Simple Minds‘ last trip to Yorkshire pitched up at the Spa; Bridlington’s premier entertainment venue accommodating roughly 700 punters.
Barely seven months later the Glaswegians have arrived at Leeds’ slightly more upscale bank-sponsored arena and have sold a healthy 9,000 tickets: based on this evidence we may be at peak heritage gig popularity, or at least it seems this thing may well have legs far beyond any we could’ve possibly imagined.
The crowd tonight is well heeled, well dressed and in some cases well fed, ranging in age from teenagers to their grandparents, testament to a career which has spanned four decades and in the process of which Jim Kerr and his colleagues have shifted more than 10 million ‘Records’.
Unlike some of their contemporaries they’ve also remained creatively active, with both 2009’s ‘Graffiti Soul‘ and 2014’s ‘Big Music‘ very warmly received compared to anything from their wilderness years. This isn’t quite the line-up which took the post new romantic/early celtic grains and rode the train all the way to Live Aid and well beyond. Original bassist Derek Forbes is absent, replaced by the giant Ged Grimes, but with Mel Gaynor pounding the drums as if they’re about to bite him, we’re close enough.
Kerr takes to the stage with a glint in his eye, probably mindful of being written off critically more than a decade ago, but from the beginning it’s clear tonight’s show is about far more than creating a retirement fund. It helps of course that you can start a performance with something as elegiac and timeless as ‘Waterfront‘, Grimes’ thumping 1-2 bass rousing the audience into memories of a less complicated past. Not that much of the material in that early 80s heyday was a fluke; the anthems land like comets, from the rubbery dreams of ‘Glittering Prize‘, through ‘Promised You a Miracle‘s hook laden post-punk to a titanic ‘New Gold Dream‘. Kerr remains a pleasingly diffident frontman, contorting himself tantrically one minute whilst prancing, Nureyev-like the next. The effect is rousing, the atmosphere bordering on euphoric.
Time and a rock star twentieth century personal life may have evidently given Kerr a few sleepless nights, but his elfin foil Charlie Burchill appears bafflingly as he ever did. 56 tonight, this is as much his show as anyone else’s, his guitar flourishes often providing the light and shade, his playing moving through the gears without effort. It’s to the pair’s credit that the set is adroitly balanced (and at over two hours long, unarguably much more than a token gesture), to the extent that the seeds of nostalgia are also tempered by more recent or, if you prefer, less recognised work.
Bravely, there’s also no running from the slings and arrows of their awkward Everyman period; whether you see value in the waxy populism of, for instance, ‘Don’t You Forget About Me‘, ‘Let There Be Love‘ or ‘See The Light‘ is however a debate for another time, whilst an acoustic version of ‘The American‘ works perfectly.
Older and wiser, Kerr has equally learned that having the spotlight on him for so long isn’t always the right choice, hence the presence of the statuesque Catherine Ad, who delivers ‘Rivers Of Ice‘ and Sarah Brown likewise where the soulful heft is needed on ‘Once Upon a Time‘. Neither are peripheral figures, the feeling instead that of seeing an augmented – and contemporary – line-up having been given a natural well advised nip and tuck.
As for the gathered almost masses, the band’s energy at times feels like it could overwhelm their enthusiasm, but they respond accordingly, their la-la-las delivered with middle-aged gusto. The hearts and minds (sic) battle is therefore won well before the climax, an encore that ends with ‘Sanctify Yourself‘ and an arms-round-strangers version of ‘Alive and Kicking‘, during which the boomerang like transformation from Brid Spa Kiss-Me-Quick fodder to de facto here and now Arena VIP’s (again) is invisibly executed.
At the beginning Kerr proudly tells the crowd they’re going to get 100% of their focus. Simple Minds come from an age where this level of commitment was regarded as the barest of minimums, but here in the ‘Modern’ age, what they had proved to be more than enough.