In Music

Simple Minds formed in Glasgow in 1977. Founders Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill never left. (PHOTO: Dean Chalkley)

Simple Minds' Charlie Burchill previews Saturday's Pabst show

If anyone can remember the last time Simple Minds played in Milwaukee, please let me know, because I certainly can't. They played MECCA in 1984, and the Oriental Theatre in 1985, but after that, who knows?

The Scottish New Wave band that charted huge hits in the '80s like "Don't You (Forget About Me)," "Alive and Kicking" and "Sanctify Yourself" actually never stopped making music, even though most of its tours have centered around Europe.

That changes Saturday, however, when Simple Minds visits the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee. The band is touring in support of its 2018 album, "Walk Between Worlds," but rest assured, the group will play plenty of old stuff, too.

We caught up with original member Charlie Burchill, who plays guitar for the band, along with keyboards and violin, for a preview. He says he's very happy to be back in the States for this tour, which he admits is long overdue.

OnMilwaukee: I did some digging, and I can't find the last time you played here. Will this be a special experience for fans of Simple Minds?

Charlie Burchill: You know, it's just been too long. I mean we never thought we would get this tour. We thought it had maybe passed us by. But it's really terrible that we haven't been here extensively. I mean, we played five years ago in the States but we didn't really do an extensive tour. This one really surprised us when it came up, and so far the shows have been fantastic, so it's great.

What I'm finding is that people are really, really, really happy that we came back. They feel a bit like we just disappeared or something. The amazing thing is that we've such a hardcore following who know a lot of the earlier stuff as well as the hits that we have. I have a feeling it's just kind of a relief for a lot of people that they're getting a chance to see our music live again.

I was listening to your new record, "Walk Between Worlds" and, well, it sounds like a Simple Minds album. People need to remember that you guys have not stopped making music, right?

A lot of bands from our generation, they've stopped for a while and then came back again, and we've never been like that. We've always been working, and we're definitely not a heritage act. We're still making records, and we're going to continue to do that despite the music industry having changed. We've always thought this is what we do with our lives and that's it. It's gonna be that way for as long as we can physically possibly do it.

I told my 10-year-old daughter I was going to see you on Saturday and she's said, "Who are Simple Minds?" So I played her some songs and she's said, "Oh yeah, I know that from First Wave Radio." I was a teenager in the '80s, but now, our kids are listening to this stuff. What's that like?

My children did that one time. We came to the States for a holiday, and we went to Universal Studios. Up till then they didn't know anything about the band. They were the same age, 10 and 12, and they saw "The Breakfast Club." "Don't You" came on, and they were like, "Is that you?"

Growing up, you couldn't like the music that your parents liked, but nowadays that's possible. We get a lot of young kids at the gigs. They're probably dragged there, but there's a lot of them really that know all the words to the songs, it's ridiculous.

I need to hear the real story about this. I read that "Don't You (Forget About Me)" was supposed to be performed by Billy Idol or Bryan Ferry but then you guys reluctantly recorded it and it turned out to be your biggest single. Is that true?

What happened was the label wanted us to do this song. Keith (Forsey) had written it with us in mind. We felt it was like a Simple Minds track when we heard the demo. But the thing was that we were in the process of finishing off writing the next album that we were doing, and we had some success in Europe. The last thing we wanted to do was do somebody else's song. Plus, we were thinking, well, we're young and we think, "We've got loads of great songs." We'd just written "Alive and Kicking" and all that.

Anyway, we didn't do it for three years, and the label kept on coming back and back and in the interim. I don't think they offered it to anybody because there was talk about Bryan Ferry and Billy Idol. Keith Forsey produced Billy Idol; that's where I think that connection got made. But finally, we said, "OK, we'll do this thing," and we did it. We loved Keith, and that's primarily why we did it, as well. So, we'll do this, the label will be happy, and then we can get on with our record. And it took us about three or four hours to record it, and it just became this monster hit, and we thought, we've got to follow that up now. We thought, what happens now if we bring out a single and it dies? It's like, we can't write our own hits?

You guys started in the punk era, playing with bands like Generation X, and then you were arena band doing huge shows. Now you're playing these beautiful venues like the Pabst Theater. On a personal level, has your career felt like bit of a rollercoaster?

Oh yeah, it really has. I mean, the thing is, we never really expected it to last this long. Most of us begin and then get a bit of success, especially way back in the '80s. At the end of every decade back then it was usually the old stuff had to go, and the new stuff came through.

That kind of happened in the '90s. There was grunge, there was Britpop, there was all sorts of stuff came up, but we just kept digging away, just making more music. We just always thought, with everything that we do, we need to try and make sure it's got a certain quality to it. Eventually, I think we suddenly realized that we were 40 years in, and it's as surprising to us as it would be to quite a lot of people when they hear that, really.

I remember being in seventh grade at a school dance. I opened up the door to the gym and "Alive and Kicking" was playing. It my own personal John Hughes movie at the time. There's something about your music that takes people back to a memory or a specific time. Have you heard people tell you that before?

Yeah, we get that a lot. There's some kind of resonance that a lot of people find. We're doing some meets-and-greets on this tour and nearly every single day there's about four or five people say, "That's the song of my life," "That's where we met," "That reminds me of something." It's a great thing to think that we're part of people's lives in such a deep way.


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