EMPIRES AND DANCE

It was 40 years ago this very month that Simple Minds released Empires and Dance, possibly the most un-Scottish of albums ever to be released by any world-famous Scottish band.

It’s an LP that saw Arista Records make a complete balls-up, failing to realise what Simple Minds had been progressively gearing up to over the previous 18 months, effectively dismissing it from the outset by pressing up just an initial 15,000 copies of the album and, once these had been cleared from the shelves of the record stores that had managed to obtain copies, choosing to press just a further 15,000 copies, making it difficult for many fans to find (although, to be fair, it wasn’t a big problem in Glasgow with all the shops, large and small having it on sale).

It was the culmination of an unhappy time with the label. The previous two albums, while critically acclaimed, hadn’t provided any great commercial success, while none of the singles had charted. The band was deeply in debt to the label, chiefly from the costs involved with touring, and in later years, the band members revealed that there were serious discussions around splitting-up to get out of the mess.

Luckily, other A&R folk were paying attention to Empires and Dance and realised that it contained songs which could be part of the changing scene in clubs, where ‘pure’ disco was increasingly giving way to electronica, especially the ‘heavier’ European-vibe with its co-reliance on great bass notes. And, while Empires and Dance is very much the work of the five-man collective, it is the contributions from Mick MacNeil on keyboards and Derek Forbes on bass that make it stand out. So, when Arista let the band go just four months after the album came out, the folk at Virgin Records pounced and, having agreed to a sum to pay off part of the debt to the old label, took the band on and put them firmly on the road to superstardom.

It is quite bemusing to look back and wonder why Arista made such a mess of things. The album opens up with the genuinely jaw-dropping I Travel, a song that I’ve previously said is 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.

It surely had hit single written all over it….but not on Arista’s watch in 1980. Indeed, the label only realised what they had missed out on a couple of years later when the cashed-in on the new-found success the band were enjoying and pushed out Celebration, an admittedly excellent 10-song compilation of material from the first three albums, with its b-side containing three tracks lifted from Empires and Dance together with a b-side from the I Travel single.

I Travel might be the cornerstone of Empires and Dance but there is so much more to the album, and I’ll crib from a review that can be found over at Julian Cope‘s Head Heritage website to illustrate:-

“Empires and Dance is their most European album- Bowie/Eno, Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Nite Flights, Fear of Music all appear to be influences. Opening single “I Travel” is like Trans Europe Express on speed…..a pulsing pop song that delivers on the influences of Kraftwerk and Moroder.

“Today I Died Again” has more in common with Magazine than U2- the lyrics in the same avenue as Ian Curtis ruminating on fascism (“Walked in Line”, “Dead Souls”) “The clothes he wears date back to some war…She can’t remember before this heat/He can’t remember his wife’s Christian name…Back to a year, back to a youth/Of men in church and drug cabarets…”- can’t help but think of films like Cabaret, The Damned, The Night Porter & Salon Kitty. Maybe The Tin Drum also?

“Celebrate” sounds like Chic producing Gary Numan, robo-funk at its finest; while This Fear of Gods pre-empts 23 Skidoo’s “Coup”- (the influence/sample for Chemical Brothers’ “Block Rockin Beats”) & the keyboards are very Trans Europe Express also. Epic stuff, though like a lot of great records, I haven’t got a clue what is being sung about.

“Capital City” and “Constantinople Line” continue the Europa themes, alienation and paranoia rule then- & this leads into “Twist/Run/Repulsion” – a series of oblique mantras (“Contort!”) over a female voice sample creating a track not far from those found on Eno/Byrne’s sampledelic-classic My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.

Even better is “Thirty Frames a Second”, which recalls the time-reversal themes of books like Counter-Clock World (Philip K Dick) & Time’s Arrow (Martin Amis) and musically is their most Krautrock inflected moment. Brief instrumental interlude “Kant-Kino” is very side 2 of Low, and segues into final track “Room” – the most melody-driven track here. Shimmering guitars, pulsing percussion & almost funky bass- pity it’s so brief though! This is the kind of song that would make music critics wet themselves if Primal Scream or Radiohead produced it now…”

I probably listen to Empires and Dance a couple of times a year at most, thus ensuring it retains its fresh and vibrant feeling.  My vinyl copy has long been trashed and I’ve made do with a CD version that was later issued by Virgin Records.  But, having now got myself that decent turntable again, I sought out a copy of the original vinyl via Discogs, one that was actually delivered by the postie on Saturday 12 September, which was 40 years to the very day that it was released.  These have been ripped from the album:-

mp3: Simple Minds – Today I Died Again
mp3: Simple Minds – This Fear Of Gods
mp3: Simple Minds – Thirty Frames A Second
mp3: Simple Minds – Room

Looking back, it’s head-scratching that none of these made it onto the ICA I pulled together back in May 2016…..

