I ventured out on Thursday evening to see the second “World Premiere” (Edinburgh actually pipped us to the post the night before) of the documentary Living Proof.
It dealt with looking at Scotland’s growth under Capitalism over the past 150 years, but concentrated on the rate of growth from post-WWII. Also the way Scotland has dealt with its climate, in good and bad, for the past 150 years and the ramifications of tapping into its apparently abundant natural resources – but at what ultimate cost?
The presentation of the film started with a short introduction from the film’s director, Emily Monro, about what the film’s main objective was.
The film starts with a broad outline and visual run-through of what the film will be exploring in closer detail. A rush through the past 100+ years of Scotland’s environmental history – with a musical backdrop from the wonderful Louise Connell. Louise was there herself to watch the film. She had also been there to see it the previous night in Edinburgh.
We start with a look at post-war Scotland and the richness of treasures that industrial juggernauts see in it. All for the good on the surface, with the talk of capitalising on those natural resources with hydroelectricity implemented in the Highlands.
We continue on from there, looking at things from the farming of peat from bogs to coal mining, to North Sea oil drilling and gas harvesting.
It quickly feels like we are just plundering something that we should have realised much earlier on is only finite! We as humans have somewhat blighted Scotland’s landscape by being swept up into the kind of “corporate greed” model of “improving” our lives. Some things done with the initial view of being better for everyone, for example, the hydroelectric schemes in the Highlands, have actually had negative repercussions. And we can’t escape the fact that the mining industry and the drilling of North Sea oil has had a massive impact environmentally.
The film also looks into the decline of the shipbuilding industry. The shipbuilding docks try to move themselves forward by becoming the construction areas for the North Sea oil rigs. That was the most eye-opening and jaw-dropping aspect of the film for me. As one of the oil rigs had completed its first part of construction – its base, the foundation platform that will be plunged into the sea bed, just what a feat of engineering that it is. It’s hard to reconcile being marvalled by all that. To see this human constructed metal monolith making its way out of the Clyde firth in outrageously stormy seas to be slowly upended from its side to start being (weather permitting!) slowly, painstakingly, millimetre by millimetre hammered into the sea bed. It was both astonishing and gut-wrenching in equal measure.
Conoco was the company in question building the massive offshore oil rigs, taking advantage of the docks left empty from the Clyde shipbuilding that went asunder. Watching that footage with a genuine mix of awe and lament.
The film also takes a look into selling Scotland as an “attractive” prospect for investment and having some American firms come over and set up bases here – like the big Digital Equipment factory in Ayr. I remember as we made our way down the west coast towards Girvan a few months back being struck by how many huge factories there were along that part of the Ayrshire coast between Ayr and Girvan – particularly from Turnburry to Girvan. But then, why should I be surprised? Turnberry just for starters has a Trump stamp all over it!
Towards the end of the film we look at the take up of wind turbines and wind farms. Earlier in the film there is a bit about how ubiquitous and reliant upon metal we are for things. Like, it is in our lives EVERYWHERE. And you can’t help but in the end see the irony of the wind turbines being these monstrous metal contraptions and it all just cycles round. And that was the crux of the film’s point (well it was for me personally, anyway) – how do we get out of this loop? How do we get out of the capitalist “hamster wheel” (for want of better terminology)? Can we actually even do it? Are we too far down the line with things? Are we far too reliant on it all to not see any other way out? How do we really make REAL CHANGE?
The film finished with a Q and A with a panel of guests including the film’s director Emily Monro. One question asked of Emily was how she thought the film would be received by non-Scots? Emily found it not an easy question to respond to, but if I had responded to it (as I will do now) – I think it’s a universal problem and dilemma. Although the things within the film are entirely Scotland based, all the world’s countries are going through these same problems and going through the same questions. For some countries in the world, the crisis is a lot more profound than what Scotland is going through. So I think it can resonate and speak to people whether they live here or not. It really isn’t a thing that affects Scotland exclusively, the broader aspects of the climate crisis.
It was pieced together so well by Emily and the final beach scene and dialogue ends on a really harrowing, pondering note. And the soundtrack used within it featured music wonderfully chosen. I will link to the tracks used through the film below.
It was sobering viewing and I’m not sure I have any answers for it myself. Let us see what COP26 brings to us in November. Let’s just see how Glasgow copes with hosting such a summit, for one.
The song was written at the beginning of 1981 in Edinburgh after a conversation between Jim and John Leckie in which Leckie thought Jim should try his hand at writing a more “traditional” love song. Kerr’s is anything but traditional. In fact, I am firmly of the belief that it is anything BUT a love song. More on that to come.
It started life out as a rough demo. In fact it started life not destined to be a Simple Minds song at all. For Jim was going to gift the song to Jaine Henderson to record. Jaine’s brother, David, former sound engineer of the band (and behind-the-scenes extra member) was running the Hellfire Club, a social rehearsal space and recording studio, located down a small lane just off Derby Street right by where the old CaVa Studio was (with access also via Bentick Street).
