Jim Kerr on Celtic, Toryglen and playing at Ibrox

Jim Kerr at the Gorbals Sound studio. Picture: John Devlin
Jim Kerr at the Gorbals Sound studio. Picture: John Devlin
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JIM Kerr is all apologies when he arrives, when he comes in, comes out of the Glasgow rain. “Sorry I’m late,” he says in breathless, theatrical tones that belong to nowhere and right here. I check my watch; his tardiness amounts to a whole three minutes. Call himself a rock star?

There were occasions when Kerr was maybe too much of a rock star; all leather-trousered bombast and self-importance. But today we don’t discuss his band Simple Minds, how they sold 60 million albums and then plummeted into the bargain bins, only for a late-career renaissance as their singer became a grandad. Instead we talk about sport, about Glasgow’s newly-cemented reputation as a great sporting city, and about football. How many rock stars, precious about image and rampant of ego, would agree to that?

Well, some might. Maybe not right now in Scotland with football in a pallid state, but a few years ago the celebrity fans were everywhere. They’d declare their passion, usually for Celtic. Some might have been bold enough to mention Kenny Dalglish. But few like Kerr could describe in anoraky detail and obvious love the way King Kenny used to tie his boots.

Most of us could smell a rat when actors and their kind alighted on football’s coolness. Did Kerr, and did these chancers and chanty-wrasslers annoy him? A smile breaks out across that classic Scottish ba’ face. “The showbiz-isation of fitba,” he says. “We get very purist, don’t we? Guard our teams jealously.” Rod Stewart’s name crops up, though he’s surely not the worst offender, having booted footballs into the audience for 40 years. “I got into trouble after that Barcelona game when Rod cried [Champions League, 2012] for saying that was his reaction to having to buy a round of drinks for the boys. Well, I can’t remember him greetin’ when Partick Thistle were humping us in the League Cup final – or [Billy] Connolly for that matter!”

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Elsewhere in the stands, away from the TV cameras’ gaze, Kerr watched Celtic beat the best team in the world with his father Jimmy and son James: the man who bestowed the obsession and the lad he passed it onto. “It was the last game Dad saw; he’s going to be 80 soon so not a bad one to end on. And it was my boy’s first Celtic Euro match. James is London born and bred and an Arsenal fan and that’s fine. I try not to be one of these dads who foists their innate good taste onto their children. But he came up for that game and there was a horrible, wonderful dark sky like the one outside our window right now. I thought: ‘Great, Xavi and Iniesta won’t fancy that.’ On the drive to the stadium we listened to all those nutty phone-ins. A bloke playing an accordion lurched in front of the car – I don’t think they have them at the Emirates. James was like: ‘This is fantastic.’ Then he said: ‘Dad, I’m not supporting England any more. For one thing, they’re rubbish. For another, Scotland’s fans are great and Scottish music is great.’ He doesn’t mean the Minds – he likes the cooler stuff. But for all those reasons, for the gallusness of Celtic near the end putting on an attacker and for the lad from Coatbridge [Tony Watt] racing away to score the winning goal, but running in what seemed like slow motion it was so brilliant, that was a very special Glasgow night.”

Another one is imminent. Tomorrow the BBC return to the banks of the Clyde where they installed themselves during the Commonwealth Games for the Sports Personality of the Year and Simple Minds are the house-band. SPotY is quite a circus these days but a good gig offering high exposure before the Minds tour in support of the album Big Music which has earned them their best reviews since Jimbo gave up that ginormous coat which billowed like a sail behind him.

Who will do the introductions – Clare Balding or maybe Gary Lineker himself? No offence, but this is a band who’ve been fanfared by Jack Nicholson – Live Aid, the Philadelphia portion – and Pele. “The night before the 2006 World Cup in Germany we played at the Brandenburg Gates. I spoke to him afterwards, couldn’t hear a word. The lads in the roadcrew were like: ‘What did he say? What did he say?’ They’d all played in the Holyrood High football team. So did [future Ipswich Town and Scotland striker] Alan Brazil; he had thighs like Canadian redwoods even then. I didn’t get a game but used to wind them up with my running joke about being the star man. Then I went: “It’s amazing, guys – Pele was following my career. ‘Jim,’ he said, ‘even though it was way back when and even though we were in Brazil, we got to hear about all your games for Holyrood’.”

