Simple Minds commemorated the 40th anniversary of its formation last year with the release of a new album, Walk Between Worlds. Now the Scottish group — which is on its first full-scale North American tour in a couple of decades — is hatching plans to do the same for the 40th anniversary of its first two album, the 1979 pair of Life in a Day and Real to Real Cacophony — with even more new music.
“That’s exactly what we’re thinking about,” frontman Jim Kerr, who remains from that original lineup along with guitarist-keyboardist Charlie Burchill, tells Billboard. “It would be great that very month (April) to put something out and make a bit of a nod towards that — possibly an EP or something. It’s got to be new (music), but it’s got to be really good. And it’s got to evoke that first record, ’cause that would bring the cycle around. So stay tuned…”
Flashing back to those first days in a recording studio also has Kerr experiencing memory flashbacks — including how his relationship with David Bowie began during sessions for Real to Real Cacophony at Rockfield studios in Wales.
After recording Life in a Day in London “overwhelmed us Glasgow boys,” Simple Minds opted for the Welsh countryside for its sophomore set. The band set up camp in Rockfield’s small studio and was delighted to find out that Iggy Pop, a personal hero, was making his 1980 album Soldier with former Stooges mate James Williamson producing. “It was unimaginable to us that Iggy Pop would be in the Welsh countryside, where there’s nothing going on except sheep and hills,” Kerr recalls. And it got even better when Pop, who had pledged to stay clean and sober and be “a good, good boy” during his sessions, started hanging around with Kerr and company, who were under no such self-restraint.
“We turned up with a lot of goodies,” Kerr recalls with a laugh, “the kind of goodies that are not good for someone who’s trying to keep on the wagon. So we had the goodies and a lot of young girls as well. Iggy got word of this and, like a tomcat when his studio sessions were finished and everyone there had gone to bed he would creep around to our little scene. Every night he would come and take all our goodies and all our women and head into the night — and we still love him for it.”
About a week into the sessions Pop brought Bowie with him, who Kerr remembers being dressed in a full-body black jumpsuit and holding “a big piece of cheese — he obviously had the munchies — and a can of Heineken beer, looking to see what else we had on the go. For about a half hour he sat there, and it was just great, and then they disappeared.” Or so Kerr thought; Bowie had apparently commandeered Pop’s session away from Williamson (who subsequently abandoned the project) and was working on a track called “Play It Safe,” recruiting the crowd from Simple Minds’ studio to come in and provide football-style chants for the chorus. “We ran through the track a few times, and very diplomatically Bowie said, ‘Not bad, but why doesn’t everybody who doesn’t sing for a living take a few steps back from the microphone.’ Of course, that just left me sandwiched between (Bowie and Pop) at the microphone and we did it and I got a credit on the album and it was just…fantastic. A lot of stories grow arms and legs as they get old, but that one’s true.”
Kerr remained friendly with Bowie after that and also remembers one phone call in which Bowie asked about using the studio Simple Minds had built for itself and also seeking a reference for an Italian promoter who had offered Bowie some dates. “It was a lot of money,” Kerr remembers, “and (Bowie) said, ‘I hear you know the guy and you work with him, but I also hear he’s one of the mafia.’ And I said, ‘Well, the mafia don’t go around telling you they’re one of the mafia, but I think there might be something to that. But we’re not talking about horse’s heads in bed; In Italy, to get stuff done you’ve got to know people.’ Lo and behold (Bowie) did work with him and became great friends with him. The man in question was invited to Bowie’s wedding a few years later — and I wasn’t!”
Simple Minds current tour, which just kicked off Sept. 24 in Bethlehem, Pa. features two sets with an intermission and a wealth of material both new and old. “We feel we’ve got to go the extra mile after such a long time away,” Kerr says, “but it won’t drive people crazy like Springsteen. We know they have a life to get on with.” The tour runs through Nov. 11, finishing at the Hard Rock Live in Orlando, Fla.