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street fighting years : information

JK: "The record company must have loved us. After Once Upon A Time came out, they were screaming out for more of the same. We came out with an eight-minute Celtic opus (Belfast Child) and songs about South Africa (Mandela Day, Peter Gabriel's Biko). Having had that, we went "Who cares?" We love America, but you really have to kiss arse - we were too tired at the time. We have a lot of energy now! As Charlie has said, the only time you saw us at that time, we were in front of crowds being fed fishes and loaves. That was the train we were on. If you're going to write, if you're young and idealistic, you're going to write about the themes of the day. You're going to take a convoluted subject and turn it into - in our case - a lengthy pop song. When I look back now, I'm glad that we had the balls or the madness to do those things. We did "Good Morning America" and there were 30 million people watching us. I thought, 'Wouldn't it be amazing if you had something to say outside of promoting a new tour or a new T-shirt.' The previous night, Charlie and I had met a guy in the Mayflower Hotel who worked for Amnesty. I was asked on the show what I'd been doing and I talked about Amnesty. THen suddenly, I had a cause! It did matter to us and it inspired the music. It was great in 2008 to play Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday."

Record Collector Interview
Record Collector #364
July 2009

  • "We were excited we didn't know what was going to happen. For the first time in a long time we were out of control. Once Upon A Time was very controlled. I liked that about it, but now we wanted to do something different. We were sure whatever happened it was going to take us by surprise. And it definintely did. There is no logical progression between Once Upon A Time and this album." - Jim, Street Fighting Years songbook, 1989

  • "Trevor Horn, is of course yet another who produced Simple Minds. It is he (and Stephen Lipson) who deserve the credit for our Street Fighting Years album which featured Belfast Child, Mandela Day and This Is Your Land. They both put so much thought and time into Simple Minds - in a period where in someways we were sadly in the process of coming apart at the seams. Trevor also produced so many of my fave 80's defining records. Including Grace Jones, Malcolm McLaren, Yes, ABC, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Particularly Frankie - what a sound that debut album had! In any case Trevor, who also plays bass and has his own touring band, is currently adding our very own Waterfront to his live set which also features much of the songs that he produced. Known more as "a studio beast" a recent article in Glasgow's Herald newspaper detailed how Trevor, whose music somewhat defined the 1980s, says that now playing live is therapeutic after the death of his wife Jill - who incidentally was also a great supporter of Simple Minds, someone who we also admired very much." - Jim, 21st July 2017

  • The album was written and recorded between September 1987 and March 1989.

  • There were five recording sessions at four different locations: they started at a not-ready Loch Earn (the band's newly built studio in Scotland and later called Bonny Wee Studios), Barwell Court (John Giblin's recording studio) in London, Glenstriven (an isolated house on the west coast of Scotland), Sarm West (Trevor Horn's studio in London) and finally back to a completed and finished Loch Earn.

  • Figuring out the dates and details for these sessions is difficult as the various sources often contradict each other, particularly when the band were at Barwell Court and Glenstriven. Plus, there's the additional issue of who-was-where: John Giblin in particular, who picked out the chords of She Moved Through The Fair, inspiring the band to work on Belfast Child. Was it at Sarm or Glenstriven? The Street Fighting Years Music Book makes it clear that only Jim, Charlie, Mick and their producers relocated to Glenstriven; yet, the interview in Classic Pop Magazine suggests all the band were there.

  • Dates are further complicated as all the tapes logged with Universal for the album came from Sarm. These were dated from the 1st March 1988 through to the 10th March 1989. So, were these the Glenstiven tapes as well? And the later Loch Earn tapes? It does appear there are some cataloguing errors as a Sarm labelled tape in the band's archive clearly has Loch Earn written as the studio.

  • Things get yet more complicated when other sources are considered. A cassette of ideas in the band's archive is labelled Loch Earn yet it features Let It All Come Down and Belfast Child - which were believed to be composed at Barwell Court and Glenstriven respectively.

  • (I have more tapes to listen to - which I believe are from Barwell Court - so the story may change again).

  • Steve Lipson was the band's first choice for producer as they were impressed with his work on A Secret Wish with Propaganda (whom Derek Forbes and Brian McGee were playing with.) "Lipson turned out to be what we had hoped; a great engineer and someone to link in with Charlie and Mick. Essentially someone who was both high-tech and really soulful. He's a great mixture of wildness and conservatism." - Jim, Street Fighting Years songbook, 1989

  • Trevor Horn also wanted to work with the band, having loved Waterfront. "I remember meeting Jim and liking him straight off - he's really likeable." - Trevor - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

  • "We had a success beyond our belief and we were just on the verge of getting bored with our own thing. I don't think we quite knew that, and we certainly didn't talk about it, and it's inevitable after 10 years that it happened. We saw hitching our wagon to Trevor and Steven's Fantasia production world as like strapping on rocket engines." - Jim, Classic Pop Magazine, March 2020

  • It was officially started on the 9th September 1987 when Jim, Charlie and Mick met at their newly puchased house by Loch Earn. They set up in the living room, as the building was still just a house and the studio wasn't built, and then began to write.

