( Early Photo of Simple Minds )
In the summer of 1977, John Milarky thought up an imaginary band called Johnny And The Self Abusers. Then he got them a gig at the Dourne Castle Pub in Glasgow. And so the recruiting had to begin! Most of this unyielding group were formed from his own circle of friends whilst the other members, Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill, known to be a lyricist and guitar player, were persuaded to join. Kerr also brought in a drummer he knew from school, Brian McGee.
And so they played their first gig at the Dourne Castle. A standard set of punk anthems plus Doctor’s Of Madness and Velvet Underground covers sent the audience wild that night, and for many other nights during that summertime in Glasgow. The band even cut some demo tapes; a couple of tracks from one can be heard on the now legendary Saints And Sinners single, released by Chiswick in November 1977. The Melody Maker even reviewed it, calling it rank and vile
After the split of Johnny And The Self Abusers, Kerr and Burchill formed Simple Minds. The drum and bass sections were poached from the remnants of the Abusers, namely Brian McGee and Tony Donald. With Duncan Barnwell on second guitar, and the eventually recruited (after two newspaper advertisements) Mick MacNeil on keyboards, the seminal Simple Minds played their first gig on January 17, 1978 supporting Steel Pulse at Satellite City in Glasgow. Word quickly spread on the streets of Glasgow that Simple Minds were a band to see. Even though they were only playing pub gigs, the band would put on full makeup and even had a lighting show (which really consisted of only three bulbs), but it was sufficient to ignite the imaginations of the audience.
Bruce Findlay, the manager of a chain of Scottish record shops called Bruce’s Records and, more importantly, the manager of an independent record company called Zoom also heard the tape. Although liking it, he couldn’t take on Simple Minds as he already had enough acts on his books. But his interest in the band remained and after seeing them at their residency, The Mars Bar, he made up his mind. Not only did he become the band’s manager, he also signed them with a special deal to Zoom which involved a direct signing to the parent company, Arista Records.
The band’s structure was still not finalised; Tony Donald left before cutting the first demo tape, and was replaced by Derek Forbes from another Glasgow punk band, The Subs. Duncan Barnwell left after it became apparent that two lead guitars were not required thus leaving the band as a quintet; which it remained as until the late 80’s. A second demo tape was cut, and all agreed that enough ideas were collected for a debut album.
( Derek Forbes Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill c 1979-80 )
T he producer chosen for Life In A Day was John Leckie, selected because the band liked his production on the Doctor’s Of Madness LPs. The LP was quickly completed and released in April 1979, with the accompanying single released before it, Life In A Day, managing to climb to number 62 in the UK Gallop charts. The LP itself made Number 30 in the LP charts with some mixed critical reviews. However the total failure of the second single, the pop orientated Chelsea Girl gave the band their first taste of defeat. Everybody, from Simple Minds themselves, the record company, and observers in the recording industry expected the second single to do much better.
The band also started to criticise Life In A Day itself. They felt it was too drowned in influences, and the Bowie, Genesis and Roxy Music parallels were too easily drawn. But, the band took Life In A Day on tour supporting Magazine and easily outperformed and outplayed them every night.
During this time, Arista Records pulled the plug on Zoom Records by refusing to distribute any more of Findlay’s records. He tried to negotiate a new deal with other record companies but with his only saleable asset, Simple Minds, signed directly to Arista then there was little he could do. Zoom Records collapsed in early 1980. So Findlay formed Schoolhouse Management and concentrated on being Simple Minds’ management.
The group was eager to record the successor to Life In A Day, and so grabbing John Leckie again, they started to record their second LP immediately after the Magazine tour. Some tracks had been played live, namely Scar and Naked Eye, and Forbes had composed the bass line for Changeling. But the rest of the album was conceived in the studio and represented Simple Minds composing together as a band for the first time, instead of the Kerr/Burchill team who’d penned Life In A DayLife In A Day.
