jim Kerr to talk about the new release, the recent live album, Live in the City of Angels and next years tour. 

Simple_Minds


Walk Between Worlds
gave Simple Minds your highest chart success in over 20 years, charting at number 4 in the UK. How pleased were you at the acclaim the album received?

It was great encouragement because the album was received well everywhere. For the last two or three albums, there’s been a lot of support coming our way. We felt it was a fully-fledged record and we put a lot into it, and we hoped people would feel as good about it as we did. The things that people were saying about it were as we had hoped for – that it had vitality and it was energetic, and was classic, but had something new. All the boxes that you would hope to tick seemed to have materialised.

Simple Minds have released Live in the City of Angels, an album that captures Simple Minds live on their most recent tour. How was the tour for you, and why did you choose to release that particular show?

It was a spontaneous decision and a bit of an old school decision as well because one might say the idea of live albums, in general, don’t have the currency that they once had back in the day. Because now with YouTube and all that stuff you could say there is live stuff everywhere so what’s the point? The real thing was the element of surprise started with the tour itself, because we haven’t done a coast to coast tour in America for well over a decade and the reason we hadn’t done it for that long was when we were last there, it looked like it had gone – there didn’t seem to be that much demand for the band. So to get a chance to go back again, we thought, “This will be interesting, let’s see how it goes.” And the tour virtually sold out coast to coast and thirty-one dates. On that last week, it might have been absence making the heart fonder because every night was bedlam and we wanted to capture that.

As well as the fact that with Simple Minds there is always a development with the band, especially when we play live with different line ups and different arrangements and all that – it was just time to capture it and it’s obviously very much a fans thing; it’s a hardcore thing. People said, “Shall we film it as an in-concert video?” And we said, “no, let’s just do it old school style.” It’s also a nod back to our very first live album Live in the City of Light that we recorded in Paris. At various stages in our career, we have always tried to document the live thing, and we felt it was time again.

On 1st November Simple Minds will release 40: The Best Of – 1979-2019, a new compilation album that covers all 40 years of the bands recording career. Was it tough choosing the songs from such a rich catalogue?

I think its the same when it comes to playing live – it is tough, but it’s a great problem to have because as you refer to it yourself, there is that much stuff. You are trying to show the path that the band has been on through the years. You obviously are going to put in all the big songs – you’re trying to have an element of surprise, and even at the last minute we managed to put something brand new in which I think is always good as well.

One of the reasons these greatest hits albums come out every five or six years is because there is a younger audience who comes to the shows every time we tour. And it’s also a way of keeping the catalogue in good nick with good artwork and good packaging – but it’s all about the music involved. I don’t get that involved in the actual tracklisting, but the people that do seem to be getting it right.

The album includes a cover of King Creosote’s 2014 Song, For One Night Only. Why did you choose to record that song?

It’s a funny story with that because I’ve still never met King Creosote. I’ve spoken to Kenny a few times on the phone but never met him, but I’m a big fan. A few years ago we eventually, after prevaricating for decades, did this acoustic-based album. There were a few things that made us do it. Just as it was in the air, our manager said, “You should really look at this again.” We thought It would maybe work for a few tracks, but we still had our doubts. I was driving home one night, and BBC Scotland was playing a session from King Creosote where he did a cover of our song The American, and I thought it was brilliant – it was great. I thought, “We should look and see if he’s got something we should cover.” I already had a few of his albums, and there wasn’t really anything I thought Simple Minds could do.

But when he put out his album From Scotland with Love there was this track on it I thought, “That’s a Simple Minds song.” I could hear Simple Minds doing it, and when I spoke to Kenny to see if he would be cool with it – before I had a chance to put it to him, he said to me, “That’s my Simple Minds song.” He said, “I loved youse back in the day, and I love this element of the band.” I told him, “We are going to cover that song one day, but I don’t know when.” We envisaged bringing it into the live set and messed around with it a few times during soundchecks, and it sounded great but we never actually played it live. When it came to this greatest hits album, I said, “We should have one new track – a bit of a rallying call, something energetic. “And Charlie said, “What about For One Night Only?” So that’s kind of how it came to be.

Of all the songs on the compilation which one means the most to you?

There will always be a special place for Waterfront– it’s not even a song; it’s more like a poem; there are only eight lines in it. We wrote it about Glasgow where I’m speaking to you from now. So many of the songs evoke the strongest melodies going right back to the very first one Life in a Day, where it’s your first record and the first single, and you hear it on the radio and all that stuff. There’s that and the apparent connections to the bigger songs, but I think if I had to pick one, Waterfront would be my favourite.

The compilation also includes your number one UK hit Belfast Child. Can you tell me about the genesis of that song?

