Simple Minds / Jim Kerr talks to SDE about Sparkle in the Rain

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On the eve of the reissue and super deluxe edition box set of Simple Minds’ 1984 album Sparkle in the Rain, the band’s frontman Jim Kerr talks to SDE about the record.

SuperDeluxeEdition: Let’s go back if we can, to the summer of 1983.  With New Gold Dream, the album before Sparkle in the Rain, you were very much categorised as this new wave, new romantic kind of thing. Was that something that sat comfortably with you, or did you always think ‘this isn’t really what we’re about’.

Jim Kerr: That was a great year for new pop and we were amazed to find ourselves within that, because 18 months, two years prior, with records like, Real to Real… and Empires and Dance, I guess it was much more ‘art rock’. We didn’t really easily see ourselves on Top of the Pops or even magazines like Smash Hits – all that stuff was still to come. It was all about getting an audience – but it was all about trying to get on the cover NME and get a piece done by Paul Morley and people like that, that was such a big deal. But a year and a half later, it wasn’t that wasn’t important any more – it was – but so was this idea that you could be a pop band as well and everyone from The Associates to Echo and the Bunnymen etc. were starting to appear on Top of the Pops and indeed Simple Minds ended up there as well.

We weren’t quite sure what we were, but the live thing had certainly given us something different from some of those new pop bands. The live thing, indeed the international thing, the fact that we not only played live but travelled all over the place playing live, had given us a core identity, that we felt we had, but it seemed we could add to that identity as well.  I think all of that was going on.

SDE: When you were on Top of the Pops and the New Gold Dream album and singles were doing well in the charts, were you worried that if you went down that road too far you might not be able to get back or get distracted from playing live and communicating with an audience.

JK: No, because people like David Bowie and Roxy Music and some of the stuff we had grown up with had managed to do that. The most we ever felt that, was a bit later on from the period we’re about to talk about when we had the number one in America [Don’t You (Forget About Me)] essentially with a much hyped movie theme tune and there was a feeling of ‘oh God, this is great’ but we hadn’t felt we had merited it and we were worried about it being a one hit wonder. We had a couple of months of that feeling then, but not around New Gold Dream. Any worries that we would have had would have been fleeting because we’ve had this core live thing it was much more based on a traditional rock band. A rock band in the sense that you turned up and you play, and people jump up and down and go mental.

SDE: When you were touring that New Gold Dream album did you feel any limitations in terms of performing that material live because of the subtleties and the studio layers and the texturing?

JK: Yeah we did. We always enjoyed the challenge of playing live but it could be very, very frustrating because from one gig to the next, you didn’t really know what you were going to get in terms of sound, even soundcheck, quality of PA, it was all very much making it up as we went along which meant that you could have two great gigs and then two terrible sounding gigs, which was very depressing. Also we were very hard working and very disciplined and rehearsing and stuff but by the time we got on the road it would only take somebody to go missing for a couple of hours before the gig and go on stage blaring, and there wasn’t quite the discipline then.  But compared to now because of technology and because of experience and because of all manner of things, the gigs are a lot more consistent in terms of putting across the sound, as it should be.

SDE: Regarding that summer of 1983, there is always a lot of talk about Simple Minds and U2 and you shared a few festivals around that period. In terms of who influenced whom, do you think you both influenced each other as much as them influencing Simple Minds?

JK: The first time I saw them play it was at a two-day festival in Belgium.  The first day they had been on stage before us and everyone had said to me ‘they’re the greatest thing since sliced bread’ and all that stuff.  I got the chance to see them and they were very good but they weren’t the greatest thing since sliced bread. We went on after them and had one of these gigs of our life, so you were feeling hot to trot. However, the next day when I saw them, when we went on before them they were on another planet, they were just so good.  What had happened was that they had just got off the plane on the first day and they were lacking the energy I was expecting, but anyway, they had a great sense of entitlement, they were really going to go for it, they weren’t caring what anyone was saying and they didn’t care what NME thought, they were there and they had played in America and they had had their first gold disc and they were adamant that they were going to be the biggest band in the world.

Their whole attack was really, really impressive and how they were reaching out to the audience and that was really impressive.  So when anything is impressive I think it influences you to a degree, you know, a light goes on in your head.  There was a great independence to them.

The second part of your question I think is answered by a book that was put out by them about two or three years ago about the sessions for The Unforgettable Fire where both Daniel Lanois and Eno talk about meeting Bono and Edge for the first time, and they both separately say that they were mentioning New Gold Dream and they wanted to do this textural thing and blah de blah.  I think that answers your question.   

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SDE: So at what point when did you start thinking about the next record? When did you start thinking about writing new material and when did you eventually get into the studio?

JK: Well the only frustrating thing going on in that post New Gold Dream period was that as much as we liked playing live, we weren’t having the chance to get in [to the studio] and be creative and pick things up where we had left off. There was a window in February/March 1983 and we went, of all places, to a place in Lincoln – a rehearsal studio complex that was set up by a guy called Bram Tchaikovsky who used to be in a band called The Motors.

