Officially it’s 25 years since Simple Minds exploded out of the great seismic shift of music’s tectonic plates that was Punk Rock. But the band’s roots can be traced to a meeting between eight year olds Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill in a sandpit in Glasgow’s Toryglen housing scheme – such is the importance of the chemistry between one of the greatest frontman/lead guitarist partnerships since Jagger/Richard. Kerr’s evangelical baritone is the perfect foil to Burchill’s spine-tingling celestial guitar.
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What is certain is that the story of Simple Minds is a latter day version of the Beat Generation classic On the Road. The band that was to take up permanent residency at the top of the album charts for a decade was created on the steps of Milan Cathedral after the teenage Kerr and Burchill embarked on an impromptu hitchhiking tour round Europe, thus setting the template for a lifetime of touring.
For Simple Minds, in music as in life, the journey, not the destination, is what is important. Characterised by a restless energy, the band is an allegory of perpetual motion, its manifesto defined in its seminal classic I Travel. Musically, physically and spiritually Simple Minds are on a quest in which the odyssey is it own reward. The panoramic soundscapes of the Minds’ albums perfectly convey the sense of endless possibility and shifting frontiers in the world according to Jim Kerr.
While contemporaries of the Minds from the 1970s and 1980s have joined the cabaret nostalgia circuit, the Minds continue to stretch themselves. This Stakhanovite pursuit of new directions has see Simple Minds enjoy as many incarnations as Doctor Who or James Bond. From the early influences of Lou Reed, Roxy Music and David Bowie, the Minds went on to embrace German synthesiser bands like Can, Neu and Kraftwerk. Never ones to court commerciality above integrity, they released the avante-garde, industrial-influenced Reel to Reel Cacophony as their difficult second album earning plaudits from Peter Gabriel.
Since then they have metamorphosed several times from the electropop and Eurobeat of Sons & Fascination / Sister Feelings Call, through the bombastic stadium rock of the mid-1980s and early 1990s to the glorious new album Cry which continues the experimental, eclectic nature of the band’s music, featuring collaborations with Naples-based remix collective Planet Funk.
Even as the band struggled as prophets without recognition in their own land the invigorating funk of early singles The American and Love Song, was establishing a beach-head in Top 10s across the world. Breakthrough on the home front came in 1982 as the shimmering, ethereal beauty of New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84) captivated critics and the public alike. It became an instant new wave classic, described accurately by Paul Morley of NME as “majestic and triumphant”.
Its successor Sparkle in the Rain, with its anthemic single Waterfront, ushered in a harder-edged more rock oriented Minds and the album went straight to the top of the UK charts, an elevated vantage point which was to become a second home to the band over the coming years. The sound was intensified and the feat repeated with 1985’s Once Upon A Time.
Although they topped the US singles charts that year with Don’t You Forget About Me, it was to be another four years before the Minds scored a UK number one with The Ballad of the Streets EP. With its leading track Belfast Child, a moving tour-de-force about the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Minds were displaying their increasing political conscience, first intimated when they dedicated their 1985 tour and proceeds from the Ghostdancing single to Amnesty International. With Mandela Day and Biko comprising the other tracks on the EP, the Minds were becoming recognised as a band that was as passionate about human rights as about music.
The subsequent album, Streetfighting Years, also went straight to number one. Appropriately 1989, the year the Berlin Wall came down, was a year of catharsis for this most European of bands. The departure of key-boards player Mick McNeil and the split from long-term manager Bruce Findlay saw the band enter a new era of their own characterised by frenetic touring and continued musical experimentation. In a sense the band was returning to its pre-stadium roots and continually pushing musical frontiers on albums such as Good News From the Next World and Neapolis.
With the release of Cry, Simple Minds have affirmed that vision of evolution, paying homage to their roots but venturing in new directions – rock’s avowed alchemists. They have succeeded in becoming that greatest of paradoxes – a cult band with a global following, internationally famous and yet intimate. Legions of die-hard fans across the world are waiting to keep the faith in the sonic cathedral of Simple Minds. It makes you want to Cry.
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