From the moment Simple Minds announced they would be embarking on a short European tour to promote their new Walk Between Worlds album in February 2018, I instinctively knew I had to see them at Amsterdam’s legendary Paradiso venue. Somehow, dates in the UK did not appeal as I have always considered Simple Minds to be a band that transcended continents, languages and cultures especially within Central Europe. As I have previously written, this personal perception has its roots in the Empires & Dance album and, in particular, the track, I Travel, released in 1980 when I was just fifteen. I am utterly convinced that my love of visiting Berlin, Prague & Budapest et al originates from Jim Kerr’s lyrics which seem even more relevant now than then;
Europe has a language problem
Talk, talk, talk, talk, talking on
In central Europe
Men are marching
Marching on and marching on
Love songs playing in the restaurants
Airport playing Brian Eno…
And the Paradiso too has a special place in my heart, as it was where The Sisters of Mercy played one of their most infamous and most heavily bootlegged gigs in 1983 on account of a speed-fuelled performance including an encore of Sister Ray, Louie Louise & Ghostrider sequenced into one blistering twelve-minute assault on the senses. Allied to a desperate desire to have a break from a Brexit-obsessed Britain still seemingly hell-bent on dragging itself back into some mythical colonial past, it was with a sense of wide-eyed optimism that I climbed aboard a KLM hour long flight to the ‘Dam with ‘Walk Between Worlds’ playing through my AirPods.
After a couple of days ambling along the canals, taking in a couple of exhibitions and finding myself in a live sex show in an unedifying state in the early hours of Sunday morning, the day of the gig arrived and my feeling of excitement was palpable. Paul & I had checked out the venue earlier and watched the crew unloading the huge amount of kit that Simple Minds require to play live these days. The silent tour bus was parked adjacent as the band were no doubt still asleep having played in Brussels the previous evening; as I well remember, touring is not as glamorous as many might think and you are lucky to experience even the briefest snapshot of the various cities you wake up in.
The ambience of the nearby Hard Rock Bar adorned with an impressive collection of memorabilia (including guitars from Black Sabbath & Anthrax), just about softened the blow of the extortionate drinks bill, as did meeting five forty-something guys from Manchester who had seen every gig on the tour. They assured me that these gigs were something very special, but would not divulge the set-list for which, in hindsight, I am truly grateful. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that Simple Minds would perform the new album in full, plus a collection of songs clearly chosen explicitly for die-hard connoisseurs.
Upon entering the Paradiso, I ticked off another line of my bucket list and marvelled at the stunning interior dominated by three stain-glassed windows illuminated by phosphorescent light. A former church dating back to the nineteenth century, the Paradiso is synonymous with the cities hippie counterculture of the sixties and remains a symbol of independence and creativity to this day. Two balconies adorned with intricate balustrades supported by majestic pillars overlook the stage creating both a symmetrical and intimate space with a capacity of 1500. Needles to say, the event is a sell out and the air is thick with chatter in a myriad of tongues.
Following a brief introduction from Billy Sloan who actually attended the very first Minds’ gig over forty years ago, the newly-assembled seven-piece band take to the stage igniting a spontaneous and euphoric reaction before launching into I Travel. The choice of opener is not lost on anyone and the crowd sing every word in unison with a visibly emotional Jim Kerr. The bands’ sound has a new dimension courtesy of Sarah Brown’s vocals and the addition of Catherine Anne Davies on keyboards, but it is Cherisse Osei’s drumming which catches the eye; I have never seen anyone hit the skins with such ferocity whilst her beaming Hollywood smile crystallizes the thrill of the moment felt by us all. The homage to provenance continues with Celebrate and a spellbinding rendition of Love Song that brings tears to my eyes as I remember my timid teenage self listening to the Sons & Fascination album through headphones led on my bed in an unhappy eighties Warminster household; the memories flood back as an evocative Earth That You Walk Upon intensifies my mid-gig state of poignant reflection.
Unusually, the band then took a breather as Jim & Charlie Burchill are interviewed on stage before playing the new album in full. Undoubted highlights include Barrowland Star and Sense of Discovery, but every track was performed with panache. When interviewed, Kerr admitted that the band was in need of change some years ago and this fresh line-up has clearly gelled as a unit and revel in performing the new material. Charlie’s intricate guitar benefits from Gordy Gourdie’s acoustic depth, whilst Ged Grimes continues the bands history of superb bassists.
Another brief chat leads into the finale of the show with a thunderous Waterfront and elegant Someone, Somewhere in Summertime; The American takes the atmosphere to a whole new level as Kerr leaves the crowd to sing the chorus alone. I take a second to absorb what’s going on around me and catch glimpses of the joyous faces on the balconies caught in shards of flickering white light; the guys from Manchester are dancing just a few feet away as if in ecstasy and hollering every lyric; a woman standing behind me slaps me on the back as the synth intro to New Gold Dream screams from the PA and grown men even older than me are jumping up and down waving their arms almost uncontrollably in the air. The band are on full power and feeling the vibe; Catherine & Cherisse are laughing with Gourdie; Charlie & Jed swap places as Kerr, drenched in “sweat that glistens”, orchestrates the mass sing-along and shakes hands with the front row. Populist encores of Sanctify Yourself, Alive & Kicking, Dirty Old Town and Don’t You Forget About Me are blasted out with pure abandon as the bands adrenalin goes into overdrive.
Splintered drumsticks and plectrums are thrown into the crowd as the band take a bow and soak up the applause; no-one leaves until the house lights come up and I watch total strangers hug each other and shake hands eager to share the spirit of an amazing night with those privileged enough to be present. You Tube videos will ensure the gig will adopt legendary status in future years, but nothing will ever convey the passion, interaction and emotion of the audience or the exhilarating performance by a band that has rediscovered it’s purpose, it’s essence and it’s inherent DNA. Best gig ever, simple.