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the early years 1977-1978



The Early Years 1977-1978 album
Six months after punk exploded in London, the nuclear fallout finally landed in Scotland. It's impact was no less dramatic. Like every major UK city, the music scene in Glasgow and Edinburgh had suffered from years of pub-rock plague. Punk would have a cathartic effect. The Sex Pistols and The Damned had begun to make the pages of Sounds, NME and Melody Maker. Scots teenagers eager for something new and exciting, rushed to grab on to anything even loosely associated with punk. The weekend haunt of punks were record shops like Graffiti in Glasgow or Hot Licks in Edinburgh. They'd loiter, swap stories or simply scowl at Saturday shoppers.

The race to release the first Scottish punk record was won by The Exile, a group from the north of Glasgow. Their self financed, four track EP was a tame affair... but it was a start. Fledgling three piece The Jolt proclaimed themselves punk rockers, and landed a record deal with Polydor. But saddled with the misnomer of "Scotland's answer to The Jam", their debut album faied to make a major impact.

In 1977, Glasgow's archaic licensing laws made it impossible for new punk bands to get gigs. Bar owners were not permitted to charge admission at the door. And they had to provide a seat for every member of the audience... as nobody was allowed to STAND and watch a live band. Glasgow Corporation - the city council - made it clear that punk was not welcome. Bailie John Young, a local Tory councilor, spoke out against the punk movement and its followers. Despite healthy ticket sales, a Sex Pistols gig set for the 3000 capacity Green's Playhouse - part of the Anarchy tour - was scrapped. Punks were forced to board coaches to travel seven miles to neighbouring town Paisley for live gigs.

Spotting a gap in the market, a local butcher-cum-disco proprietor named Harry Stewart promoted a series of seminal punk gigs. Taking a block booking on the function suite at the Silver Thread Hotel in Paisley, the self-styled Disco Harry presented the first Scots dates by Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Generation X and The Adverts. The energy of punk had inspired boyhood friends Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill. They formed a band called Johnny And The Self Abusers. The group's legend far outweighed their music ability. But the Abusers gave them confidence to write songs and go on stage. When their reputation reached London, the group attracted some record company attention. They were finally signed by the indie label Chiswick run by ex-record store boss Ted Caroll.

The Abusers line-up was Kerr (vocals), Burchill (guitar), John Milarky (vocals/saxophone), Tony Donald (bass), Alan McNeil (guitar) and Brian McGee (drums). In November 1977, they released their debut single Saints And Sinners / Dead Vandals. On the day it hit record shops, the group split up.

Next Kerr and Burchill formed Simple Minds - the band name taken from a lyric in the David Bowie song Jean Genie. The Minds were seen as punks. But with a record collection of influences which included Bowie, The New York Dolls, Iggy Pop, Genesis, Eno and The Velvet Underground the possessed a more experimental approach to music.

On January 17, 1978, Simple Minds played their first ever gig at Satellite City - a tacky disco upstairs at the legendary Glasgow Apollo. With tickets priced at 1.50, they supported reggae band Steel Pulse. Also on the bill were Rev Volting and the Backstabbers and The Nu Sonics (who later became Orange Juice). Kerr made an immediate impact on the sparse audience. His distinctive pudding bowl haircut - and sombre priest's frock coat instantly set him apart. With Burchill, he's written 30 minutes of original material of which Pleasantly Disturbed and Wasteland would later crop up on their debut album.

The group's reputation quickly spread thanks to a weekly residency in Glasgow's dingy Mar's Bar. They also played live in venues like Cinders and Zhivago's - two Glasgow discos - and The Dourne Castle, a ctiy lounge bar. Their fee at the Dourne was 25 plus a tray of filled rolls. And the Minds were continually asked to turn their volume levels down... because peas were leaping off the plates of diners in the steakhouse upstairs.

On May 11 and 12, Simple Minds recorded their first demo. Spending 226 at Ca Va Studios in St. Vincent Street, Glasgow, they laid down six tracks - Act Of Love, Cocteau Twins, Chelsea Girl, Pleasantly Disturbed, European Son and Doo Be Doo. The group hawked the demo around London's major labels. Support slots followed with Siouxsie And THe Banshees, Generation X and The Pleasers, and brought more attention across Scotland.

Within the group line-up there were changes. Bass player Tony Donald dropped out, and second guitarist Duncan Barnwell moved on after just four months. With the Mind's nucleus now Kerr, Burchill and McGee they recruited Derek Forbes from punk band The Subs - whose single Gimme Your Heart had been released on Stiff. On April they added a keyboards player Mick MacNeil. During their string of gigs at The Mars Bar, the group were watched by Bruce Findlay.

His chain of independent record stores - called Bruces' - had led to the formation of his own record label Zoom in 1977. Findlay was hooked by their dark, haunting sons and striking almost glam image. He became the group's driver, then manager. Findlay began to tout the band's demo around London and found interest in Arista Records. After a gig at Pollock Halls in Glasgow - the 48th live show of their career - Simple Minds signed to Zoom Records, in a special licensing deal through Arista.

On December 11-13, 1978, the band went back into Ca Va Studios to lay down demos for what would evolve into their first album. For a fee of 300, they recorded the songs Special View She Sells To You, A Sad Affair, Murder Story, Someone and Rosemary's Baby. In the new year, Simple Minds began to make plans for their debut album. Impressed by his work with Magazine, the group approached John Leckie to see if the was interested in working with them. After catching a show at Dundee University, Leckie agreed to produce the band.

The early sessions produced a new song called Life In A Day, which quickly stood out and became the record's title track. When Life In A Day was released on March 10th, 1979, critical opinion in the music press was mixed. But the album sold well - especially in Scotland - and it reached number 30 in the UK charts. The foundation stone of a 20 year career had been laid.

Billy Sloan
Glasgow 1997