We assumed Simple Minds would always play Belfast Child in Custom House Square next Tuesday. Eventually, the city’s name was tested on their first number one release and this led to a comeback in 1989 that revived the band’s career.
elfast even gave Simple Minds a video space at the shipyard. And, of course, our unresolved conflict became the subject of the record. But it’s strange Belfast baby was nearly eliminated from the band’s tour set list.
“It’s funny, but we haven’t played it for a very long time,” Jim says by phone from the south of France. “We just felt that the time had come for the song, that the world had changed, and of course the situation in Belfast had changed a lot, thank God.”
Jim got tired of the style of the song and how it went from a folk tune to a huge crescendo of drums and feelings. He sighs, “It’s a bit of prog rock. I felt like I couldn’t relate to that song anymore.”
But there has been a rethink. Belfast baby returned to the band’s repertoire as part of their 40 Years of Hits tour. Jim has an explanation.
“We didn’t sing it for a very long time, which seems rude. But then you look back at events in the world, especially this year. Sure, things have moved on in Belfast, but if you want to talk about the horrors of war, it’s more prevalent than ever.
“Emotionally, if not geographically, the song made sense again. For many, it has become the highlight of the set, so we play it.”
The song was written around November 1987, just after the Memorial Day bombing in Enniskillen. The group’s producer at the time was Trevor Horn.
He visited him at their studio in Lough Erne and suggested that they think about adding a folk element to their stadium sound. Jim thought it was a terrible idea.
But one evening after dinner, John Giblin from the band started playing a beautiful tune on the keyboard. The singer was fascinated and assumed that this was a new work. He asked John when he wrote it.
“About 200 years ago,” John replied. The traditional tune was called She walked through the fair and that was the basis for Belfast baby. Recreating the words, Jim thought about Enniskillen, about the conflict, and also remembered the fate of Brian Keenan, a writer from Belfast who was a prisoner in Beirut.
But was it good? Jim wasn’t convinced.
“It’s a Marmite song in many ways. We weren’t even sure it would be on the album.
“It was such a long shot. And when you look at the shape of the song it looks more like an Sthe road to heaven. People said why are you writing about it, what are you trying to say here? It was an exercise in empathy.”
Simple Minds has sold over 60 million records. They played an unforgettable set at Live Aid and recorded the soundtrack for the movie Breakfast Club. Do not forget about me is the defining moment of the 80s. They called for the release of Nelson Mandela and then celebrated his release.
During this intense period, Jim was twinned with guitarist Charlie Burchill. They met when they were eight years old in an apartment complex on the south side of Glasgow.
The group is less prolific these days and Jim lives in Sicily where he owns the Hotel Villa Angela in Taormina. He thinks Brexit was “terrible” and he’s a proud European citizen. I ask him about Liz Truss’ recent quote when a would-be prime minister said she would “ignore” SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.
“I ignore them all. I don’t believe a single word they say. But you’re allowed to be when you’re over 60. The last guy I saw giving a speech was Nelson Mandela.”
Would you say Liz Truss’s words are fueling the call for Scottish independence?
“There is no doubt about that. Don’t get me wrong, I can understand. I think the people in my forest were really unhappy with the Westminster characters. I can understand the urge to say, “It’s time to look for something else.”
Recently, Bono chose the track Simple Minds, Someone somewhere (summer) in his choice of desert island drives. This is an indicator of affection between the two greatest acts of the era.
“He was so generous with it. And they always are. Recently, a book was released on the album Unforgettable Fire, which talked about the influence New golden dream. I mean, I can’t hear myself. But it’s good that they pay tribute – especially to the musicians of Simple Minds. Sometimes I feel like they don’t get the attention they deserve.
“In those days, we all inspired each other. Whether it’s The Cure or Echo and the Bunnymen we all looked up to. We could seem like warring gangs at times, but if you could look through all of our record collections, we’d probably have about 90% of the same titles.”
It’s clear that Jim is enjoying the tour and the opportunity to display his famous social skills.
“With Simple Minds, something is in the air right now. We always had a good reaction, and we always left the stage when the audience was bouncing up and down.
“But something else is happening now. Let’s hope this continues for a while.”
Simple Minds will play Custom House Square in Belfast on August 9th. Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster.