Simple Minds

 

Highlights

  • Formed in Glasgow, Scotland in 1977.
  • Achieved five UK album chart number ones.
  • Sold more than 60 million albums worldwide.
  • Achieved Only U.S #1 in 1985 with Don’t You (Forget About Me) from ‘The Breakfast Club‘.
  • The first band to be approached to play the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid in 1985.

 

Simple Minds are a Scottish New Wave/rock band which had their greatest worldwide popularity during the mid-1980s. The band, from Glasgow’s Southside, produced a handful of critically acclaimed albums in the early part of that decade which were heavily influenced by electronic music, a rising force in UK pop at that time, popularised by groups such as the Human League. Simple Minds reached their peak of commercial success after an appearance on Live Aid and an album of unashamed stadium rock before producing some politically inspired and critically praised work that sold in declining numbers. In recent years, a number of their earlier electronic tracks have been remixed for the dance floor, and Simple Minds remains a major concert draw throughout Europe and Australia, although the band’s presence on American airwaves has long since waned.

Although Simple Minds have had a string of successful hit singles over the years, the band is primarily known for their number-one worldwide smash, “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” from the soundtrack of the John Hughes’ movie The Breakfast Club. In addition, Simple Minds is also noted for its consistent inclusion of original instrumentals on almost all of the band’s studio albums, along with a great number of their single releases. Even “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” came with an original instrumental on its B-side, and the number of instrumental tracks recorded by Simple Minds over the years would fill a boxed set of its own.

Founding members Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill, along with drummer Mel Gaynor, are the core of the band, which currently features Mark Taylor on keyboards and Eddie Duffy on bass guitar.

Simple Minds’ first release on Virgin was two albums: the Steve Hillage-produced Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call. The latter album was initially included as a bonus disc with the first 10,000 vinyl copies of Sons and Fascination, but it was later re-issued as an album in its own right. (For the CD release, it was paired on a single disc with Sons and Fascination – at first with two tracks deleted, but in full on later issues.)

Peter Gabriel selected Simple Minds as the opening act on several dates of his European tour. Further increasing the band’s visibility, the single “Love Song” became an international hit (reaching the Top 20 in Canada and Australia), and the instrumental “Theme for Great Cities” proved so enduring a composition that it was later re-recorded in 1991 as a B-side to the single “See the Lights”.

During this period, the band’s visual aesthetic was established, masterminded by Malcolm Garrett’s graphic design company Assorted images. Characterised at first by hard, bold typography and photo-collage, Garrett’s designs for the band later incorporated pop-religious iconography in clean, integrated package designs that befitted the band’s idealised image as neo-romantic purveyors of European anthemic pop.

Drummer Brian McGee left the band at the end of the Sons and Fascination sessions, citing exhaustion at Simple Minds’ constant touring schedule and a desire for more time at home with family. He later joined Propaganda.

McGee’s initial replacement as Simple Minds’ drummer was Kenny Hyslop (ex-Skids, Slik, Zones), who joined the band in October 1981 in time to play the first leg of the Sons and Fascination tour. His interest in New York music (including funk, hip-hop and dance) had an immediate effect on the band’s musical development. He stayed long enough to drum on the band’s next single, the disco-friendly “Promised You a Miracle” (based on a funk riff from one of the cassettes he played on the band’s tour bus) which hit the UK Top 20 and the Australian Top 10. Hyslop “didn’t fit in” with the band or their management (a situation further strained by his apparent suspicion of record companies) and in February 1982 he left the band after five months.

Hyslop was replaced by the Kilmarnock-born percussionist Mike Ogletree (the former drummer for Café Jacques). Ogletree joined Simple Minds for rehearsals in a large converted barn in Perthshire, where he wrote and played the drum parts for the songs that were to become New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84). Ogletree also performed with the band on TV and the second leg of the ‘Sons and Fascination Tour’.

