Simple Minds was founded in 1978 by Jim Kerr (vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitar), Tony Donald (bass) and Brian McGee (drums). Second guitar player Duncan Barnwell and keyboard player Michael McNeil completed the band. The first change in personnel followed soon when Derek Forbes came to replace a disappointing Donald. This starting period ended with the departure of Barnwell. Meanwhile, Simple Minds had established itself as one of Scotland’s best live acts. This led to a record deal with Edinburgh’s independent label Zoom that was distributed by Arista and managed by Bruce Findley. He also became the band’s manager.
The first single “Life in A Day” reached Number 62 in the UK Charts while the debut album of the same name reached Number 30 in the album charts. The band itself was absolutely unsatisfied with their first LP and went back into the studio as fast as they could to work on the experimental album Real to Real Cacophony. This album was an absolute commercial disaster, but gave them a lot of credit with the press. In September 1980 Empires and Dance was recorded; an album that put the band in a more “dance” direction. It was influenced by their experiences from the many European tours. From this album “I Travel” also came and became a real club hit.
Not satisfied with the devotion of Arista Simple Minds signed at Virgin in 1981. The band was joined with producer Steve Hillage and this led to two albums, Sons and Fascination and Sister Feelings Call, that were first published as a Limited Edition double LP. It became the band’s first UK Top 20 hit. Furthermore “The American”, “Love Song” and “Sweat in Bullet” were three more little hit singles. Simple Minds slowly began to outgrow their cult status.
Brian McGee was tired of touring so much and left the band in 1981. He was replaced by former Skids drummer Kenny Hyslop, whose contribution was small but important. He played along on “Promised You a Miracle” and partly through him the band released the song as a single. This powerful song reached Number Thirteen in the UK charts and also became a hit in the rest of Europe and in Australia as well, where the band already had a big crowd of fanatic fans (Sons and Fascination was a Number One hit over there). Although Mike Ogletree joined the band after Hyslop’s departure, Mel Gaynor ultimately became the steady Simple Minds drummer. Both drummers are to be heard on “New Gold Dream”. The most successful Simple Minds album until then that reached Number Three in the UK charts. This more commercial album was about faith and hope and brought forth “Glittering Prize” and “Someone Somewhere in Summertime” (to this day still one of the most popular Simple Minds songs) that both became hit singles. Both due to success of “New Gold Dream” and to the strong/firm live reputation they had always had, Simple Minds became big crowd-puller on Europe’s open air festivals.
In February 1984 “Sparkle in The Rain” was released in co-operation with producer Steve Lillywhite and came in at Number One in the UK charts. Before that the singles “Waterfront” and “Speed Your Love to Me” became Top 30 hits, as well as the third single “Up on The Catwalk” that was released after the album. Lillywhite clearly put his stamp on “Sparkle”. It is an album full of heavy, thrilling beats that appear to full advantage live. In 1984 Jim Kerr quietly married Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde in New York. Begin 1985 there’s a new changing in personnel when Derek Forbes becomes tired of touring and leaves the band. He is replaced by John Giblin (ex-Peter Gabriel).
In 1985 Simple Minds play on the Live Aid festival in Philadelphia USA. Bob Geldof, the man who organized the festival calls them one of the best acts of the day. Later that year they record “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” (written by Forsey and Schiff) for the film The Breaksfast Club. It brings them a Number One hit in the USA and Europe, as well.
Meanwhile, in the States the Minds are working together with Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain on their new album Once Upon A Time. This album becomes an international sales success but is ruthlessly sabred by the press as being too bombastic. The first three singles from this LP “Alive and Kicking”, “Sanctify Yourself “ and “All The Things She Said” all become Top 10 hits. In 1986 “Ghostdancing” is also released as a single and the proceeds of this single are completely for Amnesty International. It is also the first song of Simple Minds to be released on CD (single). The whole tour that was going to last for a year and a half is dedicated to Amnesty International and gives Simple Minds the status of being a stadium band. The concerts in Sydney and Paris were recorded and can be found on the 1987 double album Live in The City of Light.
