Simple Minds Return to These Shores With a Great Album and Big Tour – Jim Kerr Interview

In my view, it is superb when artists who have been around for years are still able to create new music and tour. Simple Minds is a band that evolved from the late ’70s ashes of the punk era and then exploded in the mid ’80s with a series of vibrant albums.

In a couple weeks they will return to America for a series of dates across the country, and I had a chance to chat with Jim Kerr, the band’s singer, about their great new album WALK BETWEEN WORLDS. He and Charlie Burchill co-founded the band, and have steered it through many changes. Kerr and I discussed then and now, but I started by asking about the last track on the deluxe version of the new album, a poignant cover of “Dirty Old Town.”

AUERBACH: I have always loved the song, and it stands apart from the rest of the album; I assume it is about your Glaswegian roots?

KERR: It was written by Ewan MacColl, who isn’t from Glasgow but is from south of Manchester. We added the song for a very pertinent reason. A year ago we were finishing a gig in Liverpool and heard that a bomb went off in Manchester, and the next day we were scheduled for a gig in Manchester. It was a shocking scene, not knowing what the next day would bring. It was truly uncharted territory, we wanted to play the gig, and the city allowed us to play. We just play, that’s how we understand the world. At the sound check we were looking for a moment of solidarity, and we worked up our version of the song. It was an off-the-cuff moment that stuck with all of us.

Sarah Brown / Charlie Burchill / Ged Grimes / Jim Kerr / Gordy Goudie / Cherisse Osei (photo by Dean Chalkley)

AUERBACH: Congrats on the new album, it sounds both fresh and evocative of what made you famous.

KERR: Many thanks for that. We had a sweet spot to hit, we wanted to conjure up the past, but we wanted to sound contemporary. We had a hell of a time trying to accomplish that balance, how to make it of the moment and have the big vision, the big sound from before. At end of the last tour, I said to Charlie ‘let’s not go home, let’s see what we can do.’ We were propelled by the last album. Our confidence was back, Charlie’s melodies were strong…I wish it was always that easy!

AUERBACH: I noticed that KT Tunstall has appeared at a few of your gigs, how did that happen?

KERR: She had a great start when she first appeared on the scene, and then she was a bit off the radar. We saw her at a sound check, and brought her in on the acoustic album for a song. [She appears on “Promised You a Miracle” from the stripped down ACOUSTIC collection].

AUERBACH: I expect you are asked in some form or the other this question in every interview, but tell me about how you feel these days about the song that shall go unnamed.

KERR: [Chuckling] Well, we never play it at sound checks, but we know people want it, it has a life of its own. The movie crosses generations, so does the song. When that’s at stake, far be it that we won’t do it. You know, it’s a great problem to have: balancing the old and the new. When we develop our set list we have half a dozen boxes to tick: it would be churlish not to play the big hits, for the hard core fans we pick a deep cut, we love doing an unexpected cover, and we want to be in the moment and change it up. Of the 21 songs we play each evening, 14 are always played and the other 7 are up for grabs.

Sarah Brown / Cherisse Osei / Ged Grimes / Jim Kerr / Charlie Burchill / Gordy Goudie (photo by Dean Chalkley)

Kerr and I finished the conversation talking about the evolving nature of the music business, how the CD led too many artists to fill the disc with too much filler, how podcasts and audio books magically start up where you left off. I mentioned that the first time I saw the band was at London’s Lyceum in 1983, with half of U2 checking out the show. In closing, we returned to where we started, how many of the shows on the front end of the upcoming tour will be in dirty old towns with which he and I are both familiar.

Tour information here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.