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 16-20)

I said last week that the first nine months of 1984 were a complete whirlwind for Simple Minds.  It was nothing compared to 1985, although the roots of events dated back initially to June 1984 and then later again in November 1984.  I’ll rely on words lifted from a website associated with the band:-

Whilst writing the score for John Hughes’ latest (and in retrospect best) brat-pack film The Breakfast Club, Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff penned Don’t You (Forget About Me), intended for the film’s opening credits. Recording a rough demo, Forsey wanted it recorded by an established band and started to hawk both the tape, and himself, around the record companies of bands he admired and felt could suitably record it and add gravitas to the soundtrack.

Which is why Simple Minds found him in their dressing room after one of the Tour De Monde gigs in America, clutching a collection of Simple Minds bootlegs, and enthusing about this great song he’d written. (After hearing the song A&M invited him backstage but neglected to tell Simple Minds anything about it.) Bemused, and no doubt amused by the episode, they declined.

Bryan Ferry also declined. As did Billy Idol, who Forsey was successfully producing at the time.

Forsey was not one to give up and flew to the UK to persuade Simple Minds again to record the track. He found them in London, working on the demos for Once Upon A Time. With Forsey on their backs, and A&M on their backs, the band relented, thinking the song was just another incidental track to a forgettable brat-pack movie. They booked a studio in Wembley, and nailed the song in three hours. One of the caveats was they could play with the arrangement, and Jim added the “la la las” on the day.

The band carried on with Once Upon A Time and completely forgot about the song.

The band played three frantic sell-out gigs at Glasgow Barrowlands from 3-5 January. The set-lists provide an indication that these were very much about pleasing the local crowd:-

I Travel / Glittering Prize / Book Of Brilliant Things / Up On The Catwalk / Promised You A Miracle / Speed Your Love To Me / Celebrate / Someone Somewhere (In Summertime) / The American / Waterfront / New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84)/ Take Me To The River – Light My Fire

The next gig that Simple Minds would play was six months later at Live Aid, and as part of the Philadephia bill. Three songs made up the setlist:-

Ghostdancing / Don’t You (Forget About Me) / Promised You A Miracle

The second tune aired at Live Aid was the one that a few months earlier, in March 1985, been released in America where it went to #1. A month later, it was released in the UK, where it reached #7:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Don’t You (Forget About Me)

The fact that the b-side, A Brass Band In Africa, was the same as had been included on previous UK single (Up On The Catwalk) provides a fair indication that there was never any intention to do anything with the song, a situation that only changed with the American success.

The other thing about the Live Aid gig, and as can be seen from the photo at the top of this page which was taken on the day, was that Derek Forbes was no longer part of the band, having been sacked during the sessions for the new album. His replacement was John Giblin, in whose studio they had been writing and recording, and whose previous credits including working with John Lennon, Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel.

John Giblin played bass on the new album, Once Upon A Time, that was released in October 1985. It contained four singles:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Alive and Kicking – #7 in October 1985
mp3 : Simple Minds – Sanctify Yourself – #10 in February 1986
mp3 : Simple Minds – All The Things She Said – #9 in April 1986
mp3 : Simple Minds – Ghostdancing – #13 in November 1986

Yup, the fact that a song, more than a year after its first appearance on an album, could sell enough copies to go Top 20 in the UK, tells a lot about just how popular Simple Minds had become.  And listening to it, just how far removed it was from I Travel, from which part of the lyric was lifted…..

I don’t actually own a copy of Once Upon A Time, but almost 1,000,000 folk in the UK have bought it, so my holding back £10 or so wasn’t that big a deal to the band. I also never bought any singles after those on Sparkle In The Rain, so all the mp3s today have been sourced from elsewhere.

The band wouldn’t release its next studio single until 1989 (albeit there was a live album and 45 released in 1987). In fact, the single was an EP entitled Ballad of The Streets which went to #1. But to me, that’s later Simple Minds and well outside of the confines of this series. Indeed, I was in two minds about staying on as far as these five singles but chose to so so after a chat with one of my fellow Simply Thrilled DJs who, being a fair bit younger than me, advised that this was the era of his introduction to the band and he adores the album.

As ever, I really have appreciated that so many have come in and offered their own views, thoughts, observations and comments these past few weeks. I really must single out Alex, Echorich, Friend of Rachel Worth, JTFL and postpunkmonk for what have been an outstanding series of contributions throughout the entire series, many of them proving to be substantial, stand-alone review pieces bordering on genius.