So we were there for about two weeks. There are demos from them on YouTube – it doesn’t say they are from there but I know they are from there – of three or four tracks, so three of four tracks that ended up on Sparkle in the Rain.  So that was the first time that we got to writing and I guess we were laying the foundations.

What I also remember about that which was pretty interesting because Sparkle in the Rain could have been an entirely different sounding record.  We wanted to work with this guy called Alex Sadkin. He came up with Simon Draper from Virgin and they had a first hearing of where we were and it was all very positive. He wasn’t available at the time which then obviously led to [Steve] Lillywhite but I was thinking of how that would have been such a different record, and it’s a funny thing I can’t really imagine Sparkle in the Rain produced by Alex Sadkin, but I can imagine New Gold Dream produced by Alex Sadkin

SDE: What tracks would you have been playing him early versions of?

JK: Well they wouldn’t have been ready, but we would have been working on them, or the melodies of Speed your Love and Book of Brilliant Things, and I think ‘C’ Moon. I used to record everything with just the ambient mic in my ghetto blaster and I preferred the sound of that to the sound of the records.  So it was quite good listening to it today as scrappiest and amateurish as it sounds, it was very evocative.

SDE: Presumably, you had no intention of making New Gold Dream part 2?

JK: Never. It was never a question. We’ve always moved on. There are always new sets of influences or desires or we get bored very quickly. We always think of the Steve Lillywhite factor when it comes to Sparkle but I think the real factor – because it is a departure – the real thing was [drummer] Mel Gaynor and it was really Steve that pumped that up. I think the whole record should be about the excitement from having Mel integrated.  Although he played on New Gold Dream he wasn’t integrated.

The success of New Gold Dream had taken us into the big festivals. We never ever sat down and had planning meetings or anything like that, but I think it was just a collective subconscious of how things should be and how things could work better or what we might need and going into those bigger places, I am sure we noticed how the different fire power that we had from Mel really suited. 

SDE: There must have been a really positive mood.  You must have felt you were on an upward path to very something good.

 JK: There was a sense of joy and ambition and I think we felt we were going to get a crack at bigger things and I felt we were going to get a career – that’s a better way of putting it.  Because up until then we really didn’t know, we really didn’t know, and the band was always in debt and then suddenly it was adding up financially as well.

SDE: The Alex Sadkin thing didn’t work out, so whose idea was it to bring Steve Lillywhite on board?

JK: Probably mine. I don’t think I owned any of the records he had made, but it had come to us that we were working within a rock band framework and he was this ‘go to’ guy for that.  He had done U2 of course, Big Country and the Peter Gabriel record and we loved that, but when everyone else was messing about with Linn drums in that period and really doing the ‘shiny top’, Steve seemed like one of the few guys left who actually knew how to record the band and that was a big deal.  Actually, the biggest selling point was meeting Steve because he has a fantastic personality. I don’t know what age Steve was when we met him [he was 28] but he had done so much and yet he was very boyish and super-energetic; he made you feel that there was going to be no problem.

SDE: Was there ever any question that you make another album with Peter Walsh?

JK: Outside of the first few records when we worked with John Leckie, we never worked with anyone consecutively.

SDE: Why is that, do you think?

JK: What I will say first of all, we have enjoyed everyone who we have worked with.  We like producers, we like what people bring to the party.  A lot of the bands used to meet and they would say producers get in the way or they ruined this or they ruined that. We didn’t feel like that, we loved the experience that they brought and it was also great to have someone you could, at the end of the day, leave it to them.  “It’s your problem you’ve got to sort it.”  That felt great, but I also think we got the best out of everyone on our albums.  I guess maybe we felt that we got the best out of them so why go back again.

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SDE: When you started working with Steve, did the song writing process change at all, because of Steve’s influence or was it fairly much as it had been before?

JK: I can’t really remember Steve being involved in the song writing. For instance, the record for Jimmy Iovine [Once Upon A Time], he was all over us before we got anywhere near the studio.  Americans were much more about the song whereas none of the UK guys we had worked with… we would play them demos and they would go, ‘that sounds good, that sounds good, let’s do it’. You would cross the ‘T’s and dot the ‘I’s but there was not much involvement from any of those guys, Peter Walsh, Steve. I wish there was, because certainly from the experience of Iovine, it’s always good if you have someone saying, ‘do you really think that’s finished?’ Sometimes the first thing is the best thing, but I think with the benefit of hindsight the record does suffer on the second side – it got patchy because if we had kept up the quality of the first side I think it would have been really something but putting in a Lou Reed cover [Street Hassle] and having that instrumental [Shake Off the Ghosts] showed another month or so of song writing might not have gone amiss.

SDE: So if you could change something about that record you would probably make some tweaks to side two then?

