Jim Kerr, Scottish singer and songwriter with Simple Minds, chats with Kevin Cooper about how when he last toured with The Pretenders he ended up getting married, recording at Abbey Road Studios, their latest album Walk Between Worlds, their three special UK dates and headlining the Grand Slam Tour.

Jim Kerr is a Scottish musician and singer and songwriter, best known as lead singer of the rock band Simple Minds, who were formed in Glasgow in 1977 and are one of most commercially successful Scottish bands ever, having achieved five UK number one albums during their career and sold over 70 million records worldwide. Despite various personnel changes, they continue to record and tour.

The band have scored a string of hit singles; becoming best known internationally for their 1985 hit Don’t You (Forget About Me) which was from the soundtrack to the film The Breakfast Club. Their other more prominent hits include Alive And Kicking and Belfast Child. In 2016, they won the British Academy’s Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection.

The core of the band are the two remaining founding members, Jim Kerr (vocals, song writing) and Charlie Burchill (guitars, keyboards after 1990, and song writing). The other current band members are Ged Grimes (bass guitar), Sarah Brown (vocals), Gordy Goudie (guitar), Cherisse Osei (drums) and Catherine AD (vocals, keyboards, and guitar).

In February 2018 Simple Minds released their nineteenth studio album, Walk Between Worlds and announced a tour of Europe. They will be playing the new album in its entirety at three specially selected dates at Glasgow, Manchester and London.

Whilst busy rehearsing, Jim Kerr took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Jim how are you?

Hello Kevin from Nottingham, how are you doing?

I’m very well thank you, and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, it’s my pleasure.

You and I last spoke back in April last year prior to the Acoustic tour and I have to say that when I saw you here in Nottingham at The Royal Concert Hall you blew me away.

That’s great to hear. I remember that night clearly because apart from anything else I love the venue and we always have great gigs in Nottingham but Charlie (Burchill) has some family that live in and around Nottingham now so we went down there early and had a good time with them both before and after the gig. And I have to say that from a personal point of view it was a great one.

You must have been pleased with the fans reaction to both the tour and the album?

Indeed, because you know it was the one and only time that we have played in that format and who knew just how the fans would react to that. We kept prevaricating as I told you the last time that we spoke, but once we had committed to it and once we got ourselves back out on the road, it was such great fun throughout. And the fact that it was something different meant that we all enjoyed the freshness of it. The whole tour gave us confidence because even at this stage of the game, there are still things that you can learn, and there are still things that you don’t know about. So all in all it was a very good experience for us all.

I have to mention your drummer Cherisse (Osei) who I first saw playing with Bryan Ferry a few years ago now. She is a real powerhouse isn’t she?

What is she like; I mean we wanted to put her in a flight case and lock her up so that no one could steal her (laughter). I mean I have to say that Cherisse is the star of the show. What a girl she is; she is a great person to be around. Backstage there is this little thing just sitting there constantly asking me if I have any chocolate and then a few minutes later it is like this powerhouse and away she goes.

She reminds me of the old cartoon of the Tasmanian Devil (laughter).

(Laughter) that’s right, that’s what it is, that is what she is like. We have got a great picture of her and it is just the way that the camera went. It looks like she has got six arms; she looks like one of those Indian Hindu gods (laughter). Out there on stage let me tell you that it feels like she has got six arms and six legs.

One last thing on the subject of the acoustic tour and then we will move on. Did Steve Harley surprise you and pop up at any of your gigs?

Steve was absolutely amazing. He came up to Glasgow and I thought that the show had been amazing and that it couldn’t go up a level but let me tell you, it did. We bought him out onto the stage and it was truly wonderful.

Coming right up to date, the new album Walk Between Worlds, I have been playing it for the past couple of weeks and I love it. I think that it is fantastic.

Good man. That is great to hear and so nice of you to say.

Are you happy with it?

Yes we are. It has been out there for the past three or four weeks doing the promotional rounds and the kind of things that we would hope that people would say about it are in fact being said. Not only are we being told that they like it as you have said, but they are saying that whilst they can feel some of the old ghosts, the new album is contemporary. What has surprised everyone is that they didn’t expect this kind of level of energy from the band at this stage of the game. In fact they don’t expect that from any of the bands of our vintage at this stage of the game. They feel that it is a much focused quality throughout.

All of the stuff that we would have hoped people would say about the album is thankfully being said. We felt that is was special whist we were making the album, but you never know, you have got to get it out there and feel it. It is never validated until other people listen to it and come up with their own opinions.

After hearing the album I simply wrote three words, classic Simple Minds.

Well that is brilliant to hear on the one hand but on the other that really is something for us to live up to because, let’s be honest, classic Simple Minds achieved a lot. Whenever you are working on stuff; when you are talking it through at the start of the process, it all rolls off the tongue lovely. It sounds like a piece of cake so it goes something like ‘okay let’s make a classic Simple Minds album but keep it contemporary’ well yes, good luck, how are you going to do it (laughter). When we did all of that stuff back in the day, classic Simple Minds were still really just kids. We were all young men with energy to burn who were living the life twenty-four hours a day. However, that is not the same when you are a wee bit older, you have been around the world a few times, been beaten up, you have lost a bit of confidence and you have felt a bit lost at certain times.

