Simple Minds: Biography
"Sometimes things come together exactly as you want them to.
New Gold Dream and Once Upon A Time were like that, and it
was the same with Graffiti Soul. I can't say making it was
effortless, exactly - that would take away from all the hard work that Charlie, in particular, put in.
It did just roll though; it felt right." - Jim Kerr, February 2009
In 2008 Simple Minds celebrated their past with a weather eye on the future. Some brief mouse-work at YouTube affirms
that their sold-out 30th Anniversary stadium tour
of the UK and mainland Europe was a roaring success, the Glasgow-formed band delighting fans with a set that included
such big-hitters as Alive And Kicking, plus every track of their 1982 masterpiece
New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84).
In reminding us of their pedigree, Simple Minds were tilling the soil for what would happen next.
"We only wanted to shout about our anniversary on the understanding that the new record would sound really fresh",
says front man Jim Kerr. "We wanted to make a full-blooded record of ballsy pop songs;
something that belied the fact we'd been together for three decades."
With Graffiti Soul easily fulfilling that mandate, flagship single
Rockets is the icing on the cake. Its unforgettable guitar riff, soaring vocal
harmonies and hooky handclaps make for the most immediate pop nugget Simple Minds have recorded in years.
"In previous times there would have been a lot of naval gazing about our place in the great scheme of things," offers Kerr.
"But sometimes you have to stop analysing and just get on with it. That's what we're doing and we've never felt so energised.
We're delighted with this record."
Graffiti Soul is Simple Minds 15th studio album. It was produced by the band and
Jez Coad, and was mixed by Bob Clearmountain
in Santa Monica, California. The songs were written in Rome, Sicily, Antwerp and Glasgow, and the core Simple Minds
line-up of Jim Kerr (vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitar, keyboards),
Mel Gaynor (drums) and Eddie Duffy (bass) recorded the
material at Rockfield studios near Monmouth, Wales.
Various events could serve as jumping-off points for the new album's back-story: the band playing
Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday concert in
London's Hyde Park last June, for example, or the industry tremors that rattled their previous record label, Sanctuary.
"Unfortunately, the fall-out hit not long after we'd joined them", notes Kerr of the latter event.
The upshot was that the Minds' 2005 album Black & White 050505
didn't get the launch or exposure it deserved, but having inked a new deal with Universal, the band now
looks set to capitalize on the undoubted strengths of Graffiti Soul.
"We've had to overhaul the band in recent years, and this new record finally sees the full fruit of that", says
Jim Kerr. "I still stand by Black & White
as a good record, but there was a period before that when we were like a Jumbo Jet down to one engine, and people still
expected us to land on the Hudson. From the band itself, to production, to outside writers we've got a great team now; people
that are able to fill the boots of those who brought great things to Simple Minds in the past."
Though Charlie Burchill lives in Rome and Jim Kerr
is ostensibly based in Sicily, the pair's home city of Glasgow was to figure significantly in the birth of Graffiti Soul.
Late in 2007, Kerr moved back to Glasgow after his mother was diagnosed with cancer. Happily,
she responded well to treatment, but Jim wanted to stay around for a while.
Living at his parents' house, he found himself seated at the old kitchen table where he had once written songs while listening to ideas
Charlie Burchill had recorded on C60 cassettes. "I tried it again and it worked", he says. "Only this
time Charlie was emailing me MP3's from Rome."
Simple Minds also rehearsed some of the new material in Glasgow, rubbing shoulders with some of the city's young gunslingers.
"It kept us on our toes", laughs Kerr. "You knew that the gallus kid with the guitar was listening outside
and thinking, 'Go on - impress me, then.'
Travel. Leaving. Returning. The great search. All of these are key themes on Graffiti Soul.
As a teenager living in a high-rise flat near Glasgow's Hampden stadium, Jim Kerr
was party to the bigger picture: "You could see the Campsie Fells and you could hear the trains coming and going down below. It was all
out there to dream about."
It was natural, then, that he and pal Charlie Burchill would later hitchhike their way across Europe.
They'd only planned to go as far as London to see The Sex Pistols and The Damned, but soon they were in Paris,
living their version of Kerouac's On The Road.
"Last year, when Charlie emailed me an MP3 of a tune that had this train rhythm, all of that came back
to me and I thought, 'Okay - we're off again'", explains Kerr. Burchill's
music also painted a picture that chimed with Scots author David Greig's writings on certain inhabitants of the Russian capital's
netherworld, and soon came the propulsive noir thriller Moscow Underground.
For Kerr, returning to Rockfield studios also fired a distinct sense of déjà-vu. This, after all,
was the place that had seen Simple Minds shape such seminal records as Real To Real Cacophony (1979)
and Empires And Dance (1980).
"It was strange to go back to that old house on the hill that overlooks the studio" says the singer. "When we first went there,
being young city boys, we'd never experienced proper countryside darkness. It was pitch black and you didn't want to forget something
and have to walk back up there on your own."
"I also remember that we'd had a stern warning form the record company about Real To Real.
They thought it was too experimental, but we were determined to do it our way. Strangely, some of the fear I felt then came back to me
when I was recording the lead vocals for Graffiti Soul. I was standing in exactly the
same place as I did when I recorded the vocal for Premonition back in 1979."
The fear was fleeting, and the sessions for Graffiti Soul went swimmingly. Witness the Spartan grandeur of
Light Travels ("It's great! Just turn up the acoustic guitar!" counseled pop production legend
Trevor Horn), or the expansive power of Kiss and Fly,
a song that proves Kerr's rich baritone has lost none of its oomph.
"We'd capture these great band performances, and then Charlie would tweak things to get these amazing
sounds", say Simple Minds' singer. "He likes to put things through the mincer, put them through his 'Eno box', as I call it."
"Ultimately, you have to drag the songs away from Charlie. Bono used to say he was like a wee
Irish fiddler, always fiddling away with something. Even in the early days when he only had one guitar and two effects pedals,
Charlie would bring jigsaws to sound checks - The Sistine Chapel or whatever - so that he could amuse
his self while engineers were trying to get the right snare sound. Nowadays, studio gear has replaced the jigsaws, and we reap the benefit of that."
Graffiti Soul and Simple Minds' ongoing success as a live act serve to underline that
the group is anything but a spent force. More than that, the band that broke America with their 1985 chart-topper
Don't You (Forget About Me) and the attendant
Once Upon A Time> album is as hungry and committed as ever.
'If you really love music, you'll come back to it with a passion irrespective of life's twists and turns", says
Kerr. "That's why I hope people get to hear Graffiti Soul - I
think it's got legs. If we can celebrate our 30th Anniversary and still get people excited about the new stuff - that would be wonderful."
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