It’s funny – it was the most unlikely thing because I was brought up in a house where most of the music was Country. (Laughs) In Scotland and Ireland, Country music is very big, but I didn’t like any of it at all. It was my dad’s music – he used to say, “What are you doing messing around with all that electronic stuff? You should put some fiddles and accordions into your music.” And I would say to him, “That will never happen.”

And then low and behold we were working with Trevor Horn, and he always comes from an angle you would never expect. So we were working in our place in Scotland, and he said, “Have you ever thought about doing a Celtic tune?” Our keyboard player Mick MacNeil is from the islands and is steeped in Celtic music, and he was always up for it. So we decided to give it some thought, but I certainly wasn’t pushing for it. Then one night we were in the studio a few days after particularly sad events in Northern Ireland, and I went into the room after dinner and our bass player at the time who also played keyboards was playing this most haunting melody. I didn’t know what it was, but it was obviously Celtic, – I thought it was fantastic.

Before I knew it, I was thinking about images and all that stuff. In the end, when he was finished playing, I said to him, “What is that?” And he said, “Its a piece of music I’m working on.” I said,” it’s incredible when did you write that?” He said, “Hundreds of years ago.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He explained that it’s from the classic folk song, She Moved Through the Fair. So I checked out the song and all the versions and thought, “I don’t know if I can do this, can you take an old classic and contemporise it?.” I spoke to a friend of mine who is like a music historian, and he said, “That’s the very nature of folk music. Its always been handed down and people wrote new words and the songs developed.” So we took a swing at it, and had no idea even if it would be on the album, and low and behold it ends up being a number one record.

How did you feel when it hit number one?

I felt great (Laughs) it was the most unlikely thing. I thought it was a brilliant record, but it wasn’t a single in the traditional sense, and it wasn’t everyone’s taste either. I heard it again recently on the radio one night driving back, and it was playing – I thought the arrangement of it is so like Stairway to Heaven, and I didn’t know that at the time – I’m not a huge Led Zeppelin fan, but I love that song, it’s a classic. I kind of see it as our Stairway to Heaven.

To celebrate 40 iconic years in music Simple Minds will be embarking upon a major world tour in 2020. What kind of show do you have planned?

Again, I think we will be playing two sets, so we will be playing a lot of music. We are going to have to tick all the boxes that I said to you, and people will hear all the big songs you would expect, but we have got to keep our hardcore fans happy as well, and maybe play two or three songs that either they have never heard us play, never expected us to play, or haven’t heard for a long time – so we will do that. We are only just starting to think about it now, but the very title of the tour and the fact it’s forty years – it has to be all-encompassing, and again, as I was saying, it has to show us as still full of energy and vitality forty years later. We somehow have to bring the whole culture of Simple Minds into these two and a half hours.

Will the tour have the same line up as the last tour?

I think there is a lot of mileage in that lineup still – they are the greatest people, and they have brought a lot of energy. They are the ones who are feeding us just now. We have had so many great line ups, but I think right now the lineup we had in the states, there is a lot of mileage still in that.

In 40 years Simple Minds have had five UK #1 albums, topped the singles charts on both sides of the Atlantic, sold over 60 million records and packed stadiums the world over. Looking back, what have been your highlights?

I don’t know if this answers your question, but we feel blessed and feel so fortunate – we count our blessings every day. If you had said to us forty years ago when we were kids, “You are going to get a chance here, what do you want out of this?” We wouldn’t have known – we didn’t understand what forty days were like, never mind forty years. No-one knew about money or profile or rewards, or anything. I’m pretty sure the thing that we would have said to you was, “We would love to be in a great live band and get the chance to take it around the world.” To think that forty years later, we’ve had a life out of dealing with that challenge, and we are still dealing with that challenge, has been beyond our wildest dreams.

How do you spend your time when you aren’t touring or recording?

When we are not touring or recording, I do have interests. I’m still a traveller, so, I love to travel even when I’m not on tour. I love Asia particularly, so that’s a huge thing for me. Still, I also love Scotland, and I’ve almost come back in a circle again because when we were young, we thought we knew Scotland, but we didn’t – we only really knew the central belt, but I’m a hiker and walker. We have just spent the Summer here in Glasgow writing a whole bunch of new songs. People would say, “Are youse working again?” We were working, but it’s some work when you don’t even feel like calling it work – it’s like playing with a puzzle. And Charlie’s in sparkling form just now – even when we’re not working, we are working.

Will you ever return to the Lostboy project?

Yes, if I found myself with time on my hands. What happened with that was Charlie’s kids were younger than mine at that point, we had finished work, and he wanted to spend time with his young one and all that, but I was so full of creative energy – I wanted to keep writing and doing stuff, and that’s what led to Lostboy. So should that happen again, it’s almost parked waiting for that to happen. I really enjoyed that.