  • They already had some ideas which emerged while recording Song To The Siren back in 1987 which would slowly evolve into Soul Crying Out. Mick had an instrumental which became the title track. And there were also the personal projects, little ideas which were constantly worked on, such as When Spirits Rise and Year Of The Dragon, which wouldn't gain promenance until they struck a chord with Jim.

  • The writing sessions were unfocused with no endpoint in mind. "At the time we were thinking about instrumentals - I had this idea for an instrumental band, Aurora Borealis, as a sidetrack from Simple Minds - and we didn't know exactly what we were there to write. We just knew we were there to make music. When Mick came up with this theme [Street Fighting Years], I didn't know how it could become a song. And I didn't care. After the Once Upon A Time experiences it just did not matter." - Jim, Street Fighting Years songbook, 1989

  • "... because we had our own place by then, it wasn't quite like before, when you would do your homework and get your stuff together and amass a load of ideas and go into the studio. So we had this place and at a certain point I think we felt we had a lot of ideas; some more fully formed than others. But [still] a lot of ideas and at that point we would say you know, we're feeling good about getting a start here and to whoever we're about to work with, here's our progress to date. Very rarely did we have finished demos. But there would be titles, there would be choruses, there would be verses, there would be the atmospheres and it was like, okay, maybe producers would help us pinpoint missing pieces, if there were missing pieces. And indeed, how to turn all of that into a record." - Jim, Super Deluxe Edition, February 2020

  • The trio looked to their producers for a sense of direction. "We thought Trevor and Steve would be the answer to everything. We thought we'd hitch our wagon to them. It turned out that they, likewise, had felt they had taken their whole thing to a max, and thought it would be great to work with a band that could just knock it out. And we were telling them that we didn't want to do that; but they said, "That's what you do." I said that we wanted to get into technology and Fairlights, all of that. I think we did a lot of good stuff together, but I'm curious to know what would have happened had we met each other earlier." - Jim - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

  • Over the next three weeks, the trio produced fifteen to twenty sketches of ideas for songs, working at the house from Monday to Friday, and going home at the weekends. By the end of November, they invited Stephen Lipson and Trevor Horn to the house to hear the results. The first song they heard was an instrumental Mick brought along on the first day: it would eventually become Street Fighting Years.

  • "The first demo we heard was dead basic, but that was the format from the start. This was the first song they wrote at Loch Earn for the whole project, so that really set the flame for someone. It set the flavour and it made crystal clear their intentions of not having a big rhythm section. It was the first track we recorded and it occured to me straightaway that it should be the opening track of the album." - Stephen Lipson - Street Fighting Years book.

  • The working title was Street Fighting Years from day one. It never changed.

  • Trevor Horn was very taken with the location and asked if the band had ever thought of recording a folk song. "I said about doing a folk song. I thought there was an interesting folk thing about Simple Minds, a quality in Jim's voice." - Trevor - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

  • The band must've moved south to London in either October or November 1988 at this point to start formal recording sessions at Barwell Court. (Some biographers suggest March 1988 for Barwell, but this clashes with dates given for Glenstriven and Sarm). Barwell Court was John Giblin's studio in London, where much of Once Upon A Time was roughed out. It was stated in the Street Fighting Years book that formal recording started, but no tapes were logged from these sessions and it's likely it was for more writing. "We couldn't get going there. The group - the three of them - wanted to develop the sound and the songs away from the big rhythm section. They wanted to lose that stigma." - Stephen Lipson - Street Fighting Years book.

  • One song that might have emerged from the Barwell Court sessions was called Big John. Written by the band's bassist John Giblin, the song was slowed down and became Big John Has A Snooze, then The Snooze, before finally being recorded as Let It All Come Down.

  • And it was probably at Barwell Court, because John Giblin was there, that he played the haunting She Moved Through The Fair, a song that captured Jim's imagination, and so set the ball rolling for the development of Belfast Child at Glenstriven. "I didn't know whether the melody was Irish or Scottish. I knew I was getting a northern feel. I was getting a grey day and a dark night: a mist and a blackness. It was Ireland because the previous week there were more events in Ireland as usual and it had got to me." The event Jim was probably referring to was the Remembrance Day Bombing in Enniskillen, on the 8th November 1987.

