Priptona Talks – To Bruce Findlay: Part One

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It’s the summer of 1978. Simple Minds have been alive and kicking for several months. Jim Kerr and David Henderson (sometimes with Graffiti record store manager Scott MacArthur in tow), during days between Simple Minds’ weekly residency at the Mars Bar, go knocking on doors trying to drum up record company interest, handing over a demo tape.

Simple Minds have just secured their first gig outside of Glasgow, in Edinburgh. Upon word-of-mouth recommendations and due partly to his reputation as a knowledgable man of music through his chain of records stores, Bruce Findlay is visited by Kerr and Henderson during their visit to Edinburgh.

I begin my conversation with Bruce by asking how signing Simple Minds to Zoom Records came about.

Did Brian Hogg recommend you sign Simple Minds after having seen them play, or did you make the decision yourself once you’d seen them live?

BF: No, what happened with that was Jim and David Henderson came to see me in Edinburgh and had a demo they wanted me to listen to. They were playing in Edinburgh that night (the gig in question was at The Astoria, Abbeymount on August 10th, 1978), but I couldn’t go so Brian went instead. He just raved about the gig the next morning, saying how amazing they were. ‘You should see them, Bruce’! “The best thing since sliced bread.” He went on to describe how the gig was in detail. How they performed. That Pleasantly Disturbed was like a little symphony in one song. So it just sounded so exciting.

Fortunately they had a residency at the Mars Bar in Glasgow at the time that they had established over the previous couple of months. They’d already made a reputation for themselves. So I went to see them on the Sunday (Aug 13th) in Glasgow. They’d put me on the guest list as their gigs were now selling out every week. I was blown away by the gig. I hung out with them back stage afterwards and spoke to them.

Essentially I would have loved to have signed them right away, except I thought they were too good. Zoom at this point was just a singles label. I had released a few singles independently. I had only just signed a deal with Arista to get more financial backing, but it was still very much for me a singles label. That Zoom was a singles label and bands that I would work with would see it as a stepping stone to getting initial material released and as a consequence drum up further interest from bigger, well-established record labels. I didn’t see Zoom at that point as being a label that would release albums. That was not my ambition for Zoom.

So when I saw Simple Minds, I didn’t think they were ‘too good’ for me, per se, but that they were beyond the point of releasing a single and needing that stepping stone. And equally they didn’t come to me wanting to be signed or looking for a deal. They weren’t even looking for me to be their manager. They came to me because they were told I was a good guy to talk to.

So after that first initial Mar Bars gig I saw, I went to just about every other one. I also got other gigs for them outside of Glasgow, with the help of George Duffin. I got them more gigs in Edinburgh and got them introduced to [promoters] Regular Music and got them some good support slots. In the meantime, I hung out with them. I used to crash out and stay the night at Jim’s parents flat. Jim and I would sit up til all hours of the morning discussing…’the revolution’. Discussing what the band wanted and what their ambitions were, the state of the music business. We talked about all sorts of things. What we liked. What we didn’t like. [I must admit to getting just a tad envious at this point. Lol.] And we got to know each other. Me and the whole band, you know, but particularly with Jim. I occasionally stayed at Brian McGee’s house as well. His parents had a bigger house.

So that is how it all came about. Brian Hogg, yes, he went to see them before me on the night they had come to see me in Edinburgh and raved about them to me, so that was a big influence.

So Brian went to see them on the basis that Jim and David had been to visit you that afternoon, rather than having seen them by chance?

BF: I think he might have been going to see them anyway. It was a very exciting time with new music and because I had the Zoom label going and Brian was working with me at Zoom, we were interested in new music, and we were excited by it. It was quite a revolutionary kind of time. Quite an exciting time for new bands and new music and it was the birth of what became “the indie scene”. We were there at the beginning. I launched Zoom in 1977. So by the time Simple Minds came to see me in the summer of 1978, I had already released six or seven singles on the Zoom label. We were up and running. And I had a fanzine going called Cripes that was distributed through the record shops that Brian [Hogg] and I edited. So we were enthusiasts, as well as writing about stuff in the fanzine that we were involved with, either through selling the records in our shops or signing bands to the label or wanting to sign them. We’d also plug other labels. We were a broad church and we just liked the whole scene.

I saw a revolution, if you like. I thought the whole country; every little town, every big city, every serious independent record shop should start a record label. I saw the future as being hundreds of little labels, as opposed to five major ones, and the smaller independents would have an alliance with the majors. I started selling my releases to the distributor Rough Trade who then in turn started a record label. I was selling records in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. All over the place. Zoom releases. I was very keen and enthusiastic in encouraging others to start a label. I mean I encouraged Lenny [Love] with Sensible Records. I encouraged Bob Last when he started Fast Records and I promoted his records through Bruce’s record shops. I wasn’t wanting to take over the world. I was wanting to share the world with everyone else. That was the whole philosophy behind the thing.