The approach to Real To Real Cacophony was radically different to its predecessor. Questions were asked about what made up a song; was it a melody, the lyrics, the percussion or the vibe? The band experimented and some of these ended up on the eventual album in the guises of the bizarre instrumental Veldt, the incomprehensible lyrics of Naked Eye and the film soundtrack music called Film Theme.
No demos or pre recordings of the album were presented to the management or to Arista Records because the band had suffered with comparisons between the Life In A Day demos and the eventual album. When the completed album was presented to Arista they were horrified - in their opinion the album was totally uncommercial, with none of the pop sounds which they’d liked so much about Life In A Day. Findlay also questioned the band about the album, aware that it was committing commercial suicide, but soon rallied to the band’s defence.
In the end, Real To Real Cacophony was quietly released by Arista during the Christmas rush of 1979 where it was swamped by other releases and forgotten. However, it was highly critically acclaimed, with Paul Morley of the NME putting it in his top 10 albums of the year. Its only single, Changeling, would today become a dance classic, whilst the album itself could be pigeonholed as industrial. To some, it was Simple Minds’ finest hour.
The band took Real To Real Cacophony on the road. They made their first trip to the USA, with one night in New York. The rest of 1979 and the first months of 1980 were incessant touring around the UK and into Europe. The latter had great effect on the band, as they caught on to the synth-based bands of Can and Kraftwerk, whilst Kerr noted down everything he saw, creating a patchwork of observations of Europe.
Not surprisingly when they returned to the studio to record their third album, again with Leckie in tow, these influences modified the bands sound, based on the styles they’d developed for Real To Real Cacophony. The lyrics of Empires And Dance reflected Europe in crisis against the backdrop of the mutant disco that would soon describe the albums’ sound.
With the tracks I Travel and Celebrate as sure dance floor classics, Arista Records and Simple Minds would have scored a notable success. However, the band and their record company were hardly talking anymore, and Simple Minds had to literally force Arista to press up some copies of the album. This Arista begrudgingly did, but only in small quantities. The album was highly critically acclaimed, but no fans could buy it in the shops. This intolerable state of affairs led to Bruce Findlay writing letters to the NME, apologizing to fans and laying the blame squarely on Arista.
The album crawled into the Top 40 of the UK album chart and then started to descend again. The band were at a low ebb, with Kerr threatening to break the group up if they couldn’t get out of the Arista contract. Eventually Arista let them go, but the band had to surrender their first three albums to the record company to offset the debts they’d accumulated.
But for once, luck was with Simple Minds.
A big fan of Real To Real Cacophony and Empires And Dance turned out to be Peter Gabriel. He asked the band to support him on his European Tour which they eagerly accepted. So for the rest of 1980, they took their music to Europe and continued to build on their live successes.
Free from the fetters of Arista Records, Simple Minds found a new surge of creativity. A new demo tape had been produced including The American, Love Song and several other important new ideas. After being wooed by several record companies, Simple Minds finally signed with Virgin Records.
The new record company quickly wanted results. After a short tour including Canada and the USA, Simple Minds found themselves in the recording studio with a new producer, Steve Hillage, and started to produce their first Virgin album. Hillage, who had been picked by Virgin, was seen as an odd choice, considering his ‘hippy’ past with Gong, but the group and Hillage soon found a common interest with their like of obscure German synth bands such as Neu and Can
With the spell of creativity continuing unbounded, and with Hillage’s reluctance to curb this energy and concentrate on a core of tracks, the band ended up both running out of studio time and creating too many ideas and demos to discard. No-one wanted a double album, no-one could agree on which tracks to drop and so the band continued, putting in all their time to try and finish everything.
Hillage collapsed under the strain, and on one occasion rushed himself to hospital with ‘heart palpitations’. Another casualty was drummer Brian McGee. He’d suffered a near breakdown with the bands relentless touring previously and was getting tired of the strain. Now with the additional recording pressures, he left the band after the Sons And Fascination/ Sister Feelings Call set was finished.
