Music Features, Spotlights

Spotlight: Simple Minds – New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)

Spotlight: Simple Minds - New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) It was a big year, 1982, and for Britain in particular. Two hundred and 55 military personnel would lose their lives during the Falklands War following an Argentinian invasion of the island, the decision to go to war being a career-saving choice of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher after the Conservative party had been close to collapse.

Queen Elizabeth II had her own invasion to deal with, awaking to find Buckingham Palace intruder Michael Fagan perched on her bed; the same year saw happier times for Her Majesty, the birth of a third grandchild, William. Also in London, the Thames Barrier would commence operation, although its official opening would have to wait a further two years. Elsewhere, Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose was raised from the bottom of the Solent, the lengthy restoration project finally revealed to the public only recently, after almost 35 years of painstaking care and preservation.

In music, strange things were happening. It was like the coming together of many rivers into one ocean as numerous genres bled into one another, finding themselves tagged ‘new wave’ in the process. It was an unlikely concoction that somehow became squeezed into the same pigeonhole as journalists desperately tried to capture what was happening in as few space-hogging words as possible when print was their only outlet.

The Clash were one of several punk acts still going strong, Joe Strummer and co. seeing one of their biggest career highlights Rock The Casbah becoming their only single to reach the US top ten. Synthpop, largely the spawn of German krautrock that graced the ’70s, was another given the new wave label as the year saw bands like Ultravox, The Human League and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark continuing on from the career zeniths they had all achieved within the previous two years.

The trendsetting New Romantics, disciples of the stylish ’70s version of David Bowie and the Roxy Music art/music meld, were also competing for airtime, the year seeing perhaps the movement’s greatest album Rio by Duran Duran soar to the Top 10 in both the UK and the US at the height of the band’s fame. Madness were also keeping ska alive, the Nutty Boys hanging on to their earlier mass popularity with hits like Our House and Tomorrow’s Just Another Day featuring on their fourth UK top ten album The Rise And Fall. Gothic post-punkers The Cure were also lazily lumped into the new wave bracket as they saw the brilliant Pornography become their first UK Top 10 effort at the fourth attempt whilst even the Celtic rock influenced version of Dexy’s Midnight Runners enjoyed (?) the same treatment as they told Eileen to Come On.

Remarkably, Scottish rockers Simple Minds were one album ahead of both Madness and The Cure but until 1981 they had largely been on the outskirts of fame, enjoying instead a cult following and being undoubtedly one of the coolest bands on the circuit. Sons And Fascination then became their biggest album to date, reaching Number 11 in the UK, and initially being released together with an accompanying LP entitled Sister Feelings Call; the two would become a puzzling enigma for future fans, subsequently being coupled together as one for future CD releases (the first appearing in 1986) with little clue as to their original guise.

“The praise heading Simple Minds’ way was only just beginning as they were finally stepping out of the underground shadows and into the limelight.”

CDs, however, were not around until the latter months of 1982, with the first commercial disc arriving in August, and the format would not explode on to the market until the following year. Confusion this long after release, then, is unsurprising, the original double LP vinyl version of Sister Feelings Call had initially only been available with the first 10,000 copies of Sons And Fascination. The bonus album was clearly more than just a bonus though, even boasting a single – The American – but its ‘parent’ album showed its class with the excellent Love Song along with other single Sweat In Bullet, as well as the brilliant, almost seven minute opener In Trance As Mission. With the band ridiculously strong on the underground scene, it was inevitable that word would spread further as their skills became honed, the constant work ethic that had produced a staggering five albums (four plus the bonus LP) in just two years driving the band forward at breakneck speed.

By 1982, the majority of the most recognisable line-up was in place. School friends and founder members Jim Kerr (vocals) and Charlie Burchill (guitar) had been plying their trade in the punk band Johnny & The Self-Abusers. When they left to form Simple Minds, keyboardist Mick MacNeil joined the ranks along with bassist Derek Forbes who followed a short while afterwards. That left the drums, but the turnover behind the kit was considerable, rather offsetting the stability of the other positions within the band.