The band moved to Townhouse Studios for recording sessions with producer Peter Walsh, who introduced them to a London-born drummer called Mel Gaynor, a 22-year-old session musician with plenty of experience (including a stint drumming for The Nolans and Samson (band) with Bruce Dickinson). Working closely with Ogletree in order to capture and maintain the beats from the Perthshire sessions, he played drums on the majority of the record (although Ogletree played drums on three tracks and is credited for percussion across the entire album).

New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84) was released in September 1982, combining the results of the Walsh sessions along with “Promised You a Miracle”. The album was a commercial breakthrough and generated charting singles including “Glittering Prize” (which reached the UK Top 20 and Australian Top 10). Simple Minds were soon categorised as part of the New Romantic outgrowth of new wave (along with Duran Duran and others).

While some tracks (“Promised You a Miracle”, “Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel”) continued the formula perfected on Sons and Fascination, other tracks (“Someone Somewhere in Summertime”, “Glittering Prize”) were undisguised pop. Jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock performed a synth solo on the track “Hunter and the Hunted”.

Mike Ogletree played on the first leg of the New Gold Dream tour, but left the band immediately afterwards in November 1982 to join Fiction Factory. Mel Gaynor was recruited (as a full member of the band) for the remaining dates. Simple Minds’ first non-Scottish member, Gaynor went on to become the band’s longest-standing drummer (and member aside from mainstays Burchill and Kerr) despite thrice leaving and returning in the following decades.

The next record, Sparkle in the Rain, was produced by Steve Lillywhite and released in February 1984. It gave rise to successful singles like “Waterfront” (which hit No. 1 in a few European countries) and “Speed Your Love to Me” and “Up on the Catwalk”. Sparkle in the Rain topped the charts in the UK and hit the Top 20 in several other countries (including Canada, where it reached No. 13).

In 1984, Jim Kerr married Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders (who renamed herself Christine Kerr). Simple Minds did a North American tour where they played as headliners supported by China Crisis during the Canadian leg and in support of the Pretenders in the US while Hynde was pregnant with Kerr’s daughter. The marriage lasted until 1990.

Despite the band’s new-found popularity in the UK, Europe, Canada and Australia, Simple Minds remained essentially unknown in the US. The band’s UK releases on Arista were not picked up by Arista USA who had ‘right of first refusal’ for their releases. The 1985 film The Breakfast Club broke Simple Minds into the US market, when the band achieved their only No. 1 U.S. pop hit in April 1985 with the film’s closing track, “Don’t You (Forget About Me)“. The song was written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff; Forsey offered the song to Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry before Simple Minds agreed to record it. The song soon became a chart-topper in many other countries around the world.

At around this point, the camaraderie that had fuelled Simple Minds began to unravel, and over the next ten years the band’s line-up underwent frequent changes. Jim Kerr subsequently recalled “We were knackered. We were desensitized. The band started to fracture. We were lads who had grown up together, we were meant to grow together, politically, spiritually and artistically. But we were getting tired with each other. There was an element of the chore creeping in. We were coasting and this whole other thing was a challenge.”

The first casualty was bassist Derek Forbes, who was beginning to squabble with Kerr. Forbes began failing to turn up for rehearsals, and was dismissed. Forbes remained in touch with the band (and soon reunited with another former Simple Minds band-mate, drummer Brian McGee, in Propaganda). Forbes was replaced by former Brand X bass player John Giblin (who owned the band’s rehearsal space and was a session musician who had worked with Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush). Giblin made his debut with Simple Minds at Live Aid in Philadelphia, where the band performed “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”, a new track called “Ghost Dancing” and “Promised You a Miracle”. Simple Minds were the first band to be approached to play the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid.

During 1985, Simple Minds were in the studio with former Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks producer Jimmy Iovine. In November, Once Upon a Time was released; former Chic singer Robin Clark, who performed call-and-response vocals with Kerr throughout the album (effectively becoming a second lead singer), and was heavily featured in Simple Minds music videos of the time. The record reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 10 in the US, despite the fact that their major-league breakthrough single “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was not included.

