Simple Minds are a rock band from Scotland, who had their greatest worldwide popularity from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. The band, from the south side of Glasgow, produced a handful of critically acclaimed albums in the early 1980s, and later went on to produce some politically inspired and critically praised work.
Simple Minds have secured a string of successful hit singles, the best known being their number 1 worldwide hit single "Don't You (Forget About Me)", from the soundtrack of the John Hughes movie The Breakfast Club and number 3 worldwide hit single "Alive and Kicking".
Founding members Jim Kerr (vocals) and Charlie Burchill (guitar, keyboards), along with drummer Mel Gaynor, are the core of the band, which currently features Andy Gillespie on keyboards and Eddie Duffy on bass guitar.
The band have sold more than 40 millions albums worldwide since 1979.
1977-1979: Life in a Day
Charlie Burchill and Jim Kerr formed a punk band in 1977. They were heavily influenced by Lou Reed, and after one unsuccessful single as Johnny & the Self Abusers, they shuffled the line-up to include former Abusers Brian McGee on drums and Tony Donald on bass guitar, the latter of whom was quickly replaced by Derek Forbes. In addition, keyboard and synthesizer player Mick MacNeil was also recruited. The band's name was changed to Simple Minds.
Simple Minds's debut album, Life in a Day, took a cue from fellow Post-punk forebears Magazine, and was somewhat self-consciously derivative of the late-70s punk boom, with AOR crossover potential not unlike that of The Cars. Life in a Day was exactly the kind of music Arista wanted to promote, being the album released by Zoom Records, owned by the band's manager, Bruce Findlay.
1979-1981: New Wave experimentation
While still categorised as 'rock', Simple Minds' second release, Real to Real Cacophony, had a darker edge, and announced some of the New Wave experimentation that would become the band???s trademark sound over the next two albums. These innovations included the occasional use of unconventional time signatures, and minimal structures based around the rhythm section of Forbes and McGee.
The next album, Empires and Dance, was a far more radical departure, and signalled the influence of Kraftwerk, Neu! and similar European artists. Indeed, during this period Simple Minds promoted themselves as a European band, not a Scottish or UK band. Many of the tracks on Empires and Dance are extremely minimal, and feature sequenced keyboards. McNeil's keyboards and Forbes' bass became the main melodic elements, and Burchill's guitar was heavily processed. With this album, Kerr began to experiment with non-narrative lyrics. While not consciously so, Empires and Dance was essentially Industrial in its aesthetic, and preceded by a couple of years the industrial-pop crossover of Cabaret Voltaire's album The Crackdown. The band's label, however, demonstrated little enthusiasm for such experimentation, and in 1981 Simple Minds switched from Arista to Virgin.
Simple Minds first release on Virgin was actually two albums: the Steve Hillage-produced Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call. The latter album was initially included as a bonus disc with the first 10,000 vinyl copies of Sons and Fascination, but it was later re-issued as an album in its own right. (For the CD release, it was paired on a single disc with Sons and Fascination ??? at first with two tracks deleted, but on later issues, in full.) Sons and Fascination perfected the formula that began with Empires and Dance, and showcases the band???s musicianship during their most prolific period. Indeed, the band???s musical virtuosity set their orientation somewhat toward the realm of progressive rock, and distanced them from the flippancy of many other New Wave musicians. The album impressed Peter Gabriel enough that he selected Simple Minds as the opening act on several European dates, which increased the band's visibility. "Love Song" was an international hit (reaching the Top 20 in Canada and Australia) and the instrumental "Theme for Great Cities" proved so enduring a composition that it was later re-recorded in 1991 as a B-side to the single "See the Lights". These minimalist, dance-oriented compositions, like those of Neu! before them were examples of man-made trance well before trance itself.
It was also in this period that the ground-breaking visual aesthetic of Simple Minds' product was established, masterminded by Malcolm Garrett and his chameleon-like "Assorted iMaGes". Characterised, at first, by hard, bold typography and photo-collage, Garrett's designs for the band would later incorporate pop-religious iconography in clean, integrated package designs that befitted the band's idealized image as neo-romantic purveyors of European anthemic pop.
1982-1984: The "New Romantics"
Simple Minds' sixth studio album, New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), released in 1982, was a significant turning point for the band. With a slick, sophisticated sound thanks to producer Peter Walsh, and similarly sumptuous design by Malcolm Garrett, Simple Minds were soon categorised as part of the New Romantic outgrowth of New Wave (along with Duran Duran and others), and the record generated a handful of charting singles including "Promised You a Miracle" and "Glittering Prize", which both hit the UK Top 20 and Australian Top 10. In addition, jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock performed a synth solo on the track "Hunter and the Hunted".
