Review: Themes For Great Cities – A New History of Simple Minds by Graeme Thomson

“This is a fast story”, author Graeme Thomson says at the beginning of the book and keeps reminding us a few more times further in. 

It’s a story of the formative years of two pals from Toryglen, their school chum down the road, the keyboard player from the Chinese restaurant and the bass player that was meant to be a guitarist. 

The focus is as one would hope – primarily on the music and the band itself. The meeting of five incredibly creative and gifted men and how those quite different young men come together to produce the alchemy that results in the early music of Simple Minds. We learn most about their creative and working lives. There is little about their individual backgrounds, only vaugaries that are relevant to the telling of the overall story. 

Although the story is heavily focused on Jim Kerr, Charlie Burchill, Mick MacNeil, Derek Forbes and Brian McGee, we also hear from others deeply involved in the story (if not necessarily within the band itself or the creation of the music). Jaine and David Henderson, Bruce Findlay, John Leckie, Simon Draper, Steve Hillage and Pete Walsh get mentioned and/or spoken to at length. 

Graeme Thomson has been meticulous without dragging out the pace of the story. As he continues to reiterate through the book it is a fast story. Like the five men that feature most strongly within the story, there is not an ounce of fat on it. Nothing lags. Nothing is protracted. Succinct, yet never lacking in detail. If I had got around to writing a book about the band I love, then this is EXACTLY the book I hope I’d have written. 

Along with content from interviews conducted with the primary band members, there is also input in the form of small “bridge” chapters from Bobby Gillespie, James Dean Bradfield and Ian Cook. There is also a dedicated “Q and A” interview chapter with art designer Malcolm Garrett. 

Some never-before-seen (even by me!!) photos are contained within the two sections of photographic content within the book. A number of wonderful photos by Virginia Turbett are within. Rare gems from John Leckie and Carole Moss can also be found within. 

There are things that I have questioned or pondered within my time as a Simple Minds fan that are discussed in the book. For instance, was the Life In A Day album already too “old” by the time it was released? Was Jim Kerr’s pudding bowl haircut a work of genius? Is Real To Real Cacophony one of the best albums they ever made? Is there anything that you cannot like about Empires And Dance? Why didn’t Grace Jones ever record a Simple Minds song? (Love Song gets singled out as the prime pondering here.) Can I ever stop my mind from wandering off to the object of my sexual desire when discussing Jim Kerr’s “Archimedes moment”? I may be the only person who grapples with that notion to be honest, but I am happy to keep on pondering it. “Eureka!”

If you want the WHOLE story of Simple Minds then this isn’t the book you want. But actually it IS the book you want. It is exactly the book you want! Because without this beginning, then there would be no “whole story”. This book is about the building blocks. That sandpit on the Toryglen building site where Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill met as eight year old boys is such a fantastic serendipitous metaphor for the whole story of Simple Minds. Getting a gang of workers together. Gathering the materials required. Assembling the parts. Laying the foundations and by album number six, having a cathedral to wow yourself (and others) with. 

For the ardent Simple Minds fan, the book actually contains few new revelations. I don’t want that to be a disappointment to the ardent fan because Thomson tells the story so well you will find it utterly enthralling all the same. The retelling is compelling. 

For anyone who is newer to the Simple Minds fold, or came to Simple Minds from the point of Once Upon A Time and hasn’t really explored their back catalogue extensively, I implore you to read this book. 

For the diehards – YOU NEED THIS BOOK! It is a fast and exhilarating ride. The book jumps off around the time of the recording of Once Upon A Time. That’s a different tale to tell then. 

I honestly have not enjoyed a book like this since I read The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg. With Pegg’s book it was the telling of the Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane years of the Bowie story that struck a chord most. The telling of Bowie’s meeting with Tony Defries and the MainMan years in particular. It made me “want in”. I wanted to be part of it. It fed the hunger of the dream to be in “the thick of it”. To be right in the cogs of that working machine. 

I am feeling the same with how Graeme Thomson tells the Simple Minds story here. He takes you right in. I can feel myself in the recording studio. At Rockfield, walking about those barns and inside the studio, at the mixing desk. Watching John Leckie orchestrate these young guys as they get to grips with how to write songs and produce music that confounds and mesmerises, enthrals and bewilders. 

To experience the “coming of age” of these young men, from the evolution of Jim Kerr as songwriter and stage performer, to Mick MacNeil finding his feet as a musical architect and composer, working alongside Charlie Burchill, it makes you appreciate more than ever what actual musical juggernauts both Burchill and MacNeil are. Also just what a bedrock the rhythm section of McGee and Forbes were together. 

A tale told with utter distinction. I genuinely have not wanted to put this book down for a single moment since it arrived. Hide yourself away. Devour it at will. Gorge upon it! You won’t be disappointed. It is a feast. Then play those first six albums again with new ears and a newfound appreciation of the astonishing band Simple Minds are. 