  • Writing for the album was then interrupted for rehearsals for Cash For Kids (December 1987) and a brief tour in Brazil (January 1988).

  • Photographer Guido Harari joined Simple Minds in Brazil, taking pictures of the band individually and collectively around Rio De Janerio. These were used for promotional pictures of the band throughout 1988 and some of the images appeared in the Street Fighting Years book and Street Fighting Years tour programme.

  • The trio, along with their producers, then moved to a remote studio at Glenstriven, on the west coast of Scotland. "We started to make the album in a house in Glenstriven; we set a studio up in Loch Striven, ten miles away from Dunoon. I really fell in love with Scotland. We worked in the main room. It was interesting as I thought there would be a lot more playing together as a band, but they didn't, they were into drum machines at the time, but then it developed from there." - Trevor - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

    "There wasn't so much importance laid on the music, whether it was brilliant or crap. It didn't really make any difference. We were just in this house, the scenery, the sky and the lochs - everything seemed so much more important than what we were actually there for. When you go into a recording studio and you know the clock is ticking by for thousands of pounds per second, you put too much importance on the music." - Mick MacNeil - Street Fighting Years book.

  • Given the dates, it's most likely that they moved to Glenstriven in late January 1988/early February 1988. It was here that formal recording started.

  • The recordings at Glenstriven were far more relaxed than a conventional recording studio, and the trio were less concerned with the polish of the songs, nailing the arrangements in rough recordings. As they were recording to multi-track, some of these performances were eventually copied and appeared on the final album. It was at Glenstriven that they started work on Belfast Child, inspired by John Giblin's She Moved Through The Fair.

  • The band then relocated to Trevor Horn's studio at Sarm in March 1988, where the first tracks were laid down to digital tape. Additional help came from Stewart Copeland (drummer with The Police), Manu Katche (drummer with Peter Gabriel) and Lisa Germano (who'd guested on the recording of Someone Somewhere In Summertime on Live In The City Of Light.

  • "We stayed in London at the Columbia Hotel, where we hadn't stayed since 1981 or 1982. I would meet quite a lot of young and up-and-coming bands, bands I'd never heard of and have never heard of since. They would be in the bar and say 'Simple Minds and Trevor Horn?. Fucking hell, it doesn't make sense.' I would say 'It doesn't take sense to you 'cos we're not in the habit of trying to make sense.'" - Jim Kerr - Street Fighting Years book.

  • After six months of recording, Jim had a heart-to-heart with Trevor. "Before he came along, Trevor told me 'Jim, one of the reasons we wanted to work with you is we're bored of our thing.' So there were were, two camps bored of their sound, looked for the other to help. I just thought 'Oh, for fuck's sake.' I'm sure we didn't give Trevor and Steve the easiest time, and it says something they didn't work together again after Street Fighting Years. We were a bit dead on our feet and it's a still a frustration that atmosphere was there." - Jim, Classic Pop Magazine, March 2020

  • John Giblin, who had inspired the creation of Belfast Child and written Let It All Come Down left around half-way through the recording sessions. "... John Giblin wasn't enjoying it. John's incredible. John was always going to be a bit temporary - he was older than us, and although that wouldn't be a big deal now, it sort of was then. He enjoyed playing and being around, but I think he thought we were a bit upstart. He didn't quite hit it off with Trevor and it had been a long, protracted recording process. And then there was one point when John certainly wasn't there." - Jim - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

  • "John was seven years older than us and I suspect we were quite brattish around him. He'ds done so much more than us in who he'd worked with and he was a lone wolf who didn't say much. John's stoicism added to his charm, but we always knew he was never gong to sign up to the Simple Minds youth club." - Jim, Classic Pop Magazine, March 2020

  • "I mean, John was older than us and although he was a Scot, he was older than us and we were probably a bit like brats compared to him. And he was such a fucking player and kind of a mysterious guy, but yeah, he didn't particularly love Trevor. John and Trevor didn't quite hit it off, I don't think, and John didn't quite like Trevor's instructions." - Jim, Super Deluxe Edition, February 2020

  • Steve Lipson played the remaining bass parts for the album.