I’ve said it before, but it does bear repeating, that the quality of responses and critiques left at this little corner of t’internet constantly blows me away. So again, thank you!

And remember, guest postings are very welcome at all times…..so if there’s something you would like to share with a few hundred like-minded folk, then drop me a line anytime.  The address is over to the side of the blog, failing which scroll down and it will be underneath.

Tune in next Sunday to find out who is next for the Sunday spotlight.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 14 & 15)

The first nine months of 1984 were a complete whirlwind for Simple Minds.

It began in January with the release of their new single, which went Top 20:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Speed Your Love To Me

Again, there was a harder, rockier edge to the song than previous material, with a backing vocal courtesy of Kirsty MacColl, particularly on the 12″ version which came in at more than seven minutes upon which producer Steve Lillywhite used his entire box of techniques and studio sounds.

The b-side was an instrumental:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Bass Line

It would later transpire that the instrumental had later been fully devoped, with lyrics, and would appear, as White Hot Day, on the new album Sparkle In The Rain which, upon release in February 1984 entered the UK charts at #1, eventually spending more than a year in the Top 75.

Despite the sales and success of the new album, many fans of old, attracted to the band through the post-punk synth-led music, were bitterly disappointed by the new material. I loved the fact the local boys were now doing good finacially and were now plastered all over the media, but the songs left me cold. The four-night residency in February/March at the Barrowlands could have sold out three or four times over, but the band were on a tour that had already visited Australia, New Zealand and Ireland and was due to take in another three weeks of dates across the UK (although the end dates were cancelled from Jim Kerr being flu-ridden and exhausted)

Having said all that, the choice of next single was my favourite song on the album as, aside from the ridiculous 1-2-3-4 count-in (and the 80s pounding drums), it goes back a bit to the older songs with keyboards to the fore and a far from straight-forward lyric.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Up On The Catwalk

It stalled at #27, perhaps down to the fact that most folk would have the song through its inclusion on the album, but then again, it’s not the most straightforward of numbers nor as anthemic as more recent singles.

The b-side was another instrumental which was a fine reminder of the more experimental side of the band:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – A Brass Band In Africa

In April, an extensive European tour was undertaken, before returning to the UK to fulfill the re-arranged gigs postponed earlier – this culminated in a eight-night residency at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, proof if any were needed of the band’s popularity with the public.

The band would admit later to finding it a tedious experience and it was then that thoughts turned to making the transition to arenas and stadiums.

May and June saw them zigzag their way across North America, playing venues way bigger than previous visits, and after a brief interlude to play some European festivals, they went back to the States for an arena tour in August and September as support to The Pretenders – oh and somewhere along the line, Jim Kerr married Chrissie Hynde.

They were clearly a hard-working band, putting on tight and crowd-friendly shows night after night.  All that was needed now, was some sort of real crossover hit single, one that would cement their place in 80s folklore on both sides of the Atlantic….but in all likelihood, alienate the fanse who were becoming disinchanted with the direction the music was taking.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Part 13)

The success of New Gold Dream led to Simple Minds being put on the bill of a number of outdoor festivals in mainland Europe in June/July 1983 after which the band returned to the studio to begin work on a new album. They did come out of hibernation on 14 August to appear as special guests of U2 at a massive event in Phoenix Park, Dublin at which they opened with a new song, one that signified yet another shift in sound.

They returned to the studio and, in typical style, quickly finished off work on the new album under the watchful eye and helping hand of producer Steve Lillywhite.

Virgin Records took the decision to delay the release of the new album, partly on the basis of New Gold Dream still selling in reasonable numbers and also the fact that they now wanted Simple Minds to be a band that had a worldwide release for new material rather than it being issued firstly in the UK.

But, as had been the case with the earlier LPs recorded for Virgin, there was an advanced release of a 45 (see the previous features on The American and Promised You A Miracle).

mp3 : Simple Minds – Waterfront

This was Simple Minds as never heard before. Big, bombastic, anthemic and tailor-made for radio, thanks in part to the one-note bassline that dominates in so many places.

I can honestly say that Glasgow went nuts for this song. The band had always been proud to say it was their home city, arguing in interviews that it suffered from an ill-deserved reputation in terms of grime, poverty and violence. They were proud of its and their own working-class roots and firmly believed the city was about to undergo something of a renaissance. The video for the new single was made in Glasgow, with many evocative outdoor scenes intermingling with live footage that had been shot at the Barrowlands Ballroom, a rundown and derelict venue in the east end of the city in front of an audience that had applied for tickets via a local radio station.

