New Gold Dream: Jim Kerr on the Glasgow origin of Simple Minds

Jim Kerr will stride on stage tonight for a homecoming gig as part of Simple Minds biggest tour in 30 years, taking a legacy of hits back to arena level crowds around the world.
Simple Minds’ founding members Jim Kerr, lead singer, and Charlie Burchill, guitar, playing live at the First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture Ernesto RogataSimple Minds’ founding members Jim Kerr, lead singer, and Charlie Burchill, guitar, playing live at the First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture Ernesto Rogata
Simple Minds’ founding members Jim Kerr, lead singer, and Charlie Burchill, guitar, playing live at the First Direct Arena, Leeds. Picture Ernesto Rogata

Live performance is the lifeblood of the band and it all started in Glasgow. The city is etched across every part of their journey to global success. 

After almost 50 years, Simple Minds’ place in music is secure. Why sign up for 150 gigs around the world and jump on a tour bus again? To explain his motivation, Jim Kerr goes back to the first interview the band ever did, back when he was cutting about Toryglen with Charlie Burchill. “The journalist guy said to me, what do you want out of all this? I was only 19. I said we want three things. We want to be a great live band, we want to take it around the world and we want to make a life out of it. It’s for all of us to judge whether we’ve reached that point yet, but we’ve certainly been around the world and we’ve certainly had a life out of it. 

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“It’s been a great story, but great stories need a good final chapter and I think there’s still a bit more to give. So it’s that notion that gives us a purpose. The greatest thing about what we do, especially when it comes to playing live, is seeing the effect, the joy that it brings out. You see the audience coming in, they're already hyped. They go into these places with the problems of the world on their shoulders and you bring sound and light, by the end of it they are hugging each other. Even football doesn’t do that. It’s a rare thing and that’s the mentality that keeps us playing.” 

In 1977 Glasgow was a different city, still in the overcast shades of industrial decline. What audacious confidence drove a band playing in local bars to think that the next step was the world? “That’s a great questions because the thing we were attempting, it's a bit more common now” Jim says. “Back then, in Toryglen, you’d have more change of being an astronaut than being top of the American charts. It wasn’t like you had a college to show you how to write a song back then, or you could go along the street and there was a guy that had done it before. It’s an amazing thing, the power of imagination.

“It all begins with belief. You have to believe that things are possible and then it’s step by step.”

Simple Minds emerged out of a sense that they could create something new: “We could only do our own thing, it was all homemade, trying to chase down synthesisers and find an edge. You’d go into any Glasgow pub and there was a band there playing cover versions, and they were great at it. We just knew we didn’t want to do that. So it was very much, we'll have to invent ourselves.”

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It was playing in Glasgow that ultimately led to Simple Minds’ first breakthrough moment. Jim explains: “I’ll tell you the thing, back then everyone said to you you had to go to London. Even The Beatles had to go to London. But we learned our trade in Glasgow’s pubs in clubs. There was a pub called the Mars Bar at St Enoch Square and we played there every Sunday night. It was free to get in and folk would queue round the block, our pals would tell their pals. It was a big crowd and we knew we had to be good and we were doing our own stuff. 

“We recorded some songs onto cassettes and people would make copies of them, that’s how we got the word out. I hiked down to London with some of these cassettes and there was a good reaction, the record label people said, come down here and do a showcase gig for us. Here’s the bit where I don’t know were we had the gall to do this - we didn’t have a manager or anything - I said to them, no you will need to come up to Glasgow.”

 

The Mars Bar was Glasgow’s most well-known punk pub, and proved to be more popular than Paisley’s Bungalow Bar or the Silver Thread Hotel for its city centre location.  Just off St Enoch Square, the Mars Bar opened in 1977.The Mars Bar was Glasgow’s most well-known punk pub, and proved to be more popular than Paisley’s Bungalow Bar or the Silver Thread Hotel for its city centre location.  Just off St Enoch Square, the Mars Bar opened in 1977.
The Mars Bar was Glasgow’s most well-known punk pub, and proved to be more popular than Paisley’s Bungalow Bar or the Silver Thread Hotel for its city centre location. Just off St Enoch Square, the Mars Bar opened in 1977.

Seeing Simple Minds perform in the wild with a Glasgow crowd was enough to secure them their first recording contract: “When they came up, people already knew every word because they came to see us every week and they had the cassettes, it was as though we were already playing hits. So Glasgow and the audience and the support, that was the oxygen we needed then.”

I ask Jim to map out places in Glasgow that he can hear in the music of Simple Minds or that were important to the band: “ I met Charlie Burchill  the first day we moved into the housing scheme in Toryglen. We were taking in furniture and at the bottom of the road there was a few boys playing, I went down and asked a boy sitting on a wall if I could play as well, that boy was Charlie. If I hadn’t met Charlie, if we had moved to a different scheme, I’d be riding a different taxi. I might have ended up driving a f***** taxi. 

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"The band really formed when I was at school at Hollyrood so there was that. In Glasgow when we were growing up we would go to the Apollo and the fact you could see all these great live bands, it’s really important to see that, it’s like a university. It made it all real. The first concert I saw was David Bowie. I saw Roxy Music, the Rolling Stones, The Who. I mean, we really saw the best. Charlie’s first gig was Led Zeppelin.

"Also, there was the record shops back then, everyone was in there and hanging out. That was where you met people. We did our first gig in a place called Satellite City, which was above Green’s Playhouse. It was a disco then. These were the places that gave birth to Simple Minds. It was pretty much Souhside for me, still is. I get a nosebleed if I go up the West End or cross the river. It was so localised and it was with all the pals that supported us.” 

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