In Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?!, we quiz a grizzled artist on their own career to see how much they can remember – and find out if the booze, loud music and/or tour sweeties has knocked the knowledge out of them. This week: Jim Kerr, frontman of Simple Minds, who are celebrating their fortieth anniversary this year.
1: Name all the stage monikers in your pre-Simple Minds band Johnny & The Self-Abusers.
“I can’t do them all! Obviously I know I was called Pripton Weird. Was there a Charlie Anger? Those names only lasted for one gig – cut me some slack!”
WRONG. You were Pripton Weird, but the rest were: Johnnie Plague (real name John Milarky), Sid Syphilis (Allan McNeill) and Charlie Argue (Charlie Burchill).
“Well Charlie is still fucking arguing so there you go! (Laughs) Those names were given to us by a schoolmate, Bernard Rudden. Johnny & The Self-Abusers was meant as a satire on punk. But it got us playing live and after a couple of months, Charlie and I thought it was going to run out of gas so we knuckled down and came up with something more substantial. That time was like The Young Ones: we stayed in a squat in Patrick in Glasgow and there was always mayhem. Punk’s ethos of liberation set us on a path that previously we didn’t feel existed for people for us.”
2: Which band emulated the typeface of your 1980 ‘Empires and Dance’ record for their third album?
“I have to give credit to my daughters for knowing the answer, because they were big Manic Street Preachers fans. When they found out, I was hip for the remainder of the day!”
CORRECT. The Manics duplicated the cover’s font for 1994’s ‘The Holy Bible’. Frontman James Dean Bradfield used to give away copies of ‘Empires and Dance’ as presents…
“We met them about ten years ago, and the rest of the band were taking the piss out of James, saying to me: ‘He used to come to rehearsals dressed as you and we would piss ourselves laughing and he would leave in a huff.’ James was blushing! He knew more about Simple Minds than we did – all the stuff we’d forgotten about – which was a great compliment.”
3: Which Canadian band did you perform ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ with last year in Glasgow?
“Arcade Fire – I’m a huge fan.”
“They’d been getting stragglers from the ‘80s up on that tour. Part of me thought: are they taking the piss here? But they asked and I was going to the gig anyway. I met them at the soundcheck. As a group, they have a lovely feel but they don’t speak much – maybe they’re shy, so it was bizarre. Normally, when you do something like this, it’s in the encore when the pressure’s off, but they wanted to do it as the sixth song. The stage was in the middle of the Glasgow Hydro, and you had to creep through the crowd and under the stage. Ten minutes before I went on, hearing them above me going down a storm, I had this moment of thinking: what the fuck am I doing here? (Laughs) I’m a fucking aberration! I was in two minds to leg it. But I’m glad I didn’t because it was a great gig.”
‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ topped the US Billboard chart in 1985. What was the most surreal part of that?
“I remember playing Live Aid in Philadelphia with Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Led Zeppelin – it was a great line-up. Waiting to go on, we were confronted by the legendary promoter, Bill Graham – a bull of a man who glowered: ‘You play one minute over and I’ll bust your fucking faces open!’ There was no ‘Hi, how are you?’. We were shocked – and we’re from Glasgow! (Laughs). Anyway, he didn’t tell us that we were being introduced by Jack Nicholson. So for the 15 minutes we were onstage, I spent about 12 of them thinking: ‘Fucking Jack Nicholson!’. (Laughs) It was the only thing going through my head.”
For a bonus half-point, which rapper sampled ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ in 2010?
“Was it Kanye?”
CORRECT-ISH. Close enough – it was the Nicki Minaj ft. Kanye West track ‘Blazin’.
“They didn’t fucking get in touch with us (Laughs). I only heard it when someone called me up and said: have you heard this? It sounded good!”
4: Who hosted the episode of Saturday Night Live that you appeared on in 1985?
“At the time, I was married to Chrissie Hynde – and Madonna was such a fan of Chrissie’s so she had been over to our place in London a few times. She was cool – but [her then husband] Sean Penn was there and I thought he was ten times cooler! There was an issue with the Saturday Night Live soundchecks, and nobody was helping us, and she used her clout to sort it out. When they were filming Shanghai Surprise in London, it was peak Madonna and they weren’t having a great time – they wanted to get out of that showbiz world, so they’d come round to ours and sit in the back garden, with our kids running round.”
5: Complete the following lyric: ‘On churches and steeples..’
“Big City people/I wanna know/Something to hold.”
CORRECT. From your 1989 track ‘This Is Your Land’ which features Lou Reed.
“I haven’t sung that in a long time. It was our producer Trevor Horn’s idea to ask Lou Reed – we never thought he’d accept. At the time, I was secretly dating Lou Reed’s PR and she was telling me nightmare stories about him on a daily basis. So when he agreed to do it, I couldn’t say: ‘The guy’s a monster!’ (Laughs). The rest of the band were finishing the album, so I went to Paris on my own with a tape-op to record. “
“You’d never tell from his physique – but he was fond of the best restaurants. There’s one in Paris – where you needed to be on a nine-month waiting list – that Lou Reed had tried unsuccessfully to book. I knew a guy who managed to get a table for us. So I said to Lou Reed: ‘Look, this is only going to take half an hour then we’re going to head to this place’. He was like: ‘Really?! How did you manage to pull that off?’ (Laughs) And I said: ‘I just told them I was with Lou Reed’. He had the chance to say ‘I tried but I couldn’t get in’, but he was too cool for that!”
