Ged Grimes, Charlie Burchill, Cherisse Osei, Gordy Goudie, Jim Kerr, Berenice Scott, Sarah Brown
They were playing at a “harder than hard” place in Glasgow called The Terminal One in the late summer of 1977. “We had drunk as much cheap wine and taken as many pills as we could for Dutch courage and we were waiting to play,” Jim recalls. The promoter said, ‘Guys, you’re after the next single, but that’s okay, it’s eight minutes long.’
“Our response was, ‘Huh? Eight minutes? The singles are three minutes, what are you talking about?
“Then we heard this incredible noise… I froze. I said ‘What’s that?’ It was a synthesizer. I immediately said: ‘Punk is finished! We have to get one’”
Summer’s pulsating and hypnotic 12-inch mix of I Feel Love, produced by Georgio Moroder, changed the face of pop forever. “It was like the Velvet Underground doing disco music,” he says, still in awe. “And she was singing in an Arabic scale…”
Self-deprecating singer Jim and shy guitarist Charlie, both 63, formed world conquerors Simple Minds soon after, playing their first gig at Glasgow’s Satellite City in January 1978.
Over sixty million albums sold later, the band is still cherished for enduring hits like Don’t You (Forget About Me), Alive & Kicking and 1989’s somber, chart-topping Belfast Child.
It was not an easy journey. In 1980, Peter Gabriel asked them to support him on his 30-date European tour.
“We were booed every night except one and all kinds of things were thrown at us. Turin, in Italy, was particularly bad,” Jim says, shaking his head. “But even when we were taking heavy abuse, I remember thinking, we’ll be back.”
And he is. His home is in the idyllic cliffside town of Taormina, Sicily, where Jim owns a boutique hotel. He drinks his morning coffee and gazes out at the Mediterranean and the ice-covered peak of Mount Etna. He writes for a couple of hours and then drives to the local market on his Vespa to stock up on fresh vegetables and lentils. He later meets Charlie, still his best friend and neighbor.
The formation of the band in Canada in 1981
They were eight years old when they met after Jim’s family moved from the Gorbals to a council estate in Toryglen, Glasgow. Charlie recalls: “They were still building our farm so there was a lot of material lying around and it became a playground for the children. I met Jim in a sandbox…”
Stepping on a rusty nail, Kerr missed seeing Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour when he was 13 and working part-time as a cleaner at a butcher shop. Instead, the first concert he went to was “Peter Gabriel in Genesis: the first thing I saw was a guy with the head of a fox.”
Gabriel turned out to be probably the nicest man in rock. “Peter Gabriel is a lovely guy, he let us play big venues and treated us well and all we did was wait until he got on stage so we could steal his food. ‘What’s that? Camembert? Who the fuck eats that?’”
Of Charlie, Jim adds: “We’re the best of friends. I drive him crazy; usually we have a tremendous riot every year where it borders on violence, and the next day we’ve forgotten about it. Sometimes you’re not on the same page.”
Charlie agrees. “Jim constantly has ideas. We just finished a six-month tour and at 7am the next morning the phone rings and he says, ‘You better start on the new album’…”
His latest, the brilliant, life-affirming heart direction, includes Vision Thing, an exuberant tribute to Jim’s late father Jimmy, a former construction worker with the gift of eloquence, who died in 2019.
Simple Minds’ 1979 debut album made the Top 30, but their record was their fifth, 1982’s New Gold Dream, the first of six platinum sellers, which spawned their first hit, Promised You A Miracle.
“It was a sound we could claim as our own,” says Jim. “Before we were like a bad version of Ultravox or Magazine.”
It was also a pulsating electro-burst of optimism in the dark days of the early ’80s when Europe was in crisis.
“I was still a hangover from the student revolution,” Jim says. “So the concerts were targets for the Red Brigades or Baader Meinhof. We played in Marseille and the place was full of tear gas. In Paris, a bomb exploded in a synagogue…
“Our first records were written in the back of a van with that going on all around us. In parts of Germany, darkness [Nazi] the images our parents and grandparents talked about were there in the background.”
Kerr recalls a grim college concert in the Canadian wilderness. “We realize it’s a Halloween concert; most people are dressed in Ku Klux Klan regalia, so we understand the hump right away. Then, when we were on stage, a guy dressed as an astronaut shot us with a laser gun… We left early.