It really is no exaggeration to say that Simple Minds single-handedly saved the live music scene in Glasgow. The only realistic venue for touring bands, The Apollo, had closed down and was scheduled for demolition. The alterative would be the soon-to-be-completed Exhibition Centre with its cavernous shed holding 10,000, but that wouldn’t have been suitable for most bands who were looking for a capacity of 2-3,000. The Barrowlands had been a dance hall of reputation in the 60s and early 70s but had long been neglected as folk flocked to the new discotheques. There had been talk of it perhaps becoming a replacement for the Apollo but nothing was happening until Simple Minds, on 27 November 1983, got its doors re-opened for a gig (with limited capacity) that would be filmed as part of promotional videos for upcoming singles.

One month later, with more work done in terms of health and safety, Simple Minds returned to the Barrowlands for three pre-Xmas gigs, all of which could have sold out ten times over. By this time Waterfront had been a #13 hit in the UK charts, it would have sat at #1 in Scotland for months if there had been a separate chart. Worth noting too that all three of these gigs opened with Waterfront and that the song was also used to round off the final encore.

I’ve never been a lover of Waterfront but, at the same time, I am full of admiration and gratitude for what it did in terms of making Glasgow such an important location in terms of live music, one that has been built on to great effect over the past 35 years.

The b-side was a live version of a song on New Gold Dream, taken from a show at Newcastle City Hall back in November 1982:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Hunter And The Hunted (live)

There was a palpable contrast in songs that were just a year apart in terms of them being recorded and it was going to be interesting to see what direction the new record would take. Given that Steve Lillywhite’s reputation had been forged with guitar-based music, it was a good bet that Simple Minds would be moving away from the sounds of the Arista years……

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 11 & 12)

Some six weeks after Promised You A Miracle took its leave of the charts, the follow-up single was released:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Glittering Prize (edit)

Where I’d been a bit iffy about Promised You A Miracle, I pounced on Glittering Prize, telling anyone who cared to listen, that it was a magnificent piece of music whose shimmering majesty, particularly via its Associates-like guitar, bass and keyboard sounds, was the perfect soundtrack to the final few days of what had been the first long summer of my university years….I was happy and this song made me even happier.  I was certain it would be a massive hit, but it was very much a slow-burner, taking what seemed like ages to make its way into the Top 20 and only doing so at the same time as the LP New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84) hit the shops.

Looking back, the lack of b-sides for Glittering Prize didn’t help, with just instrumental versions of different lengths appearing on the 7” and 12” releases, with no new tracks or old live recordings to flesh things out:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Glittering Prize (theme)

The new album went straight into the Top 10 on its release and a week later was Top 3 (the new Dire Straits album, Brothers In Arms, Love Over Gold, went straight in at #1 when New Gold Dream hit its peak).

Virgin Records were desperate to issue a third single from the album but had to hold off until Glittering Prize stopped selling and dropped out of the charts which it did in early November. Just two weeks later, the new single came in at #36,

but to the shock and surprise of all concerned, that’s as high as it got:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Someone Somewhere (In Summerime)

By general consensus, this was the highlight of the album and of the live shows the band were now playing to packed audiences. The 12” version even included a new extended introduction, one which Charlie Burchill had worked up during the live renditions and in doing so turned the song into a six-minute epic (and, although nobody knew it yet, gave an indication of what was about to come round the corner…..hiya U2!!)

mp3 : Simple Minds – Someone Somewhere (In Summertime) (extended)

Fans, however, seemed content with the fact they had bought the album, and perhaps it also suffered from the fact that many were also investing in what was by now an extensive back catalogue.

The band didn’t have much in the way of any new music for the b-side and so, for the 7” it was decided to offer up an early version of another track from New Gold Dream:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – King Is White and In The Crowd (session version)

This had been recorded back in February 1982 and broadcast on the Radio 1 evening show, hosted by David ‘Kid’ Jensen. It’s quite demo like, certainly in comparison to what was issued six months later on the album, providing evidence of the role that producer Pete Walsh had played in the studio.

The 12” did have a previously unreleased track:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Soundtrack For Every Heaven

It later transpired that the music had been worked on for what had hoped would be the tenth track on New Gold Dream but had been abandoned as the band hadn’t been able to do quite get what they were looking for. In effect, what you have, is an unfinished demo……………..

New Gold Dream was placed high in just about every list typed up by the critics in their consideration of the best records of 1982. Simple Minds were now, at long last, a household name, and had even solved their drummer conundrum by keeping session player Mel Gaynor for the live shows and offering him a permanent position for going back into the studio for the follow-up.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Part 10)

10 April 1982 and a new single by Simple Minds is released.

1 May 1982 and Simple Minds finally have the euphoria that comes with a single hitting the Top 20 in the UK.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Promised You A Miracle

It was the fourth successive week the single had climbed the charts, something it would do for a further two weeks, peaking at #13. It would hang around the lower parts of the charts for a while longer, finally taking its leave in mid-June.

