In my vlog post yesterday in discussing my visit to the record fair on Saturday – I mentioned that I had picked up a copy of Ken Lockie’s album The Impossible. I had very little knowledge of what I was buying. Only the vague idea that somehow Jim was involved in it. That he provided backing vocals on it was what I believe it to be. On that hunch I bought the album when I saw it there in the rack.
Even the guy whose stall it was was flummoxed when I presented him with the record asking him how much he wanted for it. Flipping it over and perusing it he says “where did you get this?” (ie: from where within the boxes on his stall had I retrieved it.) I showed him where. “Is he Scottish?”, he enquires further. “Erm…maybe? I’m not sure.” It was like the blind leading the blind. (In actual fact he’s a Geordie.)
When I got home, I looked over the sleeve notes. I see Jim’s name on the back, still at this stage none the wiser as to what his exact role is. I also see to my surprise the name Steve Hillage on the production side.
And here we are! Yes! This MMM has yet ANOTHER loose Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call link. I’m not sure of the timing of the release of the album – most things about it just show a release date of 1981. Jim’s appearance on the album on the credit notes shows he appears “courtesy of Simple Minds”, so I am guessing it was released as Simple Minds were still negotiating their deal with Virgin?
It’s a bit of a “who’s who” list of guest appearances on the album. I mean, geez, Nash The Slash is on the track with Jim! John McGeoch and John Doyle (both former bandmates in Magazine and later in The Armoury Show) both guest on the album as well. And former bandmates in Cowboys International appear too.
So I guess this is where Jim got his first exposure to “Old Cabbage Head” as a producer? I really would love to ask him about it. If he had any recollection of it at all. I mean, was he even in the studio with Ken to lay down his BV? Or was it just done elsewhere? Another studio in another part of the country? Did he meet Hillage then? Or was the meeting up with Hillage not until they actually started working with him on SAF/SFC? I guess these questions are like peeing in the wind and will have to remain as ambiguous as his lyrics. Guesswork.
The sum of Jim’s contribution is on this track linked below. The lead single off the album – Dance House. Lockie of course returns the favour by being a backing vocalist on SAF/SFC.
I’ve got to say, this track has become quite the earworm – hence the artwork it inspired last night. Enjoy!
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.
In a small village called Little Chalfont, in the Buckinghamshire countryside near the town of Amersham…. five band members and a producer that they (the band) admit to having slight reservations about (they wanted Todd Rundgren but he only worked out of Sigma Sound in New York and Virgin deemed the idea too expensive to hire him, then it was proposed they use Martin Rushent but he was unavailable, or Steve Lillywhite but he was deemed too expensive also at that point in time) enter a recording studio and started to record what would be, for me, quite possibly their most remarkable album(s). There may have been trepidation to start with. And it may have continued to be fraught with indecision, but what sprang forth from it, in hindsight, is…wondrous!
Steve Hillage sounded the least authoritarian producer you could wish for, which one could argue wasn’t what a still fledgeling Simple Minds needed at that point – their three album recording history with John Leckie meant that it was an entirely unknown dynamic for the boys when they entered Farmyard Studios with “old Cabbage Head” to record their 4th and 5th albums. They sounded as if they needed the discipline that Hillage lacked giving them – at the time – but it also released something profound too. Perhaps a modicum of freedom that they needed? Yes, it meant they were indecisive about which songs to work on, but wow! I mean, talk about spoilt for choice when you feel your hands are tied and say “we’ll take them all in!”
Perhaps this is why we’ll never see a Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call boxset? Do we have it all already? Well…I can’t imagine that is true! Just last night on the Dream Giver site I read about demos that were recorded at CaVa Studios in Glasgow. And when I interviewed Jaine Henderson a couple of years back she had told me that initially Love Song was offered to her by Jim to perform and record. Imagine it! What would be their biggest hit of the time – until Promised You A Miracle is released 12 months later – might not have even been a Simple Minds hit! Jaine wasn’t persuaded. She wasn’t a singer or performer.
I’m guessing those CaVa demos are what ended up on the Silver Box set that Virgin brought out in 2004? There are demo versions of Love Song, The American, Careful In Career and Sweat In Bullet on there – as well as (dare I mention it?) the forgotten Life In Oils – which fell somewhere between the tracks of Empires And Dance and Sons/Sister. Already too much new stuff they were working on as the Sons/Sister sessions started, it got ditched, much to mine and John Leckie’s consternation.
They nearly called him (Leckie) back into the studio, they ended up so directionless with Hillage – but would we have ended up with what now feels like such a rich tapestry? The album needed to formulate and end up shaped in the way it was. A bulging overspill of creative energy. A band oozing with an abundance that sees them on the cusp of something grand. You can feel it. You can almost taste it! With long hindsight, and even with its (SUBTLE) imperfections both Jim and Charlie value it for the creative tour de force it was.
