You know sometimes when you see something … you’ve just been made aware of it but it happened just a couple of days prior so you missed it completely?
Well…that just happened to me. I’m checking the local record stores, particularly those over the Hertfordshire border…to see what they’re stocking and their prices for Saturday’s RSD. I checked Revolution Records in Stevenage to see that just this Monday gone STEVE HILLAGE WAS THERE DOING AN ALBUM SIGNING! I AM GUTTED!
I am ssssoooo gutted I missed this. I think I’d have been the ONLY person there to say “So, Steve…what was like working with Simple Minds on Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call?”
I’D HAVE GRILLED HIS ARSE! Lol. “Is the story about the pot plant true? Did you really fall down a stairwell on an office chair?” You know…all the probing questions! Lol
This is near as I am ever likely to get of interviewing Jim myself, so….in keeping with the current loose theme of the blog and the imminent anniversary date of the release of Life In A Day, here are some words from Jim on the subject.
The interview is nearly 10 years old now. Would be nice to know if he STILL feels the same about it. And to ask some other specifics. Nae mind.
In part two of my conversation with Bruce, we discuss more on Life In A Day – namely the infamous Drury Lane gig as well as talk on the release of Chelsea Girl and the making of the video. We also discuss Real To Real Cacophony more in depth – from Arista’s dismay of its musical style, through to Bruce’s thoughts on Veldt, and the luxury of studio time. Finally, the move to Virgin and the set up of Schoolhouse Management.
It’s now the late spring in 1979. Life In A Day has been out a few weeks. The band are in the middle of a tour supporting Magazine. As I had asked Jaine Henderson her recollections of the night in question, and Jim had also talked about it previously, I thought I should ask Bruce what he remembered of it.
What’s your recollection of the Drury Lane Magazine gig?
BF: The band had been going down extraordinarily well at all the gigs prior to London and SM were definitely on an up and a couple of songs into the gig suddenly the sound just went out. Dead. Finish. Stop. And the whole show had to stop which obviously broke any kind of momentum the band had. It started again fairly soon after and it was a quite simple thing that the main “plug” if you like, the main socket to the PA had been knocked out by accident. *cough*
Accident? Inverted commas?
BF: No idea. I’ve no idea if it was deliberate, God forbid, or a genuine accident. Whatever it was, it was certainly unprofessional. It was certainly amateur. It was certainly something that shouldn’t happen at a gig in a big theatre, but it did. And it certainly upset any rhythm the band had going for them.
It was essentially their debut in London. It was their first ever gig in London, and they were on a high. However, as the next couple of years proved, we got over that and soon had London as one our favourite spots to play.
That’s my memory of it, yes. I was there for the gig. And I was freaked out at the time because you don’t know what’s happened. When you’re watching the band you feel utterly and totally helpless. You know, the band are on their own. They felt even more helpless because they’re facing an audience, an audience of Magazine fans who are going “Impress us. Tell us you’re good. Everyone says you’re good.” The word was out that Simple Minds were happening.
But the thing is Simple Minds were very big fans, and Jim Kerr in particular was a very big Magazine fan. So we had no axe to grind. We didn’t imagine for one second they [the band] would do anything to hurt us and I don’t think they would. But sometimes road crew and sometimes the people around the band…the management, they can get [pause]… confused with their loyalty for a band and what is right and wrong and can just make a decision that’s the wrong decision, to be honest. Whether it was a deliberate act, we’ll never know, but we certainly had our doubts at the time.
How did the video for Chelsea Girl come about?
BF: Well, videos in the late 1970s were a relatively new thing and only bands with a major deal with a record company tended to get them because they were extremely expensive. We begged and pleaded with the record company to do one. Well, we begged for Arista to find the money to do one for Zoom, and they did.
