The year 2017 will mark the big four-zero for Scottish rock band Simple Minds, which makes 2016 the calm before the storm. Or at least that’s what frontman Jim Kerr announced in Dubai this week, chatting to the press before the band’s Thursday night performance at the Dubai Tennis Stadium.
“Next year is our 40th anniversary, so there was a quandary; it’s like, do you keep quiet about that or do you make a fuss? And we decided to make a fuss. But in the meantime, we’re working on what seems to be two new records, which I can’t quite believe,” said Kerr.
The two records would be their 17th and 18th studio releases, following 2014’s Big Music. And though they haven’t been on top of the charts, Kerr says they’ve been getting some of the “best reviews of our lives”. One of their inspirations since the beginning has been David Bowie, who died earlier this year.
“It was a profound sadness. The second gig I ever saw was David. He shaped a world. As a band, we looked at him as a kind of accomplice. He’s still in the ether, that’s for sure. I can’t see that ever diminishing,” said Kerr.
He recalled one time when he was 19, and a chance encounter with Iggy Pop led to another chance encounter with Bowie himself.
“Bowie and Iggy Pop were partners in crime. We were lucky enough to be recording, in 1979, in a studio in the Welsh countryside [and Pop was there], and we couldn’t believe it. What would Iggy Pop be doing in the same studio as us? What would he be doing in the Welsh countryside?” he shared.
Pop started coming around the studio just to hang out, much to Kerr’s befuddlement. One day, he told the boys, “Oh, David’s coming up tomorrow.”
“We were all hoping that David was David. And indeed, it was David,” laughed Kerr.
Bowie came in during one late-night session and gathered the troops around for a “football chant chorus” on a new song he’d been working on.
“Everyone was on the mic, the whole band, girlfriends, everybody. After a few takes, Bowie diplomatically said, ‘Everyone who doesn’t do this as a professional, can you stand back from the mic?’ Which just left me, Iggy Pop and Bowie. No one had a camera. But I got credits, and it’s there in history. I got to sing with my two heroes at the same time.”
Another life-changing moment for Kerr and the band was getting their first — and only — US number one hit, Don’t You (Forget About Me). It became famous as the anthem of 1985 cult classic film, The Breakfast Club. It’s the band’s magnum opus, for better or worse.
How does Kerr feel about that?
“There’s two months in a year where I really love it,” he said. “March and September. That’s when the royalties come in. It’s just the greatest thing ever.”
On a more serious note, he added, “It’s such a special song to people. It will always be an outsider to us, not just because we didn’t write it, but we just never expected it to do what it did. We saw the rough cut of the movie, and we thought, ‘Big deal. No one’s going to like this.’ We just never saw it coming, but we’re very grateful that it did [get big].
“We always want to play it as though our life depends on it. It’s a strange relationship with that song, but there is a saying, ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’.”
Kerr has been in the music business long enough to see a couple of generations of new artists come up, and he’s been, in turns, underwhelmed and impressed. He likes Chvrches, War on Drugs and Future Islands, but he’s not a fan of the Ed Sheeran prototype. And while Rolling Stone magazine recently carried boy band 5 Seconds of Summer on their cover, calling them the “world’s hottest band”, Kerr is of the opinion that the golden era of rock might very well be over.
“I do fret a bit for rock bands as we knew them. I think the traditional rock bands, and we were one of them coming up, were usually four or five guys in a smelly transit van going ‘round the country for years learning the trade and all that, which you had to do — playing universities, playing pubs,” he said.
None of that exists today, or as he puts it, “the economics are not there anymore”.
“There’s no more pub gigs, there’s no more uni gigs. That’s why you get a solo guy with his acoustic and all that, which is okay, but doesn’t really get me jumping up and down. I think there is a chance that we might be seeing the end of the rock band, in that sense. It will be interesting to see if that’s the case,” he said.
As for the band’s Dubai gig — their first in the city since they played a decade ago — fans can expect a set list that spans the band’s entire career. Once the lights go down, the band will be focusing on writing and recording, instead.
“This show on Thursday night is going to be our first and last of this year,” said Kerr. “We’re determined to have a great time.”
Don’t miss it
Tickets to see Simple Minds at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium on Friday night are Dh225. The show is 21+. Doors open at 7pm.