The short version is that you find yourself having to pick yourself up off the canvas and not to find yourself like a punch-drunk boxer. You have to tell yourself that what you are doing is potent again, you have to get your mojo back, and you have to begin excelling once again. You have to become engaged with what it is that you are doing, and that is what we did. We made the band number one core central in our lives again and that is the kind of engagement that you need to be able to come up with that kind of quality. We have been hard on ourselves; we had found ourselves a younger manager and a new producer and they kick the tyres. And I have to say that the nett result is, I hope, forty five minutes of pure quality.

If my maths are correct, you finished the album nine months ago now. Could you simply walk away and leave it alone?

(Laughter) that’s right the album was finished prior to us going out on the Acoustic tour, and I have to be honest and say that yes, we went back into the studio and recorded a few finishing touches here and there, for example a bit of backing vocals but pretty much the album is how we finished it nine months ago now. That is all that we were allowed to do because the tech guys took it off us (laughter). Who knows if tinkering with the album would make it better, who knows; it would simply make it different. Sometimes you tinker with it out of boredom, but there were a couple of backing vocals which I personally think improved the album. But by and large no, we know when it’s time to let it go.

I have to say that I really do love Barrowland Star and the title track, Walk Between Worlds.

Well I have to say that is interesting because you have picked out the two longest tracks on the album and not only that, you have also picked out the two orchestral ones which were such a pleasure to work on. I think that on Barrowland Star, Charlie was playing, I think, not only at his best, but also his longest guitar solo ever at over three minutes long. It’s a real old style glam rock solo where Charlie is really showing his influences, such as the late Mick Ronson. For me to see and hear that set against the classical musicians in Abbey Road was a bit of a treat and likewise with the intro to Walk Between Worlds, which Charlie not only wrote but he actually orchestrated too.

We feel that the album is in two quite distinctive characters. The opening three or four tracks feel like it is the young bucks, very up, tight knit, with that kind of energy and very punchy kind of pop arraignments. Even the song titles themselves are very in your face; Magic, Summer, In Dreams. However, when you get to side two it is all a bit more ‘what’s that’ (laughter). Walk Between Worlds, what’s that? Barrowland Star, what’s that? and the arrangements are a lot more open-ended with a lot more music in them and probably a lot more depth.

I’ve told you my two favourite tracks off the new album, do you have any particular track or tracks that you are enjoying singing at the moment?

I suppose that I have a bit of added attraction for a track called The Signal And The Noise because when we were pulling the ideas together for the album and we were getting excited, there is always one track that you need to say “right this is it, this is point A, this is where we should be here and now” and I remember feeling that when Charlie sent me his sketch for The Signal And The Noise. Also there is a track which got its debut a couple of nights ago, and it’s getting unbelievable reaction and that is the last track on the regular album Sense Of Discovery. I feel that track really does have some of those classic Simple Mind hallmarks running through it.

Do you have any thoughts on the next studio album as yet?

Believe it or not tomorrow night, a Saturday night in London, what am I doing, I am demoing stuff for the next studio album (laughter). I am excited about a couple of ideas that I have got and I will be with an engineer who I particularly like working with. He is available tomorrow night so I am just going to go in and push on even though it’s not like the clock is ticking. But if you get them down, and you get some courage, then you can play them to the people around you and it feels great especially if you feel that you have a couple of crackers ready to go for the future.

You mention Abbey Road, does the place inspire you or is it simply a case of the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention whenever you go down there?

That’s a great question and I have got a story which relates directly to that very point that you are making. Back in 1979 we were recording our first album Life In A Day which was produced by a feller called John Leckie who had learned the ropes at Abbey Road. He was a young engineer who had worked on some of The Beatles stuff together with some of the early Pink Floyd recordings and all that great stuff. However, Simple Minds at that time had hardly spent any time in any sort of studio, in fact we had hardly ever been down to London. He, in his wisdom, and it was his wisdom, said to us “look we will scrimp and save a little bit on the budget, we will use lesser studios for the backing tracks but then we will take a week in Abbey Road” and we were all like ‘wow’ (laughter).

We were going to record in Abbey Road, we simply couldn’t believe it. However, when we found ourselves in Abbey Road Studios, the interesting thing was that half the band were totally inspired saying things such as “wow we are really in Abbey Road Studios” and “look there’s the Mellotron that The Beatles used on Strawberry Fields” or “there’s the microphone that Pink Floyd used on Dark Side Of The Moon” all of that kind of thing. Whilst the other half, which surprisingly I was one of, surprising to me at least, kind of shrunk. We were totally overwhelmed. I found myself thinking about the history of this place which I found myself in and simply thought of us as being imposters, it was like ‘what are you doing here in this temple’ (laughter).