But what happened with Simple Minds was they created a real buzz and the big guns in London were sniffing around and they were very keen for Simple Minds to go to London to play. So what we did to combat this London-centric idea, this notion that to “make it big” you must go to London, we made the big wigs there come up to us. In fact, initially we didn’t play in England at all. We thought if record companies were really THAT keen, they’d come and see us.

Again, at the point I was just an adviser. Unpaid, non-committal (but fully behind them wishing for them to succeed), and they had no obligation to me but because I began to talk on their behalf to these record companies, when push came to shove, whenever they [the labels] showed any serious interest they were told “speak to Bruce” and I’d speak to them. Finally Arista said to me “why don’t we give you the money so you can sign them to Zoom?” I wanted them to have an album deal. They deserved proper funding to go full-time, pay wages, and go for it. I thought “they’re ready”. Thoroughly professional in their mentality and attitude. Very together. Jim had a terrific vision for the band. He was a very bright kid. Nineteen years of age but he really knew what he wanted. Ruthless as well. He was really strong in his opinions and what he wanted and how he saw the band developing.

I then asked Bruce about the recording of Life In A Day.
The next part of the interview is in audio:

Continuing on from the audio…

BF: And all the songs were kind of there. If anything, in hindsight…I mean the band…within weeks of releasing it kind of went off it and couldn’t wait to start on the next album. They thought it was a bit derivative. All the critics had a go at them. “Oh, they sound a bit like Roxy Music and a little of Lou Reed” … and a little of this and a little bit of that and all of that of course was true. The band wore their influences on their sleeves. Personally speaking, I think it was a brilliant album. I think it was a brilliant debut album and I think it deserves a lot more praise than it got and it should have been a hit album. Life In A Day is a great track. Chelsea Girl was a classic. Some of the album tracks, Someone and Pleasantly Disturbed are fabulous. Yeah, it was maybe a wee bit…”John Leckie production” if you like but he had to put his stamp on it. John’s a lovely guy, but the band’s own confidence wasn’t there at that point, in the studio, but it came very quickly. The next album was dynamic. Completely different and much more experimental. But I was proud of the first album. I didn’t agree with Jim when he dismissed it.

I then asked the next question rather badly, and not very succinctly.
And audio extract follows:

What was the decision behind choosing the Rolling Stones mobile studio to record Life In A Day? Why not choose to record at, say, CaVa Studios in Glasgow instead?

BF: The Rolling Stone mobile was used – and we recorded some of it at Abbey Road Studio as well. I mean, come on, can you imagine the thrill? Derek Forbes in particular, who is a massive Beatles fan, going into the studio where The Beatles recorded all their stuff? So we needed to move away from CaVa and these places. Again, with hindsight, there’s nothing wrong with having…in many ways we could have done it at CaVa as it happens.

I mean nowadays you can record albums at home with Pro Tools and suchlike but in those days the thing was to get into the big and to use bigger studios and to use what the big bands had done. And there was an excitement and a thrill to it. Remember these were young kids. They’re a bunch of teenagers making their first record and although they were bright and they were smart, you know, the thrill of going into the bigger studio, the thrill of working with a serious producer – not that Brian Young wasn’t a serious guy at CaVa. He was a friend. And the demos were all good. In fact, I would still argue that Chelsea Girl, the demo, is ten times better than Chelsea Girl the album recording. But John Leckie got them to change the arrangement a bit. John needed to stamp his thing on it too. John was a terrific producer and the next two albums he produced are classics. Real To Real Cacophony and Empires And Dance, for me, are sensational albums and should have been smash hits. And it was one of the reasons we didn’t stay in the licence deal with Arista…but that’s another story.

Part two of the interview can be read HERE

Priptona Talks – To Jaine Henderson: Part One

I had the privilege to conduct my first ever professional interview for this blog with Simple Minds’ (and indeed Johnny And The Self Abusers) original lighting technician, Jaine Henderson. Upon gathering my notes to compile the transcript from the interview, what became clear to me was, despite my wanting to talk to Jaine about her work with SM and being involved in the early embryonic days of the band (and those discussions happened), was the fascinating life Jaine has had beyond her brief time as SM’s lighting tech. The interview became less about Simple Minds and her involvement in the early days, and just as much about Jaine herself and her life before and after her involvement with SM.

Brother David got himself a full-time job at the local record store, Graffiti, on Queen Street. Jaine would go in and hang around and help out on a Saturday. Members of the band (as of then, Johnny And The Self Abusers) would come in and be wanting to listen to things and would get chatting to David and from there David started to work as the sound tech and general “ideas man” for the band. He’d travel down to London with Jim Kerr and Graffiti store manager (and indeed JATSA band manager), Scott McArthur, knocking on record company doors, offering up demo tapes.