I have two copies of the book to give away. If you would like to win yourself a copy of “Themes For Great Cities: A New History of Simple Minds” by Graeme Thomson, simply answer the following question: In the book Jim Kerr tells of his “Archimedes moment” when writing the lyrics for which song? (Hint – search this website to find the answer.) Leave your answer in the comments section of this blog post. You’ll find the comments section at the bottom of the post titled “leave a comment” (you may have to scroll past the existing comments to leave your own unique comment. Fresh comments will provide me with details to contact the winners). If you have trouble with the comments section, you can also enter via the “contact me” form found HERE. All successful entries will go into the draw to win one of two copies of the book. The competition closes on Sunday, January 23rd, 2022 at 23.59 GMT. Winners will be notified shortly after. The competition is open worldwide. Good luck!

80 thoughts on “Review: Themes For Great Cities – A New History of Simple Minds by Graeme Thomson

  1. Hi Larelle, and a happy New year to you. This book looks like its one not to miss. I enjoy your blogs and artwork and also share your love of son’s and fascination sister feelings call as being my all time favourite album of everything. I think the answer is New Gold Dream 81,82,83,84

  2. I look forward to your blogs and artwork . This book looks like its one not to miss . Happy New year to you Larelle. New gold dream 81,82,83,84

  3. Great review Larelle! Can’t wait to read it.
    New Gold Dream 🎶 🥰 Hoping we will get to see the band sometime soon again in Oz x

  4. I enjoy to read your blogs, your manner of writing makes me much more curious about the book! The answer is : New Gold Dream.

  5. Just a mere stab in the dark here Larelle ..,. and I could be way off base here.
    But is it, by any chance, New Gold Dream?
    The book sounds unfathomably amazing BTW 🙂🙂

  6. Hi Larelle, my most anticipated book ever, I cannot wait to read it. Im pretty knowledgable about SM esp 77-84 but it sounds like this book really takes you back into the spaces SM were in during their best period.
    PS. Answer: New Gold Dream.

  7. Nice Book Review my dear. And I am so happy you are now a Student. Something tells me it is going to be a wonderful learning curve for you. Yes… I would like to get this book too. My guess would be Spaceface but it could be Love Song too. Any how this was so nice to read. Thank-you and I hope you have a great New Year 2022….

  8. Hello, Larelle!

    Lucky you! My congratulations! Judging by your review, the book is really great!!!

    I am newer to Simple Minds fold. I have just been listening to them only for 2,5 latest months. Now I’m in the process of learning their discography and entirely I’ve just listened to the first five albums, and some songs from ‘Sparkle in the Rain’, ‘Once upon a Time’ and ‘Good News from the Next World’ albums. The favourite ones are ‘Empires and Dance’, ‘Sons and Fascination / Sister Feelings Call’ and certainly I do LOVE ‘New Gold Dream’. The latter is the most inspiring for me. I’d even go further with saying that the lyrics of it inspired me (for the first time in my life) to start writing some my thoughts in the form of quatrains… And maybe some day I’ll write my own song lyrics…

    THE ANSWER is…The song is called… *drumroll*… ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)’. As for me, it’s the most encouraging song!

    P.S. Great blog, wonderful thoughts!

    P.P.S. Sorry if there’re some mistakes or something is unintelligible in my explanation. English is not my native language. I’m in the process of learning it, too.

    • Thank you so much, Valeria.
      It is wonderful having new visitors to my blog that appreciate the content. Thank you for such kind words. And you are doing wonderful with English. I have understood you perfectly well. It’s wonderful to hear that Jim’s lyrics are inspiring you to write your own. The band and the music are wonderfully inspiring.
      Good luck in the competition. 🤞🏻

      • Oh, thank you so much for your reply! I really appreciate it. 😊
        I’ve got to know about your blog by chance. I had just been searching for some information about ‘Life in Oils (Demo)’, when I bumped into the post of your blog for the first time. It’s called ‘Why I Love…Life In Oils’. So, the story started…

        Thanks a lot. I’m pleased to get from you such good marks about my success with English. 🙏🏻

        And what about Jim…😏Not only his lyrics is inspiring me…but it’s another story…😍

        Thank you once more for such kind words and best wishes to me!!! 🤗

  9. Wonderful write-up Larelle! Sounds like a good read for those who want to know more of the early days of SM…Why does he stop at OUAT ? Oh well, happy day…☆♡☆

  10. Hi Larelle, an excellent review, makes you want to jump right into the reading of it! 🙂 As for the question to answer for the competition; ” New Gold Dream”. (Writing the lyrics in a bath somewhere here in Sweden) 😉 Have a great New Year!

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