Simple Minds formed some 42 years ago on the South Side of Glasgow, Scotland; and although they’ve passed through a myriad of personnel changes since, Jim Kerr (lead vocals) and Charlie Burchill (guitars, keyboard) are still at the helm. The two comprised both the “original lineup” with Derek Forbes (bass), Brian McGee (drums), and Mick MacNeil (keyboard); then later, the so-called “classic lineup” with Forbes, Mel Gaynor (drums), and MacNeil.
But after the band-centric days of the late 1970s and ’80s, Kerr and Burchill were left to navigate the ’90s with session musicians and a rotating cast of friends. They continued to tour, but after the damage done to the band’s credibility from their indulgence in arena rock, the ascendency of new “British Invasion” groups like Blur and Oasis, and the American perception of them as “one hit wonders” with only “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from The Breakfast Club  to offer, Kerr’s interest in music waned. “To be honest,” he remembered, “I wasn’t sure where we fit in anymore.”
Unfortunately, it was far from North America. Between 1995 and 2017, Simple Minds secured just 35 gigs in the States. Promoters apparently pegged them as less than lucrative. They even had to guarantee ticket sales again as if they were fresh on the scene. But rather than retire, Burchill and Kerr retooled the band and began focusing on Europe, Australia, and New Zealand instead. Old members returned, and new recruits like Sarah Brown (backing vocals) assumed integral roles. They scored festival appearances, one-off dates, benefits, and eventually proper tours.
As the 2000-aughts progressed, they were in constant motion. “More inspired by the likes of Sly and The Family Stone than a traditional male rock group,” Kerr quipped. “The whole stage set-up is more fluid now,” Burchill added. “More movement between the musicians onstage… more space for [Kerr] to talk to the audience.” They even appended their discography. But why keep going?
“Well,” Kerr explained in 2013,
The main reason for our touring activities is the sheer enjoyment involved in playing our music together in front of a live audience….
Through touring of course, we also promote our band by keeping our name and reputation alive to those interested… growing, and in some parts regrowing, a global audience for Simple Minds….
[But] nothing compares with the feeling of reward when we sense, usually at the end of an evening, that we have travelled long distances, to successfully engage with a challenge that involves making many people happy….
And that, above all else, is why we tour.
Tonight at the Beacon Theatre, a very “theatrical gang of musicians” — the ones Kerr likened to Sly and The Family Stone — assumed control from the start. During the show’s opener called “The Signal and the Noise,” the band rollicked around everywhere. Ged Grimes (bass) and Gordy Goudie (guitar) bounced up and down from the far off drum dais to the front lip of the stage. Burchill went swinging from left wing to right. Brown met Cherisee Osei’s (drums) thundering snare whacks with wild clapping hands of her own. And Kerr, well, Kerr was the old switchboard operator, yanking cables in the air from one input to another in search of the clearest connection to the crowd. He pointed and posed, threw open his arms, and waved and touched hands when they reached up from the first row. He dropped to his knees, even sang lying on his back.
But the best was when they finished the song. Grimes and Goudie came up centerstage, followed by Brown. Kerr was already there. Burchill waited for Osei and when she finally arrived, the house lights went hot. They linked arms in a row and all stood smiling in the feedback. People leapt to their feet with applause. And, stretching the moment, everyone basked in how happy they were. What might have been bittersweet — finally doing a big tour in America after so many years — suddenly seemed sweet. The band turned around and hopped back in with “Waterfront,” a 1983 classic.
After the concert, Kerr was ecstatic. He said,
It looked like even the balconies were bouncing in the Beacon Theatre — at least it seemed so from where we stood at center stage. It was an honor to play that prestigious old theatre — equally pleasing — we could not have asked for a more enthusiastic audience.
Thanks to all who came to New York, you did us proud last night, and Simple Minds are so grateful. A joyous experience in front of a sold out crowd. Already can’t wait until the next time!
Neither Kerr nor Burchill were trained as musicians. They didn’t have friends or family with any connections to the business either. Instead, starting out as fifteen year olds, they had to pick up the basics in the basement of original drummer Brian McGee’s house. After listening to their favorite records, they’d work out the melodies and try making some preliminary chord shapes. After studying their heroes move, they’d adopt their attitudes and imitate their styles of dress. So playing the Beacon Theatre — or anywhere else in New York, for that matter — is doubly meaningful. The musician they most often mimicked was Lou Reed, one of the city’s brightest starts.
In fact, Kerr often describes him as Simple Minds’ “North Star,” looking to Reed whether becalmed or battered on the musical sea. At the height of their fame in the ’80s, no less, they showed their appreciation for his guidance when they covered “Street Hassle” and later invited him to guest on “This Is Your Land.” So it’s no surprise he was on the band’s collective mind before the show at the Beacon. Kerr remarked,
We were thinking about Lou today, as we made the drive into Manhattan from Newark. One of New York’s greatest ever artists, we were in NYC five years ago on the sad day of Lou’s passing [October 27, 2013].
‘Waiting For My Man,’ ‘Sweet Jane,’ ‘White Light, White Heat,’ are only three of many Lou Reed compositions that we covered in that basement cellar. The noise that came from The Velvet Underground, being the noise that all garage bands want to make. Lou Reed showed us the way back then; and, in many ways, still does.
I am sure we will think about him again tomorrow night as we make our way onto a New York stage. And how it all began for us as teenagers in Glasgow, listening incessantly to Lou Reed.
All quotes courtesy of simpleminds.org and simpleminds.com.
Jim Kerr (vocals), Charlie Burchill (lead guitar, keyboard), Sarah Brown (backing vocals), Gordy Goudie (guitar, keyboard), Ged Grimes (bass), and Cherisse Osei (drums) of Simple Minds at the Beacon Theatre. Walk Between Worlds Tour.
Photos by Rick Stachura. October 2, 2018.
(1) Burchill, Kerr, Brown, Osei (L-R).
(2) Kerr at concert’s end.
(3) Kerr applauds the crowd.