Jim and Charlie arrived at the Hellfire Club one night in the winter of 1981. Charlie recorded the basic musical parts, using a drum machine, bass and guitar and Jim recorded a guide vocal for Jaine to record along to. EDIT: For clarity – the original recording that Jaine was involved in took place at the original Hellfire Club location on Carnarvon St. They relocated to the Derby Street site some months later.
With some reluctance, and nervous to try a recording of the vocal in front of Kerr and Burchill, they left the club, leaving Jaine to record her vocal with David at the mixing desk. Not convinced by the outcome (though sounding musically very good – sparse and electronic), and with no ambition to be a singer, for Jaine the idea fell flat. Jim then asked Jaine if Simple Minds could go ahead and record the song themselves. Of course! Jaine had no qualms with that at all.
When discussing it with Jaine back in 2019 when I interviewed her, she said the version she was working on was quite minimalist and stripped back, compared to how it ended up sounding on the single and album. The idea was for it to have a Grace Jones vibe to the sound and vocal. Now THAT is something I’d love to hear! Grace Jones doing a Simple Minds song! Imagine that?! That would be amazing!
There is a demo tape listed on record on the Dream Giver site (see image above). Five songs were recorded at CaVa in February – Valentine’s Day, in fact! The American, Life In Oils, “Twenty One” (working title for Sweat In Bullet), “Checkout” (working title for Careful In Career), and Love Song. These demos eventually get released officially on the Virgin Records produced Silver Box in 2004. CLICK TO HEAR ‘LOVE SONG’ DEMO
Just two weeks later, Love Song is performed for the first time at their gig at Tiffany’s in Glasgow, on March 1st, 1981. CLICK TO LISTEN
And so, more than anything, Love Song is a song about ambition, and a desire for “greatness” – as Jim puts it. Very much not a traditional love song in the “boy meets girl, boy gets girl” sense of it – or even of the unrequited sort “boy meets girl, but boy will never get girl”. It’s neither of those. It’s Jim’s love of success and winners – and of that desire for greatness. The love of ambition. “Ambition in motion!”
Some of the music journalists at the time couldn’t seem to help but give rather disparaging or back-handed praise to SAF/SFC – accusing the promotions department at Virgin Records of “over-hyping” the marketing of Simple Minds. Ouch! (See excerpt of article from The Face further below)
And this idea that the clubs played them to death but they got the cold shoulder from radio – well, perhaps commercial radio and “prime time” radio snubbed them for a time, but the right radio DJs gave them exposure. The likes of John Peel and David Jensen really championed them here in the UK. And I am sure other radio stations around the world would have been playing them! Certainly stations in Canada and Australia did. The right DJ’s who realised there is much depth to “rhythm” as there is to “melody”. One should not be exclusive to or cancel out the other. Why can’t rhythm BE melodic? And vice versa? Is it me that still has no grasp on what exactly melody is? Do I grapple with the basic concept of it?
Speaking of the record company and their hand in things…can we discuss the video made for Love Song?
It is ssooo deliciously bad – it’s good. It’s great! And it has such a hedonistic air to it. The Minds boys act like a right bunch of neds (Scottish term – look it up!) in the video. Well, perhaps Jim is the only one that actually “behaves” himself in the video, though he’s a bit of a shit to the woman in the lift, like “Here, WENCH! Take ma claes and look after ‘em. I’ll be back for ‘em later.” Lol
Let’s pretend we’re storyboarding it here:
You guys rock up to the nightclub (not before you arrive later by yourself, Jim. Always running late, Kerr, fuck sake!)
Jim, you get on the decks and do some DJing.
Kenny, you hit the dancefloor with a couple of dolls
Charlie, you try muscling in on a game of backgammon(!) and get into a punch-up
Derek, you try and chat up some guy’s burd
Mick, you sit at this businessman’s table and as his dinner is served, slap him across the face with his fish supper
Now, Jim, you come and take a seat (on your haunches!) and sing the song to camera for a bit
Mick – punch the businessman’s lights out
Derek, spike the guy’s drink and get into a punch-up with his friend – another bloke piles in and, Kenny, you come help out Derek
You guys have been acting like right jerks so now people are wanting to leave the nightclub to get away from you – but…hello!
What’s going on at the entrance to the nightclub? Is there some kind of forcefield in place at the door?
Derek, Kenny – have a sit down, guys. Just wait for Jim to finish singing
Mick, “Aye, ‘mon Jim, we want outta here”
Where the fuck has Charlie gone?!
Nightclub patrons “Aw, man! We’re gonna be trapped here forever! Who are these dudes? What have they done to us?!”
Jim – “Time to go, boys! Follow me. Play it COOL AS FUCK! Straight through, lads. Straight through. Watch the burds!”
The two burds at the back “Aye, those guys were well fit. Why didnae not take us wit ‘em? We want ‘em.”
Me too, ladies. Me too. Well…the guy at the front, anyway. As far as I am concerned he’s the coolest of the cool. But…I get why you dolls were dancing with Kenny. I’d have probably not said no myself! Good old “Consolation Kenny” – sorry, Mr Hyslop. You get bonus points for being a drummer.
Sometimes I think it was lucky I was only 11 years old at the time! And living on the other side of the world! Or perhaps it was THEY who were lucky? Lol
It’s a preposterous concept for a video and yet, it is probably my favourite of all the Simple Minds videos due to its absurdity.