The last time I spoke to you, you were working on a song called Love Til You Hate Me. How did that turn out?

Pretty good – it needs to be brought up. I played it to a few people, and it got a good reaction. It’s a bit of an oddball – we haven’t got anything like it, whereas the bunch of songs we wrote in the Summer all sit well and nicely together, but sometimes it is a great song but it’s not the songs moment, and then there are other songs that you think you would never look at that again. It’s the greatest thing when you have got it playing on the laptop and stuff pops up, and you go, “What is that again?” And you kind of crack it from a distance and find what is wrong with it, and you go back and upgrade it a bit. I think Love Til You Hate Me is due an upgrade, but there is something strong there.

What artist or band would be your dream collaboration for a song or album?

I’d love to work with Kate Bush – Charlie and I were working on a track the other day called Ice, and I could hear this Kate Bush thing. I would probably change my mind every week, but I felt it would be great to have her on the song. I also think Simple Minds and Arcade Fire would work well on something.

The Simple Minds sound is always evolving, so what can we expect for the next album?

It sounds to me like a dance album, and when I say dance, I don’t mean rave. I mean Simple Minds dance, as in rhythmically, with great bass lines, similar to the period when we did Love Song – some of the new stuff to me is making me think of that. Charlie and I are excited about it – once we have got a bunch of songs and think we have the making of something, unlike the old days where we would go in and record in one go.

We kind of record three or four EPs in a sense, because that way, when it’s three or four songs, everyone can keep focus, otherwise, it starts to sprawl – whether its the producers or engineers, it all gets a bit overwhelming. So we do four sessions where we record three or four songs, and we have already done two of those sessions. The thing is we would put it out as soon as possible, but the way the industry goes, and the way promotion is, they are keen on a gap. (Laughs) The new album won’t be out next year, but it will be the year after.

SIMPLE MINDS announce 3Arena, Dublin show as part of ‘40 Years Of Hits’ Tour

40: THE BEST OF will be available on a 3CD deluxe edition, single CD, 2LP coloured vinyl and a 40-track digital format. It was remastered at the world-famous Abbey Road studios and has spectacular new art designed by long-time collaborator Stuart Crouch, featuring iconic symbols by Malcolm Garrett which represent the 40 years.

3-CD DELUXE EDITION

DISC ONE                                                                                                           

Waterfront

Love Song

I Travel

Glittering Prize

Sense of Discovery

The American

Up on The Catwalk

She’s A River

Someone Somewhere in Summertime

See the Lights

Jeweller to the Stars

War Babies

Belfast Child

 

DISC TWO                                                                                                         

Home

Magic

Promised You A Miracle

This Is Your Land

Honest Town

Glittering Prize (Acoustic)

Waterfront (Acoustic)

See the Lights (Acoustic)

Let There Be Love

New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84)

All the Things She Said

Once Upon A Time

Don’t You (Forget About Me)

 

DISC THREE                                                                                                      

Chelsea Girl

Cry

Hypnotised

Stars Will Lead the Way

For One Night Only – New Track

Theme for Great Cities

Life in A Day

Changeling

Celebrate

Blindfolded

Sanctify Yourself

Mandela Day

Speed Your Love to Me

Alive and Kicking

1-CD

Waterfront

Love Song

I Travel

Glittering Prize

Sense of Discovery

Someone Somewhere in Summertime

See the Lights

Belfast Child

Promised You A Miracle

Honest Town

Don’t You (Forget About Me)

Chelsea Girl

Hypnotised

Stars Will Lead the Way

For One Night Only – New Track

Sanctify Yourself

Mandela Day

Alive and Kicking

2-LP / 2-LP COLOURED D2C VINYL EDITION

SIDE ONE                                                                                                           

Chelsea Girl

I Travel

Love Song

Promised You A Miracle

Glittering Prize

 

SIDE TWO                                                                                                         

Someone Somewhere in Summertime

Waterfront

Don’t You (Forget About Me)

Alive and Kicking

Sanctify Yourself

 

SIDE THREE                                                                                                      

Belfast Child

Mandela Day

See the Lights

Hypnotised

 

SIDE FOUR                                                                                                       

Stars Will Lead the Way

Honest Town

Sense of Discovery

For One Night Only – New track

 

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, Simple Minds embark on an 11-month world tour in early 2020. Beginning in Europe in February, they tour the UK in April:

14th    Cardiff Motorpoint Arena

15th    Bournemouth International Centre

17th    London The SSE Arena Wembley

18th    Leeds First Direct Arena

20th    Brighton Centre

22nd   Dublin 3 Arena

24th    Birmingham Resorts World Arena

25th    Glasgow The SSE Hydro Arena

As they turn 40, Simple Minds legacy is something to be proud of as their story continues to evolve.

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