Been out today visiting the cathedral. Waffling follows…
Taking a break in the usual proceedings with Minds Music Monday this week. The focus has been (and will continue to be for the weeks to come) tracks from Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call as we approach the 40th anniversary of its release in September.
Four tracks have been covered so far – The first single to be released – The American, then In Trance As Mission, 70 Cities As Love Brings The Fall, and just last week, Boys From Brazil – as well as an initial look at the band going into the recording studio for the production process – https://priptonaweird.co.uk/2021/04/12/minds-music-monday-sons-and-fascination-sister-feelings-call-recording-begins/
If you’re already tired of getting out to the pub, going and meeting up with friends and once again socialising and enjoying the sun – then you can read up on the previous weeks MMM’s by clicking on the song titles and the link.
This week’s MMM is a bit of a sick joke of a choice for us Glasgow residents (I have to stop myself from saying “us Glaswegians” because obviously I am not Glaswegian, just a mere resident of this amazing city) – as we are still in the strictest lockdown in the whole of the UK and that my friends means NAE TRAVEL for us.
So! Enjoy your freedoms, other UKers and if you find yourself at a loose end, then do check out my previous SAF/SFC themed posts.
Au revoir! (I ain’t going nowhere.)
P.S. I hope to have more to come to do with I Travel and Sons And Fascination during the week – something that involves a kind of collaborative thing with one Malcolm Garrett – finger’s crossed. Stay tuned! 🤞🏻🤞🏻
THIS VLOG IS UNDER 30 MINS LONG! I KNOW!!!! 😱😱😱
In the early 1980s (as in 1980, 1981 and early into 1982) Simple Minds were accused of being “too Euro-centric” and of not putting enough of their focus into closer to home – what was happening in the UK, or even just in Glasgow itself.
Why should there be criticism of such a thing? Why should a band that originates from one place feel compelled to focus their music within one region or one area of geography? And besides, the United Kingdom is in Europe, is it not? Glasgow, beyond being within Scotland and the UK is also in Europe, no?
Jim was very pragmatic with his response to such things. And of course he was right to point out that the band are constantly touring Europe and are experiencing and witnessing things happening there so why would they not write about those things?
With that said, some songs DID focus on “home”. A case in point is Boys From Brazil. Despite its title seemingly alluding to Brazilian youths, it is actually a title lifted from the novel by Ira Levin (which actually does have young Brazilian characters in it). The book centres around a plan for a new rise of Nazi’s with a “new Hitler” at the top. Fascism and Neo-Naziism was on the rise in the UK, with the likes of the National Front gaining an undercurrent of support. (Oh how things cycle round and round.) Simple Minds’ version of Boys From Brazil was an ambiguous look at the alarming growth of movements like the National Front.
I’d like to share a memory of when the song most impacted on me. It wasn’t upon first listen, although of course that must have made a large enough impact. You can’t not be bowled over by those drums! It was the first thing that hit me. It would be the first thing to hit anyone listening to the song for the first time. The beat is relentless! More on that in a moment.
So this memory of mine is of coming back from a gig. A gig that I still can’t quite believe I attended AND enjoyed! At this point in time, I am in my very earliest days of Simple Minds fandom. Barely three months in, in fact. It was September 25th, 2014. The gig? Nana Mouskouri at the Royal Albert Hall. I know! How “rock n roll”, eh? Well, let me explain the circumstance.
At that time I was kind of being a “pro comper” – I was entering competitions on a full time basis. Searching for and entering as many competitions as I could find to enter each and every day. There are LOADS of competitions you can enter out there, with varying degrees of prize worth. I did this for about 12 months or so and had some success with things that I won. Ultimately though, it didn’t seem worth the time and effort I was putting into it to carry on with it full time. The best prizes I have won have been entering competitions outside of my stint at pro-comping.
Anyway, one of the prizes I won during this “pro-comping” time was for a pair of tickets to see Nana Mouskouri at the Royal Albert Hall. I had entered thinking that it would be cheap enough to get into London on the coach and that I’d at least get to experience a concert at the Albert Hall for free.
It was really great. The seats were good. Not waaaaaay up in the gods, but not really close…just middling, with a decent enough view. A few weeks after the gig, Nana was turning 80, and although she wasn’t exactly prancing about the stage like Beyoncé, she did put on a really good show. I enjoyed the spectacle and the fans loved her.
On the coach ride home back to Luton, I listened to some SM. I was devouring the music voraciously at that point. Visiting Dream Giver daily, searching the web for photos and just wanting to know everything there was to know and already just sssoooo solidly gone on Jim. Lol. Despite the style of the gig and the genre of music on offer, I still had a post-gig buzz. I was fatigued but my head was buzzing. I had taken my iPod Touch with me in case I “got bored” while travelling and I could have the music as my companion. (I’d like to point out at this stage also that I was actually with my OH that night, but we sometimes do our own thing to keep occupied during such travelling journeys.) I put on a shuffle mix of SM songs. About 4 or 5 songs in and just as we get onto the M1 motorway stretch of the journey out of London, Boys From Brazil kicks in. It was really dark in the coach and there was one of those screens which shows footage of a front facing camera that is pointed at the road.