In 1988 Simple Minds and Jerry Dammers (The Specials) organize the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert in London’s Wembley Stadium. The Minds write a special song for the occasion, “Mandela Day”. Despite the many requests to put it on single, they refuse to make money from the event by doing that. A year later the song was to be found as a B-side on “Belfast Child” that was to stay a Number One hit in the UK charts for a very long time and is an ode to Northern-Ireland based on an Irish traditional “She Moved Through The Fair”.
Street Fighting Years (1989) gets into the UK charts at the Number One position. The other two singles from this album, “This is Your Land” (with Lou Reed as guest vocal) and “Kick It In” both reach the Top 20 of the UK charts. John Giblin is replaced by Malcolm Foster on bass (ex-Pretenders). After the Street Fighting Years Tour Jim and Charlie still have energy to go into the “Wisseloord” studio in Hilversum (the Netherlands), and do a cover from Princ, “Sign O’ The Times”. As a result of these sessions it is released on “The Amsterdam EP” and reaches Number 18 in the UK charts. At this time Mick McNeil decides he wants to spend some more time with his wife instead of touring all the time. After ten years the band also says goodbye to its management office, “Schoolhouse Management”.
In April 1990 Simple Minds play at Mandela Day 2 again. This time Nelson Mandela was present as well, since he was released earlier that year. That year Simple Minds is playing four more concerts of which one in East-Berlin and one in Leipzig. Although the wall had just been torn down a risky undertaking. Meanwhile Jim Kerr and Chrissie Hynde are divorced. In 1991 Simple Minds releases Real Life, a more personal album than the political Street Fighting Years. The keyboard player on this tour is Mark Taylor. No less than four singles are drawn from this album: “See The Light”, Let There Be Love”, “Stand By Love” and the title song “Real Life”.
In January 1992 Jim Kerr marries Patsy Kensit. In October of the same year the compilation album Glittering Prize - Simple Minds ‘81 -’92 is released. “Love Song/Alive & Kicking” becomes the single with a double A-side.
It is only at the end of 1994 we hear of Simple Minds again, when they play a mini-Holiday Tour along several American radio stations. “She’s A River” is the first single after four years of silence in January 1995 and followed at the end of the month by the album “Good News From The Next World” dealing with the fear from living at the end of the millennium. Drummer on this CD and tour is Mark Schullmann. There’s also a second single “Hypnotised”.
It is chaotic times for Simple Minds after the “Good News “- tour when Jim Kerr divorces Patsy Kensit. The band itself leaves Virgin and signs a contract for five CDs at EMI - Chrysalis. Chrysalis is very enthusiastic about their new acquisition and their web page says they expect a new album of Simple Minds in October 1996. The band is more relaxed and besides the album they’re working on a soundtrack as well for a German low-budget movie. In March 1997 there’s a press report that the early bass player Derek Forbes is back. The band is working on new material in the studio.
In June 1997 they start a European festival tour ending in August. It is remarkable that Mel Gaynor also returns to the band to drum. They asked Kerr when Mick MacNeil is expected to return as well. He answers that the chance is bigger than ever before but Mick has to make the decision. In the autumn of 1997 Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill play the Night of The Proms Tour 1997. In March 1998 Simple Minds release a new single (“Glitterball”) and album Neapolis. Produced by Peter Walsh, it is full of weird noises which brings them back in a kind of dance direction.
Graffiti Soul (2009) harks back sonically to the period immediately prior to the global superstardom the group achieved when “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” appeared in the film The Breakfast Club.
Redolent of their 1983 album Sparkle in the Rain and its breakout hit “Waterfront”, the production on Graffiti Soul is polished to a US radio-friendly sheen but, in an unlikely turn of events, it also boasts eight triumphant pop-rock numbers and a band that sounds relaxed and full of vim. Stately rock songs, such as “Rockets” and “Kiss and Fly”, build effectively around clanging riffs of the kind guitarist Charlie Burchill once made his signature, while “Light Travels” and “Blood Type O” throb with light-hearted, throwaway hints of Brian Eno, Bowie and ‘70’s Berlin.
Frontman Jim Kerr, meanwhile, is in hearty voice, notably when running the gamut from louche to leonine on “This is It”.