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!

As Dorothy Said To Aunty Em…

“There’s no place like home.” A much used quote lifted from The Wizard Of Oz. But it rings true. And it certainly seemed to have rung true on the nights of November 18th and 19th, 1982.

Simple Minds had just returned to Glasgow after another whirlwind stint of touring to the far reaches of the globe (yes, GLOBE – no “flat earth” conspiracy theorists here! Have ANY of these flat-earthers NEVER been on a plane? How do they explain the curvature of the earth and the horizon? I digress!) – heading back to Australia, New Zealand and Canada directly after the release of New Gold Dream.

I was looking into fanzines on eBay last night, after having seen an enquiring post on my FB feed about a certain Scottish produced fanzine. I thought I’d have a hunt around the interwebs and see what I could find. I decided on eBay first and got caught up looking at fanzines on there. One in particular caught my eye. One called Deadbeat. I looked at the listing of every issue and viewed the images, trying to scan and find more info on the fanzine production itself more than anything.

No one was then more surprised than me to find within the shared images of one listing of the magazine – THIS! A review of Simple Minds playing Tiffany’s in November, 1982. It’s unclear as to whether the reviewer is at the first gig or the second, but regardless of that it’s a glowing review.

The only error in the review is that they say Mike Ogletree is on drums. And it wasn’t until I was listening over the bootleg last night did I think to myself “Naw, pal. That ain’t Mike, that’s Mel.” Mike’s last gig was in Toronto about 10 nights prior to this gig. So in actual fact, it was Mel’s first or second night at the kit – depending on which night the reviewer was there.

They wax lyrical about Jim. Such praise! Excited at my discovery of this review last night I did a very rare thing (these days) and posted it to SMOG first with a link to Art & Talk’s upload of the November 18th gig to YouTube. In my post on SMOG, in reference to the lashings of praise heaped on Jim, I said “anyone would think I wrote the review! Lol.”

It is true though – anyone WOULD think I had time travelled and gone and reviewed it for the fanzine. It is wonderful to see such praise given to His Kerrness though. And it’s certainly nothing I wouldn’t have done myself.

A companion piece for me are the photos I have from Virginia of them playing the second night at Tiffany’s. My favourite photo of the set? One of Jim on the stage – looking pretty fucking sensational, I have to say in signature white collared shirt, shiny tailored trousers and black wee “ballet” shoes. And in the bottom left corner of the frame you can see his brother, Mark, looking as though he would rather be anywhere else than watching his big bro up on stage. Lol. Poor Mark! It’s not in the ones I have posted above, but you can view the particular photo I am referring to on Virginia’s site HERE

Lastly, here is the link to the first of the two Tiffany’s gigs that A&T uploaded. Oh, for a night at Tiffany’s! This is the next best thing…

P.S. Artwork used for the YT ident, eh? *wink* Thanks A&T!

Pictorial Passion – Musical Years In Review – 2021 and 1982

Last night Spotify revealed my yearly listening stats to me. There was no real surprise to find Simple Minds at the top of the tree yet again! And that Boys From Brazil was my top track for seventh year running. All the SM tracks in my Top 5 played tracks of 2021 all came from Sons And Fascination and given it was the 40th anniversary of the album, that would be of no surprise to anyone.

My latter love for Jonathan Richman shows itself in him being at number five of my Top 5 played artists.

My top podcast showed how much I have been enjoying Frank Gallagher’s Soundman Confidential this year. I love the bit about that yes, it’s okay for you to consider the host a member of your family now. Lol. Never in a million hears did I ever think I’d be having little online exchanges with Frank! I felt that Jim always made him sound intimidating as fuck, but he’s brilliant and is always wonderful. And even comments on my FB posts sometimes…which I find amazing that he’s sitting there in Flagstaff, AZ, reading my complete pap! Just last week he responded to one of my posts about enrolling in the OU for my Higher Ed. English diploma and my endless self-doubt. His response was “drive til they take the keys away”. I responded by asking him to “spread some gallus my way”. He replied back, “you don’t need anyone’s permission to be yourself”. He’s lovely. Just lovely.

