Priptona Talks – To Jaine Henderson: Part One

I had the privilege to conduct my first ever professional interview for this blog with Simple Minds’ (and indeed Johnny And The Self Abusers) original lighting technician, Jaine Henderson. Upon gathering my notes to compile the transcript from the interview, what became clear to me was, despite my wanting to talk to Jaine about her work with SM and being involved in the early embryonic days of the band (and those discussions happened), was the fascinating life Jaine has had beyond her brief time as SM’s lighting tech. The interview became less about Simple Minds and her involvement in the early days, and just as much about Jaine herself and her life before and after her involvement with SM.

Brother David got himself a full-time job at the local record store, Graffiti, on Queen Street. Jaine would go in and hang around and help out on a Saturday. Members of the band (as of then, Johnny And The Self Abusers) would come in and be wanting to listen to things and would get chatting to David and from there David started to work as the sound tech and general “ideas man” for the band. He’d travel down to London with Jim Kerr and Graffiti store manager (and indeed JATSA band manager), Scott McArthur, knocking on record company doors, offering up demo tapes.

Jaine went along to some of the gigs and would help out here and there. One time the guy who was meant to do the lighting was a no show, so Jaine stepped in. That was the start for Jaine as lighting tech.

The first official Simple Minds gig was at Satellite City on January 17th, 1978. It was nerve-wracking for all involved. Jim, in a Facebook post on Simple Minds Official in January, 2017 (just a couple of days before the gig’s 39th anniversary) expressed how nervous he was, and what a “big deal” the gig was for the band. Jaine and David had done some rehearsing leading up to the gig. The odd little slot here and there, helping out where they could.

Whilst starting out being the lighting tech, Jaine also helped with the band’s promotional material, creating tour posters for early local gigs. Offered a six month placement at a graphic design company, Jaine enjoyed learning to work in mixed media. One of the early iconic Simple Minds gig posters was her concept, incorporating a photo by Peter McArthur. “I saw the photo and thought it looked really good. There was a screen printer at work but you could only work with one colour at a time. Jim liked the whole ‘Village Of The Damned’ thing, so I had the idea of making his eyes red.” The posters would have a blank space of white at the bottom so information on each new gig could be added.

Such a successful concept it turned out to be that it lead to some official merchandise being made. You’ll see in the video below a badge that worked lenticular, so Jim’s eyes would flash on and off, depending on how the light caught the badge. Retro style badges of both Jim and Charlie with the “red eye effect” can be bought from the official band store to this day.

The lighting kit comprised four lights on a repurposed bread board that David had put together. Lights of various strength of wattage were used, including a 1000 watt floodlight that if used in unison with the other lights could lead to the lights overheating and short-circuiting. Other lights were added over time having been “rehoused” as part of the Simple Minds lighting kit.

The lighting rig got more complex as time moved on and as the band developed and endeavoured to put on more elaborate shows. Equipment got heavier too, and Jaine would struggle sometimes to set it all up herself. It was tough work, lots of heavy lifting and physically labour intensive. More than a solitary person working alone should have to deal with. But Jaine was reluctant to ask for help. “If I asked for help it would be seen as weakness, because I’m a girl, that I couldn’t take it. But it was because things got more complex. It was a job that required more than one person, especially for the physical setting up of the lighting rig.”

Jaine explained there was an element of freedom, and in some respects more control over a simpler lighting set up than what is around today. Most lighting rigs now are controlled totally with automated switches. Fairly much all pre-programmed with the light show being almost “curated” before tours begin to a setlist by the music act sticking to a fairly uniform presentation each night of a tour.

Back in the day when Simple Minds were starting out, new songs were penned on an almost weekly basis. Set lists could change quite regularly. For Jaine that meant that no two nights were ever really the same. “With the lighting set up I had early on I had greater ability, I think, to change with the mood and atmosphere of each gig. I had more control to change the sequence of the lights, and the shadows and darkness between the lights played as much of a factor in how the music came across to a crowd as much as the lighting did itself.”

In Simple Minds’ tour with Magazine, there was one particular occasion when things seemed to go awry, at a gig in London at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Simple Minds were support for Magazine on the tour, and as a support act, they were receiving a good reception from the crowds every night. By some accounts, this seemed to be hacking off Magazine’s manager (contentious as to whether it was the band’s overall manager or their tour manager). At this particular gig, halfway through the Simple Minds set, the power was cut. Off for several minutes without any sense that things were trying to be sorted out, the band embarrassingly trundled off stage. Most in the SM camp smelled a rat. Jim seemed to be of the belief it was the band’s tour manager that cut the power, but the real culprit will never truly be known.

As far as Jaine remembers things on the Magazine tour (and for what was the Life In A Day tour for Simple Minds, the album having just been released as they set off on tour), it was a small blip on an otherwise successful tour. A tour that she remembers enjoying by and large.

Jaine shared with me the story of the pink lamé jacket. She and Jim had seen this wonderful looking, sparkly pink jacket in a shop window and thought it looked great. Neither of them could afford to buy it outright, so they decided to go halves in it. It was an expensive jacket. Some £60! Considering the average weekly wage at that time was around £30, it was quite a sum! “We were going to take turns wearing it, but I ended up wearing it more often than Jim.” Then on the night of the gig at the Apollo in Manchester (a hometown gig for the headline act, of course), the Magazine road crew having seen Jaine wearing the pink lamé jacket had an idea. “Each night on the tour, John McGeoch would have his saxophone brought out on stage and handed to him by a member of the road crew”, Jaine explains, “but this night in Manchester, the crew thought it would be a great idea that I go on instead wearing the jacket, as if in a magician’s assistant guise with a ‘Ta daaaah! Big reveal’ moment that would surprise John. So on I go in the jacket with John’s saxophone and hand it to him. John wasn’t expecting me, so he was quite shocked. The crew and the other band members are giggling away enjoying John’s reaction, and I am mortified being on stage, standing in front 2,500 people, handing John his sax!”

Part two of the interview can be read HERE

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