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Jim Kerr from Simple Minds on the band’s 1989 hit Belfast Child and their gig here next week


Charlie Burchill and Jim Kerr first met as children in Glasgow, Credit: Dean Chalkley

Charlie Burchill and Jim Kerr first met as children in Glasgow, Credit: Dean Chalkley

Charlie Burchill and Jim Kerr first met as children in Glasgow, Credit: Dean Chalkley

We had assumed that Simple Minds were always going to play Belfast Child at Custom House Square next Tuesday. After all, the city was name-checked in their first number one release and it led to the 1989 comeback that revived the band’s career.

Belfast even gifted Simple Minds with a video location by the shipyard. And of course, our unresolved conflict was the theme of the record. But strangely, Belfast Child was almost left off the setlist for the band’s tour.

“It’s funny, but for the longest time, we didn’t play it,” says Jim, on the phone from southern France. “We just felt that the song had its time, that the world had moved on and certainly, the situation in Belfast had moved on to a great degree, thank God.”

Jim had become weary of the style of the song and the way it shifted from a folk melody into a huge crescendo of drums and sentiment. He sighs: “It’s a bit prog-rock. I felt, I can’t quite relate to the song any more.”

But there has been a rethink. Belfast Child has returned to the band’s repertoire, a feature of their 40 Years of Hits tour. Jim has an explanation.

“We didn’t sing it for the longest time, which seems churlish. But then you look around the events of the world, especially this year. Sure, things in Belfast have moved on but if you want to talk about the horrors of war, it’s as prevalent now as ever.

“Emotionally, if not geographically, the song has found a kind of meaning again. For a lot of people, it’s become a highlight of the set, so we are playing it.”

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The song was written around November 1987, just after the Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen. The band’s producer at the time was Trevor Horn.

He had visited him at their studio in Loch Earn and suggested that they might think of adding a folk element to their stadium-rousing sound. Jim thought this was a terrible idea.

But after dinner one evening, John Giblin from the band started playing a beautiful melody on the keyboard. The singer was captivated and supposed it was a new piece. He asked John when he had written it.

“About 200 years ago,” replied John. The traditional melody was called She Moved Through the Fair and it was the basis for Belfast Child. As he recreated the words, Jim was thinking about Enniskillen, the conflict and also recalling the fate of Brian Keenan, a Belfast writer held captive in Beirut.

But was it any good? Jim wasn’t convinced.

“It’s very much a Marmite song. We weren’t even sure it was going to make the record.

“It was such a long shot. And when you look at the form of the song, it’s more like Stairway to Heaven. People said, why are you writing about this thing, what are you trying to say here? It was an exercise in empathy.”

Simple Minds have sold over 60 million records. They played a memorable set at Live Aid and their Breakfast Club soundtrack recording of Don’t You Forget About Me is a definitive 80s moment. They called for the release of Nelson Mandela and then celebrated his freedom.

For this intense duration, Jim has been twinned with guitarist Charlie Burchill. They met as eight-year-olds in a southside housing estate in Glasgow.

The band is less prolific these days and Jim lives in Sicily where he has a hotel, the Villa Angela in Taormina. He thinks that Brexit was “horrendous” and he is a proud citizen of Europe. I ask him about the recent Liz Truss quote, when the potential PM claimed she would “ignore” the leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon.

“I ignore them all. I don’t believe a word that comes out of any of their mouths. But you’re allowed to be like that when you’re heading into your mid-60s. That last guy I saw who walked the talk was Nelson Mandela.”

You might say that the words of Liz Truss will fuel the call for Scottish independence?

“There’s no doubt about that. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand. I think people from my neck of the woods have really had it with the characters in Westminster. I can understand the desire to say, ‘it’s time to look for something else’.”

Recently, Bono chose a Simple Minds track, Someone Somewhere (in Summertime) in his Desert Island Discs selection. It’s an indication of the affection between two of the biggest acts of the age.

“He was so generous with that. And they always are. There was a book out recently on the Unforgettable Fire album where they spoke about the influence of New Gold Dream. I mean, I can’t hear it myself. But it’s good that they give the credit — especially to the musicians in Simple Minds. Sometimes I feel that they don’t get the credit.

“We were all inspiring each other, back in those days. Whether it was The Cure or Echo and the Bunnymen, who we all looked up to. We might have seemed like warring gangs at times, but if you could go through all our record collections, we probably shared about 90% of the same titles.”

Clearly, Jim is enjoying the tour and the chance to exercise his famous powers of connection.

“There’s something in the air just now with Simple Minds. We’ve always had good reactions and we’ve always left the stage with the room bouncing up and down.

“But there’s something else going on just now. Let’s hope it lasts for a wee while yet.”

Simple Minds play Custom House Square in Belfast on August 9. Tickets available via Ticketmaster

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