THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 4 & 5)

I ended last week’s post by saying things looked bleak for Simple Minds at the end of 1979. It was clear that they had signed to a label that didn’t quite know what to do with them – the music press were still, for the most part, complimentary about the band and the music, but Arista Records remained unable or unwilling to do much in the way of promotion.

Things, rather unbelievably, got even worse in 1980. The summer months had seen the band return to the studio, yet again with John Leckie in the producer’s chair, to record what would be their third studio LP, which they chose to call Empires and Dance. The lead-off single, in September 1980, was an absolute classic, a cross between disco-stomping Giorgio Moroder and early experimental Roxy Music (but played at 100mph!!), coming with an almighty punch in which every member of the band played/sang as if their very future existence depended on it:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – I Travel (7″ edit)

It had ‘HIT’ stamped all over it. It came out in 7″ and 12″ format, with the latter offering an extended and remixed version that was ridiculously danceable. The first 7,500 copies of the 7″ came with a free flexi-disc. But it all amounted to nothing as Arista didn’t provide much of a marketing budget and didn’t do any plugging to radio stations. I Travel failed to chart.

Here’s the b-side and the flexi-disc songs:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – New Warm Skin

And here, complete with scratches and bumps, are the flexi-disc songs:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Kaleidescope
mp3 : Simple Minds – Film Theme Dub

The b-side proved to be a rather excellent non-album track and the flexidisc also had two previously unreleased pieces of music. Kaleidescope had been part of the live sets when Real to Real Cacophany had been toured and many expected it to appear on the new album….but Simple Minds had moved into a different sound (again!!) for Empires and Dance and it didn’t fit in.

The record label had no faith in Empires and Dance, pressing up just 15,000 copies and waiting until these had sold out before going for any re-print, which again was limited in mumber. The album, seemingly, wasn’t easy to find in the shops, although I recall many copies in many Glasgow record shops.

There was no headlining tour, but instead the band found themselves criss-crossing Europe as the special guest of Peter Gabriel as he succesfully promoted Peter Gabriel III, and a hit single in Games Without Frontiers.

Simple Minds also supported The Skids at a few UK dates before eventually, in October/November, they headlined their own shows, including a great home performance at City Halls, Glasgow before an adoring and appreciative audience (including a 17-year old JC!!).

A few months later, Arista decided enough was enough and let the band go….and were probably surprised when Virgin Records immediately pounced to sign them and put them straight into the studio for their fourth album. There was a fresh buzz about the band and rather cynically, Arista decided to release a Simple Minds single, going with one of the most popular tracks on Empires and Dance:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Celebrate (7″ edit)

This came out in April 1981, seven full months after I Travel but just a few weeks before what was going to be the debut single on Virgin. It’s b-sides were a rip-off in that two previous 45s were offered up – I Travel and Changeling – and for the most part it was ignored by fans and thus got nowhere near the charts. Worth mentioning that I Travel would be the subject of yet another Arista cash-in the following year, but I’ll return to that in due course.

JC

8 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 4 & 5)

  1. excellent post , fascinating insight on there early struggles,
    keep up the good work.

    SC

  2. I Travel was were it all started for me, thanks to the “John Peel” of Swedish National radio. He didn’t have the luxury of new interesting bands playing live, but at least he did have an hour a week when he played new, “alternative” bands that at the time didn’t bother the top 20 charts. Late 70’s and early 80’s I have a lot to thank Kaj Kindvall for like discovering Simple Minds by the totally enchanting I Travel, and also The Cure by playing Someone Else’s Train. (The latter took me a while to figure out though as I had heard “The Querks” and I couldn’t find any release by them how hard I searched…)

  3. It is nice to read nice stuff and be able to write positively again about these brilliant records. It’s been a long time.

    I Teavel is stunning with , as JC said, all players playing their A game. Simple Minds are now entering their majestic phase, they are better than Talking Heads. Seriously, Empires and Dance is the album I expected Fear of Music and Remain in Light to be, but when i later checked them out, they weren’t.