  • Another casualty during the recording process was Mel Gaynor. "Trevor was trying to get Mel to do more than just 'the Mel thing.' Mel is brilliant. With certain tracks, like Mandela Day, you're looking for something softer, perhaps. Trevor wanted him to be more diverse. Technology and drum machines were becoming a part of modern records. We always wanted to incorporate both. I remember them running out of patience with each other." - Jim - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

  • "They were in a funny place with Mel; they wanted to work it out and put him on things afterwards. I didn't necessarily agree with that at the time, I wanted them to play together more" - Trevor - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

  • "Mel is so great at the 'Mel thing', but Trevor really tests you. I mean, he'll go, 'That's great, got it - now give me something I'd never expect.' And I don't think Trevor felt he was getting that from Mel, I think he felt he was getting the big thud the whole time, and it worked on some tracks, but maybe not on others. Yeah, I think Trevor felt that Simple Minds had done that so much on the previous records, certainly the previous couple of records maybe. That he wanted a lot more light and shade from the drums and that's, you know, I can see the logic in that." - Jim, Super Deluxe Edition, February 2020

  • Manu Katche and Stewart Copeland came in. Copeland just talked and did some Linn Drum programming for which he recevied a 'Thanks To' credit on the final album. Katche played on the rest of the album. "Manu Katche was an amazing percussion player, amazing technique. I missed Mel, give me some beat behind me. It was too fancy for our stuff." - Mick - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

  • After the Mandela Concert, the band relocated again back to their studio at Loch Earn which was now ready.

  • "Musically, this whole album flew out. It was just so easy, except the rhythmic side. We've never been so abundant in musical ideas. We hardly ever came up to a brick wall." - Charlie Burchill - Street Fighting Years book.

  • "When we heard the album back, it didn't sound a million miles away from what we had on day one. That was the whole thing that made it so great: I can dig out the very, very early demos and you will recognise the songs, no problem. Most of the arrangements are still there." - Mick MacNeil - Street Fighting Years book.

  • "The way they wanted to make the record was time-consuming. They wanted to go into detail on this record. They didn't want to make another big rock album." - Stephen Lipson - Street Fighting Years book.

  • At the end of the recording, the trio played a ceildh set at the local village hall. It was partly a stipulation of getting planning permission for the studio, and also a fundraiser. It meant Charlie having to learn all the squeezebox music that Mick used to perform before Simple Minds. "They were playing traditional Scottish songs. They did a whole set, which was meant to be for the old folks - they wouldn't let them go. So, at ten they had to do the set again, and then afterwards, when everyone was drunk, they still wouldn't let them go. It was one of those nights." - Trevor - Street Fighting Years Super Deluxe

  • "To me, Street Fighting Years is a great way of encompassing a hell of a lot, another way of describing this age of chaos. The battle to try and remain intact - physically, mentally and spiritually - within this hurricane around us." - Jim, Street Fighting Years songbook, 1989

  • A photo session took place with Peter Anderson in late 1988/early 1989 for the Ballad Of The Streets EP. Taken in a white room with a tapestry background, this photoshoot involving Jim, Charlie and Mick, was disliked and mostly rejected. (The contact sheets in the Universal archive are crossed out with "DNU" (or Do Not Use) written across them). However, some shots from this session were issued by Virgin in January 1989 to promote the forthcoming single:

  • A second photo session took place with Andy Earl during the Belfast Child shoot. Pictures from this session were used for the promotional of the Ballad Of The Streets EP and the album itself. A further session with Guido Harari, against the snow covered mountains of Scotland, provided the iconic shots of the main trio, used for more promo glossies and the album.

  • Malcolm Garrett was the art director for the album and its four attendant singles. He based his artwork on fractals, in particular a quarter of a design published in The Beauty Of Fractals by Peitgen Richter.

  • The lyric on the cover was taken from a bridge for Wall Of Love. Several people commented on it and Malcolm Garrett asked to use it on the album's cover. Unfortunately, it was then cut out of the final mix. (I have yet to hear a version of Wall Of Love that features this lyric.)

  • Street Fighting Years was released in May 1989, the same month the tour started. It was released on three formats: LP, cassette and CD, and reached number one in the UK chart.

  • "Apart from the breakdown of my marriage, there's one major event that happened to me and it seems traces of it have cropped up in all the songs. I had been friends with the son of a family that lived next door to us in Glasgow, he was one of my best friends. Summer 1987 he went to a party in Glasgow, a dubious area of the city, true enough, but he wasn't the type to get involved in any trouble. At the party a fight broke out, he grabbed his girlfriend and left. Outside there were three teenagers, really high on glue. They had knives and they didn't stop. I can't get to grips with the sheer waste of life. I find myself in a few songs trying to communicate with that friend's spirit." - Jim, Street Fighting Years songbook, 1989