Despite the success of the album, some early Simple Minds fans criticised the band's more commercial orientation. While some tracks ("Promised You a Miracle", "Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel") continued the formula perfected on Sons and Fascination, other tracks ("Someone Somewhere in Summertime", "Glittering Prize") were undisguised pop. The album's direction no doubt was influenced by the departure of drummer Brian McGee, who had tired of touring. The album features three different drummers, Kenny Hyslop, Mike Ogletree, and Mel Gaynor, who would thereafter become the permanent drummer. For its initial release in the United States the album was released on clear gold vinyl with purple swirls.
The formula that had defined Simple Minds' New Wave period had run its course, and the next record, Sparkle in the Rain, was a complete departure.
Produced by Steve Lillywhite, who also produced U2's first three records, Sparkle in the Rain is an aggressive, rock-oriented album in much the same vein as U2's War. U2 frontman Bono was quoted in the official Simple Minds biography The Race Is the Prize as saying the "glorious noise" sound and feeling achieved on the Simple Minds album was one to which his band aspired. The eventual result of this shift in musical direction gave rise to hugely successful singles like "Waterfront", which hit number one in a few European countries and remains one of the band's signature songs to this day, as well as "Speed Your Love to Me" and "Up on the Catwalk".
In 1984, Jim Kerr married Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders (who temporarily renamed herself Christine Kerr), and the band did an American tour in support of the Pretenders while Hynde was pregnant with their daughter. The two musicians divorced in 1990.
1985-1986: The Breakfast Club and worldwide success
Despite the band's new-found popularity in the UK and Europe, Simple Minds remained essentially unknown in the U.S. The movie The Breakfast Club changed all that. Released in early 1985, this Brat Pack drama from writer/director John Hughes was a box-office smash and made household names of Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall, Ally Sheedy and Emilio Estevez. It also broke Simple Minds into the US market almost overnight, when the band achieved their only number-one U.S. pop hit with the film's opening track, "Don't You (Forget About Me)". Ironically, the song was not even written by the band, but by Keith Forsey, who offered the song to Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry before Simple Minds agreed to record it. The song soon became a chart-topper in many other countries around the world.
Taking advantage of their new-found popularity, Simple Minds released their most unashamedly commercial album, Once Upon a Time, which was tailored specifically to appeal to the stadium rock sensibilities of American audiences. Reviled by some long-time fans yet embraced by millions of new listeners and critically well-received, the record reached number one in the UK and number ten in the US, even though "Don't You (Forget About Me)" was not included. The band made it clear in interviews prior to the album's release that they would not include the song, believing that it would devalue the rest of the album, which they felt could stand on its own merits.
Once Upon a Time would go on to generate four worldwide hit singles: "Alive & Kicking", "Sanctify Yourself", "Ghostdancing" and "All the Things She Said", the latter of which featured a cutting-edge music video directed by Zbigniew Rybczy?ski that used techniques developed in music videos for bands such as Pet Shop Boys and Art of Noise. Because of Simple Minds powerful stage presence and lyrics that trafficked in Christian symbolism, the band was criticised by some in the music press as a lesser version of U2, despite the fact that both bands were now heading in different musical directions. However, the two groups were well-acquainted with one another, and Bono joined Simple Minds on-stage at the Barrowlands in Glasgow in 1985 for a live version of "New Gold Dream". For Once Upon a Time and its subsequent world tour, the band also featured Robin Clark as an additional lead singer, and she was heavily featured in Simple Minds music videos at this time.
The late 1980s: Political activism
To document their successful worldwide Once Upon a Time Tour, Simple Minds released the double-live set Live in the City of Light in 1987, which was recorded primarily over two nights in Paris in 1986. A double vinyl album with the Band's Logo in gold lettering over black sleeve makes this LP unusual among the band's catalogue, along with a 12" x 12" attached giant-sized booklet with state of the art photography of the band's performance and outdoor session pictures. This art couldn't be reproduced faithfully on later CD releases (an original 1st pressing on double-fat jewel case and the USA version packaged in a long box on two separate discs). The Simple Minds tour promoted the work of Amnesty International.
Inspired by Peter Gabriel, with whom they toured in the early 1980s, Simple Minds headlined a series of concerts throughout the US and Europe in 1988 with numerous other politically-minded artists (including Gabriel) known as Freedomfest, designed to highlight the evils of apartheid in South Africa. The band wrote the song "Mandela Day" (referring to Nelson Mandela), specifically for this series of concerts, and the song would appear on their next album.
