- 18 Apr 22
Alive, And Kicking. Words: Pat Carty. Main Image: Miguel Ruiz.
Tried to work it out on the train and I think the last time I was in The 3Arena was for Rod Stewart, in December 2019. I was due to see The Who in March 2020 but we all know what happened, spent most of the next couple of years listening to representatives of the other W.H.O. on the news. Thrilled then, to take a LUAS out to see Simple Minds, who also had to cancel/reschedule this show, and they're more Scottish than Rod anyway.
We were warned that The ‘Minds would be taking to the stage at eight, with no support and no messing around. Seats were claimed early as visuals in the form of the old button badges we all used to sport on our bombers flashed with different images from their lengthy history. There are, of course, two distinct periods of Simple Minds; the first five albums up to and including 1982 masterpiece New Gold Dream (81—82-83-84), when they were this Eurocentric experimental and strange dance band, and then everything after, starting roughly from that thunderous 'Waterfront' bass line, which saw them conquer stadiums in the second half of the eighties. The first period is expertly documented in Graeme Thomson’s recent and rather excellent biography, Themes For Great Cities. The second isn’t as critically revered, but I was the right age when it happened, I like them both, so I don’t care what they play.
It's been billed, since it was first announced years back, as the 40 Years Of Hits Tour – and it still says 2020 on my ticket, but enough of that – so it seemed unlikely we were going to get ‘Changeling’ or ‘Chelsea Girl’, but they didn’t stick strictly to the brief either. In fact, once we got past the clever walk on music of Sparks’ ‘So May We Start’, they turn the whole thing on its head straight away by playing – after the requisite “How are you, Dublin? We’re from Glasgow, we’re Simple Minds. Thanks for coming to see us. Let me see your hands!” – ‘Act Of Love’.
This was the opening song on the demo that got the band signed in the first place and was the first song they played live as Simple Minds in Glasgow’s Satellite City on January 17, 1978. When they released this anniversary version in January of this year, Jim Kerr said, ‘Over the years people have asked: When did you think Simple Minds had the potential to make it? My stock answer was always, Oh, we didn’t really think about that. But I realise now that I wasn’t telling the truth. I believed we had something special as soon as I heard Charlie play the riff on ‘Act Of Love’.’ You can hear where he’s coming from as the band attack it like the hit it should have been, Burchill perhaps reading too much into the ‘flying’ part of his Gibson Flying V and attempting – and attaining - lift-off, while Kerr gets into his ‘enthusiastic’ dancing which involves a lot of pointing and his first, brave, attempt at a sort of splits, something a man of his vintage should seek medical advice on if he even dares to dream about it. Second guitarist Gordy Goudie, who’s served time with The Primevals and Echo & The Bunnymen, will try in vain, despite a fetching brothel creeper/pink socks combo, to get our attention throughout the show, but all eyes are on the two main men.
Maps and cityscapes dominate the large screens on either side of the stage as the electronic pulse and sixteen beat of ‘I Travel’ hit. Kerr’s voice is a bit buried in the mix at this point but he’s quick to give us the spot on/OK sign as Burchill heads for the ceiling again before the frontman gets each level of a full-as-makes-no-difference 3Arena to do a bit of clapping. There’s a superb snare thundercrack finish too.
During ‘Celebrate’, a song that also stretches back to third album Empires And Dance, and repurposes some of the 'Act Of Love' lyrics in the same way that the opening line of 'I Travel' would turrn up again, years later, it occurs to me that Kerr, who has filled out a bit and sensibly allowed nature to dispense with some of the superfluous hair on his head, sort of resembles an enthusiastic football manager geeing us all on from up and down the side line. Later, it dawns on me that, in a certain light, he looks a bit like Liam Brady’s artier brother. I don't say this as insult, Kerr remains a handsome man, and Chippy was an artist with a dead ball, so it's allowed. Burchill, meanwhile, on his third different guitar in as many songs, conjures a prowling, tremolo monster.
In an accent as thick as a river of highland toffee, Kerr thanks us, telling all that “you’ve no idea how happy we are to be back.”. They love Dublin, everyone says that, but they mean it. They appreciate that we bought the tickets years ago but at least they got to have a great time with that ticket money, although they weren’t partying all the time, unlike Boris Johnson (“BOOOOoooo!”). Kerr has a lot to say but this, he promises- and that is surely promising a miracle, eh? - is the most he’ll say tonight, as he lays out the plan. There’ll be two sets, so don’t go home in the middle. If this is your first gig since lockdown then they’ll make it a good one, which they most assuredly do. There’s reminiscence about a childhood holiday in glamorous Bray and then an acceptance that they better play a few actual hits on this hits tour.
