Minds Music Monday – Seeing Out The Angel – SAF/SFC 40th Anniversary Celebration

“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

Minds Music Monday – Sons And Fascination (Song) – SAF/SFC 40th Anniversary Celebration

Bass. That Forbes bass. It’s the linchpin to the Simple Minds sound at that time. Those basslines are one of the things that distinguished them from others and made them stand out. And what a bassline that starts the title track to Sons And Fascination.

I don’t really know what the sound is that accompanies that bass – something percussive? A hard synth tone? Some kind of sound like a “thwack” to try and explain it in an onomatopoeic way.

Jim talks about them having repetitive loops and riffs during this time and not so much melody. The melody comes later, by his reckoning. But for me, the melody is already there. To me, loops and riffs CAN have melody too. And Mick’s synth work on this track is melodious. A shining synth melody, twinned with an understated guitar riff. A short and bright riff.

Those opening lines! “Summer rains are here / savaged beauty life / falling here from grace” – knockout punch! Sorry, Jim Kerr, but that is abstract poetry right there! Almost a haiku – but at 5/5/5 syllables. All his lines in rhythm. 5/5/5 – 5/5/6 – 5/5/5 -2/2/2 – 2/2/2 – 5/5/5 – 5/5/6 – 5/5/6 – 2/2/2 – 2/2/2 – 5/5/5 – 5/6/6 – 5/5/6 – 2/2/2 – 2/2/2 (numbers representing the syllables per line of the song)

Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about what is fast becoming my final wish. To ask Jim about certain lines in this song. I don’t really know why it has been such a point of focus for me but that almost choral set of lines? The “ma son / warm land / semi monde” lines have fascinated me all these years. Especially the last of the set of three.

I read an interview. I’ve read so many early interviews. I never remember where I get what quote from where. But I remember Jim talking about his Da. About how, for a working class man, for a guy that was a builder’s labourer, he was “cultured”. But it was something he didn’t shout about or boast about. A man’s man! But he liked to be knowledgable and he liked reading and he liked the theatre. And he liked music, of course. Jim has memories of his dad taking him to Govanhill library as a wee boy to join the library and get his library card.

I think Jim became quite the “chip off the old block” insomuch as he loved his pals and his football and being a guy – your typical Glasgow boy. But something more was always calling. The desire for knowledge and a thirst for learning, for travel and of being “cultured” ensured he wasn’t going to be just another Glasgow boy. That a different path was laid out for him.

In this interview he had talked about seeing shows at the Citizens Theatre. He just vaguely brushed upon it, so I have no real clear reference of what he saw there and when. As far as I am aware, the Citizens was a serious playhouse. Not a place where you’d go and watch a pantomime or see a comedy performer.

Researching up on it – yes – it’s PROPER theatre! Where you’d see the likes of Shakespeare and Beckett. Ibsen and Brecht. And …. Noel Coward.

And so, it was in 1977, right in the middle of the UK punk explosion – where a group of Southside boys got together and made a racket under the rather lewd name of Johnny And The Self Abusers – a play Noel Coward had written in the 1920s, made its theatrical debut at the Citizens Theatre in the Gorbals.

Did the boy in the punk band go to “the Citz” to watch a play about 1920s “high society” nobs? Well, only he knows. Lord knows I have tried to ask him! Perhaps for some reason I can’t quite fathom he’s ashamed to confirm it? Or, conversely, he doesn’t want to admit to a denial? Either he’ll appear terribly “un-punk” for having been to such a play in 1977 or he’ll feel a let down for not appearing quite as “cultured” as he has alluded to in the past.

In the grand scheme of things, it matters very little. I have just always had an intrigue about the use of the term in the song and wondered if that (the play) was some vague spark that caused its usage.

It’s strange how some things can connect in ways you never expect. The Citizens has had its share of theatrical acting alumni come through its doors. One such talent was Pierce Brosnan, who had a stint plying his craft at the theatre around the time. He had a role in Semi Monde. And he (Brosnan) was my very first crush. There’s just something about those dark-haired, blue-eyed, Catholic, celtic boys, eh? They give me the “sucker punch”.

Pierce Brosnan on stage at The Citizens Theatre in Glasgow. Click the photo for more images of thespians treading the boards at the Citz.