The bulk of the material recorded was pressed on two albums, both originally sold as one as a limited edition ‘thank-you’ to fans in September 1981. After a month, Sons And Fascination and Sister Feelings Call were sold separately. The band then embarked on a tour with new drummer, Kenny Hyslop, a friend of Findlay’s from the Zoom days.
The new tour included new countries and places such as Canada and Australia who took Simple Minds to their hearts. With the singles The American and Love Song reaching the top 10 in both countries, and the albums selling enough to earn the band their first gold disks, Simple Minds had finally arrived.
The tour took the Minds over Europe at the start of 1982. During the tour they’d been trying out some new ideas and found that a whole new batch of material was waiting to be recorded. One idea wouldn’t go away, so whilst in Amsterdam in March 1982, in a gap of the European Tour, they grabbed a producer called Pete Walsh and recorded and released Promised You A Miracle.
The group didn’t expect it to do much, but it rose to Number 13 in the UK singles chart - they’d finally broken the UK. The song also did well in Europe, Canada and Australia. With acceptance and final recognition of their music, Simple Minds entered the recording studios in the summer of 1982 to record New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84).
( Derek Forbes Jim Kerr Mel Gaynor and Charlie Burchill )
(Paul Morley of the NME called it triumphant and magical. Critics and public alike loved it and the album reached number 3 in the UK album chart. Glittering Prize, the second single, also reached the UK Top 20, and the album has become cited as one of the New-Wave masterpieces.
The album was completed using three drummers. Kenny Hyslop had left the group after the recording of Promised You A Miracle after some personality clashes. His replacement was Mike Ogletree, another drummer from Bruce Findlay’s past. But Ogletree didn’t have the power the band required although his technique was fine. Producer Pete Walsh knew of a session player with the right credentials and called in Mel Gaynor. Gaynor was brought in for the additional drumming on New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84) and eventually was recruited as their permanent drummer after Ogletree’s departure.
The band embarked on their largest tour yet taking in Europe and the USA. Whilst one of the support bands for U2’s triumphant return to Dublin’s Phoenix Park on August 24, the band unveiled their new single, and new sound, the unforgettable Waterfront. 1983 was truly a year when anything was possible.
With U2’s long standing producer, Steve Lillywhite,the band started work on Sparkle In The Rain. Kerr, in particular, was adamant that the band shouldn’t produce New Gold Dream Part Two, but continue to expand and enhance their sound. After a writer’s block, he took a walk on the bank of the River Clyde in Glasgow, which gave him the inspiration for Waterfront, and therefore finalise the style and sound of the new album. New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84) were smashed to pieces by the furious new sound. One critic referred to them as U3, which upset the group.
With both Waterfront and Speed Your Love To Me hitting the UK’s Top 20, the success of Sparkle In The Rain seemed certain, and it went straight into the UK album chart at Number One in February 1984.
A breakneck world tour, The Tour De Monde was started on the back of Sparkle In The Rain, travelling to Australia, UK (with a record breaking eight nights at the Hammersmith Odeon), Europe, Canada and the USA. The group even managed their first visit to Japan.
For the US leg of the tour, Simple Minds supported The Pretenders. Then a surprise announcement was made that Kerr and Chrissie Hynde had been married in New York City - the only other member of the group who knew of the plans was Burchill. Kerr and Hynde had met each other previously, but with the two groups playing the same venues every night, this had cemented the relationship.
Exhausted the group took a break after Sparkle In The Rain, with Kerr and Burchill travelling to India for rest and relaxation. After the break, recording started in earnest on their next album.
The recording of Once Upon A Time began without Derek Forbes. The official line was that he’d not turned up for rehearsals, but arguments with Kerr may have also sealed his fate. His replacement was John Giblin, a bass player who owned the recording studio the band were using at the time.
Simple Minds fans got their first look at the new bass player when the band played on Live Aid. Not only did they play their relatively new Don’t You (Forget About Me) live for the first time, they also debuted a new song called Ghostdancing.