As discussed in a previous post – the video was recorded in a nightclub that was located at the Kensington Roof Garden that was then being leased by Virgin Records.
The talk of the musical approach to Love Song being a subtler one – opposed to how the sound is with I Travel and Empires And Dance is a curious one. I honestly don’t hear any kind of “softening” myself – not with the direct comparison to Love Song To I Travel. And yes, there are softer, calmer pieces like This Earth That You Walk Upon and Seeing Out The Angel – but then there is the ball-breaker that is Boys From Brazil – and how is that “subtler” to anything that is on Empires And Dance?
Listen to that jarring synth coda at the beginning of the song. It almost sits outside of the rest of the song’s structure and plays off kilter to the rest of the song’s rhythm. But there is so much more propulsion to it and funk to it compared to how it sounded as a demo. And Jim has refined and played around with the lyrics a bit. The whole thing became much more streamline. And its placement on the album’s tracklisting is perfect. I am referring to the UK release when I say this, as it is the track that opens Side Two, or the B-Side to the album. Curiously, the albums’ tracklistings are completely reset for the Canadian releases of the albums and Love Song is the opening track for Sons And Fascination’s Canadian print.
As much as it was making a buzz, especially in the nightclubs of the UK and Europe, its sales were (of the time)… mediocre at best in most places around the world. Just sitting outside the UK Top 40 at number 47 – it was, however, their best chart placing of all their singles so far. In Sweden, it broke into the Top 20, reaching number 16. But the best result came from some 12,000 miles away in Australia in which the single broke into the ARIA chart at an impressive number 9 – giving them their first gold record and Top 10 hit! THANK YOU, COUNTRY OF MY BIRTH for having exquisite taste!
Below is a review of Love Song from November, 1981, printed in Australian music magazine Roadrunner – published by an expat Scot, Donald Robertson. It may even be Donald himself that gave the review. No one is credited as giving the review, though when it comes to the album reviews written in the magazine a couple of pages later, credits to the reviewers are given. It may just be the interviewer of the corresponding piece that appeared with Jim – Ruthvven Martinus – as he is the reviewer of the album that appears in those couple of pages behind the Love Song review.
The boys certainly did promote the single quite heavily. Really gave it a push, appearing on music programs over Europe to “perform” the song (quotation marks as sadly most television appearances would be a lip-synching mime to the single or album track. Nothing I’m sure that ever sat well with the band. They would have always wanted to perform it live, I am sure).
There are three different appearances you can watch on YouTube – one is of them on German music program Szene. They are on such a tiny platform. All crammed on it, jostling for some space. Jim plays it wonderfully nonchalant as the album version gets the full musical intro treatment. But once the song gets going, there’s little room for him to perform his wonderful “prowling panther” style lunging moves – and he and Derek almost bump into each other at one point, which results in a bit of a sideways glance and a bit of chuckle between them. VIEW THE VIDEO HERE
The second clip I love to watch is still from a mystery source. No one can really agree where this clip comes from. What TV program aired it. Or even perhaps if the band recorded it in a nightclub somewhere. It’s certainly from 1981 – the clothes and the style of the band sit right within that look – and the fact that Kenny Hyslop is with them on drum duties (they he was still with them early in 1982) would very much keep inline with being 1981. They look as though they’ve had a rough few days. Jim looks the worst for wear – but still by far the hottest and sexist guy around right at that point. Just look at him! The clothes, the moves…he’s just the whole goddamn package right there! And well, the rest of the guys are doing their best to look pretty cool beside him. VIEW MYSTERY NO.2 CLIP HERE
Finally … we return to Oz and to Countdown. Countdown is, of course, Australia’s answer to Top Of The Pops. Anyone who was anyone, even Oz and Kiwi bands – or the international groups and artists that actually decided to tough out the grueling travel times to get half-way around the world, appeared on Countdown. And so with a band like Simple Minds in the country, and Love Song already making such a buzz and sailing up the charts, they HAD to appear! Look at them all! Charlie’s fucking WRECKED! Kenny’s got a tan that any modern day West End Glasgow hipster would be proud of! Derek’s almost in salute to Sir Les Paterson with what looks like a bloody STRING VEST on. Mick also seems to have a bit of a tan – but is his usual understated self. AND THEN THERE IS JIM FUCKING KERR! Head to toe in black (before Charlie took over with that look and made it “standard issue” Burchill) – complete with sunglasses – indoors (I’m sure in an exercise to conceal just how fucking shattered and/or off his tits he is), with this bloody bright, yellow satchell bag that I read on this lady’s blog from loooong ago, that he picked up in a shop in Sydney for the princely sum of $A8.00. I’m not sure what that would equate to in today’s money, or what it equated to him splashing out on it in pounds (given what I imagine the rate of exchange was then – perhaps about £3.00-4.00) but I’m assuming it would be about £20 today. Who knows what delights were in this bag? He told me “sherbet straws” once. I always took it to be code – hence the glasses, eh, Jim?
The most recent uploading of the video to YT sees Greedy Smith of Mental As Anything introducing Simple Minds. Greedy sounds well into them, giving them due praise for being a fantastic live band.
