- Alistair Braidwood
Not many bands have the run of critically acclaimed works that Simple Minds did in the early 80’s. From their debut release Life in a Day(1979) to the wonderful, in every sense of the word, New Gold Dream in 1982, which was one of the best not just of that year, but of the decade, they made music that seemed to be European in influence rather than Celtic.
This was an incredibly vital time for Scottish music with Orange Juice releasing You Can’t Hide Your Love Away for Ever, Altered Images Pinky Blue and The Associates Sulk in this year, all of which featured in end of year best of lists. The Cocteau Twins had released Garlands, Roddy Frame’s Aztec Camera were just about to release High Land, Hard Rain and The Blue Nile were working on their debut A Walk Across the Rooftops . For me, when you throw in bands like ABC, early Prince, Scritti Politti and Human League, this was a high point of pop music; literate, interesting and arresting. Simple Minds appeared to belong in such company but where others continued to experiment the Minds decided to pump up the volume and bombast. I have a soft spot for 1984’s Sparkle in the Rain, but you can see that was where things started to change. For that record they worked with Steve Lillywhite, who had worked with U2 on the War album and he seemed to increase their sound by turning up the drums and bass, as witnessed on the single, Waterfront.
Their new sound was perfect for the increasing amount of large venues that were appearing at the time, such as the SECC, Manchester Arena and Wembley Arena, as there was no problem reaching those at the back. By Once Upon A Time in 1995 everything had been turned up and backing vocals added making Simple Minds the perfect stadium band just in time for Live Aid. For many lovers of music this event was the worst thing to happen in the 80’s, putting aside all good intentions. Acts who thought their time had come and gone, such as Elton John, Status Quo, Phil Collins and Queen, saw their careers get a huge shot in the arm and the new bands who benefited were the ones whose sound fitted the huge venues. It can be argued that U2’s career took off from their Live Aid performance, although I’m sure they were heading to world domination anyway. Simple Minds performed in Philadelphia on the day, and this reflected their growing status in the US.
I have no real problem with the acts themselves, only personal likes and dislikes (and some political differences), but what Live Aid allowed was for the record companies to see that they didn’t need to put money into new bands who they could not guarantee would be successful. They could repackage their older acts back catalogues for little investment and huge reward. U2 and Simple Minds were already big enough to be deemed worthy of backing, but if both bands had been starting off in 85/86 it is doubtful that they would have been picked up in the post Live Aid music industry. Of course the industry was being short sighted, but that’s no surprise as it seems the rule of much of the music business is to make the money while you can because who knows, or cares, what tomorrow may bring. The positive thing to come out of this was the increased importance of independent labels such as Creation, Rough Trade and Mute, who managed to keep an indie scene going when that term actually meant something. Also, the lack of new live music being made coincided with the rise of club culture, and it was in this scene that the more interesting new music was being made by the end of the 80’s.
By this point Simple Minds couldn’t have been further away from the club scene, but this is where they started. Below is a very odd early video for their 1981 single Love Song, and again this post is being used as an excuse to show it. In the video there is obviously an attempt to portray the band as sort of Clockwork Orange style gang with better shirts, winding up and fighting with people because they can. They don’t really manage to carry of this supposed menace, with Charlie Burchill looking particularly uncomfortable. But I think it’s a great song, and as they tour again it’s to be hoped that this is the period they concentrate on, and that Mandela Day, or covers of Peter Gabriel’s Biko, will be conveniently forgotten.