With American producers, Bob Clearmountain and Jimmy Iovine, the new album, Once Upon A Time took shape. More refined than its predecessor, many accused Simple Minds of selling out to the big American sound, but the album became their biggest selling, going in straight to number one in the UK charts in October 1985. It was aided by the new single Alive And Kicking, which almost repeated the success of Don’t You (Forget About Me).
A world wide tour would take over a year to complete. It was also dedicated to Amnesty International a cause that Kerr had supported for many years. The tour took them to the USA and Canada, all over Europe, back to the USA and Canada, and finished up in Japan, New Zealand and Australia.
Companion singles such as Sanctify Yourself and All The Thing She Said charted highly in the many countries they visited. The last single to be released from the set was Ghostdancing, all the proceeds of which were donated to Amnesty International.
It was time for a break.
A live album had been talked about for years, and many gigs had been recorded especially for that purpose. But now with a break in their schedule, the band could supervise the release of a live album. The Paris shows from the Once Upon A Time tour were selected and were remixed and overdubbed under the supervision of producer Bruce Lampcov.
Unhappy with one track, Someone Somewhere In Summertime, Kerr remembered a violinist he’d seen on late night US television. Lisa Germano then overdubbed a violin piece over a recording of the track from Sydney, and the album Live In The City Of Light was finished.
Like its predecessors, it entered the charts at number one in the UK. It was (at that point) the fastest selling double live album of all time. The accompanying single selected was Promised You A Miracle, the track that first gave them top 20 exposure in the UK.
At the end of 1987, the band played three Glasgow gigs for the Cash For Kids charity. Notable special guests included Kerr’s wife, Chrissie Hynde, and ex-Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes. Forbes had also worked on the Live In The City Of Light album but received no credit.
With the completion of their Scottish recording studio, the band started work on their next project. MacNeil and Burchill started to write the long awaited instrumental album, a project called Aurora Borealis as no other direction was forthcoming.
This was cut short by the band’s involvement in Mandela Day, a concert held at Wembley to remember the man held in captivity for so long in South Africa. Simple Minds were the first international act to agree to play, and set about to record a song especially for the event. (Each band was asked to produce a song but only Simple Minds complied). Biko and Little Steven for Sun City, a track the group had used in their Once Upon A Time tour.
Now a direction for the forthcoming album became clear. The instrumental project was swallowed up by Street Fighting Years which became Simple Minds’ political mandate.
In February 1989, Simple Minds scored their first UK number one single with The Ballads Of The Streets EP. The title song was concerned with the Irish problem set to an old folk tune called She Moves Through The Fair. Belfast Child along with Mandela Day and Biko provided a taster for the forthcoming album both in lyrical, political and musical content.
The Steve Lipson and Trevor Horn produced Street Fighting Years again raced to number one in the UK. It’s acceptance in other countries, such as the USA, was very poor probably due to the new musical style being substantially different to the US friendly Once Upon A Time and with lyrical themes and references outside the spheres of their interest.
The Minds took their new sounds on the road without the bassist John Giblin - his replacement was Malcolm Foster, the bassist with The Pretenders. Mel Gaynor also had to be coaxed back; he’d been minimally involved in the Street Fighting Years project, which had been completed with Stewart Copeland and Manu Katche. It was also revealed in 1989 that Kerr’s marriage with Hynde was all but finished.
The Street Fighting Years tour started in Europe in May 1989 and visited Europe, Japan and Australia. The first Simple Minds video was also released in May 1990 of the concert at Verona.
More changes in Simple Minds occurred during this turbulent period. Manager and friend, Bruce Findlay, was dropped as the band’s manager. The group were unhappy with the financing of the tour and made Findlay an offer that he "had to turn down".
Even more dramatically, fellow founder, composer and core member, Michael MacNeil, announced that he was leaving. His reason was that he wanted to do more with his life than just Simple Minds. At the end of the decade, Simple Minds were facing an increasingly difficult future.
