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Simple Minds: the making of New Gold Dream

As the 80s dawned, Simple Minds were in crisis. But, believing that life was without limits, they recorded the album New Gold Dream. And the dream became reality...

"I remember this high-rise block we were staying in,” Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr says of his Glasgow youth, “and I loved staying in it because you could see the whole world from up there. And it seemed to suggest that there was a whole world out there, and stuff to experience, and stuff to get into. And we couldn’t wait. Mentally and physically, your world either ends at the end of your street or it begins there; your mind ends within you, or you’ve got a mind that wanders.”

Everything is possible,’ Kerr went on to sing in Promised You A Miracle, the single which epitomised Simple Minds’ unquenchable optimistic spirit and set them up to jostle with U2 for stadium success. Indeed the landmark 1982 album that song first appeared on, New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84), influenced heavily U2’s The Unforgettable Fire, as well as later bands such as the Manic Street Preachers. Now reissued as a lavish box set, New Gold Dream is the point of equilibrium between the cult synth experimenters Simple Minds were and the stadium rockers they became in 1985 after appearing at the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid and having Don’t You (Forget About Me) on the soundtrack to The Breakfast Club.

But such heights were dauntingly distant as the 80s began. The band’s first Top 30 album, 1979’s Life In A Day, hadn’t been matched commercially by it’s follow-ups on Arista Records: Real To Real Cacophony and Empire And Dance, which, though admired by the rock press for their cinematic, atmospheric strengths, saddled them with a ruinous £140,000 debt, battering morale. It would take a miracle, it seemed, for Kerr and his old friend, guitarist Charlie Burchill, to meet the dreams they’d set out from Glasgow to achieve.

“One of the greatest things that happened to us was to have the madness to believe, Charlie and I, that we could put something together that people would like,” Kerr says today, talking on the phone from Sicily. “Even in [their 1977 punk band] Johnny And The Self-Abusers we turned up for our first gig and people went mental. Charlie and I also had a hitch-hiking trip round Europe when we were seventeen, and the people we met and the things we did gave us a sense that anything is possible, if you get up and make the move.”

“Jim and I didn’t panic at Arista,” Burchill confirms. “And really quickly we managed to get [Virgin Records boss] Richard Branson up to Glasgow to listen to demos, and he signed us to Virgin. I never really had time to dwell on the fact that my drummer had left [Brian McGee was replaced by Kenny Hyslop in 1981] and things were not looking too good. Virgin were much more musical, cooler people. We made a really experimental double album, Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call, and they never flinched.”

Sons And Fascination reached No.11 but its single, The American, stalled outside the Top 40, leaving Simple Minds still without a hit song. But their potential was made clear on a revelatory Australian tour in October 1981, where Love Song hit the Top 10.

“We got our first gold record down there,” Burchill recalls fondly. “They had these big pubs you could play, with thousands of people. They were really hot and sweaty and quite mad. They felt really charged, and we fed off of that.”

For Kerr, “the penny dropped then, and we started thinking: maybe we can be pop stars as well. All that positive backdrop led us to the early writing sessions for New Gold Dream.”

From the archive

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