For your listening pleasure – a fantastic recording of them made in San Fransisco while they were on tour. Recorded by Frank Gallagher, no less, and aired exclusively on Billy Sloan’s radio show for Clyde Radio back in July, 1982. I’m assuming the recording was made the previous November as they played San Fransisco on November 7th, 1981. They didn’t tour the U.S. again until 1983 and SAF was no longer on the the setlist by then.
“The Man in the Sky”, Mick MacNeil, was being interviewed….well, more joined in in a live stream chat (with a loose interview in there) for this YouTube channel called the Pro Synth Network. Basically a weekly synth geek’s get together to discuss all things Synth and keyboard based. New bits of kit out on the market, etc, etc.
Once we get the technicals and geek talk out the way, about 45 minutes in, then there is talk with Mick about his time with Simple Minds and just…his background of being a synth player and how it all came to be. It’s a great thing and Mick shares great anecdotes and is a lot of fun. He always gives great banter.
I am going to drop in on the interview right at the point where Mick says he went to see the band before he joined. What he says about Jim absolutely cracked me up and had me in stitches! Which then meant I missed the next minute or so of the conversation. The very interesting point Mick made about Jim and his stutter (or on anyone with a stutter – in the broader sense).
Anyway, let’s cut to it. But I recommended you maybe go back a few minutes on the clip and listen to Mick talk about taking up (or having it thrust upon him, more accurately!) the accordion and sticking with the rest of the video.
It’s a clipping I only recently came into possession of and I had never (for obvious reasons) read the article before.
Some interesting things said. Interesting to read Mick saying that he thought they’d have all stayed together…maybe might had still been together (as of then) if Brian hadn’t have left when he did.
Also interesting them bringing up the cover of Record Mirror mag with Brian on it. I was only very recently chatting to Ronnie about that cover. He said to me it wasn’t the photo he wanted on the cover and shared with me a photo of Jim he had submitted for use (which I won’t be sharing here unless I get photographer’s permission first – I haven’t asked him).
Good bit of talk about Rockfield and Iggy and Bowie in the lead up to Saturday’s airing of the documentary on the BBC.
Jim seems rather more philosophical in this than he has done at other times.
A couple more clippings to come….including another Sheila Rock gem (hence the reason I ended up with the clipping – prior to the “naked titties” one surfacing).
I was looking through the latest edition of Classic Rock magazine, saw this little interview with Steve Hillage and my eyes were drawn to the last paragraph. Wasn’t expecting him to be name-checking Jim. Very nice.
You know sometimes when you see something … you’ve just been made aware of it but it happened just a couple of days prior so you missed it completely?
Well…that just happened to me. I’m checking the local record stores, particularly those over the Hertfordshire border…to see what they’re stocking and their prices for Saturday’s RSD. I checked Revolution Records in Stevenage to see that just this Monday gone STEVE HILLAGE WAS THERE DOING AN ALBUM SIGNING! I AM GUTTED!
I am ssssoooo gutted I missed this. I think I’d have been the ONLY person there to say “So, Steve…what was like working with Simple Minds on Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call?”
I’D HAVE GRILLED HIS ARSE! Lol. “Is the story about the pot plant true? Did you really fall down a stairwell on an office chair?” You know…all the probing questions! Lol
Mick MacNeil’s show last night on Indy Live was the most brilliant one so far. If I had asked to interview him myself, I could not have asked for better. He literally picked up where I had finished off with my interview with Bruce – for Mick talked about the producers of Simple Minds albums, namely John Leckie and Jimmy Iovine, but he also brushed upon the Steves – Hillage and Lilywhite.
The anecdotes that came with them had me in stitches. I was enthralled with it all. I could listen to tales of the early days of Simple Minds for eternity and NEVER get bored. It’s the only way I have, personally, of getting a sense of being there and in amongst it. I find this stuff ssooo exciting and wonderful.
Thank you for last night, Mick (hmmm…that’s not sounding quite right…you know what I mean! Lol). I know you may not be able to continue doing the show EVERY week, but I hope we will still continue to present some kind of thing. Perhaps a monthly podcast would work? You definitely already have one subscriber right here! And I am sure you will have many others besides. Please consider continuing a show in some capacity or other.
I have truncated last night’s show for you guys here on the blog. Just concentrating on Mick’s chat, because that is, for me, the most interesting part of the show. Mick feels he waffles on and bores the listeners. He definitely doesn’t with me! The anecdotes. The technical talk. I find all of it fascinating.
UPDATE: All three of Mick’s shows can be heard in their entirity HERE – the audio below is an edited edition of last night’s show.