After the tour, Kerr and Burchill retreated to Amsterdam and, with a hunger for writing which they’d not felt for a long time, quickly started work on the next album. They also assumed that MacNeil would get bored and rejoin the group, but as 1990 progressed it became apparent that he was not going to come back.
Kerr played demos of the new songs to friends and fans - the response was that they still had the vibe which made Simple Minds. Kerr’s mentioned that if the songs were dramatically different, then they would have stopped using the "Simple Minds" name.
With Steve Lipson producing solo this time, Real Life started to take shape. A more personal, reflective album than its predecessor, it still retained some of the Celtic muse that Street Fighting Years displayed. The void of losing MacNeil was swallowed up by Burchill, who also took on the keyboards. A session player, Pete Vitesse was also bought in to help with the keyboards. (Whilst playing a handful of German Gigs, Vitesse also played live with the band).
Let There Be Love was released in March 1991, and quickly jumped into the UK’s Top 10. The album, Real Life stalled at Number 2, held off by the Greatest Hits compilation of the recently split Eurythmics. Some saw it as the start of the decline of Simple Minds. However, further singles from the set gave the band extra Top 20 success including the gospel inspired Stand By Love.
The tour took in stadiums in Europe and the UK and smaller venues in the USA. Strangely, they didn’t tour the Far East or Australia where they would have done well. The line up included Malcolm Foster who had now become their ‘live’ bassist and Mark Taylor on keyboards as the semi-permanent replacement for Mick MacNeil.
After Real Life, the band took on a new manager, Clive Banks, ex-manager of Island Records and manager of Mike Oldfield and The Pet Shop Boys. Recognising that Kerr and Burchill were exhausted, he told them to take a break and they’d release a compilation album in the meantime. The album became a collection of the band’s Virgin singles. It surprised everyone when it shot to Number One in the UK charts and firmly prevented Madonna’s Erotica album to claim the top spot. Glittering Prize 81-92 also became a top seller in several other countries as well.
However, 1992 was also bad year for the group. Mel Gaynor had left, leaving the core band to just Kerr and Burchill who had originally started the whole project back in 1978. With the compilation in the charts and members leaving, it seemed to the world that Simple Minds has come to an end. The Glittering Prize sleeve notes (and graphic art) indicated that the group were going to continue, but as Jim said : "No-one ever reads the sleeve notes"
Recording started in 1993 of the band’s next album. They’d been pestered by Keith Forsey, to write a track for the soundtrack for The Super Mario Brothers film. They agreed and penned a piece with Forsey producing. Surprised and happy with the result, they promptly withdrew the song from the soundtrack, claiming that it was too good, and asked Forsey to produce their next album.
Forsey was more pragmatic than Kerr and Burchill realised. He pointed out that they were now a duo, and that they were a voice and guitar and that was all. The keyboards, still haunted by MacNeil, were driven into the background. The new album became increasingly guitar based, which was a new departure for Simple Minds.
The album was concerned with renewal, rebirth and rediscovery. As it took shape, Kerr reflected on the writing process, in particular the muse. He named the source of inspiration the Next World and the album’s eventual title reflected this idea.
The album was finished late 1994 with a host a session players. After a short Christmas tour of the USA with diverse acts such as They Might Be Giants and the recently reformed Go Gos, a new track She’s A River was unveiled. And after three years since their last studio album, Simple Minds released Good News From The Next World in January 1995.
The band took their new sound on the road. Mark Schulman replaced Mel Gaynor on the drums, a session drummer recommended by Keith Forsey and who played on the album. Malcolm Foster, the band’s third longest surviving member, also accompanied them with Mark Taylor repeating his keyboards role. The tour started in the USA, travelled all over Europe, visited South America, visited South Africa for the first time.
As the Good News tour eventually wound up in Europe, Simple Minds unexpectedly left Virgin Records. Within a month, the band were quickly snapped by by Chrysalis, who were bolstering their label with new signings. (Others included Belinda Carlise and Robbie Williams). A two album deal was signed, and the mood was optimistic, but the relationship was to turn sour.