The actual construction of it. The image of “the girl”, Jean Shrimpton…the painting of Jean Shrimpton, that is the model in the video. And on the front cover of the single. Picture sleeves at the time were “de rigueur”. They were very important in those days. So we had our picture sleeve. The front cover was meant to be what became the image on the B Side – the Garden Of Hate cover. (The rather dark artwork of the trio of clowns in a garden as painted by artist Mary Ruth Craig) The band weren’t too sure about it. Jim wasn’t…he loved the picture but he wasn’t sure about it as a front cover. And they loved a painting, an original painting on the wall of the business affairs manager at Arista, which was a painting of Jean Shrimpton (by artist Thomas Rathmell). The business affairs manager being, Robert White. And that’s before I took him on as my partner at Schoolhouse Management. The band loved that picture and asked Robert if maybe they could use that as the front cover. They felt that she was probably more appropriate for “Chelsea Girl”. So that’s why that cover was used.
So when it came to making the video, the art director at Arista records used images of that and “cartooned it”, if you like and used that for the Chelsea Girl video.
As you will probably know, it wasn’t a success, in a commercial sense. Neither Life In A Day or Chelsea Girl were hit records. Much to our huge disappointment. So all that did [having the video made] was add to our mounting debt with the record company. It goes against the band, that cost.
The next question and answer, regarding Real To Real Cacophony, is in audio.
On that note of you saying about realising you were with the wrong record company with Arista, was it true that Ross Stapleton came to see the band some 12-18 months before they were signed to Virgin, and that it was him championing them that lead to them being signed to Virgin?
BF: Why do ask that question? What made you ask that question?
Erm…Oh, God…I don’t know, I just suppose because of….
BF: Eighteen months before we signed to Virgin would be when they signed the deal with me.
(That’s not quite right…18 months from when Simple Minds signed to Zoom would have been April/May of 1980. They signed with Virgin at the beginning of 1981.)
I suppose I asked because I saw in one…
BF: Listen…Simple Minds began to develop a big following in London, once they started playing in London. People like Peter Hammill, who was on Virgin Records, came to see us. I was friendly with a lot of people at Virgin. Remember I still had my record shops, so I dealt with Virgin. People at Virgin Records came to see us, including Ross Stapleton.
Before Ross got involved, I’d already been to see Simon Draper. And this is something that people don’t know. So this is new. But I was already pissed off with Arista. I’d done a licence deal with them and the licence deal had two sides to it. One was to release singles. They gave me funding to release five or six singles a year, of which they gave me a sum of money for. On a separate deal we signed Simple Minds, still under the Zoom banner. The moment I brought out the first Simple Minds album, they [Arista] didn’t think the other deal was working very well and said they wanted to drop it. So they effectively dropped me from the original deal, but kept Simple Minds…the Simple Minds part of the deal.
I was furious with them. And I went to Virgin behind Arista’s back and saw Simon Draper and said “Look, I’ve got Zoom Records and I’d be interested in a licence deal. I have Simple Minds and I am about to sign Mike Scott and The Waterboys. He’s a friend of mine. We’ve made a super demo. I paid for them to produce a demo and they were friends of mine. And I’ve got other artists.”
Simon said to me “Well, we’ve already got our own Simple Minds and we’re not selling many records of theirs.” The band he was referring to was, of course, Magazine. They were one of the house bands at Virgin. They were one of their favourites, but they weren’t doing very well commercially.
He said, “Also, we’re interested in signing Mike Scott direct, why would we need you?”
And he was being nice when he said that. He said “You know we’re just gonna cut you in but when in fact we could maybe sign him direct. We know he’s interested.”
I said “Yes, I know he’s interested too because he’s my friend. You know, without being his manager or anything else, I’m kind of his mentor. I’m advising him. I have no qualms if he signs direct with you, however, Mike’s an artist and I know him and I know I can get on with him and I think he would work better for me than he would for you. No disrespect, because he knows me and I know him.”
So they liked SM but they saw them as second rate compared to Magazine. They could sign The Waterboys direct, so why would they use me…so they gave up on the idea of striking a deal with me with Zoom. So that didn’t happen.