Originally, another ex-Self-Abuser Brian McGee wielded the sticks but he left in 1981 for some family time, the decision coming at an unfortunate moment for the brother of singer Owen Paul as his now ex-band were on the brink of scaling huge new heights. Kenny Hyslop, previously of the Richard Jobson/Stuart Adamson led Dunfermline outfit Skids, was first to fill the void but he left after just five months. Next up was Mike Ogletree, but he also proved to be a short term solution.

In April 1982, the first single from a forthcoming album was released by the band, Promised You A Miracle, the only song to feature Hyslop. With Smash Hits journalist Mark Ellen adding some weight with his praise for the track, the band enjoyed – for the first time – one of their songs seeing considerable radio airtime, all following on after an earlier version had first been unveiled during a Kid Jensen Radio 1 session. A Top Of The Pops performance then followed, helping to propel the single to 13 in the UK singles chart. Ellen had gone so far as to call the track a classic, but the praise heading Simple Minds’ way was only just beginning as they were finally stepping out of the underground shadows and into the limelight.

After young producer Pete Walsh – who had worked with Heaven 17 on the hugely successful Penthouse And Pavement album – was recruited following Burchill’s recommendation, the recording of the new album took place over five months at three studios: Rockfield Studios in Wales, Townhouse Studios in London and The Manor, set in the Oxfordshire countryside, the studio belonging to the band’s label Virgin. Ogletree’s drumming, however, was thought to be lagging behind the others’ abilities and so, at Walsh’s suggestion, session drummer Mel Gaynor was recruited; he would go on to play on six of the nine tracks for the new album but more importantly, he would soon become a permanent member. With Gaynor in place, the classic line-up for the band’s most fruitful period was complete. In August 1982, a second single Glittering Prize was released, reaching Number 16 in the UK singles chart; this time Ogletree was on the recording. The song was a poppier, sparkling gem which heralded a new direction for the band.

One month later, on the 13th September 1982 to be precise, New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) was unleashed. Opening track and subsequent third single Someone, Somewhere In Summertime was a revelation; the atmospheric keyboards of MacNeil combined inexplicably beautifully with Burchill’s jangly guitar to create a backdrop akin to a glistening sea sparkling in a dazzling sunset whilst shimmering cymbals and powerful percussion from Gaynor this time intertwined with the key, propulsive bass resonating from the world class talents of Forbes underpinned a magnificent track. All Kerr had to do, basically, was to turn up but he too rose to the occasion admirably.

The first side of the LP continued in stunning fashion through the bouncing, rubbery bassline on Colours Fly And Catherine Wheel, the swirling guitars and keyboards coupled with the unusual pitter patter drumming pattern of Promised You A Miracle, the sprinkles of sparkly keyboards and flecks of guitar adorning the mesmerising Big Sleep, and the lulling instrumental Somebody Up There Likes You.

Simple Minds

Simple Minds (Photo: Sheila Rock)

Side two opened with another classic in the title track, a cut more reminiscent of the band’s older material as a bubbling bass and almost motorik percussion was drenched in gleaming guitars and keyboards. The stunning single Glittering Prize, arguably the pick of the bunch, then appeared before the brilliant Hunter And The Hunted, a track featuring Herbie Hancock on a synthesizer solo after he came in to the band’s recording room from an adjoining studio at The Townhouse. Rounding things off was King Is White And In The Crowd, one of three tracks formed out of musical ‘sketches’ laid down in a Fife pig farm in January 1982.

To celebrate a pivotal moment in the band’s illustrious career, a mammoth new box set has arrived. Containing six discs, the album has been given extensive attention, similar to that which was afforded to their 1984 LP Sparkle In The Rain. Despite some dubious stereo-mixing and occasional slap-dash ‘lift and drop’ assembly to some of the bonus disc material, the earlier box set was generally lapped up by the band’s biggest admirers.

