I had a hoard of memorabilia come in this week and in amongst it was this article, written by Graeme Thomson, none other! Featuring in The Guardian on February 24th, 2012, just as the 5×5 Live tour is getting under way.
We know how I feel about that. Goddamn! I was out by just over two years. I will forever rue it!
Some of the discussion that takes place between Graeme, Jim and Charlie during the interview for this article features in the Themes For Great Cities book.
I thought I’d scan the article and post it here. Just as a little taster of what’s to come next week.
A footnote (and a chance for me to be a pedantic pr*ck); the inset photo of Jim is from 1980. October, in fact. It’s one from the Tavistock Square session. The same session the photo on the book’s cover comes from.
Despite how this extract reads, it’s NOT all about Jim! If the book was ALL about Jim, it would … well, I’d be fine with it (Lol) – but in all honesty, it would be boring. And the book isnae. It’s flipping braw!
There have been some other great reviews coming in for Graeme Thomson’s Themes For Great Cities book.
Firstly, Classic Pop magazine gave a glowing review. And recently, both Uncut and Electronic Sound magazines have reviewed it. The Electronic Sound review is succinct yet wonderfully positive. The Uncut review gives the book an 8/10 and its opinion of Graeme Thomson as a writer is wholly positive, but the rest of the review is rather backhanded and quite dismissive and scathing of the band. Almost as if the reviewer wondered why Thomson had bothered to waste his talent and energy in telling the Simple Minds story? Well, that’s how the review read to me anyway.
See what you think…
I still think my own review is the best of the lot of them so far. And I don’t usually plug myself with this much bravado! You can read my review HERE – and don’t forget that I am running a competition to win one of two copies of the book. Check the review post for details! The comp closes on Sunday, January 23rd.
Graeme himself was pretty awed by my review, as you can see below… I admit to being quite stunned by his reaction to it. And very humbled. A few tears were shed.
What does one do when the creative writing well seems dry? Find a topic? Pick something?
It’s nearing the end of the first week of January. I could talk to you about howJanuary feels to me? It feels like a month of 62 days! Most of the time…
But this time may just be different. We are almost one week in to this (usually) most arduous of months. At this rate it will sail by! But that is the trap January usually sets. It starts out fleeting and then seems to grind to a laborious halt around midway through.
It’s definitely a northern hemisphere affliction, the long, arduous January. I have no recollection of Januarys lagging while I was growing up. In fact it was very much the opposite. Januarys were all too fleeting. It’s the height of summer in the southern hemisphere and for kids on the east coast of Australia, it’s summer holidays. Schools break up a few days before Christmas, and when I was growing up we had a six week break from school. We didn’t return to school until the second week of February. Yay!! It’s a little different down there now as there is an extended break over Easter that didn’t happen when I was going to school. At Easter back then it was just Good Friday and Easter Monday off school. Now there is a full week off school which means summer holidays are now generally five weeks long and the school year starts at the end of January in New South Wales, at least.
So, as you can appreciate, the Januarys of my childhood felt like they were only maybe a week or two weeks long. And the end of January was dreaded! It meant the return to school was imminent. Now – the end of January is to be celebrated! The days are getting incrementally longer and, at long last, the month is done with! There is light at the end of the bleak, mid-winter tunnel. Hurrah!
This January is different. There are things to look forward to! My university study begins in just over two weeks time. And a few days after that, the new book on Simple Minds – Themes For Great Cities gets released. I’m looking forward to hearing everyone else’s thoughts on that. Also, Sarah Brown is releasing the debut single off her new solo album. That will be fantastic to hear.
What other news to come of Simple Minds? I pray there are some! March quite literally marches on and we are still quite deep into this Covid thing. Is the fear of it now vastly exceeding its threat to our lives? I feel we have turned that corner due to the vaccine rollout. It is very obvious the vaccines have done an incredible job by and large by reducing the severity of symptoms and effects, of not necessarily severity and rate of contagion.
I am as doubtful of the prospect of seeing Simple Minds in Paris in March as I was by mid March of 2020. But then I had the gratitude of having just seen them in Copenhagen and the blind optimism that the Covid pandemic would be over in a few months at worst.
April is a more promising prospect. And all within the UK, so perhaps even if on a personal level Paris proves a no-no, I am…mildly confident I will see the band come April.
But what else is there on the horizon to look forward to? Jim’s posts of late have been more on the personal, or of band history, not much of what’s to come – which is incredibly odd for a forward thinker like Jim. I guess he’s just as flummoxed as the rest of us about what the imminent future holds? There was talk of new music last year, but little of that has been discussed since. No news (from the next world) is good news? We’ll see in due course, I guess.
Perhaps I am better at this “writing from scratch” with a blank page in front of me than I give myself credit for?!
It bodes well for the study. Over the weekend I looked at the breakdown of my course. I could see what the whole academic year looked like. The topics we’ll be covering every week and what is required for each assessment during the year. I am excited. The Arts and Humanities is so broad. We’ll be looking at many things, from Cleopatra, to Elizabeth I, Gothic Architecture, painting and Greek and Roman sculpture, Mozart, The Blues, Philosophy, poetry, art from central and southern Africa. I am champing at the bit to dive in.
Today, January is flying by and I am welcoming its end for vastly different reasons than I normally would be.
“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!