A year later we make our third album, Empires And Dance. It doesn’t do well although it’s a hugely commercial album as everyone knows now, but it didn’t succeed commercially. It sold quite a lot, you know. It sold 40,000 copies or something…at that time. It’s subsequently sold 200,000 copies or more since, but it wasn’t a commercial success.
And then we were free. I negotiated us out of the Arista deal and then we signed direct to Virgin. Everyone knows that. But we could have been there a year earlier….if Virgin had bitten. I think I could have gotten them out of the Arista deal. They wanted rid of us. We were becoming costly and they weren’t making money from us. At the same time, people were telling Arista that SM were one of the best bands in Britain. Why are they not selling records? So Arista knew they were partly responsible for our lack of success.
It was the pundits. The John Peels of this world…the Paul Morleys, the Adam Sweetings. The journalists. The “hip” journalists. The cool journalists loved the band. The cool DJs…Kid Jensen, Peter Powell, John Peel all loved Simple Minds. They were having them in for sessions on the radio. We were very popular with “the cool people” and we were building a huge live following, but we just weren’t selling huge amounts of records.
So we could have signed to Virgin a long time before we did, if Virgin had bitten earlier. However, they didn’t. During that time. Between the time of me going to see Simon Draper and us finally signing with Virgin, people like Ross Stapleton and others at Virgin, including the retailers, were all saying to Virgin “You should sign SM. They’re great.”
Bruce continues to elaborate, explaining the choice for the deal with Virgin…
BF: And so I phone Richard up and I said “Richard, we’re slightly concerned about your enthusiasm for the band. I mean, Simon [Draper] said we were not as good as Magazine 12 months ago…”
“Oh no. He’s changed his mind. You guys have come on a long way.” “That’s fair enough. I accept that. I’ve changed my mind about artists before. But, we’re looking for a lot of money. I mean, it’s a big deal.”
And he said “Bruce, you know what? Any doubts I had”, and he didn’t mention Ross Stapleton, “any doubts I had were negated because what I did, I phoned up 3 or 4 of my top managers of the record shops” – I can’t remember which cities he mentioned, one of then was no doubt in Scotland, either Edinburgh or Glasgow. I think maybe Liverpool or Manchester and one in London, “all of them said ‘whatever it costs, sign them. They’re going to be huge.’”
So I give credit to…I give some credit to Ross Stapleton, yes. A good friend…but Ross Stapleton would make out that we signed to Virgin because of him. That’s not true. He was part of it. He was the salt. The record shops were the pepper. Do you understand what I mean? But Richard Branson and Simon Draper signed SM to Virgin. Nobody else. They were the principle people. And the influence that Ross had, and one or two others in the company whose names I kinda forget, but were enthusiastic…people in Virgin Records, within the company. Three or four of them were already major fans. Willie Richardson…there’s a name. Now he was their rep. in Ireland. All of Ireland, north and south in those days, and was a massive fan of Simple Minds and he shouted about them. Along with Ross Stapleton and others. But Ross deserves some praise for championing us. And he came to see us and hung out backstage before we’d signed. So yes, he was there. But to give him any more credit…I mean some people ignore him altogether and make out he had no influence at all. That’s wrong. He did. Other people say it was totally down to him. That’s bullshit. Somewhere in the middle. He was part of the additional ingredients that helped us sign.
Richard was no slouch. Richard’s a very canny and clever businessman. Richard himself was no fan. He quite liked the band and he liked me. We were friends. And he liked the idea of signing the band, but not because he was a major fan. Richard’s not a big music lover, actually. He likes music in the same way any layperson does. He’s not actually a music “expert”. Simon Draper is. So when people ask me who would YOU give the credit to if you had to give ONE person the credit, I would say Simon Draper WAY ahead of everyone else. So Simon Draper is the man that signed Simple Minds to Virgin Records and deserves all the credit. All the bulk of the credit…not ALL the credit, but the bulk of the credit.
