Jim Kerr interview: 40 years of Simple Minds’ Sparkle In The Rain
By Andy Jones | January 31, 2024
Simple Minds’ frontman Jim Kerr looks back on their bombastic Sparkle In The Rain album
To many Simple Minds fans, 1984’s Sparkle In The Rain album was a marker in the sand. The point when the band truly immersed themselves in their Mk2 incarnation and began their relentless takeover of the world. Not so singer Jim Kerr. “I’ve got one or two beefs with that album,” he tells us. “Let me cut to the chase…”
“I’m very good actually,” says Jim Kerr when we ask him how life is treating him before reflecting on Sparkle In The Rain. “I’m always pretty good. I’m feeling fortunate in life mostly. It’s all good.” And he has every right to feel that way. Simple Minds might be rapidly approaching 50 years in the music business, but they are on top form both live and in the studio. 2024’s world tour is selling out, and their latest releases are wowing their fanbase and critics alike, with 2022’s First You Jump being one of their finest songs in years.
There’s even time to dwell on that past, with a special one-off performance of New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84), the band’s fifth album, recorded at Paisley Abbey in ’22, and now available to buy. But we’re here to talk about Sparkle In The Rain, the follow-up to NGD and surely the Minds’ most bombastic album. A platinum-selling rock monster that stayed in the charts for a year and introduced a new Simple Minds sound to the world, paving the way for global success, Live Aid and all the rest.
On its 40th anniversary, this 1984 recording deserves a re-examination then, so why not ask the man himself for his thoughts on one of his most successful recordings? So we did, but were surprised to hear that, to Jim Kerr, Sparkle… is not quite the glittering prize that the rest of us think it is. “I actually have a couple of beefs with Sparkle In The Rain,” he says.
But before Jim reveals his niggles, how does he feel that it’s coming up to the 40th anniversary of Sparkle In The Rain’s release?
“Probably like most people when you ask them,” he sighs, “in some ways it feels like four years ago, not 40, although that’s not to say my memory is completely vivid. But it’s unfathomable, it really is – I don’t feel that much different from the guy who was making that record.”
That period in the early 1980s was a massively creative one for Simple Minds – and a busy one. It’s only when Jim puts it in context do we realise quite how.
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“When you look at Simple Minds’ first five or six years in existence, we made five albums, and that is quite something,” he laughs. “But you have to also consider that we were touring non-stop too!
“But they were exciting times,” he adds. “We were loving the gigs and loving the way it was all going, but at the same time we were desperate to get to the next stage. There was a great hunger in the band. Not only did Charlie Burchill and Mick MacNeil have songwriting ideas, but so did Derek Forbes. We were always pregnant with the next new thing, and that’s really the story of those first evolving years in Simple Minds.”
SUCCESS BREEDS… PRESSURE
During this period, though, there was an almost relentless cycle of album release followed by tour. The vast number of albums that preceded it certainly helped define Sparkle In The Rain but not, perhaps, in the way you might have thought. Yes, each album from their debut – 1979’s Life In A Day – onwards sees a leap in musicality, ambition and production, but as their success grew so their time constraints grew with it, putting pressure on the next recording. Effectively the more success the band strived for, the less time they would have to achieve it. This would eventually catch up with the band and Kerr thinks it was Sparkle In The Rain that suffered.
“Although I do have lots of fond memories, there are a couple of beefs. As good or as bad as one thinks the record might be, I know that it would have been a lot better with more time. It sounds like I’m making excuses but I’m not. The reason we didn’t have more time is that we were in a bigger league and we were a bigger success. Between New Gold Dream and Sparkle… we probably toured many countries a couple of times, maybe two or three times such was the demand.”
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This touring schedule would effectively mean less time to write songs for the album – a matter of weeks which seems paltry in comparison to the time that bands make records these days.
“It was probably more like three weeks writing before the studio, and the studio was four or five weeks. We also had a couple of breaks in touring when we would try and demo things, and I think we had five or six nearly complete songs before we started to record. Then the rest we were kind of writing as we were recording. Sometimes that works but it’s not ideal.”
THE NEW ROCK
Despite the lack of time, the band did have renewed confidence going into the Sparkle… recording sessions thanks to the success of previous album New Gold Dream, which effectively broke them to many a fan – Promised You A Miracle from the record was their first big charting single.
