If the sixties defined the Beatles and the seventies David Bowie, the eighties was the era that saw Simple Minds climb to the summit of planet pop with a string of anthemic, toe-tapping, stadium-sing-a-long hits such as Waterfront, Promised you a Miracle, Alive and Kicking and Don’t you Forget About me.
Jim Kerr and co had evolved from a small-time punk band called Johnny and the Self Abusers to become one of the first names on the list of charity mega gigs like Live Aid and Mandela Day in the decade of mullet hair-dos and baggy suits.
The band, who will be performing at Dubai’s Duty Free Tennis Stadium on January 28, were at the peak of their powers in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain and vying with U2 for the title of Biggest Band in the World. Lead singer Jim who founded Simple Minds with guitarist Charlie Burchill in 1977 recalls: “They were terribly exciting times but it all went by so fast. For the first ten years of the band we did eight studio albums as well as touring all the time. First of all I don’t know how we managed to do that but it is a huge credit to the ideas, imagination and desire of the band. The net result of that though was that it whizzed past.
“It was all a little scary which we would never have admitted to. We were still young guys – we had no teachers or mentors and didn’t know anyone who had a band that played in a stadium! We were learning on the hoof. We were making mistakes obviously and sometimes trying too hard but yes, without being arrogant we became one of the bands are of our generation.”
A lot of Simple Minds’ early admirers, including the once influential British music press, looked on in dismay as the band ditched their darker, more experimental output of Sons and Fascination to fully embrace the shiny new MTV pop landscape and adjust their sound accordingly. The label ‘Stadium Band’ was applied.
“It was used as a derogatory statement but we were realistic,” Jim says. “When you become one of the big chart bands you are going to get a kicking from some quarters. Of course we didn’t like it but the only thing we could console ourselves with was that all the greats got it. Even John Lennon and Dylan got criticism. We didn’t understand a lot of it but you have to remember that the music press back then was quite politically motivated. Going big time meant you were a sell-out whereas now Adele is celebrated for being a colossus. That’s just the way it was.”
In fact the perceived ‘edgy rivalry’ with U2, was not all that it was either. Far from being a Blur v Oasis stand-off, the bands were good friends. “Great friends actually,” Jim confirms. “We didn’t have a rivalry with them. We had a rivalry with everyone who was looking for a chart position that week. Apart from being mates we had a lot in common. We were the same age, we shared some of the same crew and same promoters. We shared some of the same idealism. When U2 toured our ticket sales would go up, when we toured their ticket sales would go up! We were probably listening to the same things they were listening to as kids.”
Bands are lucky if they can maintain momentum into a second decade and come the nineties, the cracks began to appear and Simple Minds headed for meltdown, exacerbated by contractual problems, commercial decline and personnel changes. Jim explains: “That was very tough. It nearly finished us. If you have been a band in one generation and you go into another decade, you are probably going to get it in the neck anyway so that’s when you really need a collective strength while coming up with new ideas and fresh blood. Unfortunately for us the wheels were coming off. We’d worked for more than ten years non-stop. Some of the guys for whatever reason no longer wanted to do it. It seemed that Simple Minds would be some kind of afterthought.”
Jim retreated to Taormina, a small town perched high on a cliff on the east coast of Sicily, a place he stills lives in today after purchasing the Hotel Villa Angela. He calls it his ‘little heaven on earth’ which helped him take stock and re-evaluate his life after the eighties whirlwind of global success. It was also instrumental in coaxing Jim out of semi-retirement. He reveals: “I was kind of reborn in Sicily. This was in a period when I got it into my head that maybe that was it. Maybe that was all that was in the tank. I mean the Beatles only lasted ten years and they were the greatest band on the planet. The Rolling Stones are the exception. If I think of the bands from our period still playing, there’s about a handful. The rest have gone or don’t write anymore or do those 80s package things. I’m not having a go at that but they are probably semi-retired. There are very few bands living it, doing it, doing full-blooded touring, recording and writing.”
While kicking back in Sicily Jim was constantly urged by young local musicians to invest in a new microphone and go back into the studio. It wasn’t long before Jim succumbed.
“There were these local kids writing, playing and DJ-ing, and they asked me to give them a hand and come down to the studio but I was saying ‘I don’t do that stuff anymore’. But to be sociable I went down and before you knew it a couple of songs popped up which people thought were great and I kind of got my mojo back. So just as Simple Minds were flat-lining, this new belief came out of Sicily, and I’ll always be grateful for that.”
The next hurdle was persuading the rest of the band to get on board. Said Jim: “We decided that if we were going to do this again we needed to give it our full commitment. The word ‘comeback’ seems too corny but there was a vitality back in the band that I never imagined would return.”
The case for a fresh start must have been compelling. Why else would Jim leave the cosy world of five star reviews and a Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor to go back on the road and those gruelling, endless tour-bus treks from venue to venue?
Simple Minds have now been touring almost incessantly around the world with their ‘Big Music Tour’ and ‘Greatest Hits’ but Jim still insists on having some family time. He has one daughter Yasmin from his marriage to Pretenders’ singer Chrissie Hynde and a son, James, from his marriage to actress Patsy Kensit.
Thankfully any previous rifts seemed to have been healed: “We all met up along with the kids in London for a Christmas lunch. We all get on but it’s been tough. Back in the day it was only crazy showbiz people who had failed marriages, now it is more commonplace. It’s always been tough but it’s amazing what a bit of diplomacy can do.”