Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr: We don’t want to become a museum piece

Simple Minds, playing Ipswich in May

Simple Minds, playing Ipswich in May - Credit: Archant

Big Music, Simple Mind’s 16th album and their first of new material in five years, has, frontman Jim Kerr tells entertainment writer Wayne Savage, given the band a new relevance in the eyes of critics and fans.

Simple Minds, playing the Ipswich Regent in May 2015

Simple Minds, playing the Ipswich Regent in May 2015 - Credit: Archant

“It’s shown there’s no excuse, a band with a lengthy career like ours can be creative, can still make its music go places it never went, still have the energy and the commitment, all of that stuff.

“If 10 years ago you’d said you’ll be getting an award from Q because all these bands have been influenced by us I would say never. If five years ago you’d said NME will be quoting us as one of the top 100 bands to listen to ever I’d say you’re kidding me on. All this, as well as the response (to the album) have helped reframe Simple Minds I guess.”

The band were stunned at the critical reaction to Big Music – made with co-writer Iain Cook, of Glasgow band Chvrches; and producers Steve Osborne, Andy Wright and Steve Hillage, the latter working on 1981’s Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call.

“We’d already slipped some of the new songs into sets during the festivals in the summer. Chances are people would be thinking ‘what’s that’ but they were going down so well... You get encouraged and it’s only human that everyone feels good about that, you start to feel ‘we’re on the right track here’ so, yeah, it’s a good time to be in Simple Minds just now,” says Kerr.

When you look at similar bands, a three to five-year wait for a new album isn’t unusual. There’s the catalogue to work, touring and solo projects that get in the way too. It’s important, he says, not to sit in a studio room for five years.

“Inertia would come in and you’d end up chasing your tale. Sometimes (it’s a case of saying) okay, we’ve got this, this is the time to add another chapter to the story. It’s important to our momentum, but really what’s important is to have quality when it comes. After five years, if you come with a poor album you’re really in trouble.”

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Many, dare I say, historic bands carve a career out of living off their back catalogue. There are a variety of reasons says Kerr.

“A lot of them say we’re never going to get on the radio anyway, the record industry is down the chute, why invest time and energy and money investing in something that everyone will say ‘it’s good but not as good as the old stuff’. There are certain acts (who) don’t need a new album to sell tickets.

“We’ve been writing songs since we were 14, so for us not to be creative, that would be a weird one to begin with. The other thing is... You can only go round so many times, playing the same set, because the music calcifies, you calcify, your audience calcifies. It’s amazing how another chapter every now and again refreshes everything and stops you being a museum piece.”

It helps if you still have something to say too.

“At the end of the day, when you come to our gigs the greatest thing for us is to look out and see people jumping up and down, having a great time or joining in singing along. It’s also great to know a lyric or two inspired a thought or an idea.”

Big Music is more than a statement about the band’s future. It’s also a tribute to its past, specifically The Call and it’s frontman Michael Been.

The two bands toured together and Been introduced Simple Minds to America, becoming a mentor and good friends to Kerr and band-mate Charlie Burchill.

Touring the States for the first time in 10 years recently, they couldn’t help but get a little sentimental.

“We knew Michael wasn’t going to be there, having passed away a few years earlier sadly, and thought how about we slip one of his songs (Let the Day Begin) into the encore?

“We started to rehearse it. As the crew were coming in one by one they were going ‘what’s that new song, it’s great’. We’d go ‘no, it isn’t ours’ and they’d go ‘you’re joking’. It sounded so good we did it in the set and it went down a storm. We thought we’ve got to record this as, maybe, a bonus track but lo and behold it became one of the big pieces on the album.”

Simple Minds are renowned for upping the ante at their live shows so be sure to catch Kerr, Burchill, Mel Gaynor, Andy Gillespie and Ged Grimes, alongside backing vocalists Sarah Brown and Catherine AD, at the Ipswich Regent May 4.

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