So, let’s just pretend that the inspiration for the use of the term was down to that – him actually seeing the play – rather than he just banged some French girl and she perhaps shouted it out in the throes of passion and he liked the sound of it and used it.

Can I be that French girl?!

Jim has recurring themes. A recurrence happens in the song Book Of Brilliant Things – “thank you for the voice, the eyes, and the memories shine”. But very similar lines are used (and as for as I am concerned, used superiorly) in Sons And Fascination – “thank you for the voice / thank you for the eyes / thank you for the good times”. They are used more emphatically in SAF.

He paints such a collage of things in the song. Of nature. Of a metropolis. Of motorcades: “golden guns and cars / styles and motorcades” and celebrations: “parades are leaving town”. I see 8mm film – images in my head of the things he sings about. Almost like a Pathé News reel.

It’s the cohesion of the album. It’s European travelogue. It’s a reflection of life in this point in time. It’s cinematic without being pompous. It’s a window. And it is still a reflection of what is influencing them musically but now also so very much their own! Their own voice! Their own image. Their stamp. Their mark! And, it’s indelible. For as much as it paints the picture of the now in 1981 – the Europe of 1981 – it has become timeless.

The song had the original working title of Sulphate. And it was one of those tracks Mick had worked on. One of the ones he had given to Jim on cassette. One of the ones that Jim fell in love with in his walks around Glasgow.

I absolutely adore Sons And Fascination. I’m so glad they worked with everything. That all the songs felt too precious to ditch anything and throw anything away. And I know it was done from the perspective of “wiping the slate clean”. But what a way to wipe the slate clean. What a way to blank a canvas!

Had they not done what they had done with Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call we may never have ended up with the album we got with New Gold Dream. And this is why I will forever hold Sons And Fascination in such esteem.

Inked on my skin.

I have a number of live versions as favourites. One is one that was recorded in San Francisco in November, 1981, specially for Billy Sloan’s show in Radio Clyde and aired in July, 1982, the night before a gig they had at Tiffany’s.

Another live favourite is a more up tempo version recorded from an FM broadcast, a Tiffany’s gig from December, 1981.

And we can’t leave it without a link to the album version. Masterful.

One final extra, if you’re interested in learning any more about it – links follow to a program on STV that aired a few years back about The Citizens.

Minds Music Monday – This Earth That You Walk Upon – SAF/SFC 40th Anniversary Celebration

When you consider the tracks on the album that have just gone by – the thumping drum and bass monster of Boys From Brazil and the pre-techno genre Euro dance beat of Love Song – there is a calming and stillness to This Earth. A soft rim shot (that’s what that particular percussive sound is called in the pro world) and slow haunting reverb guitar start the track off before Mick comes in with simple but gorgeous synth melody. It feels as if a magic carpet has arrived to take you on a meditative ride.

Soft little hushed tones from Jim accompany the music before he comes in with a pondering set of questions – “What’s your name? What’s your nation?” There is now – after the rush of the previous two album tracks – a definite “sense of order / sense of speed” – at least a reduction of speed to the more tranquil and more….meditative.

More fragmented lyrics still “shakes his hand / turns away / turns his back and walks away”. Jim seems to have recurring themes in his lyrics. Quite a bit of hand shaking and walking into, out of, or generally around spaces. There’s a lot of walking. I guess it is reflective of how much of a walker (yes, that’s “waLker” lol) he is. Some elements of songwriting, no matter how much you feel are not a reflection of you personally can’t help but be a mirror.

Reading up about it, it was initially an instrumental and was released as an instrumental only version on the B-side of Love Song. Jim added the vocal at the latter stages of the album recording. Probably having walked around Glasgow for days on end listening to the track god knows how many times on his(?) or Brian’s(?) Walkman. Each time I hear it I think of the reply I had from him about listening to music while walking (or jogging as the post he had written had alluded to) around Glasgow. I’ll include it below as it is a piece of “conversation” I cherish. I cherish all the interactions I’ve ever had with Jim and I despair the thought of it being past tense now. “All things must pass”, I guess. I feel as if I have been in mourning twice in recent years. Losing my mum at the end of 2019 and then…well…

I have probably highlighted this bit of conversation several times over already, but here goes…

I used to think that was a ridiculous kind of bravado to claim that. To say “no birdsong could compete”. But he is right. No birdsong can. But the birds aren’t trying to compete with Mick MacNeil’s or Charlie Burchill’s genius. They’re just the males in the species competing with each other for “top bird”. To get the best females. I pretty much think Mick had that part covered as well – without trying. Cheekbones you could cut yourself on.

