THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 1-2)

This was a last minute change of mind.

I’d already written postings for the next two Sundays but the fact that Johnny & The Self Abusers came up in the rotation yesterday for the Scottish song led me to go off at a tangent and instead put the spotlight on Simple Minds. But with the caveat that the singles will only cover the period 1979-1984 and that it will be the 7” versions featured as there has been a look previously at the 12” singles from the band.

As mentioned yesterday, J&TSA broke up on the day their only single was released. Four of its members – Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill, Brian McGee and Tony Donald – decided they would keep things going as Simple Minds. Things were a bit shambolic over the next year with a number of personnel and responsibility changes.

First up, Duncan Barnswell joined as second guitarist and then Jim Kerr decided he would rather just be the singer. This led to Mick MacNeil being brought in to play the keyboards but around the same time, Tony Donald decided he no longer wanted to be involved and so Derek Forbes came in on bass. The six-strong group recorded demos and began playing gigs in the hope of attracting attention from someone in the industry.

Bruce Findlay, the owner of a small chain of record shops in Scotland, decided to take a punt on the band, becoming their manager and suggesting they sign to his own Zoom Records, which at this point in time had issued only four singles. The next change was that Duncan Barnswell left the group after less than a year, seemingly at the request of the others. The quintet of Burchill, Forbes, Kerr, MacNeil and McGee became what is now regarded as the first serious attempt at the big time.

There was enough of a buzz about the group for Arista Records, an American-owned major label, to sign Simple Minds under license while issuing the debut material on Zoom.

The debut album was recorded over a two-month period at the end of 1978 and the beginning of 1979, with up-and-coming producer John Leckie assigned to production duties. This was something of a coup for Findlay and the band as Leckie was being given great plaudits for his work with Magazine and XTC, bands that were critically acclaimed but, as yet, not quite there with a commercial breakthrough.

It turned out to be a similar story for Simple Minds, with the debut single only reaching #62 in May 1979

mp3 : Simple Minds – Life In A Day
mp3 : Simple Minds – Special View

Some folk at the record label felt that the very minimalist cover art hadn’t helped things, and so a bit of effort went into the sleeve of the follow-up, a song that was probably given the warmest reception by fans at the live shows. The new single was released in June 1979 , to coincide with the band’s first UK headlining tour. The label also arranged to shoot what was, for the time, a hi-tech and expensive promo in the hope of promoting the band as being at the cutting edge of the music scene. There was a further attempt to appeal to fans by making the b-side a brand new song, not available on the album, demonstrating how much the band had progressed over the past six months.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Chelsea Girl
mp3 : Simple Minds – Garden of Hate

To the shock and horror of all concerned, Chelsea Girl was a monumental flop, not getting much airplay and failing to crack the Top 75.

It was back to the drawing board.

JC

11 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 1-2)

  1. The synths on Life In A Day are just wonderful. It was such an amazing first single, Post Punk, but grew from 70s Art Rock and Glam. Without trying to compare them, at this point in the series, there is some similarity to the way Devoto and Magazine approached Post Punk.
    Chelsea Girl isn’t as challenging for me. The Roxy Music/Glam is turned up to 11, which isn’t typically a bad thing for me, but it wasn’t as exciting.

  2. Me too. The biggest musical volte face I’ve ever done was abandoning my prejudices about the 87 onward era Simple Minds and exploring the 80-84 ear SM.

  3. These are a tasty appetizer before the main course. Some of my all-time favorites are just around the bend. Gonna be a great summer.

  4. I will have plenty of nice things to say about Simple Minds over the coming weeks, their name adorns some of the very best music in my collection, albeit not so much these two releases which were a bit of SM pre history to me before I got onboard and are really just curio value, and I’m looking forward to this series immensely.

    A wee suggestion, JC, that the week after the series ends, that you post a picture of the cover of Once Upon a Time (one of only two LPs I ever took back to the shop on day of release), and let us early fans let off a bit of therapeutic steam about what became of one of our all time favourite bands.

  5. These early singles were snapped up by me once I got hip to mail ordering records in 1985! The months before the release of “Once Upon A Time” had Simple Minds occupying a central position in my musical universe for a good four years by that point, and I could hardly have imagined that it would all come to a screeching halt with that dreadful album. But even that can’t diminish the spark on these first two singles under their new moniker.

    The slow fade in on “Special View” allowed the stately synth chords to assume a rococo grandeur that made it a good mate to the New Wave A-side. The rev up at the ending was pretty cool. “Chelsea Girl” was the perhaps too obvious hit single, and therefore it flopped? I still liked it for being a Left Banke-60s throwback. “Garden Of Hate” was a much more interesting B-side that telegraphed where they would go next on their much more challenging sophomore album. I shudder to think what might have come of Simple Minds had they not heard “Unknown Pleasures” after recording their debut and feeling chagrined about not pushing at boundaries more avidly. This they would do to amazing benefit for the next four years.

  6. Loved the first two singles and saw the band earlier than the June tour, maybe February 1979 in a disco in Dundee then called Samantha’s. They were great, and Charlie got out his fiddle on a couple of tunes that night. I got a taxi home that night with a mate and as I walked around the back of the car the driver had a change of mind about where he was going next and reversed into me as part of a three-point turn. He ended up heading to the A&E at the DRI! Somehow, that first time seeing Simple Minds has stuck in my mind 40 years later.

  7. One thing about the Zoom/Arista tie up which I remembered after my original comment is the place that Slik (70s pop band) had in this story. Slik’s first single was on Polydor, then another few plus an album were on Bell, with the last, ‘The Kid’s a Punk’ on Arista. After this Slik were dropped and recorded a ‘punk’ single as PVC2 on Zoom Records, ZUM2. Midge Ure left the band for Rich Kids, Thin Lizzy, Visage and obscurity, while the others with Willie Gardner (Alex Harvey’s cousin) formed Zones and released ‘Stuck On You’ on Zoom Records, ZUM4. While the first two Simple Minds singles were released on a Zoom imprint of Arista, the next Zones singles and their only album, came out on Arista itself.

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