Simple Minds' Jim Kerr: 'Those Glasgow clubs were rough. If they didn't like you – they let you know'

Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill of Simple Minds.
Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill of Simple Minds.

As Scottish legends Simple Minds head out on tour, lead singer Jim Kerr talks about surviving the '80s, his biggest hits and his relationship with ex-wife Chrissie Hynde.

Jim Kerr is reflecting on his time in Simple Minds.

"We had no idea the road this thing was going to take," he says. "We had no idea if it would last more than 40 weeks, never mind 40 years. We knew nothing."

The exuberant, chatty frontman has cause to look back.

The band he formed with childhood friend, guitarist Charlie Burchill, is finally setting off on a greatest hits tour – a little later than expected due to Covid-19 – and has a new single out marking the anniversary of its first gig – at Glasgow's Satellite City on January 17 1978.

The best known Simple Minds songs – for example, the classy, radio-ready hits Don't You (Forget About Me) and Alive and Kicking – sound miles away from the band's rough and tumble origins on the Glaswegian pub and club circuit in the late '70s.

The group's new song, the post-punkish Act of Love, reimagines the track they used to open their sets with but was forgotten as the band looked towards its debut album.

"We thought it was really good and all that because you had to really make an impression – you had no reputation," explains Kerr.

"People were there and the song, if they didn't like it, they would soon let us know. And you may not get to finish the rest of the set because it was rough, some of the places."

Since those early days, Simple Minds have sold some 60 million records and scored five number one albums in the UK.

The band has featured an ever-changing roll call of members, though Kerr and Burchill have maintained its core.

"The first impression was gratitude," says Kerr, when asked how he feels about the last four decades.

"How lucky... How many people get to live their dream? We're so fortunate to have this passion to begin with.

"A lot of people, they either can't decide what their passion is or they never really find a passion – or they do find it but somehow they don't get to make a life out of it. And we feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity that we've had.

"We also worked really, really hard. We also sacrificed a lot. At the end of the day, if you can make your life out of something that otherwise you would have done for free... What a gift."

Asked about the tales of debauchery often told about the '80s, Kerr defaults to humour. "I don't know," he protests. "I was always a good boy. I was a cub scout."

Did he struggle with the fame? "No, that's what we wanted. We wanted to go on the road. We wanted to go and play live.

"That was the culture. It was those clubs. Some of them were rough around the edges. It's the best job in the world."

Nowadays, Kerr, 62, is more likely to be spotted in the Sicilian hilltop town of Taormina, where he has spent much of the past two decades and owns a boutique hotel.

He has two adult children – Yasmin, from his marriage to Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders; and James, from his marriage to actress and model Patsy Kensit.

He recently toured with Hynde – some 30 years after their divorce.

"I'm such a fan," he offers. "Before I met Chrissie I was a fan and I'm every bit as much a fan now. I think she's one of the real greats. Obviously, in my case, I also know her as being a great mother and a unique character.

"We don't know anyone who doesn't like Chrissie. A lot of people find her intimidating. I find her a pussycat."

The immense influence of Simple Minds (the most commercially successful Scottish band of the 1980s) might go to one's head.

But if that was ever the case during the group's heyday, Kerr is now more tranquil.

Asked about the key to lasting success, he says: "There's a million factors. I always say luck and then well-meaning people around me will say, 'It's not just luck – you work hard.' But it is luck. Well, at least luck is a huge thing.

"This thing we do, it's not for everyone. You have got to be born the type. Because I've met a lot of people in music who don't like being on tour, who don't like being away from home, or they don't like being in public."

He also credits the influence of Burchill, a friend since the age of eight.

"If we hadn't been in the same class together, hadn't met, I would be driving a taxi," he admits.

Fans will be pleased to hear a new album is on the way.

The band took part in recording sessions in Hamburg throughout 2020 and 2021 but the finished product is being held until its anniversary tour is wrapped.

"The last two or three records, certainly our fans – and critics as well – have billed them as a return to form. I agree with them, but then I would say that," Kerr says.

"But this one will be the culmination of all of that. The last three years, we have been laying the tracks for what I think will be by far superior. But again, you can be the judge of that."

At the heart of Simple Minds is the relationship between Kerr and Burchill – two rock and roll survivors who have never allowed their friendship to sour or turn purely professional.

Kerr is candid about their closeness.

"I have been saying a lot how lucky we feel. But I also feel lucky because who else gets a chance to hang out with their best pal every day? Not every day, but almost every day!

"That's the way it has worked out for us. It's been a remarkable thing, the friendship and what has come from it."

However, things are not always smooth sailing. "People sometimes ask, 'Do you never fight?' The answer is: we fight all the f***ing time.

"Actually, that's not true. The answer is we have one humongous fight every year – and they're colossal disputes.

"And the good thing about that is that the fights never come out of envy or jealousy or power struggles or all that stuff that is classically associated with bands, especially young bands – males all jockeying for position and all that. None of that.

"Our fights come out of the very rare occasion when we're working on something and we're just not on the same page.

"We will get frustrated at our inability on that point to explain to each other. One of us will unfortunately come up with poorly chosen words and that sets the other one off. The flood tides are opened.

"But the great thing is that by that evening it's over and forgotten. And there's never any resentment so we're really, really lucky about that."

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Simple Minds begin their 40 Years of Hits tour on March 31 at the SSE Arena Wembley and play P&J Live, Aberdeen, on April 5; and OVO Hydro, Glasgow, on April 6