I went to work every day that following week and felt like I did at school whenever I went into an exam. As a result of that I never set foot inside Abbey Road again until we recorded this album. When we had the studio time booked and setup at Abbey Road for the latest album we were actually over in Germany touring the acoustic thing, but we made sure that the recording happened on a day off from the tour so that we could fly back and be there. The sound engineers didn’t need us to be there, it was all written, arranged and we knew what was going to be played, but we all wanted to be in there and enjoy it. It’s not every day that you can stand inside the Abbey Road Studios and hear decent musicians playing your music. That really was a treat.

On the special edition of the album you have recorded your version of Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town. I understand that was a special moment of you?

Yes it is, it really is. Very sadly on the acoustic tour, just before we saw you in Nottingham, we played in Liverpool and after the show we got on the bus to head off to Manchester and it was then that we were told that there had been an incident. Of course it was the actions of the terrorist outside the Manchester Arena. The next day it was like ‘is the gig going to go ahead or not’ and all of that. Anyway the gig did go ahead and when we came back to play the encore we wanted to do something for Manchester. The Ewan MacColl song Dirty Old Town of course was in fact written about Manchester. We had only previously played it twice in rehearsals and Sarah Brown who does an amazing job of singing it didn’t even know the song.

Anyway we recorded it that night and we feel that there is something in there, Sarah did such a great job on it that we thought that if there were going to be any bonus tracks on the album then let’s make sure that’s one of them.

The summer tour, will it be a straight up greatest hits tour or will you be incorporating some of the new songs?

I personally think that with this stuff and in particular the reaction that we are getting so far to the three tracks that have already been played on air, plus now that we have started rehearsing, they sound amazing. We are already chomping at the bit to do a good job and in terms of the set we want to tick all of the boxes and give the people a real sense of the journey that we have been on, but we want to let them know where we are right now as well. Having said all of that, no one is going to be going home disappointed; we will find a way of doing a great set. It’s not easy and it is a problem but it is a great problem to have.

I can imagine, especially with you having such an extensive back catalogue too.

Yes we do and as I say, it really is a great problem for us to have.

You are going to be playing three very special shows in February; Glasgow Barrowland, Manchester Albert Hall and The Roundhouse in London.

Yes we are and again, with the new album ready to go and everyone being so positive about it, we just thought ‘let’s go out and play it’. With the three smaller venues together with the hard core of fans who are going to be at those shows, I think that from our point of view that is clearly a statement of intent. Quite a lot of bands of our vintage don’t even write new stuff or record new stuff and if they do….well (laughter). We are going out to try and bring these things alive and who knows, this could very well be the only time that we will do it. As you rightly say, these three shows are going to be very special indeed.

You are going to be performing the new album in its entirety which is to be followed by a Q&A section before you play some of your greatest hits. Are you looking forward to that?

Yes very much, I really am. During the acoustic tour you will have noticed that we did a fair bit of chatting which was a new thing and it went across great, in fact as the tour went on it got extended (laughter). This was in fact all down to Charlie. Basically what happened is that Charlie said to me “with all of this acoustic stuff, with the tunings and all that, I am going to need a bit more time between songs. You will need to keep hold of the audience a bit more” to which I replied “well that’s interesting. I have never done that before but let’s give it a go and see how it goes” and to be honest with you I would have to say that it went great (laughter).

I personally think that it is good to show some sort of humility. When the music all dies and you are standing there, why not just have a bit of a chat and let the people sense who you are. Let them know that you are a person as well outside of all of those daft rock god poses (laughter). We all have lots of stories to tell, even regional. Whatever place we are in that night we will remember the first night that we ever went there, there will be something funny about it or something poignant to say. We will also talk about the new record but we won’t go on and on, but it will be different.

Looking ahead for this year on Saturday 25th August the Grand Slam Tour arrives here in Newark with The Pretenders no less.

Yes indeed and let me just point out to you that the last time that we toured with them I ended up getting married (laughter). I don’t think that will happen this time and we are really looking forward to working with Chrissie (Hynde) once again. What can I say, she is an icon, and she is one of the real greats. Charlie and I saw her recently in Glasgow, and we had a great time. And of course Chrissie and I have kids together, in fact we have grandchildren. But more than that we are huge fans of each other’s work.

And let’s not forget KT Tunstall.

Yes indeed. She toured with us over in Europe on the Acoustic tour and out of our thirty gigs I personally watched every one of her performances. Charlie watched at least twenty-five of them, she really was that good. Between her kicking things off, then Chrissie who is in brilliant form right now, and then we always want to give one hundred percent, I can guarantee anyone who is interested in that kind of thing, they really are in for a great night.

I’m sure that it will be a great night and you will be playing in the shadow of Newark castle.

That is brilliant. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to turn up at arenas and play but with some of them you simply cannot tell the difference between one and the other. Anything that feels different then the backdrop can be the star itself.

On that note Jim, once again let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. Good luck with the tour and I hope to catch you somewhere this year.

It’s always great to talk to you Kevin. I will look out for you and I hope to see you in London and Newark. See you then.