“We were sitting in the dressing room and there was angry banging on the door, so we opened the door and it was the promoter, dressed as Dracula, swearing and saying ‘I’m going to sue you.’
“He ended up being our best friend, taking us to a club…”
Jim and Charlie are the only constants in the band, which now includes singer Sarah Brown, keyboardist Berenice Scott, and right-handed drummer Cherisse Osei.
The first combo of the friends was called Johnny & The Self-Abusers.
Jim and Charlie performing in Spain last July
“Everything has gone downhill since then,” says Jim. “It was that exciting. Iconic concerts are nothing compared to the excitement of those first dates, flying through the seat of your pants.
“People ask how I got my moves on stage; it was to prevent the bottles from coming out of the darkness in Glasgow.”
Their first concert was in 1977 in the hall of a church that also functioned as a workers’ social club. Charlie recalls: “We played Waiting For My Man to a room full of bewildered orphans… our whole set consisted of covers of Velvet Underground and Roxy Music songs, a kind of glam rock; Jim played keyboards then.”
“Punk completely changed the music scene,” says Jim. “For the first time, you could stay local and build a following. I remember we kept hearing about The Skids, this band in Dunfermline, we thought they couldn’t be that good, so we went on a mission to spy on the competition and they blew our minds! They were fantastic. We were very quiet in the van on the way back to Glasgow…”
They then opened for bands like The Jam, Generation X and Siouxsie & The Banshees. “Exciting times,” says Jim. “The madmen had taken over the asylum. The children had a voracious appetite. [for punk] they were lining up around the block for us.
“People went crazy for us and that was the oxygen we needed.”
Did you think that forty years later you would still go? I didn’t even know people in their forties! My parents were not forty years old.
Punk opened the door for a new generation of eccentrics, he says. “Billy McKenzie on Top Of The Pops, Human League at the top of the charts, The Bunnymen, The Cure, ABC, Trevor Horn…lots of imagination and great pop music…I’d like to think we’re part of it. .
Magazine sensational, the first great post-punk band.”
When they finally appeared on Top Of The Pops for the first time in 1982, the experience was bittersweet. “We had made it, but we were skinny,” Charlie says sadly. “You think you’re a pop star but you don’t have money. It wasn’t until the seventh album that we felt like we had a career.”
Last year they sold their publishing catalog to BMG for undisclosed millions.
Their most prestigious performance was in 1985, when they played Live Aid in front of 90,000 people at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia, with 1.9 billion viewers worldwide.
Jim had taken his father, who disappeared backstage and was eventually found talking to a man named Bob, last name Dylan…he had been singing Scottish folk songs to him.
The Simple Minds toured for Amnesty International and played Nelson Mandela twice. The only decorations Jim remembers growing up were the picture of Lenin his father had on the wall and one of Jesus his mother put up in opposition.
Now a grandfather, Kerr has been married twice, to Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde (1984-1990) and actress Patsy Kensit (92-96), and has an adult daughter and son. He has been with his Japanese business partner Yumi for two decades.
Jim has loved Italy ever since he went there on a school trip to Rimini at age 13. “I had an idea that I’d like to come back when I was a crazy old man, well, now I’m a crazy…”
The train conductor’s son, Charlie, 63, enjoys morning walks and collecting guitars and keyboards. “I got my first acoustic guitar at 13, I stole it from my brother.”
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His two older brothers exposed him to a myriad of influences: Robert Krieger (The Doors), Hendrix, Steve Howe (Yes) and then Mick Ronson.
He rates his contemporaries, the late Stuart Adamson of Skids and Magazine’s John McGeoch, and lives in the hope that these troubled times will inspire a new generation of fiery guitar bands.
“Everything is so formulaic now; It’s gone back to the days of Tin Pan Alley.”
Jim describes the pair as “Catholic guys with a Protestant work ethic.” He once said: “I want to achieve greatness.”
“I still do,” he says. “We didn’t want to be average, that’s for sure!
“You want to be great for the people who grew up loving you.
“I also said that I wanted to be in a great live band, not a good one, a great one. And that we wanted to take it around the world and try to make a living out of it. It is still my ambition. We are proud of what we have invented.
“We are incredibly lucky, but we have worked hard.”
*Direction of the Heart is now available at BMG
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