At this point in the interview, I was worried that maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew. And my very newly developed and hopefully continually improving and refining interview “skills” (or lack thereof) were being tested…all with some wonderful Scots “banter”…
Mettle tested, I continue with the questions…
BF: He moved from London up to Berwick. And the reason he moved to Berwick and not into Scotland was because Robert was an English lawyer and English law and Scottish law are different. And if he’d come to Scotland, if everything had gone tits up and Simple Minds had failed, Robert would have to make a living and he can do that as a lawyer but he would have had to sat different exams and tests. He was a man in his 40s at this point. He didn’t want to do that. Whereas if things went wrong he was in Berwick which is on the border with Scotland but it’s still in England. So if things went wrong, he could still practice English law. So that’s why he moved to Berwick. And he had relatives that came from Berwick, so he had some association with Berwick. So that’s why he moved to Berwick, so he could retain his English law title and it was geographically close to Scotland. And the reason we called it Schoolhouse was because he’d moved into the old schoolhouse in a little hamlet just outside of Berwick and we just thought…like you do…you know like “What will we call the band? Simple Minds.” You know what I mean? Crazy names.
The other question attached with it you’ve kind of, sort of answered within that anyway was when did it get established? Was it established due from you taking on the management role of the band – so you’ve kind of answered that for me anyway…
Yeah. I mean I was already Bruce Findlay, you know. I was already managing the band and I remained their manager throughout the next ten years. But we formalised the company called Schoolhouse Management at that time and Robert came up. And a couple of years later made it a limited company when I brought in Jimmy Devlin as well.
I get back on the subject of Real To Real Cacophony and have one final probing audio excerpt to share…
Were you there much for the recording of Real To Real Cacophony?
BF: No. I was in and out. I was there some of the time. But I couldn’t be there the whole time. I mean, it would have been really boring. You’re not allowed to do that. I was in doing some hand claps at one time but they kicked me out because I couldn’t keep time!
So I would sometimes go down and add a bit of…just vibe them up, be inspirational, if you like. And also because I’d want to check on how things were going. So I was in and out a few times but I wasn’t there all the time. Not at all. It’s not really the job and to be honest, you can get in the way. I mean, you can love your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, and your mum and your dad, but you don’t want them in your place of work.
There’s certain things you can do. I’m actually lucky because I was in the recording studios on every album the band made (when I was managing them) for quite a lot of the time but I kinda kept out the way and I tended to be there during the playing back a track or something, or even a rough mix. I’d be there sometimes during actual recording moments but in many ways you can get in the way.
People are doing a job and you can get in the way of that. It’s not your job. My job was not…it’s like “were you on the mixing desk, Bruce?”…yeah, I used to get on the mixing desk lots when the band were playing live, but quite often the guy that was doing the mixing was intimidated by me being there. “God, the manager’s right over my shoulder”. Do you know? So you can intimidate people. And I didn’t stand beside the guy doing the lights because it would intimidate him. It’s not fair, you know? Do you know what I’m saying? Do you understand?
BF: So, yes, I was there quite a lot but I wasn’t there all the time. I wasn’t a producer.
It was there I wrapped things up. Bruce had afforded me copious amounts of time by this point, over the two interview sessions. An amount of time I have the highest gratitude that he afforded me. Thank you so much for this opportunity, Bruce, for your time and patience.
It’s the summer of 1978. Simple Minds have been alive and kicking for several months. Jim Kerr and David Henderson (sometimes with Graffiti record store manager Scott MacArthur in tow), during days between Simple Minds’ weekly residency at the Mars Bar, go knocking on doors trying to drum up record company interest, handing over a demo tape.
Simple Minds have just secured their first gig outside of Glasgow, in Edinburgh. Upon word-of-mouth recommendations and due partly to his reputation as a knowledgable man of music through his chain of records stores, Bruce Findlay is visited by Kerr and Henderson during their visit to Edinburgh.
I begin my conversation with Bruce by asking how signing Simple Minds to Zoom Records came about.