And here we are some 40 years later with the reputation of theirs of being a stellar live band firmly in tact. My tally of seeing them 23 times, to date, in my seven years of Simple Minds fandom (with many more booked to come!) I hope pays some testament to the calibre of performance they achieve to this day.
The song has been a fairly constant site on the setlist over the years. With only the short lull of it not appearing on the setlist during the Street Fighting Years tour of 1989/1990. So, there are many, many live versions that are available to hear. But for finality, it seems apt to share the final time (to date) that it performed live by the band. My recording of them performing in Copenhagen at the Store Vega in March 10th, 2020.
There have also been several remixes made over the years. Beginning with an extended 12” version that was released simultaneously with the release of the 7” version in 1981. There was a remix that was produced in 1992 to appear on the Glittering Prize ‘81/‘92 best of compilation as well as the Themes Volume 5 release. This version was mixed by Charlie and Gregg Jackman. It doesn’t bear too marked a difference from the original album version but I love the subtle remix treatment it has been given. I play this version often.
I shall leave the final words to Jim – featured below. They were written out by Paul Morley and appeared as part of an article that was in the New Musical Express on October 3rd, 1981. Morley wrote the piece out as through a “stream of consciousness” internal dialogue from Jim’s mind. You can read the full article HERE
The amazing and brilliant Dream Giver Redux – it really is the Simple Minds bible and an endless source of information.
Wikipedia – for certain other information on tracklistings and release dates as well as chart positioning information.
Lost Glasgow – more detailed information on the exact location of the Hellfire Club.
Lol-Z on YouTube – for the clip of David Henderson and Jacquie Bradley (and the other ladies from Sophisticated Boom Boom, as well as Clare Grogan) at the Hellfire Club.
Lastly but most importantly – big thanks to Jaine and David Henderson – you can find out more information on the Hellfire Club by visiting the dedicated Facebook page – HERE
One final little extra note is about the image just above. It’s to do with a post that Jim posted on the triggers he uses to remind him of where in the setlist he is during a show. A “visualisation” technique – something he talked about again only recently when posted about watching the drama series Queen’s Gambit. Anyhow – these short bits of notation will spark visual indicators – and you can see the one in the list for Love Song is – the Hellfire Club. All these years down the line and it still sparks the memory.
Thank you for reading this mammoth labour of love.
As usual, I’ll give a preamble to what happened with watching the film.
That spark of spontaneous conversation that only ever seems to happen in Glasgow. It happened AGAIN today. We arrived (myself and my OH) outside the Glasgow Film Theatre, located on Rose Street, around 1.20pm. Me doing my usual “I MUST NOT REFER TO GOOGLE MAPS!” mantra and then STILL having to admit defeat and look at Google Maps to make sure I was actually going in the right direction. (This pandemic has fucked about with so much stuff, I tell ya!)
So. I kept in walking down Renfrew Street knowing I was at least heading in the right direction. Once I passed the intersection with Hope St, I was getting a little worried that maybe I had fucked up – but it was fine. Still a little ways to go. A little lost once we get to Rose Street as to where the cinema was, as it was hiding itself under the much larger banner of “Cafe Cosmo”.
The film wasn’t starting until 2pm but it was all good as we ended up chatting to a lady who had turned up to buy herself a ticket to see Now, Voyager. I KNOW! And I had seen this on the cinema’s website yesterday that they were screening Now, Voyager over the weekend and into next week! I am sssoooooo excited by that! (And booked a ticket to see it on Tuesday – sssooo happy!)
Turned out she had been living in the south for YEARS. Lived around Watford and St Albans. Bloody small world! Asked us where we were from and said Luton (originally Sydney for me) and that’s how we got to chatting about the towns and cities around Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. She found it a wonderfully humorous story to tell us her daughter was born in England and was as English as they come but came up to study English Literature at the University of Glasgow. Lol.
We both admitted to missing aspects of London – the galleries. The art side of things. And it turned out she was an art librarian. The people you meet and the conversations you have! I just love it! It is the thing I love about this city more than anything else! And we both agreed that that is what makes Glasgow so special.
Twenty minutes of time sailed on by. We collected our tickets for the Sparks Brothers from the box office. The lady bought her Now, Voyager ticket. I queued and bought MY Now, Voyager ticket and off we went into the cinema to see the film.
I had little expectations about this documentary. I heard it was really good – but I was worried you might have to be REALLY into Sparks to appreciate it.
I like them – don’t get me wrong! I like what I know…but I don’t know much and I would say my partner is much more the fan of them than I am – or was prior to the film. But some two hours later – oh, wow! Just. Yeah!
If you think you’re only a fairweather fan of Sparks. Like, you appreciate what they’re about musically….the avant garde, irreverent, subversive, humorous….kind of “can’t be pigeonholed” behemoth they are, but you’re not THAT into it – or you think you’re not – like, JUST GO AND SEE THE FILM! It was sssoooo well done!
Not a band documentary as you would think it would be. Really cleverly done it that it was more a spanning retrospective of their career. Just…the body of work!
I don’t want to give out spoilers, and it’s hard to review things without spoilers. It was just so well done. It wasn’t bogged down in interviews. You think from seeing the trailers that it’s going to be filmed with people just talking about them – but it isn’t like that.