Jaine went along to some of the gigs and would help out here and there. One time the guy who was meant to do the lighting was a no show, so Jaine stepped in. That was the start for Jaine as lighting tech.

The first official Simple Minds gig was at Satellite City on January 17th, 1978. It was nerve-wracking for all involved. Jim, in a Facebook post on Simple Minds Official in January, 2017 (just a couple of days before the gig’s 39th anniversary) expressed how nervous he was, and what a “big deal” the gig was for the band. Jaine and David had done some rehearsing leading up to the gig. The odd little slot here and there, helping out where they could.

Whilst starting out being the lighting tech, Jaine also helped with the band’s promotional material, creating tour posters for early local gigs. Offered a six month placement at a graphic design company, Jaine enjoyed learning to work in mixed media. One of the early iconic Simple Minds gig posters was her concept, incorporating a photo by Peter McArthur. “I saw the photo and thought it looked really good. There was a screen printer at work but you could only work with one colour at a time. Jim liked the whole ‘Village Of The Damned’ thing, so I had the idea of making his eyes red.” The posters would have a blank space of white at the bottom so information on each new gig could be added.

Such a successful concept it turned out to be that it lead to some official merchandise being made. You’ll see in the video below a badge that worked lenticular, so Jim’s eyes would flash on and off, depending on how the light caught the badge. Retro style badges of both Jim and Charlie with the “red eye effect” can be bought from the official band store to this day.

The lighting kit comprised four lights on a repurposed bread board that David had put together. Lights of various strength of wattage were used, including a 1000 watt floodlight that if used in unison with the other lights could lead to the lights overheating and short-circuiting. Other lights were added over time having been “rehoused” as part of the Simple Minds lighting kit.

The lighting rig got more complex as time moved on and as the band developed and endeavoured to put on more elaborate shows. Equipment got heavier too, and Jaine would struggle sometimes to set it all up herself. It was tough work, lots of heavy lifting and physically labour intensive. More than a solitary person working alone should have to deal with. But Jaine was reluctant to ask for help. “If I asked for help it would be seen as weakness, because I’m a girl, that I couldn’t take it. But it was because things got more complex. It was a job that required more than one person, especially for the physical setting up of the lighting rig.”

Jaine explained there was an element of freedom, and in some respects more control over a simpler lighting set up than what is around today. Most lighting rigs now are controlled totally with automated switches. Fairly much all pre-programmed with the light show being almost “curated” before tours begin to a setlist by the music act sticking to a fairly uniform presentation each night of a tour.

Back in the day when Simple Minds were starting out, new songs were penned on an almost weekly basis. Set lists could change quite regularly. For Jaine that meant that no two nights were ever really the same. “With the lighting set up I had early on I had greater ability, I think, to change with the mood and atmosphere of each gig. I had more control to change the sequence of the lights, and the shadows and darkness between the lights played as much of a factor in how the music came across to a crowd as much as the lighting did itself.”

In Simple Minds’ tour with Magazine, there was one particular occasion when things seemed to go awry, at a gig in London at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Simple Minds were support for Magazine on the tour, and as a support act, they were receiving a good reception from the crowds every night. By some accounts, this seemed to be hacking off Magazine’s manager (contentious as to whether it was the band’s overall manager or their tour manager). At this particular gig, halfway through the Simple Minds set, the power was cut. Off for several minutes without any sense that things were trying to be sorted out, the band embarrassingly trundled off stage. Most in the SM camp smelled a rat. Jim seemed to be of the belief it was the band’s tour manager that cut the power, but the real culprit will never truly be known.

As far as Jaine remembers things on the Magazine tour (and for what was the Life In A Day tour for Simple Minds, the album having just been released as they set off on tour), it was a small blip on an otherwise successful tour. A tour that she remembers enjoying by and large.

Jaine shared with me the story of the pink lamé jacket. She and Jim had seen this wonderful looking, sparkly pink jacket in a shop window and thought it looked great. Neither of them could afford to buy it outright, so they decided to go halves in it. It was an expensive jacket. Some £60! Considering the average weekly wage at that time was around £30, it was quite a sum! “We were going to take turns wearing it, but I ended up wearing it more often than Jim.” Then on the night of the gig at the Apollo in Manchester (a hometown gig for the headline act, of course), the Magazine road crew having seen Jaine wearing the pink lamé jacket had an idea. “Each night on the tour, John McGeoch would have his saxophone brought out on stage and handed to him by a member of the road crew”, Jaine explains, “but this night in Manchester, the crew thought it would be a great idea that I go on instead wearing the jacket, as if in a magician’s assistant guise with a ‘Ta daaaah! Big reveal’ moment that would surprise John. So on I go in the jacket with John’s saxophone and hand it to him. John wasn’t expecting me, so he was quite shocked. The crew and the other band members are giggling away enjoying John’s reaction, and I am mortified being on stage, standing in front 2,500 people, handing John his sax!”

Part two of the interview can be read HERE