Bowie-influenced Scottish punk band Johnny & The Self Abusers changed their name to Simple Minds for New Wave fame and glimmered through the early 80’s by adding Krautrock and Eurodisco to their repertoire.
Simple Minds made their debut in Glasgow in 1978, and later that year recorded a six-song demo which (thanks to UK music press enthusiasm) led to a deal with Arista.
Their first album charted briefly in 1979 before the band undertook a heavy schedule of live work in the UK, Europe and America while they wrote a second album, determined to be more experimental in approach.
Simple Minds were signed to Virgin Records in 1981 and paired with producer Steve Hillage. The resultant sessions spawned two albums, Sons And Fascination and Sister Feelings Call, which were initially released together.
It became the band’s first UK Top 20 entrant, spawning three minor hit singles with The American, Love Song and Sweat In Bullet and began Simple Minds’ transformation from cult to popular favourites.
This success unnerved Brian McGee, who abhorred touring. In August 1981 he was replaced by former Slik and Skids drummer Kenny Hyslop, although the newcomer’s recorded contribution was confined to Promised You A Miracle.
This powerful song reached #13 in Britain and proved popular in Europe and Australia (where the band enjoyed an almost fanatical following).
Although Mike Ogletree joined on Hyslop’s departure, Mel Gaynor eventually became the quintet’s permanent drummer. All three musicians were featured on New Gold Dream, which peaked at #3 in the UK album chart.
Here the band began harnessing a more commercial sound, and they achieved a series of hits with the attendant singles, Glittering Prize and Someone Somewhere (In Summertime). A sixth collection, Sparkle In The Rain, united the quintet with producer Steve Lillywhite, inspiring comparisons with his other protégés, U2.
Waterfront, a brash, pulsating grandiose performance, and Speed Your Love To Me, prefaced its release, with the album entering the UK chart at #1. The set also featured Up On The Catwalk, a further Top 30 entrant, and a cover version of Lou Reed‘s Street Hassle, a long-established group favourite.
Jim Kerr married The Pretenders‘ singer Chrissie Hynde in 1984 (pictured), but their relationship could not survive the rigours of constant touring and being in different parts of the world.
The following year Simple Minds, with new bass player John Giblin, chose to record in America under the aegis of Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain.
It was during this period that the band contributed Don’t You (Forget About Me) to the soundtrack of the movie The Breakfast Club (1985).
The quintet remained ambivalent about the song, which was written by Keith Forsey and Steve Schiff, but it paradoxically became a US #1 when issued as a single.
Although the band initially vetoed a worldwide release, they reneged in the light of this achievement whereupon the record became a massive international hit and confirmed their world-beating status. However, the track did not appear on the ensuing Once Upon A Time album that, despite international success, drew considerable criticism for its bombastic approach.
Three tracks, Alive & Kicking, Sanctify Yourself and All The Things She Said nonetheless reached the UK Top 10, with the former also making US #3, while a concurrent world tour, documented on Live In The City Of Light, was one of the year’s major events.
The proceeds of several dates were donated to Amnesty International, reflecting a growing politicisation within the band. They had also been one of the many highlights of 1985’s legendary Live Aid concert, with Kerr clearly relishing the moment.
In 1988, Simple Minds were a major inspiration behind the concert celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday, but although a new composition, Mandela Day, was recorded for the event, Simple Minds refused to release it as a single, fearful of seeming opportunistic.
The song was later coupled with Belfast Child, a lengthy, haunting lament for Northern Ireland based on a traditional folk melody called She Moved Through The Fair. This artistically ambitious work topped the UK singles chart in February 1989 and set the tone for the band’s subsequent album, Street Fighting Years, their first studio set in four years.
Although it provided the band with their fourth UK chart-topping album in a row and achieved platinum status within five days, sales then dropped rather dramatically, reflecting the uncompromising nature of its content.
Two further singles entered the UK Top 20, This Is Your Land and Kick It In, while The Amsterdam EP, which included a cover version of Prince‘s Sign ‘O’ The Times, reached #18 at the end of the year.
This contradictory period closed with the rancorous departure of Giblin and MacNeil, the latter replaced by Peter Vitesse, and the ending of the band’s ten-year association with Bruce Findlay and Schoolhouse Management.
Simple Minds entered the 90’s with only Kerr and Burchill remaining from the original line-up. Gaynor, Vitesse and new bass player Malcolm Foster completed the line-up on Real Life, which saw the band re-introducing more personal themes to their songwriting after the political concerns of previous albums.
The new material, including the Top 10 single Let There Be Love, recaptured the band’s trademark grand, epic sound.
Kerr married Patsy Kensit in January 1992, although the couple would split up only a few years later. During the same year, Gaynor left the band, leaving Kerr and Burchill to complete their next album with a host of session players.
The highly commercial She’s A River preceded 1995’s Good News From The Next World, the band’s final album for Virgin.
After another lengthy hiatus, Kerr, Burchill and a returning Forbes released Neapolis, an album that marked a determined effort to recreate the edgy, electronic style of their early 80’s work. While not always successful, it did at least indicate a band once again willing to take a few chances.
The band eventually surrendered all that was original about their music in a blatant attempt to be U3. In 2001, they were signed by Eagle Records and released Neon Lights, an album of cover versions including The Needle And The Damage Done (Neil Young) and All Tomorrow’s Parties (The Velvet Underground).
A new studio album followed in 2002.