From the very beginnings of Ron and Russell’s lives and just linear, from Halfnelson on to the formation of Sparks, and it just went on…bang, bang, bang. And just so informative and so focused on the music and the up and downs. The degrees of success (or otherwise) with each album. Their time based in the UK, and then going back to California. Getting into the charts and on Top of the Pops, getting so much exposure and then it dying away, only to return again when they work with Giorgio Moroder, and hitting the high of the early 80’s electronic wave.
At this point, my jaw dropped. All this time I have lived here in the UK, I thought I had never known a single Sparks song until I moved to the UK. I was not really aware of them at all – or so I thought. The only thing I had an inkling about was in Paul McCartney’s Coming Up video in which he does a parody of Ron Mael – but I didn’t really know who Ron Mael was. I think I had seen bits of Sparks so I know Macca was taking off that guy in the band – but that was the extent I know.
And THEN – they played When I’m With You – and my jaw dropped. I don’t think I had heard it since the time but it was an instant (excuse the pun) spark! I knew it instantly because I fucking LOVED IT! I was obsessed with that song at the time! And I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I had heard it – AND THAT IT WAS ONE OF THEIR SONGS!
I don’t know whose song I thought it was. Just the video, even…as soon as I saw it, it’s so obviously Ron and Russell and yet – I … it’s like my memory of the song was wiped. Until today and they started playing the clip in the film. What a revelation that was!
Having the exposure since moving to the UK of things like, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, and Get In The Swing, Beat The Clock and The Number One Song In Heaven, I’d have thought that just because of what an impact When I’m with You made upon me as a not-quite 10 year old that I’d put two and two together – but nope!
I came out DETERMINED to work my way through their back catalogue – but I know already that the Moroder produced albums will be the favourites. In recent years, The Number One Song In Heaven has been a firm favourite of mine – having COMPLETELY forgot about When I’m With You – as it’s NEVER played here in the UK, but it made the Top 20 in Australia in 1980.
They brought it right up to the present day too, with talk of A Steady Drip Drip Drip and the lead track, Lawnmower.
A really comprehensively done documentary. I loved absolutely every second of it. Every second. There is no “dead wood” in this documentary. It has been lovingly put together.
If you’re a Sparks fan, you’ll love it. If you’re not a Sparks fan, you’ll end up a Sparks fan AND you’ll love it!
Go see it! It’s a fabulous way to spend two hours!
“So when I thought Charlie’s guitar in ‘Angel’ sounded like church bells…” – writes Adam Sweeting, having just been given an explanation by Jim of the ideas behind the song. You can read a full extract of that below.
I’d be intrigued to know what the book of short stories was. I thought for a few minutes about asking Derek Forbes if he’d remember it. Even went to Twitter in further contemplation of conjuring up the gumption to ask him…but I can’t. Best to let sleeping dogs lie. And I guess if Jim had remembered it, he’d have mentioned its name or the author back then during the interview. Maybe someone could find out or shed some light on it?
Anyway, let us ‘push on’.
UPDATE: A regular visitor and reader of this blog – Scott, contacted me about who he thinks the author of the short stories might be and which short story it is! And I think he just may be right. He read on Dream Giver about Jim mentioning Philip K Dick. Well of course I remember that too because of Jim’s reply to me (when I quizzed him about having read sci-fi) about “growing out of things…like drugs, alcohol, hair dye and jodhpurs”. But I didn’t make the connection when compiling this post. A book of short stories of Dick’s is titled “A Handful Of Darkness”. Released originally in 1955, it contains a short story called “Upon The Dull Earth” (that even sounds like a line Jim would use in a song!) – a link to the plot of the story HERE – I think Scott came up trumps with this! Where would I be without him?
The original working title for the song was “Petrocello” – a word entirely made up it would seem. A portmanteau of the words “petronella” and “Limoncello”, perhaps? Or maybe of “petronella” and “uccello”? A portmanteau of those two words could translate as “dancing birds”. For “petronella” is a style of Scottish folk dance while “uccello” is the Italian word for bird. That would be lovely if it was a combination of those two. I’m always trying to put romantic connotations to everything.
Again it was one of the songs that Mick gave to Jim to listen to on cassette and obviously he could hear such potential in all the pieces. I guess had Mick not heard the potential in the music himself first, he’d have not passed it on to Jim to pass his lugholes over it.
I can’t claim to know about music or its structure and complexities (or otherwise) and what it is to describe something as “melody” as opposed to labelling it an “arpeggio” – but what I do know is those chords, those notes from Mick MacNeil’s synths are some of the most beautiful pieces of musical notation you will ever hear. And that Adam Sweeting is right, that Charlie’s guitar chords do sound like church bells.
As it started life as one of Mick’s workings, it may have initially been going to remain an instrumental. Who knows at what point during recording proceedings Jim was ready to provide lyrics? He seemed quite the procrastinator back then – leaving lyrical input until pressed to provide it. Then again ‘Angel’ was seemingly one of the earlier tunes to be formed so maybe it was a rare time in which Jim was ready with lyrics fairly early on but he just delayed putting them across in the studio? All supposition by me.