After this lengthy period of touring, Simple Minds went back into the studio and recorded the politically-charged album Street Fighting Years, which was released in 1989. The first single from the album, the six-minute opus "Belfast Child" based on the traditional Celtic folk song "She Moved Through the Fair", was the band's first and only number-one hit single in the UK; the single was also an expression by Simple Minds of their support for the campaign for the release of Beirut-held hostage Brian Keenan, kidnapped by the Islamic Jihad. The album rose to number one and received glowing praise, including a rare five-star review from Q magazine. Street Fighting Years received a less positive review in Rolling Stone, which criticised the band for the positive lyrical refrain in "Mandela Day". Rolling stone reviewer Mark Coleman stated, "...by chanting, 'Mandela's free, Mandela's free,' over and over again on the song's celebratory chorus, Kerr creates the tragically mistaken impression that Nelson Mandela has already been released from prison ??? just what the authorities in Pretoria would like us to believe. When he finally cries, 'Set Mandela free,' near the end, it comes about three minutes too late." "This Is Your Land" was chosen as the lead single for the U.S., and even with guest vocals from the band's idol Lou Reed, the single failed to make a mark on the pop charts. Then, after a concert in Brisbane, Australia in late 1989, keyboardist Mick MacNeil quit the band, citing health concerns. That year also marked the first and only time the group headlined Wembley Stadium, where they were supported by fellow Scottish bands The Silencers, Texas and Gun.
The 1990s: Decline and reinvention
In 1991, Simple Minds returned with a much more radio-friendly collection of their political concerns, Real Life. The highly-polished pop/rock of Simple Minds was now considered pass?© by most of the record-buying public. "See the Lights" was the band's last Top 40 pop single in the US.
As the 1990s progressed, Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill became the only active members of Simple Minds. The band hired Keith Forsey, who wrote "Don't You (Forget About Me)", to produce their next record, which returned to the uplifting arena rock of their Once Upon a Time days. Kerr grew his hair long once again, and the band released Good News from the Next World in 1995 to good reviews but weak sales, at least in the U.S. In the UK and Europe, however, the response was much more positive, with the album producing the two pop hits "She's a River" and "Hypnotised".
Three years later, after being released from their contract with Virgin Records, Simple Minds decided to musically reinvent themselves once again, this time reaching back to their Kraftwerk-inspired, early electronic pop days. Derek Forbes returned after a 16-year absence along with drummer Mel Gaynor, who became a full-time member from this point forward, and the resulting album, Neapolis charted poorly and received mixed reviews. However, it is notable for being the only Simple Minds album released by Chrysalis Records, who refused to release the album in the U.S., citing lack of interest. As a further nod to Simple Minds' European musical heritage, the music video for "Glitterball", the album's lead single, was the first production of any kind to film at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.
After the disappointing reaction to Neapolis, things became even more challenging for the band. In 2000, Simple Minds next studio effort, Our Secrets Are the Same, originally slated for release in late 1999, became mired in lawsuits when EMI declined to release it, and became further compromised after it was leaked on the Internet. Simple Minds released the cover album Neon Lights in 2001, featuring the band's reinvention of songs from artists as varied as Patti Smith, Roxy Music and Kraftwerk. A 2-CD compilation, The Best of Simple Minds, was released soon after.
The 2000s: Creative rebirth
Simple Minds released Cry in 2002. Although the album did not sell in great numbers in the U.S., Simple Minds felt confident enough to mount a North American leg of their Floating World Tour (named after the instrumental track which closes Cry), their first in seven years. Although the venues were small compared to the larger venues they consistently sold out in Europe, the concerts were well-attended by passionate, long-time Simple Minds fans, many of whom brought their teenage children along with them. In a nod to the recent influence of trance and techno music, the band used those stylings to update their very early tracks, including "New Gold Dream", "The American", and "I Travel", the latter of which had not been performed live for several years.
2004: Our Secrets Are the Same
Finally released in 2004, Our Secrets Are the Same was called "Some of the Simple Minds best music in twenty years" by The Guardian newspaper and is the final bonus disc in a five-CD compilation entitled Silver Box, composed mostly of previously unreleased demos, radio & TV sessions and various live recordings from 1979 to 1995.