Further upheavals in the Minds camp, such as their departure from CBL, were overshadowed by the unexpected, and very welcome return of bass player Derek Forbes. And whilst composing new material at their highland studios, they
drafted in Brian McGee to drum on the demos. His involvement with the band was short lived, and a host of session drummers were used on the album as the recording switched between London, Paris and Italy.
With Peter Walsh back in the production chair, and Mel Gaynor laying down the backing track for War Babies, Simple Minds also returned to their past musically. The new album, Neapolis, harked back to the industrial rhythms
and trance of "Empires And Dance" and "Sons And Fascination." Chrysalis were uncertain of the new material, dismissing early recordings of key tracks, and so four-fifths of the classic Simple Minds line-up road tested
the new material on a summer festival tour in 1997.
(Mark Taylor returned to his keyboard duties for the rest of the band's nineties tours. Much-missed Mick MacNeil, in the meantime, was constructing his own studio in Glasgow, having finished a collaboration with Mark Shaw on Then Jerico's latest studio album "Orgasmaphobia." MacNeil also released a double solo album called "People-Places-Things" in early 2000.)
Glitterball was released in March 1998 and just scraped into the UK's top twenty. Neapolis fared poorly, only making the top twenty in the album charts, whilst a second single, the majestic War Babies, which was the standout track on the album just missed the top 40 in May. An erratic tour followed with the band playing a wide variety of gigs around Europe, from invitation-only Spanish clubs to Italian arenas. But Simple Minds were anxious to get back into the studio. And there was a growing resentment that Neapolis wasn't given the chance it deserved.
During the promotion of Neapolis, Charlie Burchill was booked into recording studios and session rooms to start work on the next album. Demos were quickly written with Charlie and Jim working closely with Kevin Hunter, an American songwriter, and key member of San Fransico based Wire Train. With the demos quickly written, the trio started recording at Glasgow's Ca Va studios. Jim's brother, Mark Kerr, was working in the same studio with his new band Sly Silver Sly. Ever quick to capitalize, Jim 'borrowed' Mark Kerr, and bass player Eddie Duffy, to work on the new album. The ten-track collection called Our Secrets Are The Same, Simple Minds most diverse album since the 1980s, was delivered to Chrysalis Records late in 1999.
With corporate mergers looming, and Chrysalis' parent company EMI courting potential buyers, the first release date of the album slipped. Remixes of key tracks were commissioned (such as the guitar driven 'Jeweler To The Stars' and the anthemic 'Space'), but by this time discontentment had slipped in. With an eye on the failure of Neapolis, and upset with the record company's current plans, Simple Minds took back the album stating that they'd rather not work with EMI on it. At loggerheads, Simple Minds were dropped from EMI in 2000, and the lawyers moved in.
To add to their woes, a leaked copy of the album appeared on the desk of Catalunian DJ Jordi Tardà. Over the period of ten weeks, he unofficially previewed the entire album on air, bad quality MP3s circulated over the Internet, and bootlegs appeared at record fairs. Secrets had slipped out.
In 2002 Simple Minds remains Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill. record new music. The Cry Album was Created and Simple Minds Set off on a European Tour Again..Taormina Sicily Being The Highlight of the Tour. New Line Up Of Jim Kerr Charlie Burchill Mel Gaynor Eddie Duffy and Andy Gillespie..2002/3 Simple Minds Done One of there Longest Tours 18 months on the Road Covering
Most of Europe Finishing In Aberdeen on 20th December 2003..
What Will 2004 Bring? In the Line up a New Album ( The 13th ) and so far a part Summer Tour Europe and The Uk..A Box St is Due Out in The Summer of 2004 Hopefully To Include The Long Awaited "Our Secrets Are The Same" Album .. What More Will Simple Minds Give Us over the Next Years ..
Only time will tell. But, as Jim’s said, anything is possible