Keeping it Simple: Ahead of the Belfast show, Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr talks about 40 years of success, Live Aid and rock rivalries
It’s a moment Jim Kerr will never forget – taking the stage at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia in July 1985 for the Simple Minds slot at Live Aid.
“We were on for 15 minutes and I spent 13 minutes thinking about the fact that we had just been introduced by Jack Nicholson,” recalls Kerr, who was unaware he was going to be introduced by the actor until the last minute.
“I kept thinking about Jack Nicholson…I can’t believe it…that’s when we aired to one of the biggest TV audiences of all time (about 1, 9 billion),” Kerr continued.
“He was everything you’d want him to be, immensely warm and friendly. I found that with all these guys – De Niro, Pacino – these guys could be movie actors but they’re so real, it’s is what attracts them.”
Kerr was only a few dates away from a 40th anniversary tour with Simple Minds just over two years ago “when everything accelerated with Covid and we stopped.”
“Before we knew it, we were back home and haven’t played live since,” he tells me.
“We thought we’d be back in the summer (2021) but here we are two years later. Playing live is the center of our lives, we’re a live band and our team is like family, it was a lot to put on hold.
“Charlie (Burchill) and I have continued to write and we have a new record up our sleeve, we haven’t been sitting around twiddling our thumbs.”
Our conversation takes place before Celtic clinch the Premiership title this season, and Simple Minds’ 1995 track Hypnotized was the subject of TV coverage.
“We all know the nerves and the tension here in Sicily,” says Kerr, who currently resides in Taormina where he owns a hotel. Charlie Burchill, Simple Minds guitarist and childhood friend, lives on the same street.
“I don’t know what cover we were watching but we weren’t hypnotized. Sometimes during rehearsal Charlie plays a riff and I’m like, ‘Who is that, Roxy Music or something?’ Turns out it’s one of ours.
“OK – some of it gets old, which we all are – but when you have over 300 songs, things get buried, and when you hear a keyboard line or a bass line, it makes an impression.”
With that in mind, how does the band compose a setlist that appeals to different generations of fans over 40?
“We’re resuming rescheduled dates – it was billed as a 40th anniversary tour, but in reality we’ve been moving forward 44 years. We’re trying to tick all the boxes in order to play the ones people expect to hear,” says -he. .
“There are 24 songs out of a pool of about 40 which is the backbone, but we change five songs every night because we like to go back to the early days and do something obscure where the hardcore could say, ‘I didn’t think they ‘I’ll play that again’. We might do a cover or something that we haven’t played in a while.”
Belfast Child, however, “is in the setlist”, confirms Kerr. The track was first released in February 1989, reaching number 1 on the UK and Irish charts.
Simple Minds are often said to have had a significant influence on U2’s 1984 classic The Unforgettable Fire. Does Kerr agree?
“We’re big fans of U2. I think in those days it was great when you were touring with other bands like U2, The Cure or Echo & the Bunnymen – you could talk to them and the fact is we could have all been in each other’s bands. Okay, geographically we were from different places but if you went through our record collections it would be the same thing and I just assumed it rubbed off.
Kerr admits that a war of words between certain groups “could be brutal”.
“I used to take comfort in the fact that they wouldn’t say it in a pub in Glasgow because it would hurt their jaw, but because it was music it was okay to put someone down. ‘one,’ he said.
“We were all young men trying to jockey for a position and looking back now our contemporaries all had their strengths and weaknesses, there were also insecurities.
“Certain bands had certain qualities that were more to my liking, I was a music lover and it was exciting to compete with those bands.
“If the radio only picked up two songs on the playlist, you wanted to be one of them, and if there was only one record cover in a store window, you wanted her to be yours. The problem with all those bands is that we’re all still going now.”
The Simple Minds anniversary concert takes place just months after Echo & the Bunnymen played their 40th anniversary concert in Belfast.
Kerr turns his attention to a more recent encounter with Ian McCulloch. “We were both playing at a festival in Portugal a few years ago now and noticed The Bunnymen were playing,” he says.
“We were in the locker room and a member of their team came to the door, a real Scouser and said, ‘Mac wants to say hello; go down to the locker room”.
“We said, ‘Nah, tell him to come here.’ Five minutes later he walks in and he’s great and we’re delighted to see him.
“He says, ‘Listen, I have to say something here; I have to apologize; I used to say all that. I met my wife at a Simple Minds concert and all I have never heard, it was Simple Minds; it drove me nuts’.”
“Well, I can relate to that, but two weeks later he does an interview and says ‘Simple Minds – they’re a bunch of wa**ers,'” Kerr laughs, adding, “I think it’s an act. . “
Unlike his contemporaries, Kerr managed to record with their triumvirate of heroes – he sang backing vocals between David Bowie and Iggy Pop on the latter’s Play it Safe, from his 1980 album Soldier, and also pulled off a hit when Lou Reed agreed to appear on Simple Minds’ single This Is Your Land from their 1989 album Street Fighting Years.
“We sent him a note and he said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’ It’s kind of like Jack Nicholson and almost as brief,” Kerr recalled.
“We went to Paris to meet him and he came down to the studio for an hour wearing a leather jacket smoking a cigarette.
“He was very camp and couldn’t have been nicer, someone from the label said he was a nightmare to work with but in all honesty he couldn’t have been nicer.”
We know what Kerr was thinking in the first 13 minutes of this slot at Live Aid; what was he thinking in the last two? “I was thinking about my pants; I had these fluttering white pants that looked like I should have had on a yacht. I thought: bad pants. »
:: The Simple Minds: 40 Years of Hits Tour arrives at Custom House Square, Belfast on August 9th. ticketmaster.co.uk.