The song had a brief run of being in the live set during the opening part of the Sons And Fascination tour in Aug/Sept of 1981, performed just a handful of times before leaving the set altogether. Never to reappear again until 2006 on the Black and White tour. And not on a set list again since.
The only live recording of it that exists from those handful of 1981 shows is from the Royal Court in Liverpool on September 22nd. It’s performed in Edinburgh on the opening night of the tour on August 28th – it doesn’t seem to go too well.
The next two shows, it’s off the set list – the reason for the Bingley Hall absence I guess would be to how ill Jim was on the night. The next gig in Nottingham, was the one and only time that Wonderful In Young Life was performed. Ironed out, perhaps? It was then back in the set until the final gig of this first short leg of the tour at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on September 25th. A total (potentially – as some set list information is unavailable) of seven shows that it was performed at. Amazing then that there is even one recording to exist of it. I’m sure that given that the gig was recorded for the specific purpose of putting out some live content, that a recording of it being performed at Hammersmith must exist somewhere in a vault.
It was a fairly prominent feature in 2006, particularly during the first part pf the year as the band tour around Europe. It makes its last appearance during the opening gig of the Australian leg of the tour in May. There are several live versions to be heard. The pedant in me couldn’t really stick with any of them. I am terrible for that. I love lyrics as they are. As they’ve been written and intended to be heard in the first place and when that doesn’t happen I find it annoying. Yes! I know. There is the excuse that the band hadn’t actually performed the song 25 years by that point – I could give them a break! But my counter argument would be one – they would have given themselves time to rehearse before going on tour. Also, the element about it that leaves me disappointed has nothing to do with the music. It’s being played very well from the examples of performances I had heard. My gripe is with Jim and the lyrics. The version I can listen to that plays furthest along in the tour is in Rome on March 19th. Some six weeks into the tour. It’s the 34th performance of the song.
I will say no more of it because I know where he’d tell me to stick it – esp. after given a critique of something some 15 years after the fact, but I can’t help being a pedantic c*** about these things.
All I know is that as a track to end an album with? Very few match it for statement and feeling, to summerise and sum up all that has passed in the album that has just been experienced. The melody. The “church bells”. The amazing bassline. The underplayed drum beat. The beautiful backing vocal. It’s exquisite. As delicate and as haunting as the angels it is depicting. That daydream, vision, visitation – whatever it was that Jim experienced as a child certainly left its mark on him. And all these years later it still lives on and will live on eternally in the mindset of Simple Minds fans. Those angels are with all of us. For many of us they feel like guardians. Guardians of the thoughts and feelings we hold so very precious. If what Jim experienced was indeed “a vision”, then it was definitely meant to be. They wanted to be seen, and they wanted Jim to see them.
What an absolutely sublime piece of work to finish an album on.
Photograph of Jim by Virginia Turbett
Angel wings vector graphics: Bastian Schwind
Additional source information: simpleminds.org
I’ve been meaning to share this here. Someone posted it on the SMOG FB page and…well, look at the photo. Jesus, he’s such a flirt! God, I’d give anything!
You beautiful man, Mr Kerr. I wish I didn’t adore you so much.
I love the story behind the crane. I never even thought about it being that – that he bought it for that reason. That’s frigging adorable!
It’s these things! These kind of actions! It’s not just the aesthetic of him. It’s all of it. His words. How he sees the world. How he relates to things. How things impact upon him. All of that. All of that makes me love him.
Not just him being a singer and lyricist in a band. That’s almost irrelevant – it’s only relevant in terms of making him known to me. It’s the person he is – the character. He’s beauty personified.
Jim Kerr, you are just the most beautiful thing to me and you bring me to tears.
You can read the full post about the time NZ music journalist, Helen Collett, met up with the Minds (and the resulting Kerr/Collett flirtathon) by clicking HERE
Released in May, 1981 – while the band are still busily recording the Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call albums, the first of the singles of the album is rushed out.
But as “rush jobs” go, it has been a mainstay in the Simple Minds live set…well, since even BEFORE it was recorded in the studio and released as a single.
Well, so the Dream Giver site says but when I look at setlists from the March tour I see Sweat In Bullet on the setlist and not The American. Also there is a mention on the page about the March ‘81 tour that Careful In Career and Love Song had been written earlier in the year and already getting live airings. Which makes The American an odd choice for a first release single. Why not Sweat In Bullet or Love Song? I guess the desire to give a thirsty public something completely fresh and new won out (though you’d have thought only the small-ish contingent of die hard Minds fans would be the only ones familiar with the new tracks from the March setlist?).
Anyway, I suppose I’m splitting hairs. The point remains that the single is braw (“very good” for the non Scots reading this). And if only Simple Minds would give their still incredibly thirsty fanbase new material like this these days – and this quickly! No such luck. It’s all such a corporatocracy now. Music as “commodity”. No. We release singles as one new song tagged on to a “best of” album. Yet ANOTHER “best of” album. Sorry, but, yeah. I never like to criticise the band much but, one “new” song attached to a “best of” album, and a whole tour based around that?! Well, in retrospect, maybe a pandemic was just what this band needed to get a bomb up its arse and think about just WHAT their fanbase wants or DESERVES.
