Walking With Simple Minds: Transcending Time and Worlds

- Charlie Burchill is shuttling across the United States playing shows in cities known for their musical heritage, but when the lead guitarist and founding member of eighties new wave pioneers Simple Minds played for a large crowd at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby October 5, the history was especially significant. In fact, it was quite personal given his love for the iconic work of David Bowie.

“For us it was always a really special album,” Burchill says, referring to Bowie’s landmark 1974 album “David Live” which was recorded at the Tower. Burchill, a Scottish musician known for his own style of guitar sonics interwoven into numerous hits over the years, took on more than musical influences from Ziggy Stardust. The band’s very name comes from one of Bowie’s most famous numbers.

“He’s so simple-minded, he can’t drive his module” Bowie declares in “The Jean Genie.” That inspiration helped transition the band from a more rugged musical terrain they were on during the late 1970s.

“We were looking for a name because we had been a punk band originally and we were looking for a name change and that came up and dropped and I stuck with it.”

What’s not so simple, however, is Burchill and Company’s ever-evolving sound, which today embraces the brightest and most audiovisual elements of European synth pop, with hints of hip hop that might be found in there too, depending on how one’s ear is tuned.

All of that is combined with Burchill’s enchanting and spacey guitar layers, which are inseparable from lead singer and co-founder Jim Kerr’s earthly baritone.

Their latest album, “Walk Between Worlds,” features such prolific tracks like “Magic” and “Sense of Discovery,” where many of the aforementioned dynamics can be heard, and seemingly shows every note has a specific purpose.

“We wanted it to sound contemporary, even we wanted it to sound slightly poppy in areas,” Burchill said in a phone interview from his hotel room in Cleveland, Ohio, a stop on a tour supporting the new album.

“I have a lot of old analog equipment, keyboards that I used and sequences,” he said.

While a sizable portion of the album’s texture would appear to come from keyboard settings, part of the credit actually goes to Burchill’s guitar rig.

“I work a lot with echo units and delay and you know, I used that to try and give atmospheres at times. Sometimes the keyboards are just too dense. It’s too clogged up.”

He says with the guitar, “You can kind of like make it drift in and out and create the same effect as a keyboard.”

That does not mean, however, there isn’t room for some old-fashioned guitar wailing. “Barrowland Star” is a shining example of that on “Walk Between Worlds”, even though it was laid down when George H.W. Bush was in the White House.

“The funny thing is the guitar solo on it is the original one that I did in 1990,” he said. “I thought for a laugh, I’m just going to rock out on this.”

“Jim (Kerr, vocals) said ah that’s amazing! I love that. And, it stuck.”

Of course no article, concert setlist or even a casual mention of Simple Minds is complete without discussing the song that placed the Scotland natives on the map in the U.S. in 1985.

“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” was written by Keith Forsey and, as the story goes, was originally offered to other artists like Billy Idol (who ended up covering it later on). It was, however, Simple Minds who finally decided to record the track for the instant classic film “The Breakfast Club.”

“We’ve gone from being very indifferent about the song to absolutely loving it,” Burchill said.

“When I hear the track on radio now or anywhere I mean it’s a brilliant sounding track. It sounds great. It kicks in and its got a whole style.”

Since the movie’s release, it’s been regarded as one of the best pictures of the decade, and remains an enduring part of popular culture.

“Somehow people just relate to that song and that movie and it can work for every generation.”

It’s safe to say one can expect Simple Minds to play that massive hit towards the end of every show, while belting out selections that encompass their entire 40-year history. Perhaps that is the very definition of walking between worlds.

*Simple Minds’ tour takes them through Milwaukee October 13, followed by Detroit and Chicago. “Walk Between Worlds” was released in February 2018. 
 

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