So this is my lasting image of hearing Boys From Brazil. Sometimes when it plays I am taken straight back to that coach coming home from the Mouskouri gig. That dark motorway and my ears just awash with this amazing music and my mind wandering with the views inside and outside the coach as well as being mixed with the imagery the song itself conjures up for me…dapper young men looking all “fantoosh”, drinking champagne from fine flute glasses, cigarettes held gently between forefingers and middle fingers, languishing by a pool, basking in sunshine. The very air of sophistication. Think Minds at the Kensington Roof Top garden circa 1981 – the Sweat In Bullet video, the promo photos for the release of Sons And Fascination. It is all that it conjures up in me. I’m sorry, Jim, but what were you saying about not being sophisticated? …
To come back to a excerpt of Jim’s talk with Ian Cranna placed at the top of the post (and also within his words with John Gill), though it certainly wasn’t his intent or objective, I do find the imagery I see in my mind’s eye that Boys From Brazil gives off has an air of romanticism. And having never been exposed to the book or film and not being familiar with the plot, the lyrics are definitely too ambiguous to give any kind of clue that the song is meant to be a passing comment on fascist movements in Britain. I would say probably Heaven 17 were more direct with their (We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang. On the odd occasion perhaps ambiguity doesn’t pay? As wonderful as it is for “artistic licence”. But the Jim Kerr of that time built lyrics solidly on “ambiguities and fragments”. It made Simple Minds songs all the more mysterious for it. And combined with that sound it was a hypnotic meld.
Let’s discuss musicality of the track. Wow! Those drums! Honestly. I like to view that drumming work on Boys From Brazil as Brian McGee’s lasting legacy for his time with Simple Minds. I’ve seen comments in recent times describing Brian’s drumming as “dependable” and “adequate” but I think he was much more than that – and I think Jim would agree.
I really couldn’t talk about Boys From Brazil without discussing the incredible contribution that Brian McGee gave to Simple Minds. The thing that astonishes me to this day is…beyond the hours of driving the band around in crazy backwaters and all that was perilous in that…was that, as a drummer, he was self-taught. Self-taught at a time when there’s no Internet and no way to just … go onto YouTube and watch drum tutorials and be able to pick up how to play that way. And no video recording either – well certainly very little for home use anyway – so I am guessing all he had to go on to try and learn was by somehow being exposed to watching other drummers play. And for all that, if Brian is deemed only worthy of being referred to as “dependable” and “adequate” – WELL GIVE ME F***ING DEPENDABLE AND ADEQUATE, because I think he’s frigging fantastic!
Those drums drive the whole musical expression of the song. It might be ambiguous in storytelling, but it isn’t in any way ambiguous in musical intent. It veritably pins you to the wall and makes you pay attention for the whole of its five and a half minute duration.
A lot of fans talk about the “classic line-up”, referring to it being the team of Kerr, Burchill, MacNeil, Forbes and Gaynor. But just listen to the rhythm backbone dynamic of Forbes and McGee (who then went on to team up in Propaganda as well), and if you are going to put a label of “classic line-up” to Simple Minds, then that’s the one! Kerr, Burchill, MacNeil, Forbes and McGee.
Those drums, that monotone single key synth note, then a flash of colour, then bass lines to die for…and then that rich, almost baritone depth of voice that Jim has at that time just all blend and grab you by the throat and just…assault you with musical perfection. Everything I love about this song. EVERYTHING! How relentless the rhythm is, that endless mono-tonal synth note, the understated guitar riffs from Charlie, and the richness of Jim’s voice and the nuances to his singing style. It is just utterly, utterly perfect.
It has never been performed live to a crowd. From what I have heard, it HAS been performed in soundcheck, so it has very nearly made it to a live airing.
In video interviews in recent years, Charlie seems keen to want to do it but for some reason, Jim seems more reluctant. It is weird that the reluctance seems to come from Jim. Perhaps he thinks it is too perfect? Hmmm, I doubt that would be his reasoning. I do feel somewhat forlorn that the two songs I love the most in the whole Simple Minds catalogue, Boys From Brazil and Wonderful In Young Life, are destined never to be performed live. But…perhaps it is a blessing in disguise? Again, I’m not sure about that. Wishful thinking on my part. It is somewhat perplexing that a band that prides itself in their live performance would resist certain songs and never perform them.
As a result of this, all I have to share is the studio version of the song. Not even a demo version exists as far as I am aware. But would I want to hear a demo version of “perfection”? I think I would. I am always interested to learn how a song has developed and how it progressed.
I do dream for a Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call box set.
Additional source material for this post provided by the “Simple Minds Bible” – Dream Giver Redux – www.simpleminds.org
Never enough gratitude can go to Simon and his amazing website. Thank you ❤️
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
Talk, talk, talk, talk talking on….
I went into the city today and walked about Glasgow Green. As we (the OH was with me) walked down to the Green from Queen Street Station, I took photos of things that caught my eye or piqued my interest.
My favourite photo I took today is this one below. It was taken while standing in New Wynd. I like the perspective it gave, snapping the mural through the metal fencing.
The depth of field manipulation means Billy is in focus which makes it seem like the blurred fence is in motion almost.
It sets off a metaphor for me. Billy breaking free of some of the shackles of this city.
I read a book on him YEARS ago now, might have been his autobiography, in fact. He had a tough upbringing but geez, what joy he has brought to the world.
Anyway, just wanted to share the pic here.
Love ya, Big Yin! ❤️