    When you hear Jim Kerr talking about this period of the band, I don’t think he truly understands what they had, what made them so good. Some of what he says is self deprecating in fairness, as though he believes he ( and probably Charlie Burchill ) didn’t become accomplished songwriters till much later, and making comments like “ we had a bass player who was really a lead guitarist “ about the brilliant contributions of Derek Forbes.

    Celebrate is also great of course, but I Travel is stellar, one of their very, very best. This Simple Mundscwere the best band on planet Earth for the next couple of years.

  4. I Travel is the closest thing the UK has ever gotten to a bullet train. It is Krautrock Disco and it is just massive. Kerr was ahead of his time as a Scot/Brit writing lyrics dealing with themes of the then EEC and the turbulence brewing in Central Europe. Charlie’s angular guitar sound slices and dices the air the song travels on. Mick’s synth are less worried with carrying a melody as they are building the song to crescendo after crescendo.
    New Warm Skin brings back in some of that Art Rock foundation the band had. But it flips it on its side. It is devoid of the warmth of say Roxy Music and relies on a strict and detached approach. For 17 year old me, this was exactly what I wanted, exactly what I knew I needed.

  5. “I Travel” is my go-to Post-Punk song, so yes, it’s one of my most treasured songs ever. “I Travel” is perhaps the most left-field song ever inspired by the seminal “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer. Among others. Not content to merely dabble in Moroderesque sequencer lines, the band also took a page from the books of Bowie and Kraftwerk to create the sound of Europe disintegrating to the sound of a runaway locomotive… or were those marching boots? The absolutely thrilling synth crescendo that heralded the song and gave us a split-second to catch our breath before accelerating full-tilt into high speed mode with a berserk sequencer figure that was acid house almost a decade early.

    The rhythms here were as hard and uncompromising as anything Kraftwerk achieved on “Trans Europa Express” with McGee’s drums slamming in syncopation with MacNeil’s synthesizers, but the overall vibe was more frenzied and explosive than the monolithic dread that Bowie attained on “Station To Station.” This was the “all guns blazing” opener to end all such openers.

    Derek Forbes mutated the distinctive sequencer line from the Moroder classic into a baseline that was just as repetitive for being played by hand. Burchill’s guitar was tremoloed almost into oblivion to provide the textural riffs that counterpoint the squalling solo in the song’s bridge. The sound here was one of continual shock and excitement by a band with nothing holding them back.

    Jim Kerr took vocal command as he was finally settled into his role here with kaleidoscopic lyrics and stentorian vocals that reflected the band’s recent travels in Europe prior to recording. The lyric “airports playing Brian Eno” was just icing on the cake. It’s hard to imagine the band getting more assured production than John Leckie provided for the third and last time here. The ideas exploding from this record could have hardly been bettered if Brian Eno or Conny Plank had been at the helm instead.

    The first time I heard this was when I bought my copy of “Empires + Dance” in early 1983 and placed the needle on side one with the track in my sweet AKG studio headphones. It was so immediately bracing that I re-cued the record to hear that amazing intro several more times before letting the side play out. Alas, I’ve seen Simple Minds four times over the 38 years of my fandom, and I have only seen this song played once, on their 2002 US tour in Washington D.C.

  6. Oh yeah, and “New Warm Skin” was the best B-side the band would ever record!! It was a disturbing examination of plastic surgery with a lurching backbeat that was unstoppable. Charlie’s mutated guitar riffs were preparing us for “Sons + Fascination” here. The song, unfortunately, finds itself all the more relevant 39 years later with the horrifying results of plastic surgery inescapable in our sick culture.

  7. The quality of the comments are a reminder as to why I keep this blog going. Stunning work all round….and I’m genuinely grateful and lucky to be surrounded by such talented writers.

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