Sometime during the 1978 Christmas holidays my friend P - He of the disappearing bike (see Hawkwind), and of the irrepressible libido (see Strawbs), phoned me up to invite me to his 20th birthday bash a few weeks later. He was more than a little animated on the ‘phone, proclaiming he had (through a friend of a friend) succeeded in securing “
’s best up and coming new band” (as he put it) to perform at the party. Scotland
I pondered this information for a few moments, rather sceptically. For P was a chap prone to extremes: everything in his life was either "Brilliant!" or "Chronic". Furthermore the name of this group hardly engendered much optimism: Simple Minds – what a silly name to choose, I thought.
Notwithstanding, First Girlfriend (FG) and I took up the invitation, and we made our way through to Edinburgh University’s Pollock Halls of Residence where the great event was to unfold. The room procured for the occasion looked as though it may have doubled for the dining room during in the hours of daylight, and the sole concession to a party was a small barely raised stage for the group – little more than a dais really, and a table groaning under the weight of tins of beer.
It was rather late when the band finally took to the stage – five pasty faced youths who just seemed to magically emerge from out of a cupboard adjacent to the cramped stage. The show was entertaining enough I suppose, but hardly memorable. Here, very clearly were a group of guys who had spend rather a lot of their formative years listening to early Roxy Music albums and Berlin-era Bowie ones – not that there is a whole lot wrong with that, of course.
After a recent trawl through the internet, I am guessing the band would have played songs like Scar, Life in a Day, Murder Story and perhaps Someone – but I have no recollection of any of these. I do recall them performing Chelsea Girl (one of their few tunes back then with anything resembling a catchy hook), Pleasantly Disturbed (with Charlie Burchill sawing away furiously on a violin) and, after briefly disappearing back into their cupboard for the obligatory few minutes, encoring with a not entirely successful cover of White Light, White Heat.
I believe the band hung around for a few beers and to mingle a bit after the gig, but FG and I took off home as soon as the proceedings were over. I remember having had to park (Dad’s) car tight against a kerb and, when attempting to pull away (having placed the car in reverse by mistake), stalling the bloody thing half-a-dozen times. Which FG appeared to think was quite the funniest thing she had seen in years, judging by her reaction each time the car juddered and died.
Having been in at the beginning, so to speak, I sort of casually followed the band’s progress for a while after the gig. I borrowed, rather than bought, the debut album Life in a Day and although it was OK, it was perhaps not quite my cup of tea at that point in my life. I think around this period I was catching up on the King Crimson back catalogue. Simple Minds’ next effort Reel to Reel Cacophony, however, I found utterly unlistenable, and lost interest completely.
Thus it came as quite a surprise when, a few years later the band popped up on Top Of The Pops promising me a miracle! Quite a turnaround. The accompanying album New Gold Dream, although I felt suffered from a rather muggy mix was also surprisingly impressive, and encouraged me to retrospectively seek out the hidden gems on the Sons and Fascination and Empires and Dance albums. And I had to admit The Boys had Done Good.
And yet an odd thing seemed to happen to the band in the mid 1980s, in that they almost overnight seemed to become completely unhip amongst the music press. I first became aware of this change in attitude when an article in the NME referred to vocalist Jim Kerr as “Juan Kerr”. Quite witty, but I could never quite understand what he and Burchill had done to be on the receiving end of this increasing level of opprobrium. Nick Hornby even had a bit of a dig in his novel High Fidelity.
A final insult came with a free CD of Scottish bands, I picked up with the
on Sunday or somesuch, a few years back. Ripping the thing onto my MP3 player, I used the Get Info option to have the track details uploaded automatically. I then noted somebody had taken the time to enter the name of the artist who had recorded Waterfront as "Simply Shite". That sort of dedication to insult required a particularly intense level of hatred, I felt. Scotland