For me, this song has Charlie Burchill’s best guitar solo. By far. It almost sounds off key. But that makes it stand out. And it’s haunting. Like his guitar is weeping. It is so beautiful. And then to match it to Jim’s lyrics after the solo ends – “screaming edge of light / shines so, shines so hard”. Those lines exactly encapsulate what Charlie has just produced with his guitar.

I had my “heavenly moment” with this song. The Walk Between Worlds tour of 2018 and it starting at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow. We were just a few songs into the show. The songs that you’d expect to get things under way. The ones the early diehards love – I Travel, Celebrate, Love Song… and then…THEN came the B-side to Love Song in lyrical form. As soon as the jangling guitar, the soft percussive beat and synth melody began, I almost fell to my knees in raptures! There was talk of surprises being on the setlist leading up to the tour. Unexpected things that would keep the diehards happy. And of course by this time I was one of those diehards.

I had never expected much from the promise of surprises. I know sometimes that Jim says one thing and means another. I was cynical enough to keep my expectations in check for fear of disappointment. This one floored me. I was ssooo happy! I just wanted to shut myself off from everything else that was happening around me. I closed my eyes and just let the whole thing wash over me. To just let it soak into my skin and try to keep myself in the moment.

I don’t actually recall much of how the song actually sounded on the night. I remember Jim and Catherine sharing vocal duties on it. I remember feeling blissful hearing the music and anticipating Charlie’s solo which was just about note perfect from my vague memory of it. The memory is vague because I suffer from a kind of sensory and emotional “overload”. When things are very special or mean a lot to me, it overwhelms me and plays havoc with my memory recall. I have the worst memory as is – but when it is a special thing, a moment that I REALLY WANT TO REMEMBER – then that is guaranteed to be the thing I remember least – or worse still can’t recall at all. A lot of things I wipe from memory completely. Thankfully in these modern times with Smartphones being rather ubiquitous, there is not much need for me to have to rely on my memory recall – thank god! But it would still be lovely to be able to recall it first-hand from my own memory bank. To feel all the things I felt that night as the song was playing rather than the vagueness of knowing it meant the world to me to hear it being performed and wanting to savour the moment.

I know this is not the most information rich post about this song. There’s never really been much said of it. Never much talk about it. It’s quiet and sparse and glorious. Understated. Simple and beautiful. Mick MacNeil at his very best. Charlie Burchill at his very best also. And Jim Kerr at his most lyrically enigmatic. Quiet and sparse – but also expansive. Cinematic. “Worldwide on the widest screen” – latter lyrics that also sum up the atmosphere of This Earth That You Walk Upon. This whole planet is home to us. This big blue planet that we really should be taking much better care of but never will. Humans by nature are just far too greedy and selfish. Even those who otherwise appear altruistic still have these awful human foibles. We all do. Sadly it is also what makes us human. We don’t seem to be able to learn and change what makes us the worst example of humanity.

But alas, I digress some. For I am sure This Earth That You Walk Upon is just meant to be enjoyed as a reflection of all that is good and joyous about this world. The vastness of it. The nature of it. A soundtrack to the world, of our place in it and of nature.

I’ll offer two versions here. The album version with the lyrics and a version of it from the Walk Between Worlds Tour in 2018.

Minds Music Monday – 70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall – SAF/SFC 40th Anniversary Celebration

You can’t escape it. The thing that hits you when your first hear this song is Charlie’s pedal affected riff that makes it sound for all the world like a cow has entered the recording studio to add a repetitive “mooooo” to the music. It’s a bit of an “in joke” in amongst the Simple Minds fanbase, but we love it all the same!
Oh, and…the backbeat. The “holy backbeat”. The drumming is awesome!

There isn’t a lot of information on the song on Dream Giver, which means it remains one of Simple Minds’ most elusive songs. I mean…what the heck is it about actually? The lyrics are Jim at his most ambiguous.