“We did the track and he was a real sweetheart. The only problem was afterwards, we went to the restaurant. He was happy as could be but he spoke to me for two hours about fucking amplifiers! (Laughs) It was fucking hard work! How the jack doesn’t work if it’s not in the right – I was like: aggggh, fucking give me a break man! Talk to me about Andy Warhol!”
Simple Minds were named after a lyric from David Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’. Any good memories of him?
“We shared the same agent as Bowie. He was trying to persuade Bowie to tour Italy using a promoter we’d worked with. One day there’s a call to our studio and our tech said: ‘It’s Bowie’. Now our mate used to do the greatest Bowie impersonations and would prank call us – so I said ‘Fuck off!’. It was only when it dawned on me that our tech was the dourest Scotsman you’d ever met and didn’t have a sense of humour that I realised it was the real deal! (Laughs)”
“Bowie said: ‘I’ve been asked to tour Italy but I’m worried the promoter is a mafia guy’. I said: ‘They’re all mafia guys. It’s the only way you can get stuff done there!’. Bowie asked: ‘Did you get paid?’. I said: ‘If you ask him to pay you before you leave the house, he’ll do it!’ – to which he replied: ‘That sounds good to me!’. It was an amazing call, because Bowie was genuinely scared he’d wake up with a horse’s head in his bed. (Laughs)”
6: What is the name of the Oasis track that’s written about your son?
“I think it’s ‘Little James’ – well, so my son and Liam [Gallagher, who wrote it] says.”
CORRECT. Note: It was written for James, the son from Liam Gallagher’s first wife Patsy Kensit’s previous marriage to Jim Kerr.
“I don’t know the track but am I right in saying it’s not one of their best? James adored Liam and he was always the sweetest guy to James, which made me like him a lot – and I still do.”
7: Which indie icon once bitched: ‘That Simple Minds have been taken seriously for the past seven years is quite incredible to me. Jim Kerr is just a plump Scottish git who does awful things like marries these hideous women and still people like him’?
CORRECT. It was Robert Smith.
“Do you have a date?”
It was in 1992…
“Do you have a time? Do you have his address? Do you have the name of the school his kids go to? (Laughs) I’ve never met Robert Smith, but I’m a fan of The Cure. I never took that stuff seriously – he wouldn’t have said that to me if I was in the room! Ian McCulloch was lippy as hell about us, but we got on – to guys from Glasgow and Liverpool, it’s just banter. Pete Wylie was the best! We came out of our first gig in [Liverpool music club] Eric’s and he was stood outside with a harmonica telling us we were shit. And he hadn’t even been inside! We were all the same age and there was probably jealousy if someone’s record was doing better in the charts that week or if their girlfriend wanted to fuck you. Probably the latter one in Robert’s case! Maybe it was Robert that wanted to fuck me! And he was jealous because I was already in a relationship. (Laughs) Now there’s an image you don’t want to think about!”
Er, well… famously, you are well-endowed (Julie Burchill once joked: ‘How does Jim Kerr get his cock to be twelve inches? He folds it in half’)…
“There are so many rumours about me that aren’t true – but that one is! (Laughs)”
8: What chart number did ‘Alive and Kicking’ reach in South Africa?
“(Laughs) Well, we never got to play there because it was the apartheid days and we wouldn’t go. So I don’t know what number, but I know we were popular.”
WRONG. It was 16.
“Oh, not that bloody popular then! (Laughs) Hopefully that was its first week!”
You wrote the track ‘Mandela Day’ for Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute and met him. What was he like?
“He wanted to talk about Scotland – Glasgow had been first to offer Mandela Freedom of the City when the British government were condemning him as a terrorist. He was asking us about fishing in Scotland – as if we’d know anything about that! He also asked if we knew Whitney Houston for some reason. When we said no, he gave us a glint-like look – he was a wily old fox!”
“After the success of ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’, we thought ‘God, we better have something to follow this up’ and thankfully, we had ‘Alive and Kicking’ – which went to a lowly number two on the Billboard charts. So it was an abject failure. (Laughs). It was a huge song in America, and were offered a beyond ridiculous amount of money from a fried chicken company to use it in a TV advert. But they wanted to change the chorus from ‘Alive and Kicking’ to ‘I like fried chicken’. Which was a step too far!”
9: Who did you semi-jokingly threaten to chin at the 2016 Ivor Novello Awards?
CORRECT. For saying ‘In 1988 music was really boring – the [Happy] Mondays changed that’.
“Alan is a great friend of ours, and has given us stick over the years. He once said he liked Simple Minds but preferred us when we thought we were German! Which is a great line. I replied that I preferred him when he thought he was Brian Epstein! Which he still does – even though he’s not. It’s a good job I don’t drink because he would have got chinned that day! But I’m really fond of Alan.”
10: Which Grand Theft Auto V radio station is your 1986 single ‘All The Things She Said’ featured on?
“I know we’re on it, because I remember Liam [Gallagher]’s son Lennon telling me and him being pretty chuffed about it, but I couldn’t tell you.”
WRONG. It’s Los Santos Rock Radio. Where’s the most unusual place you’ve heard your music played?
“On top of the Eiffel Tower – by some buskers. At the Vatican – some choirs were singing us. People send us stuff from YouTube all the time and it’s amazing how music travels.”
The verdict: 7.5/10
“I’ll remember those wrong answers for when you invite me to do this again in 20 years time – should I still be alive!”
Simple Minds’ new album ‘Live In The City of Angels’ is out now. The band release a greatest hits compilation album, ’40: The Best Of – 1979-2019′, on November 1. The UK leg of their ’40 Years Of Hits Tour’ kicks off at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on April 14 2020.