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ballad of the streets ep: information

And it was exactly three decades ago this week that Simple Minds released our Ballad Of The Streets EP. Released as it was some four months earlier, to be "the taster" from our then planned forthcoming Street Fighting Years album. And that idea of releasing an EP, opposed to a catchy single, was an unorthodox decision indeed.

Desiring to try something different than the conventional pre-album type release. Perhaps also a little unsure, whether we even have any clear cut, "radio friendly" tracks among our new Street Fighting Years collection? We were still confident in the overall strength and power of the new music that we had worked on over the previous year and more with visionary producers, Trevor Horn and Stephen Lipson.

Casting fear and conventional wisdom aside, we decided to take a more unconventional route and instead attempt to cause a different kind of "splash" with both media and fans. That plan relied on going with a much grander musical statement altogether. Instead, it involved releasing a three track EP, with a song of epic proportions called Belfast Child, as its centrepiece.

In addition, "the epic" would be defiantly serviced to radio, even in the understanding that many ultra commercial radio stations would most probably reject our new, dark and moody track, complete as it was with its heavy political theme and captivatingly haunted melody, based on a traditional Irish folk song and originally composed one hundred years previously.

Talk about commercial suicide? Were we really that mad to imagine that we could transport a tune from a hundred years ago and then somehow breathe contemporary life into it? Hopefully all to be achieved by adapting new words and an unrecognisably new arrangement? One that incorporated that hugest Simple Minds type heartbeat. An antique song, suddenly reborn and rebooted, as though belonging only to the times we were then living in? The answer to all those questions is. Yes, I guess we were that mad. And for my money, true artists always are.

In the end, whoever came up with that ballsy and ingenious idea of releasing the Ballad Of The Streets EP featuring Belfast Child, literally struck gold. (OK, OK then. It was me.)

The result being that wherever the track was promoted on radio, it went on to reach some of our highest selling positions ever.

That included number one positions both in UK and Germany among others. Meanwhile in France, where Mandela Day was released as the radio track, also from the Ballad Of The Streets EP, to this day that track is considered a classic and received rapturously whenever played live.

Alternately in countries where the track and EP received little radio support, eg North America. Guess what? Both it, and the following Street Fighting Years album, sunk without a trace. Begging the question equally. What idiot came up with the decision to suggest Belfast Child as a single from a doomy EP called The Ballad Of The Streets? (OK, OK then. It was me.)

Fine and good. Time flies in the way that it does, and what fun it is to look back on the glory days.

Janury 11th, 2019

  • After the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, there were calls from both fans and music company, for Simple Minds to release Mandela Day as a single. The song had received widespread promotion before the concert, thanks to an early version being send to BBC Radio One, but the band and management remained firm, believing such a move would be a sell out.

  • Instead they returned to the studio, and continued work on their new album, which would eventually emerge as Street Fighting Years.

  • As a warm-up before the release of the album in May 1989, and conscious that the band hadn't released any material since Live In The City Of Light, the pre-album single was scheduled for February 1989.

  • Virgin were realistic and realised that they didn't have any 'hits' - there was nothing finished that Radio One would play on the morning show. Instead they tried to create an 'event', by packaging up three tracks from the album and releasing it as an EP.

  • The three tracks selected were the brand-new Belfast Child, the final version of Mandela Day (a nod to those who wanted it released months earlier), and a cover of Peter Gabriel's Biko (which was also performed at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute).

  • Virgin were wary about releasing a six minute single but the band were adamant that it should be released in its complete form. An edit was produced which still clocked in at a lengthy five minutes - but attempting to condense the song still further was blocked. A compromise was reached where the edit would appear on the promotional pressings, but the full-length version would only be available commercially.

  • The number of commerical and promotional formats issued for The Ballad Of The Streets EP set a trend which was followed by all the releases for the forthcoming album: four standard commercial formats joined by a limited edition or two; and a promotional 12" and 5" CD featuring edits of the title track.

  • The 7" single only included Belfast Child and Mandela Day. There was no room for Biko.

  • The other three formats, namely the MC, 12" and 3" CD, all carried the same three tracks. There were no edits, alternative versions or edits.

  • The limited edition was released a week later. As would also set a pattern for subsequent singles, it was a lavishly packaged 12". Unfortunately there was no additional music - the band had not finished any other tracks, working until April to finish the album and bonus tracks. So the gimick for this limited edition was the packaging: the commerical 12" was housed in a large flimsy box with four black-and-white pictures taken during the filming of the Belfast Child video.

  • It was the only Simple Minds release to reach number one in the UK chart.

  • "Trevor said, 'You should do a folk song.' We'd never have thought of that in a million years - and lo and behold we end up with this No. 1, seven-minute folk song." - Charlie - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

  • "I got an award for the Ballad Of The Streets EP - it was the biggest ever selling 3" CD. What an old format!" - Trevor - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

  • One unique part of the single's promotion was a counter-top cassette dispenser. Decked out in the same pink livery as the limited edition 12" box set, this flimsy box could hold a number of stacked cassettes.

  • The single also yielded a number of collectable promos. Another first was a single sided 7" which just featured Belfast Child video - an accompanying press release suggested these were pressed up for radio play. A more conventional double-sided promo 7" repeated the same tracks as its commercial counterpart, except it carried an edit of the title track.

  • A white-label 12" was also issued as a promo. This included the same tracks as the commercial 12", but pressed up as a white-label in a black die-cut sleeve with a sticker. A 5" CD simply carried the two versions of Belfast Child, was packaged in a plain jewelcase, again with a sticker. The 5" CD had the catalogue number Virgin BRUCE 1, a nod to Simple Minds' manager Bruce Findlay, and the start of a number of Bruce releases.

  • Some commerical 7" copies also had compliment stickers and included press releases. It looks like some standard stock was sent out as record company freebies and promos.

  • European issues broadly followed UK formatting. Collectable formats included the 12" with slightly different artwork and a commercial 5" CD instead of the 3" CD format. A collectable German promo featured all four tracks from the release and featured a black-and-white printed insert - a style which would become the norm several years later.

  • "Any success is a great thing. For that one week, [Belfast Child] was the biggest song in Britain. If you're asking 'Am I still glad I did it?' then too right I am. To have the balls to mess around with that big a sacred cow of the folk world? Great! The folkies were going 'You can't fucking do that to She Moves Throguh The Fair' when the folk world changes lyrics and melodies around forever. I thought, 'Give me a break, you're only jealous you hadn't thought of it first.'" - Jim, Classic Pop Magazine, March 2020

ballad...: quick reference
7"   Ballad Of The Streets EP Virgin SMX 3
A1. Belfast Child(6:42)
B1. Mandela Day(5:45)

12"   Ballad Of The Streets EP Virgin SMXT 3
A1. Belfast Child(6:42)
B1. Mandela Day(5:45)
B2. Biko(7:34)

MC   Ballad Of The Streets EP Virgin SMXC 3
1-1. Belfast Child(6:42)
1-2. Mandela Day(5:45)
1-3. Biko(7:34)

3" CD   Ballad Of The Streets EP Virgin SMXCD 3
1. Belfast Child(6:42)
2. Mandela Day(5:45)
3. Biko(7:34)

Box   Ballad Of The Streets EP Virgin SMXB 3
A1. Belfast Child(6:42)
B1. Mandela Day(5:45)
B2. Biko(7:34)

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