As Simple Minds enter their fourth decade of making and performing music, Scotland’s most successful rock band return to South Africa to play hits like Alive and Kicking, Don’t You (Forget About Me) and Waterfront – and visit a country they helped reach democracy.
Simple Minds have topped the charts for decades with songs like 1985’s smash hit Don’t You (Forget About Me) from the film, The Breakfast Club, to the album Graffiti Soul, which hit the UK Top 10 in 2009.
Alongside the feel-good, slow-dance and stadium anthem songs were political works like Belfast Child and Mandela Day, and the band headlined the Nelson Mandela – An International Tribute for a Free South Africa event at Britain’s Wembley Stadium in 1990, alongside Peter Gabriel, Tracey Chapman and Hugh Masekela, with the recently freed Nelson Mandela in attendance.
Musically, the band have straddled art-rock and avant garde inclinations, pop and stadium rock hits as well as folk and instrumental pieces.
They’re listed as key influencers by artists as diverse as Moby and Primal Scream, and have been sampled by a new generation of artist like David Guetta and Nicky Minaj.
Through it all, though, Simple Minds have always aimed to be an unforgettable live band experience and, following the success of their 5x5 international tour (playing five songs each from their first five albums), frontman Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill return to South Africa after shows in 1995 as part of their international Greatest Hits tour.
Co-founder and frontman Kerr answers the telephone at his hotel in Italy with a confession.
“Here we are, me and Charlie Brooks, my songwriting partner, behaving like kids, riding around on Vespas and eating one too many ice-creams. But all that will change in a few days time when we start listening to our drummer banging away on a snare for hours at a time.
“Then, we’re looking forward to coming to South Africa. It’s belated. It’s been a long time, and we only had one opportunity to play in your country, and we enjoyed it immensely. I imagine that everyone says that, but it’s true for us.”
Part of Kerr and company’s happiness at playing in South Africa is their involvement in the cultural boycott against this country’s apartheid government, part of chipping away to achieve change and democracy.
“Chipping away,” says Kerr. “I think that’s a good way to put it. We definitely did do a bit to try and change things, and that obviously makes it more special for us, because we’ve got some sort of dialogue with the country. We’re looking forward to getting there, and giving it 100 percent. Because that’s what we do and, because of that, we’ve managed to have a lengthy career, that I hope will continue.”
Simple Minds were born in 1977 when Kerr and Burchill formed the band following the demise of their first project, a Glaswegian punk outfit called Johnny and the Self Abusers. Since then, there have been countless nights on stage, in stadiums, then back to smaller venues, and then filling stadiums again – with countless repetitions of the same songs. What is it like for Kerr to have done that and still be doing it today?
“I think you’ve got to be a special type of person to do that, talent apart,” he says.
“There are a lot of talented people who hate touring, and singing the songs that an audience wants to hear. Maybe they see it as routine, or whatever. We don’t feel like that. When we’re on stage, we are there to be of service. If it was just about you, then you’d stay in the garage and play the songs for yourself.
“Here, we’re playing for people who have maybe grown up with the songs, or maybe never seen you, or maybe they’re seeing you for the fifth time.
“We looked at people who’ve been in the game a long time, the real greats. I remember something that Neil Young said once, and he’s always full of great quotes and who knows which ones he’s more or less serious about, but he said: ‘It doesn’t count what you do when you’re a young man. That’s easy. It’s what you do when you’re older that really comes into play’.”
So, with a successful 5x5 tour in the bag, and an international Greatest Hits album and tour under way, what’s next for Simple Minds.
“There’s an amazing momentum, actually,” says Kerr. “We’re not only doing more shows than you could imagine at this stage of the game but, over the last two years when we’ve not been playing, lo and behold there’s a new chapter. We’ve been writing songs and – whisper it – it might even be a double album.”
With dozens of song and album hits in Britain, America, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, Australia and New Zealand, and with seminal albums like Once Upon A Time, Street Fighting Years and a hallmark of live recordings, Live In The City Of Light, what is it like being on the cusp of releasing new material to the mercy of the critics and the fans?
“What can we do?” says Kerr. “You can only do what you know, which is write the songs, and play them and produce them as well as you can. Then, once it leaves you, it’s all a bit of a lottery”
• Simple Minds (Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill, Mel Gaynor, Andy Gillespie and Ged Grimes) play Cape Town on November 3 at the Grand Arena, GrandWest Casino at 7pm after shows in Joburg on November 1 and 2 at the Big Top Arena, Carnival City at8pm.