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Simple Minds, the other great Celtic band, play New York this week (VIDEOS)

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Jim Kerr and Simple Minds
Jim Kerr and Simple Minds

Simple Minds, who play Roseland Ballroom in New York City on Thursday night, were the greatest new wave band of the 1980s.

And they achieved that greatness before most Americans (but not all) had even heard of them thanks to "Don’t You Forget About Me" and the "Breakfast Club" movie.

To this day Simple Minds are spoken of with a hushed reverence by Irish and British fans who listened to their album "New Gold Dream" in the 1980’s and felt as if they’d found the first spiritual home of their adolescent lives.

That album was a staggering masterpiece. It arrived amid some of the darkest years of recent Irish and British history. To its listeners, raised on a diet of privation and seemingly endless recession, it arrived like a new romantic neutron bomb that exploded with yearning and majesty and romance and glittering dreams.

It was so singular and so indescribably transcendent, and there hasn’t been a moment to match in pop music since its debut.

U2 wanted to write "New Gold Dream." They reportedly handed it to their producers on "The Unforgettable Fire," Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, and said this is what we want. Even the cover looked like a tribute by the Irish to the Scottish band. But Simple Minds didn’t need to strive for grandeur, they simply had it, right from the start.

Now, after ten years without a U.S. tour date, they’ve finally come back to set America on fire with the same lightening that they managed to bottle from their earliest days.

“It’s too long; it’s an embarrassment,” Jim Kerr tells me, referring to the long absence, “but we’re here now and in that absence I am very confident the band has got better. People might even see benefit of the absence.”

The shorter tour schedule is a testing of the water Kerr admits. “But already we’re only a week in and there’s talk of coming back next year for a much more extensive tour which we hoped for but we weren’t taking anything for granted.”

What can we expect to hear when they take the stage?

“We have been trying to get together a good mix, for instance Europe in the last two years we played only the rare stuff, those albums before we broke. It was amazing to go back and play that stuff and we thought that would be a one off, but we found songs in there that we thought, 'Wait a minute. These things can fit into what we’re doing now.' Some of them were 30 years old, but they felt like they’d come from the future not from the past.”

This is true. For example this year for the first time I listened to "Room," a song from their early catalog on "Empires And Dance," and was amazed by how contemporary it sounds.

But with majestic albums like "Sons and Fascination," "Sister Feeling Call" and "New Gold Dream" Simple Minds found  a way to express the inner life of the Celt better than any other band of that era, including U2.

“I’m delighted to hear you say that and the first thing I would say is that I agree with you,” says Kerr. “There’s something going on that way and above the melody and the beat and all that stuff. There’s a certain spirit to it and a certain joy to it and an openness to it that I think, that’s our roots. There’s a certain imagination. People say where did all that come from, I’m not sure but I just think it’s part of the DNA.”

This music made the Irish and the British love them long before they cracked the American market.

“We had five albums out elsewhere before we even got a domestic well-promoted release here,” explains Kerr. “Just then when it was time for us to go out and make it we got this earthquake of an event, this "Breakfast Club" song ("Don’t You Forget About Me") that wasn’t meant to do what it did.” (Thinking back he laughs uproariously.)

The stadium era days that quickly followed were a double-edged sword for a band that previously had walked an effortless tightrope between sweeping emotion and the pensive inner life.

“On the one hand don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Whereas our success had been hard-earned the "Breakfast Club" seemed separate from us and because of that there was a distortion.”

Kerr admits the band didn’t make it any easier on themselves because after breaking through they followed "Once Upon A Time" with songs like "Belfast Child" and "Mandela Day."

“The radio programmers said who the f—k is this? Whereas that stuff did well everywhere else it was a damp squib here in the States. We don’t have the same career in America that we have elsewhere but I’m very anxious not to blame anyone, it’s just the way it was.”

When people ask Kerr about Simple Minds he often asks which Simple Minds? “Is it the early new wave thing, is it the electro avant garde, is it the stadium rock years, is the MTV years, is it the Celtic "Belfast Child" thing? The expanse within the music has been huge. That’s thank to the guys who could make it their own and always make it Simple Minds.”

Are they any bands now that excite him the way "New Gold Dream" and other albums of his excited an entire generation?

“That’s a good question. There’s bands I can like on a level of that’s great pop or that’s great song writing or something. But not in the way that you’re talking. I am struggling to come with any currently. I still listen to The Doors and don’t forget he was a Celt as well.”

“On Friday I listened to "Astral Weeks" by Van Morrison and that for me probably does all the things that you just mentioned there. It’s got this sense of wandering in it. It has stream of consciousness lyrics where I don’t know what he’s talking about but I do know what he’s talking about. And it touches me in a way that the other stuff doesn’t touch me.

I want to pin him down on the source of his band’s magic, but he thinks it a hallmark of being a Celt.

“There’s something inside us reaching for something, searching for something, connecting to something that’s intrinsic to where we come from.”

I have to admit it’s a thrill to hear the man who made the album that has haunted and obsessed me for 30 years contemplate his own achievement. "I didn’t do it," he maintains, "the whole band did."

“We hope we’re one of the bands of our generation and if we are that’s great. We don’t think anyone owes us anything really.”
  
Simple Minds play the Roseland Ballroom on Thursday, October 24. For tickets CLICK HERE.

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