Get This!, Kraut-y

Travel Agents

I met Charlie Burchill once. Tiny and comically round, he looked like a pantomime pirate who was missing his beard; the tight black jeans, pointy boots and dazzling white blousy shirt that probably cost more than my monthly mortgage repayment brought to mind Captain Pugwash on shore leave. While my 5ft 8″ towered over him I was instantly enlightened as to why that white Gretsch Falcon he was fond of playing in those Simple Minds videos always looked ridiculously over-sized on him.

I’m being a wee bit cruel though; Charlie was very smiley, extremely chatty and, in the same way that he and Jim Kerr had moments earlier been gushing over the Roxy and Bowie 7″s that filled the Wurlitzer we happened to be leaning against, he listened enthusiastically to my stories of how Simple Minds had played a major part in my formative years.

I came to Simple Minds around the time of Glittering Prize and Promised You A Miracle – the New Gold Dream album is an incredibly-produced LP – stick it on at some point and lose yourself in the textures – and while it was Don’t You Forget About Me that brought them to the attention of my mum and the rest of the world, it was I Travel that melted my mind to the possibilities of music.

By the time I’d first heard I Travel, the band had just played Live Aid and were chronologically closer to Belfast Child, Mandela Day, Biko and the posturing, political pap that disenfranchised an entire generation of fans who’d been by the band’s side since the days of the Mars Bar in Glasgow, the knowing Chelsea Girl single and the Empires And Dance album. The New Gold Dream album though had me scampering backwards to see what else the band had done, and it was on a scratched copy of Empires And Dance from Irvine library that I first encountered I Travel. Listening to it as I type, I’m still waiting on a skip that doesn’t happen. Europe has a lang….oblem. It’s funny how music lodges in your head like that, eh?

I Travel was the first track on that album and signalled a brave new direction for the band. Its clattering, steam-powered industrial funk is propulsive, futuristic (still) and highly infectious. It’s the sound of industrial Victorian Glasgow breaking free of its chains, the sound of the shipyard welders’ blow torches set to scorch, the sound of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love as played by art punks from the south side of Glasgow.

Simple Minds I Travel (extended)

I have two copies of I Travel. There’s the original, 12″ version, bought on a rare outing to the Virgin Megastore on Union Street, back in the days when folk still smoked behind the counter and you darenae go up the stairs to the second floor on account of all the scary-looking punks and their brothel creepers blocking the way. I also have a reissued 7″ found whilst rummaging through a box of Gene Pitney and Sonia 7″s in a Lake District charity shop. I was scared to leave it there, unsure of what fate would befall it should I put it back. The 12″ is a well-played piece of vinyl. It was often the soundtrack to drunken teenage stupidity, stuck on at filling-loosening volume as soon as someone’s parents had reversed out the drive for a week in Wales. It’s a great record.

How did they write it? It’s not a guitar tune in the traditional sense. You won’t find the chords on your favourite tab site. Wee Charlie adds occasional textures here and there, and there’s a fantastic blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Nile Rodgers-esque flourish midway through, but the song’s genesis must lie somewhere between Derek Forbes’ groovy never-ending bass, the sequenced synths and that head-nodding, rattling rhythm. Imagine being there while the band jammed it, working all its nuances out?! Played live, it’s a cracker;

With the benefit of acquired musical knowledge, it’s clear that Simple Minds had been listening to the right sort of European records. Kerr’s baritone echoes the more esoteric moments from Bowie’s Berlin phase and he sings of culture; decadence and pleasure towns, tragedies, luxuries, statues, parks, galleries. He might even be singing of Glasgow – the lyric certainly ticks all of that subject matter.

Strip everything else away – the 8 note keyboard motif, Burchill’s splashes of colour and Jim Kerr’s vocal and you have a record that sounds like its made by machines with soul. A bit like Kraftwerk, I suppose. In fact, if it popped up vocal-free on 6 Music tomorrow, you could be forgiven for assuming its retro-futurism was the latest Underworld release.

Expertly glued together by John Leckie, I Travel hints at a group of musicians growing into themselves. Hindsight shows that Simple Minds went on something of an imperial run around this time. Imagine if I’d never looked back and instead fell for the stadium shows and the hey hey hey heys. There’s an axis-turning thought.

Kraut-y, Live!

Kerr In The Community

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 orThe 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.

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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);

IMG_4684There’s Wally!

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)

Get This!, Hard-to-find, Kraut-y

‘Head Music

Radiohead play both types of music – arty and farty, and they’re still the band by which all others must be measured. In comparison, everyone else just doesn’t sound like they’re really trying, do they?

Radiohead haven’t stood still. The left-field rock double whammy of The Bends and its more adventurous follow-up, OK Computer would’ve been the pinnacle of many a band’s career – lesser bands would maybe even have stopped after such an explosive one-two. Other bands (hello Coldplay, we’re looking at you) took lowest common denominator Radiohead and churned out the Asda price version, to much ringing of cash registers around the world. How could you improve on two great albums? Not many could. For some people, Radiohead couldn’t either. But you know better…..

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I like the experimental, itchy, claustrophobic Radiohead. The static bursts. The skittering drums. The are-they-guitars-or-are-they-keyboards? The cut ‘n paste approach to the vocals. The way everything is wrapped, womb-like in its own wee Radiohead bubble. Recent Radiohead has been all about the sonic textures. The ebbing and flowing. The peaks and troughs. The grooves rather than the grunge.

These Are My Twisted Words was put up for free download a few years back on the band’s website. I’m sure you’ve heard it;

From the warped intro via the chiming, falling-down-a-hole guitar riff that surfs across the top, the whole thing jerks and twitches away like Thom Yorke’s gammy eye whilst maintaining an actual tune – the perfect amalgamation of all that makes Radiohead great. Lots of people moan that the ‘Heid have lost their way with a tune. Sit them down and play them this. The only way it could be better was if it was three times the length.

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Where I End And You Begin is all swirling ambience and one chord groove. Hip hop drums and phat bass. But still slightly wonky and weird. It’s on Hail To The Thief, a quiet contender for title of Best Radiohead Album. I’m sure you’ve heard it too;

simple minds early

Post-rock Radiohead remind me an awful lot of pre-rock Simple Minds, back when they were releasing arty, Eastern European influenced glacial soundscapes. Equal parts post-punk snottiness and Bowie metallic art punk with a Kraftwerk man machine-like muscle, this was not music to punch fists in the air to. It was cerebral yet danceable. It aimed for basslines rather than headlines.  Perfect headphone music. Mandela Day and Belfast Child were somewhere in Western Europe, a million light years away.

Here’s a couple of early Simple Minds tracks. Note the influence on mid-period Radiohead. They won’t deny it.

Theme For Great Cities

This Earth That You Walk Upon

 

Have you got Polyfauna, the Radiohead app yet? What d’you think?

radiohead app