Within the six discs for New Gold Dream’s own set, a new, Abbey Road re-mastered version of the original album is included. The sound is pristine – to be expected, having been given the nod of approval by Burchill himself. Disc 2 is a collection of extended versions. Now, if you were to sit down and stick this disc on for a full play from start to finish, you could become a little irritated. Again, it would appear that little thought has gone into the track order; four of the first five tracks of the 12 in total are, for all intents and purposes, the same – being slightly different versions of Promised You A Miracle.

As anyone can testify, there’s probably only so many times you can listen to the same song from 34 years ago in a row or thereabouts, and four in five songs is excessive to say the least. After the Promised You A Miracle onslaught, there are consecutive versions of Glittering Prize – a club mix and an extended version. If you continue to persevere with the disc, things pick up a little better in the second half, although two versions of the album’s title track are annoyingly placed only one song apart; for this one, it’s best to dip in and out occasionally instead.

There’s little in the way of new goodies on disc 3, a collection of edits and b-sides, two tracks of which have never been released on CD before. Perhaps rather carelessly, two versions of Glittering Prize are placed next to each other rather than at opposite ends of the seven-strong disc but this aside, the disc is much more listenable than the extended versions companion.

Disc 4 is where the fun begins. The Kid Jensen sessions have been released before but these steal the show, the quality of the recording is excellent but the performances by the entire band are staggeringly good, capturing just how brilliant they were at their peak. Kerr’s vocals in particular have probably never sounded better. Aside from the New Gold Dream tracks, we’re also treated to a faultless rendition of In Trance As Mission. The John Peel sessions – released for the first time on CD – fair less well, however. The performances remain sublime, particularly the excellent version of Love Song, but all four tracks are dreadfully let down by the lack of recording quality, the songs sounding disappointingly tinny throughout.

“The performances by the entire band are staggeringly good, capturing just how brilliant they were at their peak. Kerr’s vocals in particular have probably never sounded better…”

The far better track placement of Disc 5 is noticeable in comparison to the extended versions disc for example. Containing 10 tracks, none of which have ever been seen before on CD, it throws up some interesting cuts. Kerr’s vocals generally seem a little more distant, further back in the mix and more reminiscent of early material. Most interestingly, there are two versions of In Every Heaven, a ‘lost’ track from the New Gold Dream sessions after a labelling mix up. An edited version was initially intended for the album, this version finally appearing on the 2012 X5 box set celebrating the earlier albums. A full duration version plus an earlier version is included here and the latter is a gem, leaning very much towards that earlier period Simple Minds with more pronounced bubbly synths, spiky injections of guitar and quieter, more hauntingly distant vocals. The alternate take of Hunter And The Hunted is also a highlight, featuring excellent guitaring and being arguably better than the final album version.

Fourteen tracks make up Disc 6, a DVD-V, including a full 5.1 stereo mix of the entire album first released in 2005 but now out of print, including In Every Heaven at track 10. In addition, two Top Of The Pops videos and two promo videos are included. As well as the music, the neatly packaged box contains an excellent 36-page book with a spattering of some very fresh faced musicians in their early 20s, and new interviews with both Kerr and Burchill. The release will come in various formats, including a 180g vinyl edition or simply a remastered CD of the original album amongst others.

Sparkle In The Rain would go on to take the band a step closer to the stadium arena rock sound they were now in pursuit of, with the Yankee dollar dangling provocatively before their eyes. Tunes such as the pumping anthem Waterfront and cataclysmic percussion heavy Up On The Catwalk would carry the album’s torch all the way to Number 1 in the UK. With stadium rock now harnessed, the band’s early guise was all but lost.

Just a year later, Once Upon A Time would then catapult Simple Minds to super-stardom, hitting Number 1 the UK once again but more importantly perhaps, seeing their ultimate goal finally achieved as the album stormed into the American Top 10, largely helped by the preceding Keith Forsey penned Don’t You (Forget About Me) from The Breakfast Club soundtrack earlier that year. The transformation from cult heroes to stadium fillers would not have been possible without New Gold Dream, the only album in their catalogue that has managed to abridge both of the band’s guises. Indulge yourself in its magnificence once again, why don’t you.

The reissue of Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) is out now through Universal. More information here.

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