This arrived in the post this morning. I am literally like a kid at Christmas!!! So very excited to be reviewing the book for the blog. The review will be up on the blog VERY soon. As will be details of a giveaway of copies of the book!
Exciting times. Keep an eye out for the review and more details on the giveaway shortly.
There is a path that leads me here to this post. A path that was an unexpected but wonderful stroll. The stroll continues, still. I’m not sure how much of this I can explain. Best to keep it a bit cryptic and vague. We love ambiguity – ain’t that right, Jim?
Suffice it to say one thing led to another.
There is a Sons And Fascination link here. Or should that be “Sons And Fascist Nations”? An explanation of that in due course.
A couple of my most prized possessions in my Simple Minds collection are copies of albums produced for the overseas market. One album released for the U.S. market via Stiff Records was titled Themes For Great Cities and was a compilation of tracks from Real To Real Cacophony (Premonition) to several tracks from Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call. The other is a version of the Sons And Fascination album released by Virgin Records for the Central American market.
There are patterns on the cover. The artwork by the one and only Mr Malcolm Garrett, with photography by Peter Anderson. You can see shapes and a figure. I could see a figure on these covers.
Then there is the reissue of I Travel by Virgin Records in 1983 which bares a photo of Jim, taken by graphic designer Garry Mouat, on stage in motion as if marching. “In central Europe men are marching” always springs to mind seeing that cover. What I never really took in is what appears in the overlay of the photo of Jim and I didn’t see it properly until Malcolm was kind enough to show me this…
I did see that something was overlaid on the photo of Jim but what I didn’t know was that it was a variation on the figure seen on the Stiff Records “Themes” release and Mexican version of SAF.
I also missed the very obvious figure on the Sweat In Bullet sleeve art. Mostly due to the fact the figure has the head of a photo of Elizabeth Taylor.
And so…why did I alter the title of the album to “Sons And Fascist Nations” earlier, I hear you ask? Well, here’s the thing. In talking to Malcolm about the album cover photoshoot with Sheila Rock and asking him about the cars, we got to talking about other art relevant to the Sons And Fascination period. He told me about certain things that inspired some of the cover art. This included him telling me about the image above and that it was inspired by similar figures like it that had appeared in a book he had seen. The book in question is called “Mostra Della Rivoluzione Fascista”. Issued in 1932 to be a compendium to an exhibition on Fascist propaganda – a “celebration” of the 10th anniversary of Mussolini’s march on Rome. Seemingly exhibited in a building erected specifically for this solitary purpose – also known as the “Mostra Della Rivoluzione Fascista”. The exhibition proved so popular that it extended beyond its initial intended six month run and ran for two years. It was seen by almost 4 million visitors by its close towards the end of 1934.
You can view selected pages of the book by clicking HERE
I will state here Malcolm’s initial reluctance to have me write and publish this post and he had approval of this before posting. And I do understand the reluctance. You wouldn’t want to be seen condoning Fascism! But it’s about art and the aesthetic and not the political. Well, that is how I see it. This post nor we as individuals are condoning Fascism! But when it came to the use of the “Marching Men” (as they have come to be called during our conversations) and the line in I Travel “in central Europe men are marching” (long since changed by Jim since he now always sings “all over men are marching”). It conjured up the exact imagery used on the Virgin released I Travel cover.
I missed the image of the Marching Man on the Sweat In Bullet cover, yes, and I don’t see the link quite as obviously as with I Travel but listening over some of the lyrics then… it could be “ambition in motion” or to “grow in size” or to “grow more / take more” that makes it fit?
Either way, all four covers featuring the Marching Men are striking and impressive. And they certainly make a statement.
Another short point – as I was researching to do other posts that were SAF/SFC themed, I shared an article from New Sounds New Styles printed in 1981. Ian Cranna interviewed Jim for the piece. Check out the magazine layout! Guess who was behind the layout of New Sounds New Styles? Yes! You got it!
By this point, the band had only appeared on the back cover of their albums. On Life In A Day they were on the back cover and also on the back of Empires And Dance. Inner sleeves too. But only the inner sleeve of Real To Real Cacophony. Not up to this point on the FRONT COVER of an album. Not until Sons And Fascination. They were reluctant and the images of them are somewhat obscured but the images reflect the movement and motion of the music contained within. The “travelogue” musical sensibility of the album. It was a masterstroke. Perfectly encapsulating the audiovisual.
I find the whole aspect of the cover art for the Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call albums and singles…erm…fascinating. And if I do then I thought others would too.
Below are a couple of YouTube clips showing footage of the Mostra Della Rivoluzione Fascista, including a modern day (in Italian) look back at the exhibition as well as footage from the time of a visit to the exhibition from Mussolini himself!
A massive thank you to Malcolm Garrett for allowing me to tell the story of the Marching Men images and what inspired them into being.
Two new vinyl albums – strictly in the “collectors” category. The one on the left (Themes For Great Cities) is a compilation made for the American market and released on Stiff Records, no less. The one on the right is a Mexican pressing of Sons And Fascination.
In all honesty, I bought both partly due to the collecting element and partly because that picture of Jim on the cover is…divinly delicious! Oh, my word, this man is too beautiful for words (it’s Kerrsday Thursday…I’m allowing myself a small ogle on the new, improved Priptona SM blog!).
Both taking pride of place in the ever expanding Prip vinyl collection.