“He wants the world screams everything” – men are petulant and demanding?
“She’s a country feel for life” – women are mysterious and a frontier to be explored and possibly tamed?
“Follows in love, love brings the fall” – it’ll only end in tears? Love makes fools of us all?

I guess this is a prime example of what I was talking about in last week’s MMM about songs not really having to be about anything at all.

I have long talked about two lines in the song being the most either enigmatic, or the most poignant.

The first of the two is the line, “first tear forms in the right eye / this is the eye that’s crying first” – it is SUCH an ambiguous, perplexing line. It’s always induced a head scratch and a pondering in me. I have never been conscious of my tears falling at different points from different eyes. I find it such a strange and curious notion.

When I was reading the Alasdair Gray novel, Lanark, last year, I happened upon a passage of the book which read as follows…

“I must be a very cold selfish kind of person. If Mum died I honestly don’t think I’d feel much about it. I can’t think of anyone, Dad, Ruth, Robert Coulter, whose death would much upset or change me. Yet when reading a poem by Poe last week, Thou wast that all to me, love, for which my soul did pine, etc., I felt a very poignant strong sense of loss and wept six tears, four with the left eye, two with the right. Mum isn’t going to die of course but this coldness of mine is a bit alarming.”

Gray would have probably written those words in the late nineteen seventies, if not earlier. He had been writing the novel since he was 20 years old. Lanark was first published in February, 1981. Had Jim actually read a copy upon release? I know he likes to devour his books and seemingly during that early period, Charlie was an even more voracious reader than Jim. Did those words in the book spark something within Jim and result in that line in the song?

If you remember from last week and the excerpts from interviews I shared when posting about In Trance As Mission, Jim said that inspiration came from all kinds of places.

“More and more ‘image’ is important for bands now,” Kerr enthuses, “as opposed to the sound of jumping up and down. You can be inspired by various actors, playwrights, books, documentaries and magazines – the whole thing. It’s just opened up and inspiration now is coming from everywhere, as opposed to what was rock standards.” (Jim talking with Ian Cranna for New Sounds New Styles magazine printed in the December 1981 issue.)

The other line is one I find quite downcast and melancholy from Jim, on the surface, but it ends up shining and giving hope like many of the lines he has written does.
“When the other side of midnight calls / remind me I’m glad to be here.”

I can interpret it either one of two ways, dependent upon my mood. The melancholic way – “another day is gone and I need a reminder that I am here and life is meant to be enjoyed”. Or the uplifting way “after midnight, it’s a new day. Give me that kick that it’s great to be alive”. There’s an element of doubt in it, “REMIND me I’m glad to be here”. If you are to derive true positivity from it, you shouldn’t need a REMINDER of being “glad to be here”, should you? But then I guess it begs the question, what is “here”? Here in this moment? Here on earth? Here, existing? Here, with you?

Yes, I do over-analyse as you can see. But it’s about learning. Getting to the heart and meaning of the song – if there is indeed meant to be one.

There is also a bone of contention I have with some of the words printed for the lyrics. I am sure that during the second verse that he doesn’t merely repeat the same line over again but splits it up accordingly “breath is in, breath is out / I’m not saying anything, I’ve said too much – breath is in, breath is out / I’m not seeing anything, I’ve seen too much.” That’s certainly how I hear it on the studio version anyway.

Now let’s talk about sparsity. I love the space that Jim’s obfuscatory lyrics give to the music of the songs. But also, especially for this song, the words almost act as another instrument. His voice and his words. He has said numerous times that he’s not a musician – because he doesn’t play an instrument. But you use your voice, Jim! THAT is your instrument and back in the early days of Simple Minds more so, and particularly during this period, coinciding with your words, you really DID use it that way. The nuances, the way you used your voice to manipulate the delivery of words. Your accent coming through some, the protracted delivery of others. All of that is using your voice as an instrument. Okay, it’s not opera. You’re no Pavarotti. But for me, 70 Cities is a prime example of your voice needing to be there. I love the song so much but I don’t listen to the instrumental version of Sound In 70 Cities because….it feels like nothing without your voice and words in it. Something is lost on Sound In 70 Cities without Jim there. I don’t think it was ever meant to be heard just as an instrumental anyway. It’s a “filler” for the Sister Feelings Call album. Rather crazy that at the end of so much creativity during those sessions that the release of two albums means the second ends up with not enough time filled on it!