It was really strange seeing the band achieve such high-profile success after five studio albums, one compilation LP and two record labels. It’s a single that didn’t quite gel with me at the outset. It seemed really light and sparse sounding, very much lacking the bite and energy of many of the previous singles but it was one that I came to appreciate after hearing it in the live setting and how it was actually all part of yet a further shift in sound with more reliance on the keyboard skills of Mick MacNeil and the thumping bass lines from Derek Forbes. It was more pop-orientated than ever and of appeal to fans of bands such as ABC, Associates and Yazoo, all of whom would enjoy stellar years in 1982 – it was also similar to the latest Roxy Music album, Avalon, which itself was a million miles removed from the art-house and experimental stuff from the 70s that had been such an influence on early Simple Minds.

A new producer, Pete Walsh, was also at the helm, the job his reward for the impressive remix work he had done on Sweat in Bullet. What very few knew at the time was that Walsh was a total rookie, just 21 years of age, but considered by the band, and indeed the label bosses, to be something of a genius in terms of eking out all sorts of new and fresh sounds from the advances in production technology.

As had happened the previous year with The American, the band rush-released Promised You A Miracle, it being the among the first of the completed songs from the studio sessions in London. There wasn’t really any new material well-developed enough to appear as a b-side and so the decision was taken to use an instrumental track from Sister Feelings Call.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Theme For Great Cities

It’s one of the bands finest bits of music in their entire career, capturing the moment when they stood on the very threshold of fame and fortune. I’m guessing that many of those who weren’t familiar with the band until this 45 would have had their minds blown by the b-side and gone exploring the back catalogue, much of which was available at reasonably cheap prices.

The big question, however, was whether time would show Simple Minds to be just a one-hit wonder. We didn’t have too long to wait to find out.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Part 9)

Something of a brief interlude this week.

As mentioned before, Arista Records still held the rights to the back catalogue of Simple Minds and having looked with some envy at the sales generated by Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, the decision was taken to have the ultimate of cash-in with the release, in February 1982, of the compilation album Celebration, ten tracks lifted, for the most part, from the first three studio albums.

The album even came with a very cheeky peel-off sticker on the front of its sleeve stating it was The Very Best of Simple Minds – includes I Travel, Chelsea Girl, Life In A Day’

I Travel was re-issued as a single to promote the album, with previously unreleased live tracks on the b-side of the 7” and 12”. The source of these live recordings was never revealed by Arista, but it is likely they came from the Hammersmith Odeon gig of 25 September 1981; if so, it shows that Virgin Records, who held the license for the recordings from that gig, were equally as guilty of any accusations of trying to cash-in.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Thirty Frames A Second (live)
mp3 : Simple Minds – I Travel (live)

The single, again, didn’t trouble the charts (which probably came as a relief to the band as they more or less disowned this particular 45 from the word go).

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Parts 7 & 8)

22 August 1981.

Simple Minds finally get a single into the Top 50 of the charts. A few more sales and a Top of the Pops appearance beckons. It’s an era of great electronica pop music with Human League, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, Visage and Ultravox all in the Top 40 while Kraftwerk had just that week dropped out. Sadly, for the band and the folk at the label, one of THE great singles of the era didn’t find enough favour with the record buying public and #47 was as good as it got:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Love Song

I included this at #14 in my 45 45s at 45 rundown back in 2008 and it still remains one of my all-time favourite pieces of plastic. The subsequent album(s) released the following month would reveal the band had all sorts of strange and weird titles attached to a number of tracks, but here was something with a title as straightforward as it comes. It’s a pulsating, vibrant and highly energetic piece of electronica with crashing guitars, slightly less frantic than the earlier I Travel, but with a pace that fitted in perfectly with the uber-cool style crowd whose club nights, particularly in London, were centred around music that sounded futuristic. Incredible to look back and think, just four years after new-wave had bulldozed its way forward, that the death of guitar music was now being predicted.

The b-side, as with previous single The American, was another very interesting and enjoyable instrumental, highlighting that Mick MacNeil was now increasingly important to the still evolving sound of the band:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – This Earth That You Walk Upon

The hope had been that Love Song would be riding high in the charts when the new album, the band’s fourth in less than two years, was released.  Did I say fourth album?  As things turned out, the band’s fifth album ended up being issued on the same day as the fourth……

Sons and Fascination was released in September 1981. It consisted of eight tracks, including the 12” version of Love Song and to everyone’s surprise, a vocal version of This Earth That You Walk Upon. The initial copies of the album came with a free bonus LP entitled Sister Feelings Call, consisting of seven tracks and including the 7” version of The American. It was also revealed that Brian McGhee had quit the band at the conclusion of recording and that a temporary drummer would be brought in for the live shows to promote the new material. The packaging of the two albums for the price of one was a great selling point and helped it enter the Top 20 on release, where it stayed for three weeks, which was a fine achievement for a band without any hit singles to their name.