Did Brian Hogg recommend you sign Simple Minds after having seen them play, or did you make the decision yourself once you’d seen them live?
BF: No, what happened with that was Jim and David Henderson came to see me in Edinburgh and had a demo they wanted me to listen to. They were playing in Edinburgh that night (the gig in question was at The Astoria, Abbeymount on August 10th, 1978), but I couldn’t go so Brian went instead. He just raved about the gig the next morning, saying how amazing they were. ‘You should see them, Bruce’! “The best thing since sliced bread.” He went on to describe how the gig was in detail. How they performed. That Pleasantly Disturbed was like a little symphony in one song. So it just sounded so exciting.
Fortunately they had a residency at the Mars Bar in Glasgow at the time that they had established over the previous couple of months. They’d already made a reputation for themselves. So I went to see them on the Sunday (Aug 13th) in Glasgow. They’d put me on the guest list as their gigs were now selling out every week. I was blown away by the gig. I hung out with them back stage afterwards and spoke to them.
Essentially I would have loved to have signed them right away, except I thought they were too good. Zoom at this point was just a singles label. I had released a few singles independently. I had only just signed a deal with Arista to get more financial backing, but it was still very much for me a singles label. That Zoom was a singles label and bands that I would work with would see it as a stepping stone to getting initial material released and as a consequence drum up further interest from bigger, well-established record labels. I didn’t see Zoom at that point as being a label that would release albums. That was not my ambition for Zoom.
So when I saw Simple Minds, I didn’t think they were ‘too good’ for me, per se, but that they were beyond the point of releasing a single and needing that stepping stone. And equally they didn’t come to me wanting to be signed or looking for a deal. They weren’t even looking for me to be their manager. They came to me because they were told I was a good guy to talk to.
So after that first initial Mar Bars gig I saw, I went to just about every other one. I also got other gigs for them outside of Glasgow, with the help of George Duffin. I got them more gigs in Edinburgh and got them introduced to [promoters] Regular Music and got them some good support slots. In the meantime, I hung out with them. I used to crash out and stay the night at Jim’s parents flat. Jim and I would sit up til all hours of the morning discussing…’the revolution’. Discussing what the band wanted and what their ambitions were, the state of the music business. We talked about all sorts of things. What we liked. What we didn’t like. [I must admit to getting just a tad envious at this point. Lol.] And we got to know each other. Me and the whole band, you know, but particularly with Jim. I occasionally stayed at Brian McGee’s house as well. His parents had a bigger house.
So that is how it all came about. Brian Hogg, yes, he went to see them before me on the night they had come to see me in Edinburgh and raved about them to me, so that was a big influence.
So Brian went to see them on the basis that Jim and David had been to visit you that afternoon, rather than having seen them by chance?
BF: I think he might have been going to see them anyway. It was a very exciting time with new music and because I had the Zoom label going and Brian was working with me at Zoom, we were interested in new music, and we were excited by it. It was quite a revolutionary kind of time. Quite an exciting time for new bands and new music and it was the birth of what became “the indie scene”. We were there at the beginning. I launched Zoom in 1977. So by the time Simple Minds came to see me in the summer of 1978, I had already released six or seven singles on the Zoom label. We were up and running. And I had a fanzine going called Cripes that was distributed through the record shops that Brian [Hogg] and I edited. So we were enthusiasts, as well as writing about stuff in the fanzine that we were involved with, either through selling the records in our shops or signing bands to the label or wanting to sign them. We’d also plug other labels. We were a broad church and we just liked the whole scene.
I saw a revolution, if you like. I thought the whole country; every little town, every big city, every serious independent record shop should start a record label. I saw the future as being hundreds of little labels, as opposed to five major ones, and the smaller independents would have an alliance with the majors. I started selling my releases to the distributor Rough Trade who then in turn started a record label. I was selling records in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. All over the place. Zoom releases. I was very keen and enthusiastic in encouraging others to start a label. I mean I encouraged Lenny [Love] with Sensible Records. I encouraged Bob Last when he started Fast Records and I promoted his records through Bruce’s record shops. I wasn’t wanting to take over the world. I was wanting to share the world with everyone else. That was the whole philosophy behind the thing.