Speaking of sparsity…
It has hardly appeared on the setlist through the years. It was there for a time on the final leg of the Sons And Fascination tour as well as the early leg of the New Gold Dream tour of 1982, but after that, not a zip. Not until 30 years elapses and they’re on the 5×5 Live tour. It’s a mainstay for the sets on that tour, with just the odd omission here and there when the setlist is reduced for festival slots and suchlike. But then nothing again since 2012.

It is an absolute marathon of a song to perform live vocally though. You have the ability to overdub and merge vocal parts in the studio so the way the vocal parts are layered in the studio is incredibly hard for Jim to replicate live. Live versions required vocal backing harmonies from other band members (namely Forbes and MacNeil in the early runs, then Grimes and Gillespie latterly, I am guessing) to not make it such a vocal slog for Jim. Even with that help, it’s a rather tricky affair.

Getting into the bootlegs as I have done recently I was in raptures hearing live versions of 70 Cities from the 1982 gigs. Firstly from Tiffany’s in Glasgow on July 14th (performed TWICE in one night – the second being even more lively than the first, which you wouldn’t expect at a gig – as a result the second is favoured by me over the first), then at the Hacienda in Manchester a few days later. There is also one from when they played Coasters in Edinburgh in September ‘82 available to hear on YT, and finally one from Toronto in November of ‘82 – which is probably my favourite along with the second of the two performances at Tiffany’s.

Of the modern versions, there’s a cracking one from Cologne in 2012. And I can’t talk of the modern day ones without mentioning the version on the 5×5 Live album – Jim audibly expressing his love for his home away from home, Sicily, rolling off a bunch of town names in his most poetic of “Glasgow Italiano” accents. It’s hard not to smile listening to it, swept up in the sheer joy in his voice. As much as I enjoy that version, Cologne wins out because there is great video footage that accompanies it and Jim is AS HOT AS FUCKING FUCK on that tour. Jesus! I’ll regret not being this kind of SM fan at that point every day of my life. The memories other fans have. And the stories they have of meeting him and him just…going for a drink with them or just…hanging around for a bit. Not just rushing off. It sounded amazing. IN MY DREAMS!

Of course I am amazed and happy with all that I have experienced – but I’ll always dream of more. I’ll always want more! I can’t help it.

You’ll find links to all the versions mentioned below – with my two favourites viewable within the post.

Gallus in Glasgow, July 1982 (Vers. One at 53sec, Vers. Two at 1:25:10) – https://youtu.be/i0Brp4ucqik
Heady Hacienda (not the best sound), July 1982 – https://youtu.be/7E74uyEbfzY
Elegant in Edinburgh, Sept 1982 (Marked start point in description box) – https://youtu.be/CaZxk4Uf0sY
Sentimentally Sunny in Sicily 2012 – https://youtu.be/hGVwhMcR4m0

Minds Music Monday – In Trance As Mission – In Celebration Of Imminent Anniversary of Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call

When a song…and indeed a WHOLE ALBUM starts with the line “for just one moment in time I hear the holy backbeat” – then you know you’re in for something very special.

The band were convinced of its merit as the opening track to the album, but Steve Hillage took a bit of convincing. He felt it was “a bit long, but in retrospect, it’s so emphatically strong in putting across the overall vibe on the whole record. It’s a really good first track.” He was won round to the band’s way of thinking.

The title of the song could sound like a corny dad pun heard out of context but it instantly conveys the mood and tone of the song – movement, travel, open spaces, passages through time, the learning experience through exploration, through travelling.

Jim, back then, would seem quite dismissive of his lyrics in some ways. He said he hated the notion of his words being deemed poetry and dreaded the idea of people taking them out of context and away from the music. “My words go with the music.” They do indeed. But even a title – as the very first thing you hear or see, and unavoidably taken out of context initially, provides some notion of what the song is about.

Obviously songs don’t have to be about anything in particular. And maybe some Simple Minds songs feel like that to some people. Jim’s writing style was certainly ambiguous most of the time in the early days. And esp. during the Sons And Fascination period.

Jim also talks about the desire for “greatness”. He wants to matter in this world. He wants his life to have meaning and purpose. He wants his life to matter. Any person with a modicum of feeling that they want to feel like their existence on earth MEANS SOMETHING can understand and appreciate that.