JK: Well there were two things I would have done. I would have pushed on more with the song writing and advanced some more songs and therefore not included the Lou Reed cover.  That should have been a bonus track or something on a B side. The other thing I would have done, and as much as I really cherish Steve’s bombastic production, the fact that it features on every single song is a little bit too one-dimensional over the whole album.  They are a couple of things that looking back now I would have adjusted.

SDE: Did the more direct sound, and as you say the more bombastic production, did that translate into less overdubbing and therefore less tedium in the studio?

JK: Well the nature of it would have, yes, but I don’t think there was tedium in the studio.  The band also could pretty much play it live and it all had to be done in four, five, six weeks so it wasn’t like months and months of stuff.

SDE: Did you have an A & R man at Virgin Records who was coming in and saying “I don’t hear a hit, boys”?  How did the relationship with the record company work, while you were recording the album?

JK: That is a good question because what happened with Sons and Fascination, which was our first Virgin album, we had done demos of tracks like The American and Love Song and Sweat in Bullet so they knew what they were getting and were liking it. When it came to New Gold Dream we had done Promised You a Miracle in a John Peel session prior to the album and everyone said, ‘that sounds like a hit’.  There wasn’t anything like that with Sparkle.  The only thing we had done in advance, I think we had gone over to play in Dublin as part of U2’s Homecoming gig and we were rehearsing in London for a couple days just above a shop and Derek Forbes had come up with this idea – it still was an idea, it wasn’t even a finished song, but within an hour we had come up with Waterfront and had a verse and it had such a great, great feeling about it and we said, ‘let’s just play it – let’s start with it’.

And indeed we did and although it wasn’t recorded, word had got out certainly within Virgin, and I guess from Bruce Finley – who was not only a great manager but a great publicist for the band. There was a feeling that that was up our sleeve and as I said, Simon Draper had been up with Alex Sadkin and heard some of the early stuff with hooks and things. There was an element of, you know what, Simple Minds are on their way  and they know what they’re doing. They’re working with Steve Lillywhite and that would have led to an element of trust.

SDE: The album went to number one in the UK when it eventually came out.  How much satisfaction did you get from that commercial success?

JK: There would definitely have been something of course, there would have been something but I don’t remember there being any pressure of it being number one or anything like that. I think maybe overshadowing that was the fact that around the same time as the recording come out they had put on tickets for shows and we had sold out like ten nights at the Hammersmith Odeon which was unbelievable back then, almost unheard of.  That was probably, again, being a live band, that was probably much more tangible to us in a sense, tangible as being like ‘wow, this is really something’.

Jim Kerr was talking to Paul Sinclair. READ Part 2 here.

“… Boys from a council estate, multimillionaires having a ball and doing exactly what we wanted to do but having to put up with a hectic schedule – give me a break!”.
Read part two of this interview only on SDE next week.

Sparkle in the Rain super deluxe edition box set is released next week.


5-disc super deluxe box set


Deluxe Edition


Blu-ray audio


Vinyl Edition

Track listing

Disc: 1

1. Up On The Catwalk
2. Book Of Brilliant Things
3. Speed Your Love To Me
4. Waterfront
5. East At Easter
6. Street Hassle
7. White Hot Day
8. “C” Moon Cry Like A Baby
9. The Kick Inside Of Me
10. Shake Off The Ghosts

Disc: 2

1. Waterfront (Edit)
2. Hunter And The Hunted (Live B – Side)
3. Waterfront (Extended Remix)
4. Speed Your Love To Me (Edit)
5. Bass Line (B – Side)
6. Speed Your Love To Me (Extended)
7. Up On The Catwalk (Edit)
8. A Brass Band in Africa (B – Side)
9. Up On The Catwalk (Extended)
10. A Brass Band in Africa Chimes (B – Side)
11. Waterfront (Single Version)

Disc: 3

1. Shake Off The Ghosts [Intro] (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)
2. Waterfront (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)
3. Up On The Catwalk (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)
4. The Book Of Brilliant Things (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)
5. Glittering Prize (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)
6. The American (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)
7. King Is White And In The Crowd (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)
8. Speed Your Love To Me (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)
9. Someone Somewhere In Summertime (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)

Disc: 4

1. Promised You A Miracle (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)
2. Big Sleep (LIVE – Barrowlands Glasgow 1984)
3. New Gold Dream (81,82,83,84) [Live] – Take Me To The River [Live]
4. Love Song [Live] – Glory [Live] (LIVE
5. Waterfront (Radio One Session)
6. Kick Inside (Radio One Session)
7. New Gold Dream (Radio One Session)

Disc 5

  • • Sparkle in the Rain 5.1 Surround Mix
  • • Sparkle in the Rain New Stereo Mix
  • • Waterfront (Promo Video)
  • • Speed Your Love To Me (Promo Video)
  • • Up On The Catwalk (Promo Video)
  • • Waterfront (TOTP)
  • • Speed Your Love (Oxford Road Show)
  • • Up On The Catwalk (Oxford Road Show)

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