2005: Black & White 050505
Simple Minds' fifteenth studio album, Black & White 050505, released in 2005, was previewed on the band's official website for several weeks prior to its release, the band later toured throughout Europe, the Far East, Australia and New Zealand to support the album during 2006. Although Black & White 050505 generated some of the most positive reviews for a Simple Minds record in many years, and the first single, "Home", received airplay on alternative rock radio stations in the US, it did not make a significant impact on either side of the Atlantic, and has still not been officially released in North America to date. Despite the response from some website sources and a few UK tabloid papers the album failed to reignite the chart success of old and the mainstream media generally ignored the album or gave it a number of poor or indifferent reviews.
2007 saw the band's 30th anniversary, and a brief but successful tour of Australia & New Zealand , as guests of INXS, while Burchill and Kerr alongside bassist Duffy and keyboard player Andy Gillespie performed a brief set at the 40th anniversary tribute to Glasgow Celtic's famous Lisbon Lions European Cup winning team.
The next album will be released through the new W14/Universal label, who purchased the Sanctuary label earlier this year. W14/Universal gained the right to pick up the option on the remaining Simple Minds Sanctuary deal. A&R head John Williams originally signed the band to Sanctuary Records.
The band have continued to release a number of audio video Download "bundles" through their official website. Seven of these releases have appeared since May 2006, featuring live music and several short documentary style videos recorded in Brussels and Edinburgh during their 2006 tour.
2008: 30 Years Live tour
Simple Minds played the 90th birthday tribute to Nelson Mandela on 27 June in London's Hyde Park. The band then undertook a short tour throughout the UK to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill also played a number of unrelated shows across Europe with Night of the Proms prior to those UK dates.
During these concerts, the band performed the entire New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) album and showcased songs from their other albums in a two-part concert performance.
2009: Graffiti Soul
The original members of Simple Minds worked together for the first time in 27 years when they entered a recording studio in the middle of June 2008. Nothing came of the short-lived reunion; one member later commented that it lasted "30 minutes".
Reverting to Burchill/Kerr/Gaynor/Duffy line-up, Simple Minds recorded a new studio album, Graffiti Soul, released on 25 May 2009
According to Dream Giver Redux, during Graffiti Soul recording sessions, Jim Kerr suggested that Simple Minds had enough material for two albums, one to be released at the start of 2009 and the second following within the space of a year.
The single "Rockets", the first one taken from Graffiti Soul, was made available on the Internet in early April 2009.
On Sunday, 31 May 2009, the album entered the UK Album chart at # 10, becoming Simple Minds first album in 14 years to enter the UK Top 10. Also entered European Top 100 Album chart # 9, an excellent position and return.
Discography (main studio & live albums)
Main article: Simple Minds discography
Life in a Day (1979)
Real to Real Cacophony (1979)
Empires and Dance (1980)
Sons and Fascination / Sister Feelings Call (1981)
New Gold Dream (81/82/83/84) (1982)
Sparkle in the Rain (1984)
The Breakfast Club (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (1985)
Once Upon A Time (1985)
Live in the City of Light (1987)
Street Fighting Years (1989)
Real Life (1991)
Good News from the Next World (1995)
Our Secrets are the Same (2000 - unissued)
Neon Lights (2001)
Black & White 050505 (2005)
Graffiti Soul (2009]
Jim Kerr - Lead vocals
Charlie Burchill - Guitar, keyboards
Mel Gaynor - Drums, percussion (1982-91; 1997-98; 2002-)
Eddie Duffy - Bass guitar (1999-)
Andy Gillespie - Keyboards (2002-05; 2007-)
Brian McGee - Drums (1977-1981)
Derek Forbes - Bass Guitar (1978-1985; 1997-1998)
Mick MacNeil - Keyboards (1978-1989)
John Giblin - Bass Guitar (1985-1988)
Former live & session musicians
Paul Wishart - Saxophone - Empires and Dance Tour (1980)
Kenny Hyslop - Drums (1981-1982)
Mike Ogletree - Drums (1982)
Robin Clark - Vocals - Once Upon a Time Tour (1985-1986)
Sue Hadjopoulos - Percussion - Once Upon a Time Tour (1985-1986)
Lisa Germano - Violin - Street Fighting Years Tour (1989)
Annie McCraig - Vocals - Street Fighting Years Tour (1989)
Andy Duncan - Percussion - Street Fighting Years Tour (1989)
Malcolm Foster - Bass Guitar (1989-1995)
Peter-John Vettese - Keyboards (1990)
Mark Taylor - Keyboards (1991-1999; 2005-07)
Mark Schulman - Drums - Good News From The Next World Tour (1994-1995)
Mark Kerr - Drums (1999)