I’m sure Jim will not be best pleased with what I have written just above. But then again, he probably doesn’t give two shits, which is how things have felt this past year in the Simple Minds fandom, to be honest. YES! He keeps talking about new material and a new album, but then it gets handed over to record company fucking bureaucratic red tape shit. FUCK! JUST GIVE US SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO BEYOND PROMISES! JESUS CHRIST!
Hey ho. I guess the Minds story will come to an end soon enough anyway, so why does it matter?
ANYWAY! The American! Let’s celebrate The American. The rush job of a single that still has the fanbase singing their lungs out to this day. I can’t be begrudging ANOTHER “hits” tour when I have so much love for songs like The American now, can I? It has appeared on many a tour over the years, with short rests during the Street Fighting Years and Real Life tours and just the odd absence from there.
There is a demo version of the song that got a release on the 2004 mega compilation, Silver Box. It’s all pretty much there. The final studio release was refined and honed.
I find the 12” extended version of the song much better than the album version. The album version is great too, just…a bit short. Still, I guess everything that appeared on Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call was pushing for space. So much so that the LEAD single from the sessions doesn’t even get put on the lead album but on its twinned “sister extra”.
The 12” also gets a highlight on the wonderful Themes sets – on Volume 1 of the releases. As well as that, in the late nineties, there is an “Interference Mix” of the song released. It remains a solid favourite of mine of the Simple Minds remixes that have been produced.
The earliest live appearance I can find on a bootleg is at the Futurama 3 gig at Bingley Hall in Stafford on Sept. 6th, 1981. The infamous one where Jim is “as crook as Rookwood”, as we say in Oz (ie: feeling very unwell). It’s audible, to the point where it sounds to me that Jim sings “here comes the meds” during the second run of the “chorus”. There is a lot of dead air where he normally would be singing. And Derek gives the sign off at the end of the song for the end of the gig. I guess Jim is off puking again by this point?
Another favourite involves “early days” footage of the band on French TV performing it live. Jim is partly clothed in my favourite combo, in his riding boots and baggy white troosers. (And in a fairly figure-hugging white t-shirt as well – his chest looks frigging awesome! OMG!) He also does some wrapping of the mic cord around his elbow and he just makes shapes and is just the sexiest thing alive! Beautiful! He’s beautiful.
But I digress!
The most “recent” (some recent to my ears anyway) versions I have really enjoyed have been the live acoustic version (not the studio version on the Acoustic album – that never really sat well with me for some reason) but also the version I heard from the Good News From The Next World tour. It was a return of the song on the setlist after an absence of some eight years. I heard a version of it from the gig at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on 10th September, 1995. Jim actually sings all the BV lines! The “across a curved earth / Nassau club days / in collective fame / the eventful workouts” lines. I nearly lost my shit hearing it for the first time. It was late at night but inwardly I was shouting, “HE’S DOING THE LINES! HE’S DOING THE LINES!” Lol. I was ssooo happy!
In light of what I said earlier in this post, The American is one song I would be happy to keep on the setlist. It is a firm favourite of mine at gigs and one I am guaranteed to dance and sing along to. But I would be absolutely OVER THE MOON if more tracks from Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call were performed. The only tracks with almost concrete affirmation to stay on the setlist are, The American, Love Song and Theme For Great Cities. The only other track I’ve had the privilege of hearing performed live in front of me from the albums is This Earth That You Walk Upon. I’d love to hear Sweat In Bullet or Sons And Fascination itself, or Seeing Out The Angel or In Trance As Mission. Anything really.
Speaking of “rush jobs” – the cover! Malcolm Garrett was given just 48 hours to come up with something for the cover of the single – his first design for Simple Minds. His time at the cover design helm for the band saw a number of iconic covers produced, the pinnacle of these, for many, being New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84). But the start of the working relationship with Assorted iMaGes the band had was through the first work of The American. The cover holds personal significance for me, given how Malcolm collected the images together and how I make my own art.
Overall, the 12” version as well as many live versions are my favourites of The American, so for this week’s Minds Music Monday, let’s say happy (almost!) 40th anniversary to the AMERI-AMERI-AMERI-AMEREE-AMERICAAAN!
It is with some level of trepidation that I explore live output from Simple Minds in 1995. Mostly just to do with my silly hang up about Jim’s style of singing during that period.
But with yet ANOTHER new upload from Art&Talk (YouTuber of eternal mystery…), I felt almost duty bound to take the plunge and listen to the gig uploaded. That namely – a gig from the Good News From The Next World tour of them at the Royal Concert Hall on September 10th, 1995.
We start things off with a pretty stellar version of She’s A River. Full version, and so new still (although already several months old) that Jim ACTUALLY REMEMBERS the words! 😱😱😱😘😜
Then into a bit of a curveball for the period and into Up On The Catwalk. Quite enjoyed that too.
From early on you get a real feel for the atmosphere of the gig. You can also sense how much live production techniques have refined and changed over the past 15 years (up to 1995) as everything sounds pretty crystal clear – from Jim’s breathlessness to the crowd going apeshit when he asks of them “everything okay?” – the only thing that gets lost in the mix at times is the crowd singing along, which isn’t an entirely bad thing IMHO.
