Simple Minds: Will you recognize them after a long time away?
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It’s been an “embarrassingly long time” since Simple Minds have toured North America extensively, says the band’s longtime frontman Jim Kerr. More than a decade, in fact. But when the Scottish synth-pop musicians immortalized in the soundtrack of the ‘80s return to town for a Chicago Theatre show on Oct. 15, they will have fond memories of the origins of one of their biggest singles.
“I always associate Chicago with John Hughes and the movies he made; we were so fortunate and honored to get the chance to be involved in one of them,” says Kerr, of course referencing “The Breakfast Club” in which Simple Minds’ recording of “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” is as much a character in the Chicago-made film as Judd Nelson’s Bender.
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 15
Where: Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State
“The whole reason we got involved was because of meeting John; he was such a genuine guy and so authentic. Because when we were first approached to get involved we weren’t jumping on it immediately. We didn’t like the fact that they weren’t going to take one of our [original] songs,” continues Kerr. “Don’t You” was written by producer Keith Forsey, who had first tried to get Billy Idol and Bryan Ferry to record the new wave dance track before Simple Minds were considered.
“We were young and brattish and were insecure and all that stuff and we weren’t getting it, and then John and Keith came over to the U.K., and we liked the guys more than we liked the song, if you know what I mean. We liked the way they spoke and we trusted them that it would be good for us — and boy were they right.”
The song put Simple Minds on the map in America, gaining them one of the earliest nominations for the burgeoning MTV VMA awards as well as a nomination for the American Music Awards. It remains their only No. 1 hit on the U.S. charts, though there were considerable releases before and since. The 1981 double album “Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings Call” is a hallmark of the band’s established post-punk, art rock sound, heralded by Mojo and The Guardian as one of the best albums of the ‘80s. The 1985 album “Once Upon a Time” was a commercial success, producing their other big hit, “Alive and Kicking” and leading to arena stadium tours.
Still, Simple Minds hit a wall in the ‘90s as heavier, crunchier rock reigned and with the departure of several band members (only Kerr and guitarist-keyboardist Charlie Burchill remain from the original lineup), which left the future of the band in question. Kerr, who divorced Pretenders leader Chrissie Hynde in this era, ended up moving to Sicily, where he opened up his own villa property for travelers.
“It came about in the weirdest way. There was this two-year period in terms of music and ideas where it was like getting blood out of a stone, and I wrongly thought maybe it was coming to an end,” Kerr admits. “I went on a school trip when I was 13 to Italy, and the country got under my skin and became my favorite place to go. And I thought, ‘Well, maybe some day if Simple Minds comes to an end, I know where I’ll go and let life take over.’ In a sense that’s what happened, except that at a certain point the music all came back again and people started asking us to play.”
Kerr says he and Burchill have a vision for the next three to four years, and it started with hitting the grindstone on their latest album, 2018’s “Walk Between Worlds” with eight dynamic tracks that marry Simple Minds’ penchant for slick pop rock with a polished modern veneer. Opening track “Magic” was actually a melody Kerr was working with back when he was making his solo debut “Lostboy!” (2010) with its style traced through descendants like Chvrches and Cut Copy, while “The Signal and the Noise” has a strong reverence for Simple Minds’ own influences like David Bowie and Joy Division.
Some astute followers have drawn comparisons of the cover art, featuring a black and white figure holding a colorfully pixelated orb, as looking like a young Kerr in the aesthetic of the “Sons and Fascination” era.
“It’s not me, but I now realize the photograph they’re talking about that has an uncanny resemblance,” Kerr says, laughing. “Some of the songs, lyrically, are conversations in some abstract of older me talking to the younger me, so there is that kind of dialogue within them, and I guess that would give credence to those theories.”
Part of his advice to the younger Kerr, he says, would be to keep going. “I had to be patient, maybe a little more patient then I would have liked. But the great thing for the band is that we like our story enough to keep wanting to write a new chapter every now and again, and here we get to prove ourselves all over and reward fans that have hung in there with us.”