“There was an excitement and a confidence,” Kerr agrees, “and I think you can hear that in the music as well – there’s a robustness in the sound. It’s a different sound, approach and style than New Gold Dream. With New Gold Dream we were almost trying to write a new type of ‘pop’. And in 1982 we weren’t the only ones trying this. ABC, The Human League, Associates, The Cure and U2 were all trying to do their new version of pop.
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“In Simple Minds’ case, by the time we’d got to Sparkle In The Rain, and as a result of going out and playing in bigger places and having [drummer] Mel Gaynor in the picture, we were trying to make a new rock record. You listen to something like Up On The Catwalk or Waterfront, it’s very much rock dynamics, but it’s not the rock of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin or AC/DC. For us it was, you know, a new kind of rock.
“Mel was a big, big factor because he enabled us and it was an exciting noise,” Kerr continues. “But I think it was also a natural evolution. One of the things about the success of New Gold Dream was that we got our first taste of being asked to play at really big festivals in Holland and Belgium and places like that. Our sound was kind of suited to it but I think seeds started getting sowed, kind of ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had one or two songs that really worked in this sort of a situation?’ By the time we came to Sparkle In The Rain, we’d toured so much that we were really a live band about to make a record.”
TIME TO SPARKLE
It sounds like Jim concurs with what we’ve always thought about the first few Simple Minds albums, that they move from arthouse Simple Minds to stadium Simple Minds in quite distinct steps.
“Yes, they were all stepping stones towards something,” Jim nods. “It’s like you could say that the colossal success with Once Upon A Time, where the whole world was involved with MTV and Live Aid and all that, none of that could have happened without the preceding records. With the first albums you’re trying to come up with your own thing, and you’re getting there, but with New Gold Dream I remember thinking, ‘Well this is Simple Minds now.’” Was there pressure from the record company with Sparkle… to follow up the success of New Gold Dream?
“There was a pressure, there was always a pressure. Everything we had done had grown but there was a nice pressure. Not to take anything away from the marketing and the videos and all of that stuff but Simple Minds’ success really was the live thing. We had grown this organic following and even though we hadn’t had any hits up until New Gold Dream, we were playing venues that bands with hits couldn’t play just on word of mouth. The record company, Virgin, very cleverly said, ‘We’re not going to get involved too much, just keep doing what you’re doing.’”
THE BIG PICTURE
Sparkle In The Rain is such an in-your-face album – especially Side One – that it would be hard to imagine the band not realising they had something special on their hands while recording it.
“Yeah, if you look at the first four or five songs: Catwalk, Book Of Brilliant Things, Speed Your Love To Me, Waterfront… I think they’re all bang on,” Jim confirms. “They’re all so strong but I think that blinded us. I think we thought, ‘We’re done and dusted, that’s just great’ [laughs].
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“People say, ‘Oh, I think the record is complete’, but for the first time ever we used a cover song, Street Hassle [by Lou Reed]. We didn’t have enough songs and although there are a couple of [good] songs on the second side, The Kick Inside Of Me and ‘C’ Moon Cry Like A Baby, they could have benefitted with more writing time.”
But whichever way we, you or Jim looks at it, Sparkle… was a dazzling success.
“Yeah, I mean everywhere we went, apart from America, continued on with increased success – every album had more success and every tour was bigger. Sparkle In The Rain took us into arenas. I think we did nine nights at Hammersmith Odeon whereas with New Gold Dream we’d have liked to have done two. So the momentum certainly didn’t diminish despite what I say [about the album]. The kids bought it, listened to it and thought, ‘That’s my band.’”
How important does Jim think the album is in his catalogue?
“Well here’s the test. We’re going to play our world tour which starts in January and we will still definitely play three or four songs, and arguably I think our best live song is Waterfront so it still holds up very much… it is solid. I think the way I speak is not so much disappointment, it’s regret that we couldn’t have just finished it off in the way we did finish New Gold Dream and Once Upon A Time.”
But circling back, 40 years later, he’s still getting asked about it…
“Yeah, it’s absolutely brilliant – amazing! I was even thinking today that there are two things that are amazing about this. The first is that it is 40 years and then in my opinion – and I think this with a lot of the music released at the time, like a New Order track that I was listening to earlier – that a lot of the music from that time hasn’t dated at all. But with a bit more time… I’d have liked that.”
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