But what happened with Simple Minds was they created a real buzz and the big guns in London were sniffing around and they were very keen for Simple Minds to go to London to play. So what we did to combat this London-centric idea, this notion that to “make it big” you must go to London, we made the big wigs there come up to us. In fact, initially we didn’t play in England at all. We thought if record companies were really THAT keen, they’d come and see us.
Again, at the point I was just an adviser. Unpaid, non-committal (but fully behind them wishing for them to succeed), and they had no obligation to me but because I began to talk on their behalf to these record companies, when push came to shove, whenever they [the labels] showed any serious interest they were told “speak to Bruce” and I’d speak to them. Finally Arista said to me “why don’t we give you the money so you can sign them to Zoom?” I wanted them to have an album deal. They deserved proper funding to go full-time, pay wages, and go for it. I thought “they’re ready”. Thoroughly professional in their mentality and attitude. Very together. Jim had a terrific vision for the band. He was a very bright kid. Nineteen years of age but he really knew what he wanted. Ruthless as well. He was really strong in his opinions and what he wanted and how he saw the band developing.
I then asked Bruce about the recording of Life In A Day.
The next part of the interview is in audio:
Continuing on from the audio…
BF: And all the songs were kind of there. If anything, in hindsight…I mean the band…within weeks of releasing it kind of went off it and couldn’t wait to start on the next album. They thought it was a bit derivative. All the critics had a go at them. “Oh, they sound a bit like Roxy Music and a little of Lou Reed” … and a little of this and a little bit of that and all of that of course was true. The band wore their influences on their sleeves. Personally speaking, I think it was a brilliant album. I think it was a brilliant debut album and I think it deserves a lot more praise than it got and it should have been a hit album. Life In A Day is a great track. Chelsea Girl was a classic. Some of the album tracks, Someone and Pleasantly Disturbed are fabulous. Yeah, it was maybe a wee bit…”John Leckie production” if you like but he had to put his stamp on it. John’s a lovely guy, but the band’s own confidence wasn’t there at that point, in the studio, but it came very quickly. The next album was dynamic. Completely different and much more experimental. But I was proud of the first album. I didn’t agree with Jim when he dismissed it.
I then asked the next question rather badly, and not very succinctly.
And audio extract follows:
What was the decision behind choosing the Rolling Stones mobile studio to record Life In A Day? Why not choose to record at, say, CaVa Studios in Glasgow instead?
BF: The Rolling Stone mobile was used – and we recorded some of it at Abbey Road Studio as well. I mean, come on, can you imagine the thrill? Derek Forbes in particular, who is a massive Beatles fan, going into the studio where The Beatles recorded all their stuff? So we needed to move away from CaVa and these places. Again, with hindsight, there’s nothing wrong with having…in many ways we could have done it at CaVa as it happens.
I mean nowadays you can record albums at home with Pro Tools and suchlike but in those days the thing was to get into the big and to use bigger studios and to use what the big bands had done. And there was an excitement and a thrill to it. Remember these were young kids. They’re a bunch of teenagers making their first record and although they were bright and they were smart, you know, the thrill of going into the bigger studio, the thrill of working with a serious producer – not that Brian Young wasn’t a serious guy at CaVa. He was a friend. And the demos were all good. In fact, I would still argue that Chelsea Girl, the demo, is ten times better than Chelsea Girl the album recording. But John Leckie got them to change the arrangement a bit. John needed to stamp his thing on it too. John was a terrific producer and the next two albums he produced are classics. Real To Real Cacophony and Empires And Dance, for me, are sensational albums and should have been smash hits. And it was one of the reasons we didn’t stay in the licence deal with Arista…but that’s another story.