Eighties favourites Simple Minds are headed our way this summer. Jim Birchall catches up with frontman Jim Kerr about touring, nostalgia and making up for lost time
Simple Minds, known for a string of 80s hits including Don’t You (Forget About Me), which featured in the coming-of-age film The Breakfast Club, and the Troubles-inspired UK No 1 Belfast Child, play New Zealand venues in January as part of a nostalgia tour de force.
Simple Minds have sold more than 60 million albums, including five that topped the UK charts: Sparkle in the Rain (1984), Once Upon a Time (1985), Live in the City of Light (1987), Street Fighting Years (1989) and the compilation Glittering Prize 81/92 (1992).
Founder and lead singer Jim Kerr was born in Glasgow and now divides his time between France and Taormina, in Sicily, where he built and maintains an interest in a hotel that commands spectacular views of Mt Etna.
“I’ve been there for over 25 years, and I’m still in awe of it, but I don’t run it as it would be a disaster!” Kerr told NZME.
He retreats to the cooler climes of the Scottish Highlands when the continent becomes swamped with tourists: “Europe gets way too hot and busy. I go to the Highlands and still have a place in Glasgow.”
New Zealand will be the first stop on a busy schedule for the beginning of 2024 for Simple Minds. They head to Australia followed by the UK, Ireland and Europe on tours that take place through March and April. Kerr said the touring schedule was shaping to be extended into the US summer.
“We are on the verge of announcing dates for America as well, so yeah it’s going to be busy.
“We have a lot of catching up to do and making up for lost time. We were only a few months into what was going to be a six-month tour when Covid hit.
“Last year [getting back into live shows] was all about clearing the decks, and now it’s about doing it while we still can. We started in January or February and went through till August.”
The busy itinerary is remarkable given Simple Minds are approaching half a century in the music business.
“It will be our 47th year on January 17,″ said Kerr. The lineup had been “a bit fragmented over the years, some people have gone and come back, but usually the people we work with are there for years. But sometimes it’s good to freshen up as touring doesn’t suit everyone, so you kind of go with the flow.
“We’ve kept writing and recording but, sure, we’re from a period and people primarily know you from that period but if you have two or three new songs that freshens things up. But they have to be good – if they are going to be set up against a set of classics, they are going to have something to hold their own.”
With collaborators in different parts of the world, producing new music has its challenges.
“We get a few MP3s flying around that get you going, but at a certain point it’s old school and people come together under the same roof and build on the ideas. It was interesting on the last record, it was done during Covid.
“Charlie Burchill [the band’s guitarist and co-founder] came over and we set up and ended up with an album [their 19th] called Direction of the Heart.
“It was a sad time, but looking at the volcano and blue skies was pretty invigorating, there was a certain perspective it gave you. It seemed to say, ‘Don’t fret, get on with it,’ so we made the record inside the hotel.”
Playing on a revival ticket, where both older and new fans mix, is not without its challenges and Kerr said striking a balance of classic tunes and new ones was part and parcel of headlining.
“I think without doubt nostalgia is a big part of it, and I think it gets a bad rap. Sure, you don’t want to live in the past and all that, but I was in London last week and there were reminders of a hotel we used to stay in or a venue we used to play, and you’ve walked down those roads. Then you hear a song and it reverberates and takes you back to that moment in time and you remember your pals.
“People say that they are going to see Simple Minds with the same four mates they went to see them with in 1984 – so what’s wrong with that?
“There’s a lot of boxes to tick, you are going to play the songs people love, but also you have different types of fans – your greatest hits fans and your real hardcore fans. You can play a couple of songs maybe they didn’t expect to hear or you do something that’s a complete surprise, like a fun cover.
“If you can do that, you tick all those boxes and put together a set that still satisfies. I think we do that and that’s why we’re still here.”
The 2022 album New Gold Dream Live at Paisley Abbey, a remake of their 1982 album, was recorded during a performance in the 12th-century abbey in Scotland.
“That was a strange thing to do, it was kind of out of the blue,” Kerr said.
“There is a classic albums TV show in the UK where a band plays one of their old albums. In this case, we picked this beautiful-looking venue, but it was odd because we decided to record it without an audience and, for Simple Minds, the audience is a huge part of it.
“It was kind of an understated record and, if there had been a crowd there, it would have turned into a rock and roll show and that’s not what the album is about.
“So we did this thing that was a gamble visually but also sound-wise. The record company heard it and said, ‘This sounds great, why don’t we make it available as a soundtrack as part of a beautiful package?’ You are kind of on a hiding to nothing when some people say ‘It’s not like it was on the original’, but it turned out great.”
Nelson, where Kerr has a “real old pal”, is a favourite stop in Aotearoa.
“I love it, I’ve been a few times. I mean everyone obviously loves Queenstown – I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like New Zealand. I think, especially when you are a Scot, you feel even more at home than I do in other places.
“I’m a hiker and a walker so we are coming down a couple of weeks early to do some looking around and see some of our pals.”
After their visit here, Simple Minds head to Australia to link up with pub-rock legends Icehouse.
”It’s a trip down memory lane as it was Icehouse who took us to both Australia and New Zealand for the very first time in 1981.”
Given time waits for no man, Kerr is aware touring is finite but says he still loves hitting the road.
“Someone showed me an interview when I was 18 and a local newspaper came along and did this little interview when we did our first-ever gig and the journalist asked: ‘What is your dream, what do you want to get out of this?’
“I said, we want to be a great live band, we want to take it around the world, and we want to get a life out of this ... Talk about asking for a lot!
“Yet here we are all these years later, still full of the same desire, dealing with the same kind of challenge and as long as that is there it will go on for a wee bit yet.”
Simple Minds feature as part of the Summer concert series presented by Greenstone Entertainment across three venues:
- Taupō Summer Concert – Saturday, January 27, 2024
- Summer Concert – Claudelands Oval, Hamilton – Sunday, January 28
- Gibbston Valley Winery Summer Concert, Queenstown – Saturday, February 3
Tickets at wwww.greenstoneentertainment.co.nz.
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