This time around, the tour included a show at the Glasgow Apollo and ended with a gig at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, a show that was recorded by Virgin records with an eye on a possible live album for future release.

In November 1981, while the band was coming to the end of an extensive tour of North America and about to head for the first time to Australia, a third single from the new albums was released:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Sweat In Bullet

It was an excellent remix of one of the tracks on Sons and Fascination and its b-side was lifted, but not remixed, from Sister Feelings Call:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – 20th Century Promised Land

A quick PS to this post is that 1981 closed triumphantly for the band. I hadn’t got to the show at the Apollo, having just started university and taking stock of few things, but along with some old friends from school (all of whom were now working) and a couple of new student mates, we trooped along to Tiffany’s in Glasgow, at the very end of December, and were privileged enough to witness what we felt would be the band’s best ever show….little did we know what the following year would bring.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Part 6)

Last week’s posting took us up to April 1981 and Arista Records very belatedly releasing Celebrate despite the fact Simple Minds were now part of Virgin Records and in the studio recording their next album (part of the deal to enable the band to leave Arista was an agreement that the songs from the era of the first three albums stayed behind with the band losing control).

One month later, the first 45 under the new arrangements hit the shops:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – The American
mp3 : Simple Minds – League of Nations

It wasn’t part of the original plan to release anything on Virgin as early as May 1981, but there was a great deal of anger and resentment about what Arista had done in issuing Celebrate, as well as the fear that a further single could be issued at any point in time. It was about drawing attention to the fact Simple Minds had moved on and were, again, exploring and recording slightly different sounds in the studio. The American was one of the earliest tracks to be completed that was felt had some sort of commercial potential and so it came out on 7” and 12” vinyl. The band, however, were still very busy in the studio with new producer Steve Hillage and there was no time available to shoot any promo video, a situation that hindered getting maximum exposure for the new song.

It’s a single I fell in love with immediately. It fitted in perfectly with the increasing popularity in electronica dance here in the UK, and was a piece of music that sounded equally as good coming out of your radio as it did blasting through the speakers at the under-18s disco I frequented at weekends. It’s one that, nowadays, certainly in its 12″ form sounds just a little bit more dated than others – a mix which at the time seemed almost revolutionary now sounds very gimmicky and of its time – and this is perhaps a reflection of it being rushed a bit so as to be in the shops. One of the things I most loved, and still do about it, is Derek Forbes‘ bass playing bring such a tribute to that of Barry Adamson from his Magazine days.

The b-side was a new, near-instrumental number which showed that the band were still capable of making atmospheric almost experimental music amidst the new more pop-orientated approach.

The American didn’t really trouble the charts, reaching only #59.

JC

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

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF (EARLY) SIMPLE MINDS (Part 3)

History is littered with bands who, by the time they have been able to release the debut album, have disowned many of the songs in favour of those that they have been prepping, either on the road or in the studio, for the follow-up record.

Simple Minds proved to be such a band, although their desire to get away from the songs on their debut was somewhat predicated by the fact it hadn’t brought any meaningful success. In September 1979, just two months after Chelsea Girl had let everyone down, they were back in the studio, again with John Leckie in the producer’s chair, determined to get it right the second time around.

The recording of what became Real to Real Cacophony was, seemingly, a pleasant experience with sessions being completed quickly, so much so that the record label had it delivered in time to make a decision to release it before the end of the calendar year. The only thing was that they delivered a record that the label was not anticipating, lacking any potential hit singles and packed with strange, often experimental-sounding numbers the likes of which were uncommon in 1979.

Some 40 years after the fact, it’s now seen as an album very much of the type that marked the beginning of huge changes in post-punk/new wave music, with moody and atmospheric keyboards taking a greater role at the expense of jarring guitars. Some critics, such as Paul Morley, immediately ‘got it’, suggesting that Simple Minds deserved to be lauded every bit as much as the likes of Joy Division, Gang Of Four, Wire and Public Image Ltd, all of whom could do no wrong in the eyes of the opinion-formers.

Arista Records, however, were spooked and their reaction was to put the album out with little fanfare, content that it would sell to the band’s fan base and with little or no accompanying promotion, the losses could be minimised (and no doubt written off against any previous advances).

