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interview | q magazine (march 1998)

Neapolis album
don't you forget about me

Oh, you have. Well here's a reminder. He's Simple Minds' jock rock colossus, hubby of Chrissie Hynde and per-Liam Patsy, next in line to the Stateside stadium throne when everything went ping pong. Of course! It's Jim Kerr! back on the boards in time to tell Nick Duerden, "We're a classic car."

It is an unseasonably warm January afternoon in Nice, South of France, and the two founder members of Simple Minds - singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill - are to be found in a small restaurant called, perhaps predictably, perhaps merely coincidentally, The Scotch House. The Minds' contingent aren't the only customers boasting a fulsome Glaswegian brogue in here, either. For, if we overlook the three elderly French women, all draped in fur, seated separately, and each with an effete poodle at their feet, the place is full of wandering Scots. Over by one window sit an elderly couple, looking confused and querying the contents of Nicuise salad, while over by the other are a trio of middle-aged Scottish women attempting to communicate to the brusque waitress that tea and cakes will do just fine, thanks.

Presently, the waitress approaches Kerr and Burchill.

"Oui?" she demands of the rock stars, although their status goes completely unnoticed. The pair order cappuccino. She responds by spewing a torrent of words. Kerr reiterates his order and smiles politely. The waitress clicks her heels and stalks off, perhaps slightly angered that they've not ordered any food. This is, after all, lunch time and The Scotch House is a business.

"I love this place," says Kerr, referring more to Nice itself than this particular eaterie. "Been coming here for years (although he has yet to master the lingo). After a tour that's lasted something like a year and a half, this is the perfect place to get your head together, kick back, relax."

Jim Kerr is 38 and boasts the sort of winter tan that implies little of his year spent in Hillhead or the Gorbals. If anything, the bronzing makes his bright blue eyes seem even closer together than they already are. He notes that in summer, the adjacent beach is filled with nearly naked female bodies, swanning across the sand with the kind of elegance that only the French seem truly capable of. "Tittyville," he winks, rubbing his hands together as if in anticipation.

So, like an eternal boomerang, Simple Minds, now in their 20th year, are back again with a new album. Neapolis, their first long player since 1995's Good News From The Next World (whose lack of any serious success ultimately led them being dropped by Virgin), finds the pair reunited with original bassist, Derek Forbes, and long-serving drummer Mel Gaynor, and is produced by Peter Walsh, who worked with them last on 1982's New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84). Swathed in synths and shadowed by the ghost of Krautrock (their earliest influence), it's a fine set, distinctly personal, relaxed, and quite possibly the sound of a band attempting to revisit their past glories.

"Every band or artist with a history has an album that's their holy grail," says Jim, "and I suppose New Gold Dream was ours. It was a special time because we were really beginning to break through with that record (actually their seventh), both commerically and critically." He takes a sip of his cappuccino and looks off into the distance in recollection, a pose that would look great on the big screen.

"The people that liked that record," he says, "connected with it in a special way. There was a depth to it, it created its own mythology, it stood out. It was our most successful record to date, and critically, the Paul Morleys of this world were writing very nice things about it. Neapolis wasn't created as some kind of spiritual successor, but I suppose that in getting back together with the people we worked with best with, some kind of thematic similarity was inevitable."

Formed in 1978 from the ashes of the highly mannered post-punk outfit Johnny And The Self Abusers, huge by the mid '80s, and often defined by what appeared to be a raging ambition and a way with sweeping polemic, Simple Minds went on to sell over 12 million albums worldwide.

After 1984's Sparkle In The Rain LP, they decided to set their sights on conquering America, having already slain much of Europe, and so undertook what even they suspected could be a dodgy project: singing Don't You (Forget About Me), the theme tune to bratpack movie The Breakfast Club, a song that had already been turned down by Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol. It transformed their career and promptly transported them into the big league. Top 10 in much of the world and, crucially, Number 1 in America, it was quickly followed by the Once Upon A Time album, a record full of pomp and circumstance that attracted as many people as it repelled. It sold by the million, and added further fuel to the theory that the Minds were in a hot race with U2 for world domination.