We meet in Gorbals Sound, a recording studio in an old railwayman’s club run by ex-Teenage Fanclub drummer Paul Quinn where Simple Minds are rehearsing Waterfront which will open the Hydro spectacular. Kerr is 55 and looks good on the rock lifestyle of glamorous wives (Chrissie Hynde, Patsy Kensit) and glamorous addresses (Sicily, Nice). Never really one for the full bacchanal, he went vegetarian 30 years ago, putting his butcher’s-boy days well behind him. The complexion glows, but no more than his fan heritage does.

“My first-ever game was at the 1966 World Cup. The old man was a bricklayer’s labourer, on a job in the north-east of England. One weekend the rest of the family went down to see him and he took me off to Ayresome Park, Middlesbrough for the Soviet Union versus North Korea. Dad was a Red so he was in his glory. I think everyone in the crowd was a Commie. Me, I had a World Cup Willie football. I wasn’t yet six so can’t remember much about the match apart from Lev Yashin, dressed all in black.

“My next game was only a few weeks later but is much more vivid. Manchester United came to Parkhead for a friendly with Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles, who’d just won the World Cup, and George Best who was of course a Beatle. They also had Paddy Crerand whose family had lived in my mum’s close.

“I went with my Uncle Johnny, probably because Dad was the worse for wear. Most men often were back then, though he’s not had a drink for 40 years. I had to sit on Johnny’s shoulders because the crowd was so big and I was pretty scared but everyone said: ‘Ach you’ll be OK, son’. Celtic won 4-0 and of course that was the season which would end with Lisbon.”

Kerr’s favourite players included Jimmy Johnstone and Bertie Auld. “I remember Dad telling me to watch Bertie down in the corners where he’d aye stand on guys’ toes. I loved the story I heard later about him, when studs were checked before European matches, putting his arm round the ref and saying: ‘Right, son, if any of this lot cause you trouble come and see me’. That was probably him trying to gain some leeway for his skulduggery. But my big hero was Joe McBride for the tragedy of him scoring all those goals [36 by Christmas when he got injured, a total which stayed unbeaten for the rest of the ’66-’67 season] and missing the European Cup final. He had a crewcut and looked like an astronaut. Before I started going to games I thought his name was ‘Joe McBride Burst-the-net-again’. These were the words of the old man, every Saturday without fail.”

Football dominated Kerr’s young life. The whole family was Celtic-mad, though his mum Irene would confess to a crush on Hibernian’s Pat Stanton. His cousin, Brian Ahern, who babysat him and his brothers, went on to play for Clyde. And football also influenced some of his key decisions.

Born in Govanhill and later a high-rise dweller at Toryglen overlooking Hampden Park, he bonded with best pal Charlie Burchill over jerseys-for-goalposts kickabouts. “Charlie had this big bassy laugh which we’d all love to hear. I’m ashamed to admit this but we’d try and make Jimmy Scotland, who was prone to fits, bang his head off goalposts.” Burchill, who became the Minds’ guitarist, is still by his side today.

And in 1977 it was some teenage melodramatic disillusionment with football which cause Kerr to flounce off and form his first band, Johnny and the Self-Abusers. “King Kenny got sold. I remember watching a reserve game at Lesser Hampden and this boy with a big arse and red cheeks being the standout. Before long Dalglish was in the first team, scoring against Rangers with a penalty after taking ages to tie his laces – that was cool. And we loved the story of how he’d supported Rangers and Sean Fallon had nicked him from under their noses. But when he was transferred to Liverpool I was distraught and had to spend three days in bed. ‘F**k it’, I told myself, ‘music’s the thing now’.”

