‘One tremendous ruck every year’: Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill on career | Music | Entertainment

Ged Grimes, Charlie Burchill, Cherisse Osei, Gordy Goudie, Jim Kerr, Berenice Scott, Sarah Brown

Ged Grimes, Charlie Burchill, Cherisse Osei, Gordy Goudie, Jim Kerr, Berenice Scott, Sarah Brown (Image: Dean Chalkley)

They were playing a “tougher than tough” Glasgow venue called The Terminal One in the late summer of 1977. “We’d drunk as much cheap wine and taken as many pills as we could for Dutch courage and were waiting to play,” Jim recalls. “The promoter said, ‘Lads, you’re on after the next single, but it’s okay, it’s eight minutes long’.

“Our response was, ‘Eh? Eight minutes? Singles are three minutes, what are you on about?’

“Then we heard this incredible noise…I was transfixed. I said ‘What’s that?’ It was a synthesiser. Immediately I said, ‘Punk’s finished! We’ve got to get one’”

The pulsing hypnotic 12-inch mix of Summer’s I Feel Love, produced by Georgio Moroder, changed the face of pop forever. “It was like the Velvet Underground doing disco,” he says, still in awe. “And she was singing in an Arabic scale…”

Self-deprecating singer Jim and publicity-shy guitarist Charlie, both 63, formed the world-conquering Simple Minds soon after, playing their first gig at Glasgow’s Satellite City in January 1978.

Sixty million plus album sales later, the band are still cherished for enduring hits like Don’t You (Forget About Me), Alive & Kicking and the sombre 1989 chart-topper Belfast Child.

It wasn’t an easy ride. In 1980, Peter Gabriel asked them to support him on his 30-date European tour.

“We were booed off every night bar one and had all manner of stuff thrown at us. Turin, in Italy, was particularly bad,” says Jim shaking his head. “But even when we were getting heavy abuse, I remember thinking, we’ll be back.”

And he is. Home is in the idyllic cliffside town of Taormina, Sicily, where Jim owns a boutique hotel. He drinks his morning coffee and looks out over the Med and the ice-capped peak of Mount Etna. He writes for a couple of hours then drives to the local market on his Vespa to stock up with fresh veg and lentils. Later he’ll meet up with Charlie, still his closest friend and neighbour.

Simple Minds' line-up in 1981

The band’s line-up in Canada in 1981 (Image: Getty)

They were eight when they met after Jim’s family had relocated from the Gorbals to a tough council estate in Toryglen, Glasgow. Charlie recalls, “They were still building our estate, so there was lots of material hanging about so that became a playground for the kids. I met Jim in a sandpit…”

Stepping on a rusty nail stopped Kerr from seeing Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour when he was 13 and working part-time as a cleaner in a butcher’s shop. Instead, the first concert he went to was “Peter Gabriel in Genesis – the first thing I saw was a guy with a fox’s head on.”

Gabriel turned out to be probably the nicest man in rock. “Peter Gabriel is a lovely guy, he let us play big venues and treated us well and all we did was wait until he went on stage so we could steal his food. ‘What’s that? Camembert? Who ****ing eats that?’.”

Of Charlie, Jim adds, “We’re the best of pals. I drive him crazy; we usually have one tremendous ruck every year where it’s borderline violence, and by the next day we’ve forgotten it. Sometimes you’re not on the same page.”

Charlie agrees. “Jim’s constantly getting ideas. We will have just finished a six-month tour and at 7am the next morning the phone rings and he’ll say, ‘You’d better get started on the new album’…”

Their latest, the brilliant life-affirming Direction Of The Heart, includes Vision Thing, an exuberant tribute to Jim’s late father Jimmy, a former builder’s labourer with the gift of the gab, who died in 2019.

Simple Minds’ 1979 debut album went Top 30 but their breakout record was their fifth, 1982’s New Gold Dream – the first of six platinum-sellers – which spawned their first hit, Promised You A Miracle.

“It was a sound we could claim for our own,” says Jim. “Before we were like a bad version of Ultravox or Magazine.”

It was also a vibrant electro-explosion of optimism in the dark days of the early 80s when Europe was in turmoil.

“It was still hungover from the student revolution,” says Jim. “So gigs were targets for the Red Brigade or Baader Meinhof. We played Marseilles and the place was full of teargas. In Paris, a bomb went off in a synagogue…

“Our early records were written in the back of a van with that going on around us. In parts of Germany, the dark [Nazi] imagery our dads and grandads spoke about was there in the background.”