The second verse to the song can sound pretentious as a result but he is just expressing that feeling in the lyrics – “for just one moment in time I want to walk where it is, sustain a stature in life”.

And then there is talk of the process of writing on the road. The hours of travel between cities, towns and venues and how it gives him the chance for “down time” and time to think and create. The monotony of the drive and the motion giving him time to sit and write. Looking out the window of the mini van or tour bus, time to collect his thoughts and just be quiet and insular for a time. Time to “recharge”, but also time to create.

He talks about every line being “a painting”. That every line to a song has a different story within it.

Below is an excerpt from an article printed in Melody Maker on March 27th, 1982. The band are “moving on”, telling Adam Sweeting “just what is going on”. They’re still touring the SAF/SFC albums but are changing direction. Promised You A Miracle has just been recorded. They’re on tour in France.

“I see a town by the track / can’t see the road for the tears.” Upon reading that excerpt way back when I did the first time, it brought that line to life for me. To read that he, Jim Kerr, of all people, is as overwhelmed by the music he helps to create as any of us. I just found that incredibly emotional. And I always think of that every time he sings that line of the song. Even though he is actually talking about the beautiful music of Seeing Out The Angel in the article, in my mind’s eye I see him on the coach looking out the window, hearing the music and feeling and looking overwhelmed…and beautiful. As beautiful as the words and music themselves.

I can’t see my words for my tears…

Before I continue on with the lyrics and the Kerr fanaticism…let’s talk about the amazing musicality of the song. The opening – Derek Forbes by far has to be one of the best bass players on the planet. He just nails the opening visual of the song’s intent, its mood, with a rhythm of movement. Then understated, soft staccato drums from Brian. The time signature is in 9/8 – and I love this most about Simple Minds. They’re not afraid at all by experimentation and don’t stick to the regular time signature of most songs, the regular 4/4, 4/8 or 8/8 time signatures. No. I can see why they’d get the “art rock” schtick at times – but they are sooo above that. It’s never contrived. Never formulaic. It’s organic…and it shows. You hear it in the life of the music.

Simple, long notes from Mick encapsulate smooth lines of long highway roads and Charlie’s beautiful high wailing riffs seem to denote frames of images | this house | that shop | this bare tree | that run down car | while still instilling the movement of travel…”you gotta move on”.

And because Jim’s words are so fragmented in this song, it gives space for the music to breathe.

Back to that “holy backbeat”…

There are also visions of dreams and how they can be a positive life force. “In dream a dream a / courage of dreams.” And it certainly won’t be the last time Jim will talk about the positivity of dreams. The positivity also enforced by an almost violent note “something crashing into my life / something crashing against the white rocks.”

It has been, from the first time I heard it, my favourite opening track on any Simple Minds album. I Travel is, of course, also fabulous. Other favourites are Up On The Catwalk, Moscow Underground and Blindfolded. But the love I have for Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call starts at the beginning…from the get go…track one.

Among the favourite versions of the song I have are, of course, the album version, but also a live session version performed for the Kid Jensen radio show on Radio One in February, 1982.

Also I wanted to share the contrast of the thirty years of space between performances. In Trance As Mission was never performed live again after 1982 until it FINALLY reemerged into the setlist in 2009. The first of the two comes from Newcastle in November, 1982. The second nearly a full 30 years later, also from Newcastle, the 5×5 Live gig on July 8th, 2012. The day before a certain someone’s 53rd birthday. Fifty-three and FLAMING HOT! 🔥🔥

SOURCES: The Simple Minds “Holy Bible” – Dream Giver (for the Hillage quote esp.) | for the Smash Hits article – Brian McCloskey on Flickr | other article excerpts are from my own collection.

Minds Music Monday – The American – 40th Anniversary

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?

*shrugs*

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!

Happy Gray Day! 40 Years Of Lanark

Today has been marked as Gray Day – marking the 40th anniversary of the release of Lanark by Alasdair Gray. I read Lanark for the first time last year and fell in love with it and Alasdair.

Last October I went to the Oscar Marzaroli exhibition at the Street Level Photoworks on Trongate and had to take a photo of this photo Oscar took of Alasdair.

Happy Gray Day!