  • "The dedication to Victor Jara came at the last minute. He wasn't on my mind when I wrote the song [Street Fighting Years], 'cos to be honest, I'd never heard of him. In January 1989 two girls from Chile came to the office primarily to ask if we could take part in a concert down there. I met them and completely bathed in their strength and resilience and their faith. They were victims of the utmost... their faces were burnt off, boyfriends killed, they had to witness it, and yet here they were, even their humour intact, dedicated and still vulnerable. They gave me a book on Victor Jara. Apart from identifying with this idea of the song as a weapon - whcih was his concept - I ask people when they tell me music can't change anything: "Well, why did they kill Victor Jara?" and "Why was he one of the first to be killed?" They don't like it when artists articulate the feeling that's in the air. The motivation from art is so strong, you can kill artists, you can lock them in jail, you can burn a book or destroy a painting, but you can't lock up a song. I related to Victor Jara. Through that book I saw him not only as an influence and an inspiration but also as an absent friend." - Jim, Street Fighting Years songbook, 1989

  • Although an American leg of Street Fighting Years tour was pencilled in, it never reached full fruition. "You can't have a seven minute ballad about Belfast and expect the great American public to like it. When we were making Street Fighting Years, we thought 'We're not really going to get America on this one, are we?' and we weren't really bothered as we've only ever made records for us." - Charlie, Classic Pop Magazine, March 2020

  • The Auroa Borealis idea ended when Mick left the band. In the end, all the instrumentals and ideas collected during the sessions either ended up being recorded for the album and its singles, were reworked and released later, or are still considered potentials for forthcoming albums. The ideas that never made it - and may appear in the future - were Dusseldorf Beat, People Stand Up Again, Sometimes When It Rains and Sacred Eyes. Another well-known out-take, called The Power In The Darkness, was eventually rearranged and recorded as Songs For The Tribes and released on Neapolis.

  • The album was remastered in 2002 as part of an extensive Virgin campaign. It was released as a limited edition vinyl replica CD and standard edition CD. This version remains on catalogue.

  • "As a summation, I can say that it was a great pleasure to work them. Those three guys - and I can't stress it enough - are just fantastic. As people to work with, and as people. There's this feeling of community." - Stephen Lipson - Street Fighting Years book.

  • "It was a troubled record, it definitely was. It was the end of a period for us, we were still trying to figure out a lot of what was going on. Obviously, we did the tour. The tour was very enjoyable, because a lot of those songs worked so well live. But by the end, Mick decided he didn't want to part of it anymore. And perhaps all of that stuff affects my feeling of it. But at the same time when I think of just the title and I think of the title song and it just sounds beautiful; very brave, I think a brave record. They're all flawed, all of them. But yeah, it wasn't the happiest time, but at the same time, I do remember a lot of great fun with Trevor and Steve and all of that. And as I said, hinted at, earlier, you can't separate it out from what was going on at your life at the time. Not that I would want anyone to feel sorry for us, having number ones and playing stadiums [laughs] but, you know, not everything was well, and so when you look back on a record, it's hard to separate it from all of that." - Jim, Super Deluxe Edition, February 2020

street fighting years: quick reference
LP    Street Fighting Years Virgin MINDS 1
A1. Street Fighting Years(6:26)
A2. Soul Crying Out(6:07)
A3. Wall Of Love(5:20)
A4. This Is Your Land(6:22)
A5. Take A Step Back(4:23)
B1. Kick It In(6:11)
B2. Let It All Come Down(4:56)
B3. Mandela Day(5:45)
B4. Belfast Child(6:42)
B5. Biko(7:34)

MC    Street Fighting Years Virgin MINDSC 1
1-1. Street Fighting Years(6:26)
1-2. Soul Crying Out(6:07)
1-3. Wall Of Love(5:20)
1-4. This Is Your Land(6:22)
1-5. Take A Step Back(4:23)
2-1. Kick It In(6:11)
2-2. Let It All Come Down(4:56)
2-3. Mandela Day(5:45)
2-4. Belfast Child(6:42)
2-5. Biko(7:34)
2-6. When Spirits Rise(2:01)

CD    Street Fighting Years Virgin MINDSCD 1
1. Street Fighting Years(6:26)
2. Soul Crying Out(6:07)
3. Wall Of Love(5:20)
4. This Is Your Land(6:22)
5. Take A Step Back(4:23)
6. Kick It In(6:11)
7. Let It All Come Down(4:56)
8. Mandela Day(5:45)
9. Belfast Child(6:42)
10. Biko(7:34)
11. When Spirits Rise(2:01)

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Ballad Of The Streets EP This Is Your Land

Kick It In The Amsterdam EP