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!

Badges Winners!

Winners of the four sets of badges are: Ben Wheeler, Leslie Molieri, Duncan McDonald and Gordon Machray.

Your sets will be making their way to you shortly! Congratulations!

Thanks to everyone who entered. There will be more giveaways to come, including one that I am VERY, VERY excited to announce which I think will have many of you excited. Stay tuned!

Anyone interested in owning any replica 40 Years of Hits heart artwork badges can check out the link to order HERE

Did Someone Say “Giveaway”?

YES THEY DID!

The badges I very gratefully received from a fellow SM fan in Vancouver were in multiples. I asked if they were okay with me giving some of the badges away and they were happy to allow me to do that.

I didn’t want to come across as ungrateful for the wonderful, kind thing they did for me. But I wanted to share in the love. I was just bowled over to see my artwork turned into badges!

So, here we are! These four sets of badges below will be given away. All you have to do is throw your hat in the ring…if you see this on Facebook, like and comment. Share the post if you like. Let me know your favourite badge. If viewing on Twitter, you can reply tweet or share tweet with comment. You can enter via Instagram too.

You can also do that here via the blog. Just click on the “leave a comment/ X comments” text at the bottom right corner of the post and let me know which of the badges is your favourite.

Basically just make yourself known!

You can enter by midday GMT – Monday, 15th November (this Monday coming). I’ll choose 4 winners at random to receive one of the four sets of badges shown. (The sets will be awarded at random.) Open to anyone worldwide.

So get entering! Good luck!

And there are more giveaways to come! Stay tuned!

Win A Copy Of “Heart Of The Crowd“ SM Book!

Simple Minds are giving away a copy of the special edition copy of Heart Of The Crowd. To be in with a chance, check out the details on how to enter in this tweet, or see their FB page for details.

But be quick! Entries close next Friday, Feb 19th!

Takeaway Tat

Some of these prints were done to give to Bruce Findlay when I went to the Rip It Up talk he did with Ian Rankin and Vic Galloway in Edinburgh a couple of years back. I also made one of Premonition as well, as that is Bruce’s favourite SM song and I wanted to give him a print based on his fave.

He ended up with three in total. I was so excited about presenting him with them, I insisted on showing them to him there and then. I think he thought I was expecting him to make a choice on one but I said “No! I want you to have all three. I just wanted to show them to you now just to see what you think.”

I think he liked them. Well, I hope he did!

These are rejects from the printing process anyway. One of the colours was running low on ink so the CMYK balance went askew. The magenta range of colours are more prominent in these prints but they still look good – so I am giving them away.

Anyone interested? Get in touch. Leave a comment on the post, or contact me via FB on the post I’ve done there. Let me know which one is a fave.

Simple Minds Song Typography Giveaway

This is the last place I am mentioning it, strangely enough.  So, I will just copy the rest of my blurb from posting about it on Facebook…

It might be a strange one to give away as it is so personalised… but there’s no point in me keeping this copy. I already have a matt finish copy of it on display on my wall. The gloss version became surplus to requirements. I just held on to it.
But, now I’ll put it up for grabs. Across social media. And anyone else who wants to shout about it. All likes, shares, etc, will be put into a draw and one will be chosen at random.
To give it plenty of time, I’ll end it at 11pm BST on Friday evening (it’ll be a Good Friday for someone, I hope you’ll feel!).
Good luck!
Like and share away!
Winners are grinners!

You can like or comment here on the blog, or just enter through my social media profiles, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (you can find the Twitter and Instagram links at the end of this post – when looking at the post directly, rather than at the site’s home page).

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Race For Life Fundraising Target Met!

Today my £250 target was met, so…this means the Somebody Up There Likes You/Waterfront print will be given away. On Jim’s birthday, I will Facebook Live the drawing of the winner from the list of names of the £10+ donors.

To all the donors so far, thank you! I am so happy to have met the target. I am still happy to accept donations though, of course.

Race day is Sunday and the Just Giving page linked to my Race For Life will be accepting donations up to July 20th, so if you’d like to donate, you still can.

And those that donate £10+ up til 23.59 BST on Sunday, July 7th, will go into the draw for the signed print.

Wish me luck for Sunday, guys!

Some Things Are More Important – Race For Life Charity Auction

Last year when I participated in Race For Life for Cancer Research UK – I raised a meagre £68. I had a target of £150. I didn’t even make it to half my target. The only thing that kept me incentivised was…I would be doing something active for my own personal health. How could I see £68 making any damn difference to cancer research?! What would THAT achieve?

This year I have increased my target to £250. I’m already off to a great start with two £10 donations. But I want more! I want to make a difference!

I was going to give away a Priptona print to the highest donor. But, I don’t think that is incentive enough. Or even fair to other donors. So, I am going to make a big sacrifice here! All minimum £10 donations will go into a draw to win THIS! (See pics below.)

(As you can see from the photos, it currently adorns my landing space wall. Below is a clearer image of how the print looks – unframed and unsigned.)

There are only a few copies of this that exist in print. Jim has one of them. He requested a copy from me specifically. This is how bloody special this thing is! I do this with a heavy heart! “It’s no sacrifice”, sang Elton John. Well, it is! Trust me! But some things are much more important. Like the work Cancer Research UK do.

So, as I was saying, there are only a few copies of it in print. And only two are signed by Jim. My friend Janis has one (I asked Jim if he would sign a copy for her as Somebody Up There Likes You is her fave SM song, and her daughters appear very obscurely within the print – the beach scene is a photo I took at Victor Harbour in South Australia), and this one is obviously mine (for now).

The only proviso I am putting on this is that I reach my £250 target before this is given away. If I don’t reach the target, then the original regular SM print of the donor’s choice will be the giveaway.

So…there you go! How’s THAT for incentive to donate?! All £10+ donors will go into a draw to win my signed print of Somebody Up There Likes You/Waterfront (Jim always sees it as a Waterfront print…who am I to argue with him?). The target MUST REACH £250 for this to apply though. I will not be giving this print away for anything less. It means far too much.

So PLEASE, donate!

My Race For Life is on July 7th, 2019. All £10+ donations will be eligible up to and including that date. To donate just CLICK THE LINK HERE

Winners Are Grinners

Winners of the SM Blue Monday art giveaway are as follows:

Facebook:
Dave Kramer
Michaela Jo
Helen Titterington

Blog: Stuart H

Twitter:
Hans Honkyhosen

Congrats everyone. I’ll be in touch with all privately shortly.