Kerr has always had great stories about Toryglen, where Irene worked at the baker’s next door to the bookie’s where Burchill’s mother Ellen collected the betting slips. When the band flew to the United States for the first time, Ellen said to Irene: “Charlie’s gone to America and he’s not got his keys so I’ll have to wait in. He’s not got a jacket either.”

Today’s tale speaks of the sense of community that existed within the notorious tall flats, although it begins back in Govanhill. “One day the man on the floor above us asked my mum: ‘Can you get Joseph up in the mornings?’ Joe Donnelly was in my class at school and his parents had split up, which was quite a rare thing in those days. So that’s what Mum did, with Joe coming back to ours for lunch as well, and when we moved to Toryglen he asked his dad, Shuggie, if he could come too. Shuggie was aye working and was glad of the help but Joe would see his dad at the weekends for the football and then I started to go to games with them. Our matchday routine began in the ‘family room’ of a pub at Gorbals Cross called Benny’s Bar. That name made me think I might bump into Top Cat. Joe was only meant to be with us for a week but ended up staying 14 years. And later he played bass guitar in The Silencers.”

Some other key football-related dates for Kerr: in 1986, Simple Minds played the lair of the enemy, Ibrox. Like in football where supporters can be over-protective, some of the band’s fans didn’t like that they’d turned into stadium rockers, but Kerr remembers a great gig and much malarkey. “Rangers weren’t very good back then and I think I said I’d had a peek in the trophy room and found Shergar. Did we sprinkle holy water in the goalmouths? I can’t remember, but it didn’t do much good, did it? Rangers promptly won nine-in-a-row.”

In 1998 Kerr was a member of a consortium which fancied running Celtic. Our man famously told Fergus McCann: “Get the kettle on.” Glasgow businessman Jim McAvoy, Kenny Dalglish and Kerr sought to persuade the majority shareholder to sell to them. “Looking back, that was ill-advised.” Still, he must have fantasised about becoming the rock-idol supremo of Parkhead. “It would have been wrong. That was a time in my life when I was a bit lost. The band were at a low ebb.” He’d also just come out of his marriage to Kensit.

Like many Celtic fans Kerr admits he got McCann slightly wrong, misreading his bullish stance. “I don’t need to understand the difference Fergus made to Celtic but back in the day I thought: ‘You can’t speak to people like that. You’ll get chinned’.” Kerr makes a hoarding gesture with his arms. “Fergus used to say that every last cent he had was in the club. When he came back recently I understood that better. So we failed but in the end there was the right outcome with supporters getting the shares.”

So Kerr returned to being a rock star and just recently he’s gone back to being a Glaswegian, calling the city home again. The death of his mum four years ago is behind this. He visited a lot when she was ill, drove her round favourite haunts to cheer her up, and these journeys inspired the song Honest Town on the new album, which is dedicated to his and Burchill’s parents, who clubbed together to pay for the band’s first demo tapes. “After Mum died my daughter Yasmin badgered me to get a place here so that’s what I did. Was I looking for my roots? I don’t know, but her passing made me conscious of time, of wanting to be near Dad.”

Maybe this is a less than golden era for his beloved football team. “How did Mum put it? ‘If you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything’. I worry about the future of the game.” But he’s just seen Glasgow in fantastic light. “Didn’t we do the Commonwealth Games proud? Eilidh Child was great and wee Charlie Flynn, the Mailman, was a brilliant character.

“But ordinary Glaswegians played their part. They had a blast, as I always knew they would, and I don’t think any visiting athlete or fan would have gone away not having enjoyed themselves. We’re mental about sport and we know how to put on a show.”

Simple Minds aim to have a blast tomorrow night even though Jim Kerr, fifth reserve for that Hollyrood football team, has missed out on a Sports Personality nomination.

• Simple Minds’ new single Let the Day Begin is released on 19 January and the band tour from 27 March.

www.simpleminds.com

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