‘Glittering Prize’ seems slightly slowed down, but once we hit the “catch me in a dream” bit, we’re laughing. Not laughing as much as Charlie Burchill, mind. For the duration, he wears the grin of a man who’s been handed next week’s winning lotto numbers as he throws proper guitar hero shapes and hops about the place, changing guitars more often that Britney Spears changes her outfits. Whatever he’s caught, it’s infectious. Not for the last time tonight, backing vocals lift the song, adding a slight gospel inflection. Kerr sits on the monitor in the style he made his own back in the shoulder-pad era during ‘Promised You A Miracle’ and Burchill’s arpeggios and chiming solo are the stuff of The Edge’s dreams. They’re flying.
Vocalist – any use of the word ‘backing’ would fail to do her justice – Sarah Brown makes quite the entrance – all green outfit and massive hair – out of the dry ice for ‘Book Of Brilliant Things’. If Kerr’s voice has lost a step – and I’m not strictly saying it has – then he has the good sense to, on occasion, let Brown do the heavy lifting. Her instrument is a thing of wonder that could knock a wall down on top of you and then soothe you as you lay there injured. She adds a bit of The Doors’ ‘Five To One’ while she’s at it, and leaves us all agape with a sort of ‘Great Gig In The Sky’/’Gimme Shelter’ hollering ending.
Clouds and horses on the screens for ‘Hunter and The Hunted’ which allows keyboard wizard Berenice Scott to take centre-stage with a keytar for the Herbie Hancock bit. It is, unfortunately, slightly hard to hear her, but when you can, it’s inspired. “We’re just getting warmed up,” says Kerr. “Can we do ‘Love Song’?” How was this not a huge hit back in 1981? It did go top-twenty in Australia and Sweden however, so it qualifies, and kudos to every Bruce and Lars who put their money down. It belongs to Scott’s keyboards and the drums of the frankly astonishing Cherisse Osei, who’ll get a paragraph of her own later.
‘Belfast Child’ was The Minds’ only British number one single. It’s not, in my opinion, their finest few minutes, and when I meet my mate Tony for a smoke during the interval, he agrees but we’re both surprised by how good it sounds here. Kerr sings his arse off, Osei gives it a distinctively African flavour somewhere in the middle, Goudie adds twelve-string guitar, Ged Grimes’ bass is beautifully played, and Burchill takes the ball and runs with it. Kerr introduced it as a song that has found its time again, which is unfortunately true. It is quite moving. Simple Minds go off for some “camomile tea and shortbread fingers”.
In Trance As (Inter)Mission
After the break, a Kerr-less band essay an excellent ‘Theme For Great Cities’, the instrumental that was one of the many highlights on 81’s Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, wherein a bunch of young Scotsmen beamed in visions of the future with far more success than any ten episodes of Tomorrow’s World. The music sounds like it could have been put together next week, and you could erect any of the skyscrapers in the accompanying visuals on Grimes’ solid-as-concrete bass line.
You’d have to be a serious head to recognise the brief interlude of ‘Dolphins’ from 2005’s Black & White, but once that’s out of the way, Grimes gets his deserved moment in the sun with the meteor-in-a-china-shop roar of ‘Waterfront’. It’s little wonder that, according to Thomson, Bono heard an early version of this at a soundcheck and felt his crew had to seriously up their game. The whole thing revolves around the D bassnote which is like someone repeatedly driving a sledge hammer into your toes while you try to dance on the resultant bloody mush. The 3Arena turns to one bouncing mass movement. My teenage daughter beside me, unused to such things, can feel the stand move under her, and grins with a mixture of fear and excitement. Close your eyes and you’re back in Croke Park or the Phoenix Park or whatever park you please. It’s a monumental fucking noise. “So far, so good, so close.” So good indeed.