Of course there is much more music I listen to outside of Spotify so it isn’t 100% everything I listen to. I have been listening to SM live bootlegs and gigs much more this year and that won’t be reflected on Spotify stats, just as one example.

Here’s the breakdown of it in full visual splendour.

Lastly, today sees the release of Classic Pop magazine’s retro look back to all things 1982 in a dedicated special issue. In amongst the artists and bands discussed is a piece on the art side of music which features Malcolm Garrett. And of course the main feature to do with Simple Minds is a look through New Gold Dream. There’s a part of it that covers the official videos released. They mention the Promised You A Miracle and Glittering Prize videos. Someone Somewhere In Summertime was the third single from the album and therefore should have had a video released but one was never made. Instead the magazine talked about this one (below). I love what is said about Jim’s moves. Lol. You’ll not be surprised to learn that I adore this video and quite a bit of art from me has come from it. I will leave my favourite example of that at the end of the post.

Click to play Someone Somewhere In Summertime video.

Reflect What You Are

I wish I was everything he is reflected right back, but I am the antithesis of all that he is.

He is light, and he is beauty.

All those Halloween pieces of work I made? They were just bits of fun. Meaningless guff! He’s not the devil, or DraKERRla, a fallen angel, or any of that nonsense.

Not an angel fallen – but one with wings to fly. Heaven sent.

Light in the dark.

Air.

Sunshine.

Beauty.

Intelligence.

An inspiration.

Pure joy.

A smile. A laugh. The sun. Radiating beauty….everywhere. But especially in my dark heart.

The Quiet Side Of Midnight – Priptona Art

The “art” very much comes and goes in waves these days. I must be needing some visual therapy as I have found myself working on the visual side of things again these past few days.

I don’t feel anywhere near as depressed and “affected” as I did this time last year leading up to my birthday (thank God!). Last year I was in a VERY bad place – but the “art” has me on the lookout.

All the talk of “it’s okay not to be okay” – that is NEVER how I feel. It is how I feel for everybody else….not for myself. Never have done. I am NEVER okay with not being okay.

But! For today, at least, I am okay.

He helps. He always helps. (Shhh! Don’t tell him. Lol)

“Bible” Updates

Dream Giver Redux (aka simpleminds.org) has had some updates – including some photos sent in from a lady in Brisbane. There was talk of SM performing in Brisbane for the first time in 1981 – I don’t doubt that. There was space in the calendar in 1981 for them to have played Brissie between their Gold Coast gig on Charlie’s birthday and their next penciled in gig on Dec 1st in Newcastle.

But the photos she sent in? They definitely come from 1982 by my reckoning. The way Jim and Charlie are dressed and look. It’s signature 1982 – Jim’s haircut and his clothes are definitely then.

My pedantry aside, the photos are great. I love these kind of photos! Ones taken crudely from people sneaking in cameras. Those were the days, eh? Don’t get me wrong – I love the pro photos! God knows I love the pro photos! But these amateur photos make the things feel more real.

Geez I wish I’d had been born in 1960 instead of 1970!

Update page with the photos on it can be viewed HERE

Happy Anniversary – New Gold Dream!

In the Simple Minds world, album release anniversaries are like buses – they all seem to come along at once! Lol

Take yesterday, for example. Not only was it the anniversary of the release of Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, but it was also the anniversary for the release of Empires And Dance and Black And White 050505 (rather confusingly).

And today is the anniversary of THIS behemoth! The highly revered and lauded, New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84. But seeing as it is only 39 years old today, I am reserving making too much of a fuss of it until next year’s 40th milestone. This year all the fuss deserved to go to Sons/Sister.

Next year, New Gold Dream, it’ll be your turn!