Once Upon a Time went on to generate four worldwide hit singles: “Alive and Kicking”, “Sanctify Yourself”, “Ghost Dancing” and “All the Things She Said”, the last of which featured a music video directed by Zbigniew Rybczyński that used techniques developed in music videos for bands such as Pet Shop Boys and Art of Noise. The band also toured, with both Robin Clark and percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos added to the live line-up.

Because of Simple Minds’ powerful stage presence and lyrics that trafficked in Christian symbolism, the band was criticised by some in the music press as a lesser version of U2, despite the fact that both bands were now heading in different musical directions. The two groups were well-acquainted with one another, and Bono joined Simple Minds on-stage at the Barrowlands in Glasgow in 1985 for a live version of “New Gold Dream”. Bono also appeared on stage at Simple Minds Croke Park concert and sang “Sun City” during the “Love Song” medley. Derek Forbes also appeared on stage at the Croke Park concert and performed on several songs during the encore. To document their worldwide Once Upon a Time Tour, Simple Minds released the double-live set Live in the City of Light in May 1987, which was recorded primarily over two nights in Paris in August 1986.

By 1988, the band had built their own recording premises—the Bonnie Wee Studio—in Scotland. Following the lengthy period of touring to support Once Upon a Time, Simple Minds began new writing sessions. Initially the band began work on an instrumental project called Aurora Borealis (mostly written by Burchill and MacNeil). This project was then supplanted by an increase in the band’s political activism, something which they had begun to stress in recent years (by giving all of the income from the “Ghostdancing” single to Amnesty International, and playing cover versions of Little Steven’s “(Ain’t Gonna Play) Sun City” on tour), inspired by Peter Gabriel with whom they had toured in the early 1980s.

Simple Minds were the first band to sign up for Mandela Day, a concert held at Wembley Stadium, London, as an expression of solidarity with the then-imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Bands involved were asked to produce a song especially for the event – Simple Minds were the only act which produced one. This was “Mandela Day”, which the band played live on the day (alongside cover versions of “Sun City” with Little Steven and a cover version of Peter Gabriel’s “Biko” on which Gabriel himself took on lead vocals). “Mandela Day” was released on the Ballad of the Streets EP, which reached No. 1 in the British singles charts (the only time the band did so).

Another EP track, “Belfast Child”, was a rewrite of the Celtic folk song “She Moved Through the Fair” (which had been introduced to Kerr by John Giblin) with new lyrics written about the ongoing war in Northern Ireland). The single was also an expression by Simple Minds of their support for the campaign for the release of Beirut-held hostage Brian Keenan, kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad.

The next album Street Fighting Years (produced by Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson) moved away from the American soul and gospel influences of Once Upon a Time in favour of soundtrack atmospherics and a new incorporation of acoustic and folk music-related ingredients. The lyrics were also more directly political, covering topics including the Poll Tax, the Soweto townships, the Berlin Wall and the stationing of nuclear submarines on the Scottish coast.

The band underwent further line-up changes during the recording of Street Fighting Years. Mel Gaynor and John Giblin both contributed to the recording (and, in Giblin’s case, to some of the writing) but both had left the band by the time of the album’s release, by which time the band was credited as a trio of Kerr, Burchill and MacNeil. In a new development for the band, various bass guitar and drum tracks were performed by high-profile session musicians. Gaynor’s departure from the band was brief (he was rehired for the following tour).

Released in 1989, the album rose to No. 1 in the UK charts and received a rare five-star review from Q magazine. It received a less positive review in Rolling Stone which criticised the band for what the reviewer considered to be political vacuity. “This Is Your Land” was chosen as the lead single for the U.S., and even with guest vocals from Lou Reed, the single failed to make a mark on the pop charts.

Discography

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