‘She’s A River’ could have been replaced by other songs they didn’t play, but no matter. It’s put to bed by a drum solo from Osei. Drum solos are usually – and understandably – a cue to head to the bar or the jacks, but this woman is a force of nature. She appears to be floating above the drum stool – she plays standing up on occasion – whirling around the kit like a dervish on speed, combining rhythm and power in riveting fashion. Drum solos are the very definition of a pleading ‘here, look at me!’ moment that nobody wants to look at but every eye in the place is on her and the huge eruption of approval she receives is both warranted and, in some way, insufficient. Kerr and Burchill – who’ve had their share of capable tub thumpers - surely still can’t believe their good fortune that their paths crossed at all. “That’s what we call girl power!” Kerr roars as she finishes up. It’s just power, plain and simple.
‘Once Upon A Time’ floats on keyboards engineered with stadia in mind, and throwing in another bah-bah-bah hook never hurt anyone as Brown takes the song and runs away with it. The first time they came here, to play the SFX, Kerr tells us, this song got the best reaction. Burchill’s intro to ‘Someone Somewhere (In Summertime)’ is instantly recognisable and Osei hits the snare like she’s throwing dynamite down a hole. This proper Charlie’s all over the stage as Kerr holds out the microphone like he’s hailing a cab or ordering a drink, which is not to say that he’s not entertaining, because he most certainly is.
‘See The Lights’ is rescued by a slide guitar solo, which appears effortless to Burchill, backing vocals and Grimes' rubbery bass, and ‘All The Things She Says’ is performed as a duet with Brown, with Kerr on his knees for the middle eight as Grimes again drives the whole thing along.
A note here about my daughter. When I asked her to come along, she asked, "Who are Simple Minds?" "You know, ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’," I replied. "Oh Yeah!" She’s been having a ball despite knowing precisely none of the material. Kerr tells her – and everyone else - to ‘Don’t Be Shy’ before they launch into the big hit. She doesn’t need asking twice and is singing along with the rest of the room, whose stamping and clapping and screaming and shouting could power the city for a month. We take the “La, La, La” bit before Kerr even gets to it. “We should be paying you,” he says, before perhaps remembering where he’s from, “but I can’t see that happening!” He jokes that it’s a difficult song to sing before asking us to sing “La” in French or Italian. The noise actually seems to be getting louder. “We didn’t write this, but we wrote this bit, and this is the best fuckin’ bit!” Kerr quite correctly reminds us. When they do actually get to the sing-along coda, it is quite the moment, whatever you might think of the song itself. “Man, Jimmy!” shouts someone near us in the crowd. Good man is right.
After that, “Let It All Come Down’ kills the mood slightly and more than a few people use this as an opportunity to head for the doors. This show has certainly been value for money, it’s getting late, so perhaps we shouldn’t blame them. Again, Charlie’s slide and the collective vocals paper over any cracks. Kerr doesn’t want to go, asks if they can play one more, and they power into ‘Ghost Dancing’, the big, echoey yoke they played at Live Aid, which includes that nod to 'I Travel'. Kerr’s dancing has evolved into some sort of drunken bolero and, to his credit, when he tries for another set of splits he jokingly, we hope, grabs at his thigh in pain. The band are on fire at this point and could play anything and the flooring-us-all effect would be the same. Kerr wants to lock the doors, order 5,000 pizzas, and play all night. He introduces the band, including “the best guy in the world”, Charlie Burchill, with obvious and undimmed affection. “I’m Mr Kerr, as in ‘Taxi for…’. I’m only talking ‘cause I’m knackered!” This is fair enough, because he’s given it his all.
They’re not long coming back for the encore. I’d rather hear Kerr sing ‘Speed Your Love To Me’ than Scott, but that’s how it goes, and it is, as he tells us, quite lovely anyway. The finish is left to a big-as-the-moon ‘Alive And Kicking’ with Kerr saving some of his best singing until the end before Scott and Brown take over and a joyous ‘Sanctify Yourself’, which sends thousands of grinning faces out looking for a tram back to town.
One of the good things about Simple Minds, and there were many, many good things about tonight’s show, is that they seem to take themselves seriously and not too seriously at the same time. They’re justifiably proud of their material, even the stuff where it all went a bit doves-in-the-air-and-microphone-over-the-shoulder at the end of the eighties that some – not me – scoff at. Tonight was, to borrow a word they’re fond of, a celebration, of music that ‘big’ seems too small an appellation for. Heart-warming and foot-stomping, it would be fairly churlish to be asking for anything more.