Simple Minds - Big Music


I’m pretty excited about Monday’s release of a new Simple Minds album, more so than I have been for a long time. From the snippets that I have heard, it’s a definite nod to their earlier style (pre-stadium rock).

Simple Minds were the first band that I saw live, driving over the Pennines in my mum’s old Mini Clubman (we’re talking 1989 here, so it’s a small car rather than the current Giants) with several of my friends to see the concert at Roundhay Park in Leeds, around the time of Streetfighting Years. I can’t remember exactly who I was with, and the photos from the day are in storage too, but I think it may have involved Mike S, Christine M, and possibily Caroline R, Liz M and Nigel McN), but I do remember that it was a long day, but great fun.

Simple Minds are one of the best live acts that you will see, whether it is at a small intimate venue or a stadium. They have an ethos that you’ve paid to be entertained and they make sure that they put on a good show. So much so that when I saw U2 on the Zoo TV tour at exactly the same venue a few years later it was a disappointment and definitely overhyped!

I first found the band through the Once Upon a Time album, which was a loan from our local library (and I eventually bought the Vinyl and a cassette of it from them when they cleared it as surplus stock). Naturally, the vinyl got copied to cassette before that as I loved it, and I probably drove my parents mad singing along (badly) to ‘Ghost Dancing’, ‘Oh, Jungleland’ and ‘All the Things She Said’. I used to play this loud before exams to calm down, something that probably annoyed Jon H and others who shared a house with me.

I very quickly found the older albums recorded in their Arista days, like Life in a Day, Reel to Reel Cacophony and Empires and Dance, and really liked their more synth driven style, but the record that really hit a mark was New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) which includes some of my favourites like ‘Hunter and the Hunted’, ‘Someone, Somewhere, In Summertime’ and ‘The King is White and in the Crowd’. Synth driven slinkiness with a hint of rock.

Sons and Fascination / Sister Feelings Call - packaged as a double album - sat between Empires and Dance and New Gold Dream, and has some fantastic tracks such as ‘Theme for Great Cities’ and ‘Love Song’. They still feel modern and raw.

Sparkle in the Rain, which includes ‘Waterfront’ is the transition record to ‘Once upon a Time’. I have to say that it’s an album I need to be in the right mood for.

Most people who know Simple Minds from their stadium rock era will be thinking of ‘Don’t you (forget about me)’ – as written for the brat pack movie ‘The Breakfast Club’ and not by Kerr/Burchill and friends – and ‘Alive and Kicking’ or even ‘Belfast Child’ or ‘Mandela Day’. The earlier materual will be a bit of a shock but it’s worth a listen.

My first CD was the double disc Live in the City of Light, which is a cracking recording of two nights in concert in Paris during the Once Upon a Time Tour.

Street Fighting Years shifted in style, more openly political, and I overplayed this in Sixth Form. It also marked a shift in perception of the band; they dropped from being ‘cool’ as indie and Madchester were hitting but frankly, I didn’t care. Real Life came out when I was on my year out working before University. I played this a lot in the long haul up from Cheshire to north Cumbria, and I associate it very much with this drive[1]. I think the album is under-rated and it remains a favourite.

The next release was Good News from the Next World, which I mainly remember from the fact that I was in bed for two weeks with chronic Bronchitis at University and my then-girlfriend Sarah went out and bought it for me. It’s very listenable, but not hugely memorable.

I actually missed the fact that Néapolis was being released, stumbling upon it just after I finished University in the Asda in Bromborough. I quite liked it again, but it hasn’t been one I want to go back to. In fact, I started to wonder whether I would bother to buy another album if it came out.

The band then seemed to disappear. I didn’t know at the time, but they had an album prepared - Our Secrets are the Same - but it wasn’t released until the Silver Box collection due to record company politics. I can’t remember how I found them again, but I bought the CD of Cry soon after it came out, and loved the more modern style in it. Caught them touring part of this in Liverpool as well, and Jill & I used ‘New Sunshine Morning’ and ‘One Step Closer’ in the mix for our wedding. In fact, the latter was our first wedded dance.

The next release was Black and White 050505, which again seemed another step back towards form, removing some of my doubts. However, Simple Minds had definitely fallen behind Marillion in my pantheon of favourite bands.

Then, in 2009, Graffiti Soul was released, and was surprisingly playable. ‘Rockets’ was pop-tastic rock, and ’Stars will will Lead the Way’ had a killer guitar riff. As an album, in five years of owning an iPhone, it’s not been off the music stored in iTunes for on-the-go.

There was a greatest hits release last year (Celebrate), along with remasters of the first five albums, but I have to confess that I have ignored these. I may have a listen to X5 (the remasters) to see if the quality from the remix is worth replacing my existing versions, but the thing that excites me is the new album Big Music. The tracks that I’ve heard remind me of the early albums, but more polished.

So, don’t disturb me if you see me with headphones on Monday, because you know what I’ll be listening to.

For the record these are the original formats I bought:
- Life in Day - cassette
- Real to Real Cacophony - cassette
- Celebrate - cassette
- Empires and Dance - cassette
- Sons & Fascination - cassette
- Sister Feelings Call - cassette
- New Gold Dream (81—82-83-84) - Vinyl 45
- Sparkle in the Rain - cassette
- Once Upon a Time - Vinyl 45
- Live in the City of Light - CD
- Street Fighting Years - Vinyl 45
- Real Life - CD
- Good News from the Next World - CD
- Néapolis - CD
- Silver Box (Our Secrets are the Same) - CD
- Cry - CD
- Black and White 050505 - CD
- Graffiti Soul - Digital download
- Big Music - Digital download (subsequently CD)

8 December 2014

Update 27 December 2014
I’m really pleased with Big Music, and I have hardly stopped playing it since I bought it. This doesn’t happen that often…

[1]: Along with New Order’s ‘Substance’ and Depeche Mode’s ‘Violator’.