Friday, February 23, 2024

Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr: ‘I’m not a good singer – but I am a great Simple Minds singer’

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REPUTEDLY one of the best bands to come out of the UK, Simple Minds is gearing up for their Global 24 Tour, which, Irish fans will be delighted to know, includes a performance at Dublin’s 3Arena on March 18. Taking time from a busy schedule, frontman and co-founder, Jim Kerr looks back to the days when punk, not only rocked the music industry, but created a cultural revolution that, with the help of a few thousand cigarette coupons, a Spanish guitar, and a £100 donation from his dad, made his teenage dreams come true.

“The arrival of punk rock just blew the doors wide open. I mean it was almost like the inmates had taken over the asylum!” he says, his Scottish burr undiminished by time. 

“It wasn’t just the music industry that changed. The mentality of punk could be seen everywhere, in fashion, in business, the arts etc. You know before that, kids from Manchester, Glasgow or Dublin couldn’t even dream of doing the things we were doing.”

Musically and culturally, timing was perfect, but without parental support, Simple Minds might have missed their window of opportunity.

“Back then, ‘coupons’ were a big thing. They came with everything, especially cigarettes. People would save them and trade them for free gifts from the catalogue. Charlie’s mum used hers to get him a Spanish guitar. It was a wee basic thing, but we thought it was great! Later, my dad chipped in the £100 to let us make a demo. 

“My mum and dad were incredibly encouraging. I mean all they knew about the music industry was what they read in the newspaper which was mostly all sex, drugs, and rock and roll. But even though they were concerned they stuck by us and tried to help. If Charlie’s ma hadn’t got him the guitar and my dad hadn’t given us the money, I’d probably be driving a taxi or something!”

Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr in Glasgow, January 1979. Pic: Laurie Evans

On January 17, 1978, Simple Minds got their first gig at Glasgow’s Satellite City. They made their debut to a sparse audience, although the event proved a defining moment for 18-year-old Kerr.

“You know, when we first started, we had no idea what would happen or if it would last. But I’ll tell you this: the first time I heard Charlie play his song, ‘Act of Love’, I knew we had something, I remember thinking, yeah, we could actually go somewhere!” 

Was there a similar moment when he realised he had a great voice?

“I’m not a good singer but I am a great Simple Minds singer! I mean, when I go to weddings or some such event, people like my aunties, who can really sing, get up, and do an amazing Patsy Cline song. They have their own voice but that’s different. I’m quite lucky in that my voice is a baritone but with a bit of a yelp. It’s this ‘yelp’ that lets me do the more sensitive, spacey songs, as well as those that are energetically driven. 

“You know, the thing about us, and I think Charlie would say the same about playing, was that we were forced to create and invent our own sound. In fact, that’s one thing I can say with confidence, Simple Minds had and still has its own unique sound. It was invented out of necessity. If we’d tried to play like other bands around at the time, such as the Beatles, we couldn’t have done it. We had to do it our own way.” 

They obviously found a winning formula. In 1979, they released their debut album, Life in a Day

The following year, their album New Gold Dream gave them a global presence as well a hit in the UK singles chart when, ‘Promised You a Miracle’ charted at number 13 for 11 consecutive weeks. 

Simple Minds, live in Hamburg in 2023. Pic: Thorsten Samesch
Simple Minds, live in Hamburg in 2023. Pic: Thorsten Samesch

Since then, the band has, notched up over 60m in album sales, released a string of hits including the internationally famed, ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ written by producer Keith Forsey and musician Steve Schiff for the film, The Breakfast Club

They’ve also received numerous accolades and awards. Counted among the highlights of their career, is the Live Aid event (1985) and the 70th birthday tribute to Nelson Mandela (2008).

“You know people often ask me about success and whether it’s down to luck or talent. Well, to be honest, luck does play a big role and talent is a definite advantage! Having said that, there’s an awful lot of talented people in the world and it doesn’t always come to fruition. In my opinion, the things that gave us the gall to get up there and pull it off was, imagination and self-belief. If you have those two things, it’s a powerful combination.” 

Once again Kerr’s thoughts return to childhood where he says the seeds of imagination were sown.

“My dad gave me a library ticket. I remember looking at it and wondering what was so special about it. I mean, there didn’t seem anything extraordinary about something that kids at school already owned. But dad pointed out that not all children had the privilege of being able to read or had access to free books. That ticket turned out to be the greatest gift ever. The introduction to classics like The Famous Five, Robinson Crusoe, and Huckleberry Finn, fed my imagination. It sowed the seeds of curiosity about other lands, instilled a sense of adventure and a desire to travel.” Future travels would take the star around the world but his very first adventure was to what he describes as “glamorous” Bray.

“I was very young at the time, but I still remember that first holiday in Bray. Now don’t forget this was at a time when there were no such things as package holidays to the sun. To us, Ireland was very glamorous and, as a child, going to Bray was a big adventure. I remember boarding the ferry and seeing the lower deck filled with cattle. I couldn’t figure out why we were taking cows to Ireland, didn’t they have their own?! The trips to Bray were more than a family holiday. Both my parents were born in Scotland but we had a lot of Irish history and so it was important that we got to know the country and establish an appreciation for the culture and our heritage.” 

Jim Kerr of Simple Minds. Pic: Dean Chalkley
Jim Kerr of Simple Minds. Pic: Dean Chalkley

Having rocketed to success in the 80s, by the late 90s the band’s popularity began to wane. But judging by their latest effort, Direction of the Heart, their 18th studio album, Simple Minds is back on track. Most of the album was written in Sicily, where Kerr and Churchill both live, but one of the tracks, ‘Vision Thing’ a beautiful and powerful tribute to Jim’s dad, was penned by Jim and Charlie while staying at the home of Mr Kerr senior who was terminally ill at the time. He passed away in 2019.

“The first verse of [‘Vision Thing’] is me talking to him, but the second verse I’m addressing the younger me. He was my best pal and a great influence.’ Now, 63 and a father of two, (Yasmin, his daughter with Chrissie Hynde and a son, David, with second wife, Patsy Kensit) Kerr sums up: “It’s been a hell of a journey! It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s what I wanted to do. It’s been incredible.”

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