My formative teenage years were soundtracked by a holy trinity of 12”s – Talking Heads’ Slippery People, New Order’s Blue Monday and Simple Minds’ I Travel. Before the age of trying to get into pubs, my pals and I would spend a few hours each Saturday at Andy’s house, where his more liberal parents allowed us to play snooker in their loft and listen to music whilst hiding our grimaces from one another as we drained a couple of cans of razorblade-sharp Holsten Pils, before negotiating the loft ladder down into reality and the mazy walk home to our unsuspecting parents. They were great times.
Fast forward the best part of 30 years. Did I (shhhhh! – don’t tell anyone!) want to go to a one-off, top-secret, intimate Simple Minds gig? It was guest-list only and my name was on it. The address would be given to me on the day of the concert itself. My teenage self would’ve spontaneously combusted at the thrill of it all. Nowadays, after their years of bloated bombast and my changing musical tastes, Simple Minds mean much less to me, but of course I was desperate to go. My lips were sealed.
Now. Plenty of bands have done intimate gigs. There’s something fantastic about seeing the big acts up close and personal, even if you’re maybe really not that close. The stadium bands like Foo Fighters sometimes pop up in the smallest of places at the shortest of notice. Arena bands downsize now and again to play club gigs – I’ve seen Bob Dylan do his ‘club’ gig in the Barrowlands, close enough to see the sweat drip from the brim of his cowboy hat and onto his keyboard during Ballad Of A Thin Man. I nearly saw Prince do his after-show thing in The Garage many years ago, but a huge, house-sized American bouncer counting loudly along the line stopped a few folk in front of me and my pals, sliced the line with a chop of his arm and loudly declared, “Anyone behind this line will not get in. Repeat. Anyone behind this line will not get in.” We were behind the line. We did not get in. Repeat, we did not get in. I’ve seen Blur, Radiohead, Manic Street Preachers….countless big names in King Tuts, but these weren’t intimate gigs as we know them – the venue was the venue because that’s the number of tickets these bands could sell at the time.
Simple Minds were playing in a 3rd floor tenement flat in the west end of Glasgow. A nice flat. A big flat. But still a flat, with neighbours to the side and below. It belonged to John Dingwall, hot shot music writer at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail. The guest list was comprised, said John, of 48 of the coolest people on ‘the scene’. Evidently there was some mistake. At the very best, I had somehow wangled my way onto the list of cool at number 48, but I was there. A venue-sized PA was manhandled up three flights of winding stairs and the living room transformed into what can truly be described as an intimate gig. It had all the makings of a decent New Year’s party with added volume.
The band (Jim, Charlie and Jim’s brother Mark on additional guitar) played only 5 songs, but what a thrill! They were here to promote Big Music, their new album out on the same day. The gig was being filmed for broadcast on the Record’s website. They could’ve chosen to play 5 tracks from the album and scarpered. But no. We got a bite-sized version of a stadium show instead. It was incredible.
“When we first started out, there was a club in London called Dingwall’s,” explains Jim Kerr. “We aspired to play there but we never got the chance. Now the club is gone, but we’re still here, finally playing Dingwall’s! We used to play lots of covers at first because people didn’t want to hear our own songs. So we’ll start tonight with a cover.”
And off they went, playing their way through a stripped-back version of The Doors’ Riders On The Storm, surprising myself at least, as I expected maybe a Bowie or an Iggy or a Roxy cover. Charlie on the left is firing off little lead acoustic solos. Mark on the right is keeping the rhythm. Jim centre ‘stage’ is loving it. He’s pulling off the rock star poses. Leaning into the mic. Pointing to people sitting on the floor. Playing as if he’s doing a normal gig at some enormodome stadium in the mid-west of America. He doesn’t know how to do anything different. He can make a stadium seem like a living room, but he can make a living room seem like a stadium. A true performer.
A weird thing happens during the second song. The band are playing Alive And Kicking when I get a Pavlovian rush; a knotted stomach, an intense feeling of guilt. The 14 year old me told his mum he was going to buy the new Simple Minds single with his paper money. His mum told him that he spent far too much money on records and, no, he wouldn’t be buying it. 14 year old me bought it anyway, which I’d have gotten away with if I hadn’t actually played the bloody record.
As soon as the first bars wafted from my bedroom and downstairs, my mother was up like a shot, mad that I had “wasted” even more money on vinyl. Every time after, when I pulled the record out to play, I got a rush of guilt and I always played the record at a low volume, so as not to incur the wrath of my mum. And here I am, 30 years later, feeling that same rush of guilt. It’s the knotted stomach all over again. I half expect my mother to barge into the crowded room and demand the band stops playing. It’s really weird. I actually find myself laughing nervously to no-one during the second verse. “You lift me u-up…ho!” Weird. Much later in the evening I find myself face to face with Jim and I tell him the story. I get a pat on the shoulder and a wee hug for telling him. I’ll never hear that song in the same way anymore.
Introducing the one new track played, Honest Town, Jim has genuine tears in his eyes. It’s a song about life and death, about close ones dying – Both Jim and Mark’s mum and Charlie’s dad passed away during the recording of the album. It’s the one sombre moment of the night. As soon as the last notes of the track have faded, the band are into Don’t You Forget About Me, played with all the energy and passion of the glory years Simple Minds. More memories of spinning the vinyl on my wee record player come flooding back. If anyone had told me when I bought it that 30 years later…etc etc…blah blah blah.
We get an option for the last track – “What d’you want to hear?” asks Jim. And in the split silence before the audience make their suggestions I manage to blurt out “I Travel!” It’s an acoustic gig, I have no chance of that and Jim knows it, arching an eyebrow and fixing me with an unspoken grin. “You can have a Bowie song or ‘The American’,” he replies. The wee crowd votes unanimously for The American and the Minds are off and running for the last time, playing a stripped back version of a song I never expected to hear performed.
Regardless of your thoughts on Simple Minds, they are still a great, great band. What a unique gig to have had the fortune to be at.
Here’s 3 of the post Krauty, pre-stadium Simple Minds. Still sounding as fresh as the day they were committed to wax.
The American (Original Version);
I Travel (12″ Version);
Love Song (Album Version);
I’m at the back in the orange jumper. Ooft. That wide angle really accentuates the man boobs. I’m off out for a run…
(last photo (c) Daily Record)