The hopes of manager Bruce Findlay for the band to be at the forefront of his own Zoom Records become internationally famous were dashed when Arista insisted it be released as part of its wider stable of artists.

There was, eventually, one single lifted from Real to Real Cacophony, and even then it was all a bit shambolic. Changeling wasn’t issued to help further promote the album, but instead to raise the profile of the band as they undertook a tour. It was also decided to use an edited version of the song, cutting out some 45 seconds from the album version, and to have a live track on the b-side, with a song lifted from a New York gig in October 1979. Even then, mistakes were made as the mix of the live track, done back in Glasgow, had a miscue from the master tape and the recording put down on vinyl starts with the end of the previous song!!

mp3 : Simple Minds – Changeling (edit)

mp3 : Simple Minds – Premonition (live)

The single, unsurprisingly, was a monumental flop. Things looked bleak.

JC

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

HAD IT. LOST IT. (Part 10)

I do feel as if this latest instalment has been covered somewhat in previous postings; I also feel it’s like shooting into an open goal as there is near unanimity that Simple Minds were a band who really lost it (although I do accept that some folk out there – and I’m looking directly at you Jacques the Kipper – feel they never had it in the first place).

For those who don’t know the back story, Simple Minds began life as a straightforward punk band called Johnny & The Self-Abusers, hailing from Toryglen which, despite its name, is a solidly working-class community on the south side of Glasgow. This particular band played the pub circuit in Glasgow throughout 1977, a unique outfit amidst what was predominantly a hard-rocking, long-haired and blues orientated set of bands. They were thought of enough by London-based Chiswick Records to cut a single, Saints and Sinners, in November 1977 but in keeping with the spirit of the times the band split immediately, some going on to form a power-pop outfit called Cuban Heels and others establishing Simple Minds who were more focussed on the glam side of things with an increasing focus on electronica.

It took a few personnel changes and a number of stop-start efforts at finding a defining sound, but by early 1979 the band were on Arista Records and in the studio recording their debut single and album, Life In a Day. It received something of a mixed reaction but the album did make the Top 30 and the single spent two weeks in the chart, peaking at #62. There was some concern, however, that the much-anticipated follow-up 45, Chelsea Girl, was a monumental flop. Jim Kerr has subsequently acknowledged that there was too much of a reliance on mimicking the pop elements of Roxy Music and that the band were ignorant of much of what has happening elsewhere at the time, not least the emergence of Joy Division.

Determined to take a stride forward, the band were back in the studio within a matter of months and able to release a second album before 1979 was out. Real to Real Cacophony was very different from the debut being more dark and experimental sounding in nature with barely a hint of a catchy pop song. It’s an album that had a lot in common with the afore-mentioned Joy Division as well as Magazine, PiL and Gang of Four as groups looked to create something that combined the best elements of post-punk and the often derided prog-rock. It was music you had to sort of work hard at to fully enjoy and appreciate with very little in the way of instant gratification.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Changeling

This was proof that Simple Minds definitely ‘had it’ albeit they were regarded at this point in time as an albums band who were worth catching when they played live. Their music wasn’t considered radio-friendly not helped by the fact that 1979/80 was a time when most DJs and stations were suspicious of electronic music thinking it was a fad that would soon fade. Nobody at Arista was therefore ready for what the band presented to them in late 1980:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – I Travel

A booming, catchy, commercial and incredibly danceable piece of music that was surely tailor-made for the charts was a monumental flop as the label weren’t geared at all to promote Simple Minds to the pop market. The crime was made worse when an equally wonderful follow-up, Celebrate, was an even bigger flop and the label failing to print enough copies of the parent album Empires and Dance to meet the demand that was being created from favourable reviews across much of the UK music press.

The band took their leave of Arista and headed into the welcoming bosom of Virgin Records for whom they soon hit payola. It was a bit of a slow burner with two albums, Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, released at the same time in 1981. Both were produced by Steve Hillage whose fame and career had been built entirely on prog rock but any worries or concerns that Simple Minds would become unfashionable and unlistenable were soon allayed. These were confident sounding records being a blend of synth-pop , rock and dance that seemed bold, innovative and which were more than capable of grabbing and holding the attention of even the most causal of listeners. There were 15 tracks across the two albums including what should have been three smash hit singles but the band still suffered from the perception that they were one solely for album buyers.

Everything changed with the next album exactly one year later. The band had been helped by radio stations belatedly picking up on the flop singles and giving them occasional air time, while Arista Records had cashed in on their higher profile by issuing a decent compilation of the early material as well as making a push with a re-released I Travel. Virgin Records geared up for an assault on the pop market, encouraged no doubt by the fact that ever-increasing numbers of synth-based bands were becoming successes. There was an early indication that 1982 was going to be the breakthrough year with new single Promised You A Miracle crashing into the Top 20 that April, triggering off a run of what turned out to be 21 hit singles in a row over the next sixteen years.

