Book Review: Themes for Great Cities: A New History of Simple Minds, by Graeme Thomson


Graeme Thomson PHOTO: Andrew Beveridge

Like their peers and friends U2, Glaswegian rock giants Simple Minds aren’t usually a go-to band for laughs and fun. For all the widescreen ambition of their music and performance, there is a sense of personal modesty around the band, a veil drawn over the tensions and antics that dot mainstream rock biography. Or maybe they’re just nice, normal, straightforward guys.

Themes for Great Cities is really (almost) about music. With this self-styled New History of Simple Minds, author Graeme Thomson is earnest in his aim to “remystify” a band with a reductive reputation for conventional pomp and stadium stomping by focusing on the prolific pre-hit times, specifically spring. from 1979 to Autumn 1982, a period in which Simple Minds produced the six most beloved albums by connoisseurs and commentators.

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Justifiably hailed as “Scottish’s first great modernist band”, Simple Minds were a product of punk but, like Public Image Ltd in London and Magazine in Manchester, quickly expanded their musical horizons, training their eyes and ears on European culture, much of it. presented through teenage trips to Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre.

Themes for Big Cities by Graeme Thomson

The book is most interesting when it traces an origin story, when childhood friends Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill form the ragtag punks Johnny & the Self-Abusers, soon to be reborn as “an art school band without an art school.” . The moment of epiphany is concisely drawn. Kerr listens to Donna Summer’s 12-inch version of I Feel Love at one of his own concerts and declares that “punk is over, we’ve got to get a synth.” Little did he know that the drum machine of Giorgio Moroder’s groundbreaking production was programmed by Steve Forsey, the man who would write Simple Minds’ most recognizable hit Don’t You (Forget About Me).

Elsewhere, Thomson offers a thoughtful and eloquently expressed form of guide for listeners, delving into the track listings of those early albums, from Life In A Day, through the audacious Empires and Dance, to the groundbreaking New Gold Dream. Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie, Manic Street preacher James Dean Bradfield, and Iain Cook of Chvrches all have their favorite and are invited to speak lyrically in the interchapters, with Bradfield in particular penning a lyrical tribute to how Empires and Dance helped him stop worrying and love. pretense (“it was almost like learning a new language”).

In the end, Thomson follows Simple Minds from Glasgow’s Mars Bar to the Milton Keynes Bowl, from their creative peak to their commercial apex when their analysis and appreciation of music is less intense and forensic, and more generally generous. . Perhaps it is better to travel than to arrive.

Themes for Great Cities: A New History of Simple Minds by Graeme Thomson, Constable, £20

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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