Kerr recalls a grim university gig in the wilds of Canada. “We realise it’s a Halloween gig; most of the people are dressed in Ku Klux Klan outfits so we get the hump right away. Then when we were on stage, a guy dressed as a spaceman was shooting us with a laser gun…We came off early.

“We were sitting in the dressing room and there’s angry banging on the door and so we open the door and it’s the promoter – dressed as Dracula – swearing and saying ‘I’m going to sue you’.

“He ended up being our best pal, taking us on to a club…”

Jim and Charlie are the only constants in the band, who now include singer Sarah Brown, keyboardist Berenice Scott and dexterous drummer Cherisse Osei.

The pals’ first combo were called Johnny & The Self-Abusers.

Jim and Charlie performing in Spain

Jim and Charlie performing in Spain last July (Image: Getty)

“It’s all been downhill since,” says Jim. “It was that exciting. Landmark gigs are nothing compared to the thrill of those first dates – flying by the seat of your pants.

“People ask how I got my stage moves; it was from avoiding bottles coming out of the dark in Glasgow.”

Their first-ever gig was in 1977 in a church hall that doubled as a working man’s social club. Charlie recalls, “We played Waiting For My Man to a room full of baffled orphans…our whole set was covers of the Velvet Underground and Roxy Music songs, kind of glammy rock; Jim played keyboards then.”

“Punk changed the music scene completely,” Jim says. “For the first time, you could stay local and build up a following. I remember we kept hearing about The Skids this band in Dunfermline we thought they can’t be that good, so we went on a mission to spy on the competition and they blew us away! They were fantastic. We were very quiet in the van going back to Glasgow…”

They went on to open for bands like The Jam, Generation X, and Siouxsie & The Banshees. “Exciting times,” says Jim. “The lunatics had taken over the asylum. Kids had a voracious appetite [for punk] they were queuing around the block for us.

“People went mental for us and that was the oxygen we needed.”

Did you think forty years later you’d still be going? “I didn’t even know people who were forty! My parents weren’t forty.”

Punk opened the door for a new breed of eccentrics, he says.  “Billy McKenzie on Top Of The Pops, Human League at the top of the charts, The Bunnymen, The Cure, ABC, Trevor Horn… a lot of imagination and some great pop music…I’d like to think we were part of it.

Magazine sensational, the first great post-punk band.”

When they finally appeared on Top Of The Pops for the first time in 1982 the experience was bittersweet. “We’d made it but we were skint,” says Charlie ruefully. “You think you’re a pop star but you’ve got no money. It wasn’t until the seventh album that we felt we had a career.”

Last year they sold their publishing back catalogue to BMG for undisclosed millions.

Their most prestigious gig was in 1985, when they played Live Aid in front of 90,000 at Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium, with 1.9billion watching around the world.

Jim had taken his father, who vanished backstage and was eventually found chatting to a man called Bob, surname Dylan…he’d been singing him Scottish folk songs.

The Simple Minds went on to tour for Amnesty International and played twice Nelson Mandela. The only decorations Jim remembers growing up with the picture of Lenin his father had on the wall, and one of Jesus his mother put up in opposition.

Now a grandad, Kerr has been married twice – to the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde (1984–90) and actress Patsy Kensit (92–96) – and has a grown-up daughter and son. He’s been with his Japanese businesswoman partner Yumi for two decades.

Jim has loved Italy since he went there on a school trip to Rimini at 13. “I had the notion I’d want to come back when I’m an old codger, well I’m a codger now…”

Train-driver’s son Charlie, 63, enjoys early morning walks and collecting guitars and keyboards. “I got my first acoustic guitar at 13, I nicked it from my brother.”

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His two older siblings exposed him to a wealth of influences – Robert Krieger (The Doors), Hendrix, Steve Howe (Yes), then Mick Ronson.

He rates his contemporaries, the late Stuart Adamson of the Skids and Magazine’s John McGeoch, and lives in hope that these troubled times will inspire a new breed of fiery guitar bands.

“Everything is so formulated now; it’s gone back to the days of Tin Pan Alley.”

Jim describes the pair as “Catholic boys with a Protestant work ethic”. He once said, “I want to achieve greatness.”

“I still do,” he says. “We didn’t want to be average, that’s for sure!!

“You want to be great for the people who grew up loving you.

“I also said I wanted to be in a great live band – not a good one, a great one. And that we wanted to take it around the world and try and get a life out of this. It’s still my ambition. We take pride in this thing we’ve invented.

“We’re incredibly fortunate, but we’ve worked hard.”

*Direction of the Heart is out now on BMG

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