New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84) turned out to be a shimmering and very listenable forty-five minutes of music across nine slabs of pop-orientated pieces of music that were of huge appeal to the masses. It was an album very much of its time, sitting comfortable alongside critically acclaimed and best-selling efforts from the likes of ABC, Yazoo, Associates, Soft Cell and Heaven 17 among others.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Glittering Prize

Nobody embraced Simple Minds quite like the city of Glasgow. There was a huge pride that the local boys had come real good and in response the band would write and record an anthem that was clearly about a city that was on the cusp of a cultural renaissance as part of its efforts to recover from the collapse of its traditional industries and way of life. Waterfront was big, booming, powerful and a portent of what was coming down the road.

The promo video also incorporated a live performance that had been filmed at the Barrowlands Ballroom in the rundown east end of the city, a move that took many by surprise as the venue was not associated with rock/pop music with everyone preferring to appear at the Apollo in the city centre.

The thing was, the Apollo had recently closed its doors for the last time and it seemed that the only place open to touring bands was the newly opened and wholly soulless Scottish Exhibition Centre, which ironically was part of a redeveloped waterfront. Simple Minds had, almost single-handedly, shown what the Barrowlands was capable of delivering in terms of sound and atmosphere and it wasn’t too long before it became an established and popular venue that remains in use to this very day almost unchanged nearly 35 years on. If nothing else, I’ll always have Simple Minds close to my heart for being such pioneers.

Waterfront had heralded a new heavier sound for the band, one that was built on substantially with the release of Sparkle In The Rain in early 1984.

mp3 : Simple Minds – Up On The Catwalk

Although it has undergone something of a critical evaluation since, it musn’t be forgotten that just about all the music papers and magazines embraced the record, welcoming Simple Minds to the roster of popular anthemic bands such as Big Country and U2 whose appeal was based on a Celtic sound rock music that could, at its worst, veer into stadium rock.

The album also made the band very popular in countries well beyond the UK, including Canada, Australia and the USA. It put them on the radar of many high-ranking folk in the music industry and it was no real surprise that an approach came to record songs that were perfect for film soundtracks. Which takes us to the atrocity of Don’t You Forget About Me – written specifically by two composers who specialised in such material for the closing credits of the John Hughes directed teen-flick The Breakfast Club – and turned down by Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry before being accepted by Simple Minds. A #1 hit the world-over in 1985 but miles removed from the sounds that had made the band an essential listen less than five years previous.

But maybe this was just a temporary loss of form and the band’s next album of original material would salvage things…..

I’ll end it there as you know the rest.

JC

BONUS POSTING : THE MISSING LINKS

I had a go recently at providing all the 12″ versions of Simple Minds singles in the period before they went all stadium rock on us. I was missing two of the bits of vinyl but regular reader and occasional contributor David Martin dropped them off via e-mail last week. Makes sense to post the missing links:-

mp3 : Simple Minds – Promised You A Miracle
mp3 : Simple Minds – Waterfront

Both were chart hits, reaching #13 in May 1982 and December 1983 respectively. Both are marginally longer than the album versions but not on the scale of some of the other 12″ releases from this period.

Big thanks to David. I know my wee brother in Florida will really appreciate hearing these again.

JC

BONUS POSTING – ASK ME, I WON’T SAY NO (HOW COULD I?)

Alex left behind this comment yesterday after I posted the 12″ of The American:-

Used to stare longingly up at the section of the Union St Virgin Megastore wall stocked with Simple Minds 12 inch singles thinking I will get them all one day. I never did but bought all the albums.

Even though they have sucked for so long, listening to one of these vintage tracks like this one (in extended form for first time) it’s like being transported back to a happy time.

They are still in this phase my spirit band.

Thanks for the post, JC. If you want to put up any others you may have……(he asks hopefully)

Happy to oblige.

The first Simple Minds single to get the 12″ extended treatment was I Travel. For the purposes of this posting there were a further ten singles released through to those lifted from Sparkle In The Rain, and all with the exception of Love Song were extended in some way from the album versions.

I don’t have all of them with both Promised You A Miracle and Waterfront missing; but here’s the others as requested (with the exception of The American and Speed Your Love To Me as these were posted very recently).

mp3 : Simple Minds – I Travel (12 inch version)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Celebrate (12 inch version)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Sweat In Bullet (12 inch version)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Glittering Prize (club mix)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Someone, Somewhere In Summertime (12 inch version)
mp3 : Simple Minds – Up On The Catwalk (12 inch version)

JC