"Actually," says Jim, a slight shake of the head in disdain, "that was all a media thing, much like the Blur versus Oasis campaign. I've never been interested in world domination. I'd much rather leave all that to people like Hilter. Also, if we had set out to compete against U2, it would have been pretty tragic for us because it was very clear from day one that that was their objective and no-one was going to stand in their way. And that's fine. If there has to be a world's biggest band, then thank God it was someone like U2 rather than Bon Jovi. We've managed to remain outside the trappings of fame while achieving a position inside. There's probably not a country in the world that hasn't heard our music, and yet we can walk down the street, any street, and go completely unnoticed."

Which is, curiously, entirely true. For, despite the small fact that their singer has been married twice, both times to very famous women, and despite the fact that the band remain a huge draw, not least here in France, they attract not an iota of attention. And it's all their own doing. Kerr, who, incidentally, has now lost the Michelin Man roll of flab he had a few years back, looks the very epitome of ordinary (despite being clothed with expensive subtlety), while Burchill, a small man with natural charm, appears, in person, the very antithesis of a guitar hero.

"I've never really let any of the potential difficulties that accompany Planet Art bother me," shrugs Kerr. "I suppose I've always been pretty secure in myself. I learned as a child to deal with anything that's come my way. Even marrying the women I married didn't change that. I've never invited Hello! into my house, never been the kind of guy to hang out at premieres."

In 1984, Kerr married Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, with whom he had a daughter, Natalie. Then, following their divorce in 1992, he married actress Patsy Kensit, and had a son, James. Kerr and Kensit appeared great friends as much as lovers. Rather than dragging her to the Groucho, gleefully waving the vees at the ever-attendant paparazzi, he introduced his wife to football. She promptly became a fanatic.

In 1995, the couple separted, and Kensit (who had previously been married to Big Audio Dynamite's Dan Donovan) started seeing Liam Gallagher, whom she later married and had tatoos with. Gallagher is now stepfather to Jim Kerr's son.

"People like to suggest that this kind of thing happens in our game," says Jim. "Rubbish. This kind of thing - separation, divorce - happens everywhere. They just get highlighted in our game. Just because it gets reported in the tabloids doesn't make it remarkable.

"While i realised that I wasn't marrying the girl who works in the cake shop, who they were was neve an issue in my mind. These just happened to be the women I fell in love with. They were interesting birds with interesting lives. So, yeah, I married great women. When it worked it worked, and when it didn't it didn't. It really is as simple as that. Chrissie and Patsy are the mothers to my kids, and they've both pulled off something I can't do. They're with the kids every day, bringing them up, and they're both doing a great job. Of course it's sad when people break up, but in many ways I couldn't wish for a better situation. The only complication is the miles that separate me from my kids. Otherwise, I've absolutely nothing to complain about, I've come out of both relationships with no axe to grind whatsoever."

Liam recently revealed that he and little James were great mates, that he's enjoying his new role in life, and that James refers to him as "stinky arse" after the younger Gallagher's wont of farting loudly in his face. Does Kerr every worry about his son being brought up by someone who he may not consider entirely appropriate for the job?

"I'm sorry," he says, completely unruffled, "but I can't comment on that. It's a legal matter. All I will say is that as far as I have observed, Liam Gallagher loves him. With that being the case, I couldn't ask for more."

As he has done since the turn of the decade - coinciding with a conscious downscaling of the band's music - Jim Kerr exudes an air of contentedness. His lust for filling stadiums the world over has now passed (although he lets it be known that last year, without a record to plug, Simple Minds played across the world to over a million people), and he no longer wants to play the iconic rock star. He sees his peers as Springsteen and Lou Reed - whom he presumably judges uniconic - rather than U2.

"I know that we can honestly claim to being one of the truly great bands," he ponders. "It's like with cars - you've got your new cars, your old cars, and..." dramatic pause to suggest mental drum roll, "your classic cars. We're somewhere towards classic."

And then talk turns to Mariella Frostrup, whom he appears to find rather attractive...

Nick Duerden
Q Magazine
March 1998