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interview | express (february 21st, 1998)

Neapolis album
no simple matter

Jim Kerr's career is back on track but, as he tells Lousie Gannon, marriage and music don't mix.

Jim Kerr walks into a London studio and throws four large bags into the corner of the room. In a few hours he will be on a plane to perform Simple Minds' new single Glitterball in France, then Belgium, then every other country in Western Europe. He looks pleased at the prospect of his impending flight. Kerr is a man who does not like to stick around.

Like many clebrities, he is as famous for his personal life as his success with Simple Minds. For the past few years he has avoided interviews, ducking the inevitable questions about Liam Gallagher and his ex-wife Patsy Kensit, the controversial king and queen of britpop. Warnings are flashed: "Jim doesn't talk about private matters," say his minions. But five minutes into his company and he's talking happily about his son, his home in Ireland and his old school. There are no invisible barriers. he is open, down-to-earth and honest.

"Listen" he says in his at times impenetrable Glasgow burr: "You've got to be honest or there's no point. You'll never move on." He shrugs.

In 39 years Kerr has done nothing but move on. He was born in Toryglen, one of the toughest parts of Glasgow, the eldest of three boys. It was a typical working class upbringing. His father was a labourer, his mother looked after the children in their flat overlooking the Crossband Road. Kerr wanted something else and when he was eight years old he met a boy called Charlie Burchill in a sandpit. Together they decided to conquer the world.

Their band, Simple Minds, with Kerr on lead vocals and Burchill on guitar, was one of the most successful bands in the eighties, selling vast numbers of records in Britain and America, including hits such as Don't You (Forget About Me), Belfast Child and All The Things She Said. They released album after album to massive acclaim and made millions in the process.

In the Nineties they began to flounder. "They were a few years where we just went wrong," says Kerr. "So we had to get things together and go back to go forward." He says this with confidence as their new album, Neapolis, has had the sort of critical reaction most bands only dream about.

On a personal level, Kerr accepts that his desire to keep moving has wrecked both his marriages. His marriage to Chrissie Hynde ended in 1989 after four years and one daughter, Yasmin, now 13. His marriage to Patsy Kensit ended in 1996 after four years and one son, James, five.

"I've never been able to crack being married. I wanted it to work," he says, "but I was never there enough because I was always too obessed with the band. Even when I had the time to be there I wanted to be off travelling somewhere else and even if I was in the house I'd be spending hours away in my head so I may as well not have been there anyway."

As he talks you realise this is something he has had to force himself to come to terms with. Music for Kerr has always come first. "I used to think I had a deprived upbringing but I actually had an amazingly special one because I had parents who loved each other and loved us beyond everything. I hoped I'd be able to recreate that, but I couldn't do it.

"There were times when I'd think I'm going to put my relationship first but when I did that, the music suffered so I always reverted to the music and the relationship suffered."

But it was Patsy who made him realise he could not carry on trying to have both. "When you're married you need to be there for someone, especially when they are children. A marriage can't work when you are separted by work because the glue just becomes unstuck.

"I'm a very spontaneous person when it comes to big emotional decisions. If I meet someone I fall in love with I have to marry them and have kids with them. It happened with Chrissie and Patsy. They're both the sort of women you fall in love with. But I was just so bad at the small emotional things."

Catholic-raised Kerr had never wanted to be divorced. After one divorce he thought it would never happen again. It did because he realised what pain he was causing Patsy by putting his career before his marriage.

They decided divorce was the only option. "When you see someone you love unhappy you have to take stock. I've been married to two fantastic women. Your reasons for loving someone never change. They're special and I respect them for being incredibly good mothers."

So far there is no mention of Patsy's new husband, Liam Gallagher. It has been said that the two musicians can't bear to be in each other's company, can't stand the mention of either's name. Kerr laughs. "Where do people get these ideas from? It's just mad."

One thing Kerr has managed to do is maintain very good relationships with his exes. Chrissie and Patsy became friends through Kerr and ironically it was Chrissie who first introduced Patsy to Liam. Kerr is in weekly touch with the Gallaghers.

"People seem to think it's strange that we don't hate each other. Strange that it's quite comfortable. But Liam really loves my son and so does his brother and that's all I care about.

"James goes to a poncy private school and half of me worries as it's not what I had, but the other half thinks that's great. He gets to mix with a cosmopolitan crowd but he still knows all the stories of all his saints; he spent New Year up in Scotland with his cousins and he loves it."

Ask if Kerr's words are tinged with regret for a family life that has remained out of his grasp and he shakes his head. "I'm not going to get married again. I'm single now and I'm happy because I think I'm a loner who isn't alone. At times I do meet women and think: 'They've got a busy career, they're flying all over the place, maybe it would work', but at the end of the day, I know it couldn't. I've got two families and my family up in Scotland. There's always something going on. I don't think I'll ever marry again."

These days Kerr spends much of his time in Ireland in a mansion outside Dublin he brought with Patsy when they were married. he is in good shape and still looks boyish. Tactile and chatty, he's relaxed in female company. His fairish hair is cut short and his clothes - T-shirt and black jeans - are discreetly expensive. He admits to working on his apperance. He runs every day, has given up alcohol and keeps to the vegetarian regime he began when he first met Chrissie Hynde. "I was eating a burger. She looked at me and said: 'You're too cool to eat meat'. There was no lecturing, no shouting, it was just this incredible feeling she was right."

His closet friend is still his co-writer, co-musician Burchill, the boy he met in the sandpit 31 years ago, the man with whom he is enjoying renewed success. "We've always had this thing that Simple Minds isn't just about the music, it's our crusade against the world. There's always been the two of us in it, there's had to be. When there's just one of you people think you're mad, with two you've got a revolution.

"It's always been the music first and we've both been able to remind each other where we come from which keeps our feet on the ground. There were times, especially in the early days, when we used to go into rock-star mode - the drink, the drugs, the bad behaviour, the lot. But we were always aware it was an attitude of mind, something you could go into and come out of again."

His mind goes to his great friend, Michael Hutchence, who was found dead just months ago in a hotel room. "He was a great guy," he says sadly. "But Michael liked to live the rock star bit all the time. You just can't do that."

After a pause, he returns to his years with Simple Minds. He admits he and Burchill are probably the only people who understand each other. In Scotish tradition their first-born sons were both given their father's names. "But James' second name is Charlie and Charlie's son's is James," he says with a smile.

It is not the only thing they have in common. "People think that it you've had our sort of lifestyles, you're always out with the models, always chasing women but we've always been incredibly lazy where women are concerned. We never went out looking. We've both met our wives in hotels. I met Patsy in a hotel corridor in Spain. She was shooting a film in the hotel and I was staying there doing a concert. I kept being told I couldn't go to this place and that place because they were filming so I was getting really grumpy about it. Then I bumped into her in the corridor. She said she was bored so I asked her if she fancied coming to a concert - our concert. That was it.

"I met Chrissie in a hotel reception when we were doing this show together. She was this incredibly cool, sussed American chick and I was this 20-year-old Glasgow boy. I was blown away by her.

"Burchill's story is the happiest. He is still married to the hotel receptionist he met in Switzerland."

In an hour Kerr has to catch a plane. He points to his bags in the corner of the room and smiles. "I get a buzz from knowing that any minute I'll be off." This is what life is all about. Jim Kerr doesn't like his feet to touch the ground.

Lousie Gannon
The Express, 21st February 1998