See The Lights was also great. But then, for me, the highlight. The jaw-drop moment. The one that almost had me throwing myself out of bed and doing cartwheels on the bedroom floor – The American. But not just ANY OLD VERSION of the song but one in which Jim actually SANG THE BV LINES! The “across a curved earth, Nassau club days, in collective fame, the eventful work-outs” – I nearly wet myself with excitement! I mean…he NEVER sang those lines live that I have ever been aware of – before or since! In the early days he’d do the “here comes the flag, I’m walking in the black” lines and also do “hand shake, this world, here comes the flag” lines – but never those BV lines!
I wanted to be able to up jump back in time, crawl through some kind of wormhole and just kiss him all over and shag his brains out! Lol – fuck! Goddamn!!!
I’d sell my fucking eyeballs off if he sang those lines again. I’d even be happy with the “hand shake, this world, here comes the flag” lines these days!
I think this will now – singularly – be my favourite live version of The American … EVER! And if you told me that THAT was going to happen from listening to this gig, I’d have never believed you!
I grinned like a Cheshire cat through the whole song. In actual fact, I was mostly like THIS through it (and grinning like a loon when I allowed myself to close my mouth a little. Lol)
But after the joy of The American came the mixed bag of Big Sleep. Great that Jim (again!) was great with the lyrics (he was on a roll at this gig) – but he was veering into the singing style that grates on me a little too much with this version. But! Having said that it wasn’t the complete turn off from some versions of it I have heard. Also…it was short. Literally half the length the song usually is – particularly live. I suppose that was probably a good thing.
Back on the up again with a cracking version of Great Leap Forward. A decent enough version of SSIS (not sure Mark Schulman quite had the feel of the drumming on that right, but perhaps I am being pernickety?) sandwiched between a pretty cracking Hypnotised.
Let There Be Love from that period had us ‘coming’ “like an ocean” twice! Lol (Don’t mind if I do, Jim. Fucking Tsunami, I reckon, if you ever … erm … “came” near me like that! Lol – Noah would need the ark! And then some …😂😂😂😂)
Belfast Child? Did it work at that point, played like that? Hmmm, jury’s out. I liked the line change “peace is raging through the Emerald Isle” of the time. It still took a few more years to get there from that point – but it did get there in the end.
Back to Jim being the “blues crooner” during the medley of Roadhouse Blues and into Waterfront. I can’t be too dismissive of him for that. Given the choice between Jims Morrison and Kerr and which one has the more sex appeal for me – THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO FUCKING CONTEST – sorry Mr Morrison. I appreciate the sex appeal you exuded, I do…but, you are not the Jim for me (though I am pretty sure I’d have had a hard time saying no to you had I ever found myself in your presence).
The crowd interaction, Jim talking to the punters…still extolling lovingly of Glasgow.
We then go into Love Song and as much as I am enjoying this gig, sleep is starting to take hold of me. I start to fall into a dwam and Love Song and it’s slight medley into Glory begin to elude me as I fall deeper in. I barely hear the beginnings of Alive And Kicking and am almost fully asleep by the time the song ends. The rapturous applause by the crowd is what rouses me back from my ever deepening dwam.
I am fully awake once more for the encore which begins with And The Band Played On. Everything performed from the Good News album gets a solid thumbs up from me.
And…knowing that we were into the encore and with it yet to make an appearance, I was dreading the inevitable appearance of Don’t You (Forget About Me). And…there she blows! Penultimate song of the night! Never as bad a thing to endure when you’re in amongst the crowd and you let yourself get caught up in the sing-a-long, nostalgia-trip-fest – but other than that, I derive very little enjoyment from it these days. God, I’d have LOVED the 5×5 Live Tour (and I bet they bloody LOVED having a tour that the song didn’t have to be part of since 1985!) – a whole tour in which you NEVER had to endure DYFAM – what a dream! I know! It sounds like I hate the song. I don’t! What I hate is how overplayed it is! What I hate is knowing I’ll have to hear it at every single Simple Minds gig I ever attend for all the rest of my days. What I hate is…pretending that I really enjoy hearing it at every damned gig and feeling implored to sing “la la las” for five fucking minutes while Jim takes a few minutes break from singing.
Final song is…the final song I ever heard being performed live… Sanctify Yourself. Again…upon reflection – I’d have LOVED 5×5 Live because with no DYFAM also comes no Alive And Kicking and no Sanctify Yourself. I’d have to double check it, but I am pretty sure these three songs have either been the final three songs or within the final five songs (in a slightly altered and reversed order) of the set at EVERY SM gig I’ve been to – and that’s 22 of them (23 if you count that I actually attended both shows at Copenhagen).
I’m sorry to say it, but I stopped listening. Tiredness was taking over and my patience was wearing thin so…I switched off.
BUT! I really enjoyed the gig, and apart from most likely skipping the final two tracks (if I had been there, I might have pissed off home a bit early, at least I could catch the 75 back home before everyone else needing it piled on 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻), I’d definitely listen to it again. And…THE AMERICAN! THE AMERICAN was fab!