Simple Minds' Jim Kerr is returning to familiar territory for the launch of his musical alter ego, finds Fiona Shepherd
• Picture: David Ellis/Complimentary
THE one question which Jim Kerr says he finds most difficult to answer these days is: "Where do you live?"
But it's the first question which comes up in our interview. For the past decade or so, the Simple Minds frontman has made his home in Sicily, where he runs a hotel. His children live in London, so there are strong ties there, too. With Simple Minds in as much demand as ever, touring commitments keep Kerr on the move.
But what downtime he has had in the past couple of years has been spent back in his native Glasgow, where the idea of embarking on his first new musical project in more than 30 years started to percolate and take shape. He is adamant his new incarnation, Lostboy! AKA Jim Kerr – already an album of the same name and shortly to become a live concern – is fundamentally a Glaswegian creation, born out of an unexpected writing spree.
"At this stage of the game one would expect that you slow down a bit," says Kerr. "But I've stopped buying into the idea that writing is all to do with the muse. Now I look at it as a muscle. So I'd get up early and just go at it. It was always Charlie (Burchill, Simple Minds guitarist] who fed me ideas for music but there was only a certain amount coming from that tap. So I started looking around elsewhere, writing for the sake of writing."
Kerr was sufficiently encouraged to knock his new songs into shape with some input from Jez Coad, who produced the last two Simple Minds' albums. But he insists that he has not made a solo album. "I can't think of anything more uninteresting than that. It just doesn't get my juices flowing and neither did the idea of starting a new band because I like the band I'm in," he says.
Instead, Kerr prefers to think of Lostboy! as a sort of younger, cheekier, hungrier alter ego. Although not a big fan of nostalgia, he found himself reconnecting with his youth in Glasgow around the same time as Simple Minds embarked on a 30th anniversary tour which highlighted some of the neglected material from their first four albums. "The atmosphere was taking me back to who I was between the period 1979-82," says Kerr. "I liked the idea of chasing this young ghost and trying to embroider it. When I play the first track on the album, Refugee, I think it does sound like somebody who's 19 and wants the world to hear them."
As a fan of JM Barrie's writing since his youth, it was no great leap for Kerr to give this ghost his Peter Pan-referencing moniker, with all its accompanying associations. "There's a lot of great themes in that, like the idea that we leave parts of ourselves behind willingly or there are parts of us that refuse to grow up. If you're in a band, you can dress like a daft teenager for as long as you like. In fact, it's expected of you!"
Kerr grew up in Toryglen on Glasgow's southside. When asked to recall his formative years, he is drawn back to a time in the mid-1970s when he and Burchill and their weirdo peers would hang around Glasgow city centre in their make-up and pointy boots waiting for the world to catch up with them.
"We were the wilful outsiders," he says. "We weren't an elite but I guess there wasn't enough going on in Glasgow itself to entertain us so we were kind of inventing ourselves. We'd get p*ssed off if you looked at us and p*ssed off if you didn't. Our heads were full of about six books – one would have been a Kerouac book, and something cosmic, a Tibetan Book of the Dead, and we'd be expecting Andy Warhol to come and see us any minute soon."
While it may have been important for Kerr to tap into that youthful spirit of entitlement and expectation, Lostboy's music is just as likely to recall the Minds' mid-1980s stadium pomp anthems as their doomy electro-punk Bowie freak roots. There is nothing here to scare off long-term Kerr followers, though he feels that Lostboy! mines darker territory than Simple Minds with songs about domestic abuse and natural disaster. The album also features a tribute to Billy Mackenzie, called Return Of The King, a cover of a pre- Silencers Jimme O'Neill song called Bulletproof Heart which Kerr has adapted to reflect what he calls the "incredible schizophrenia" of his hometown, and a closing track, The Wait, which Kerr feels is the loneliest song he was ever written.
True to his newfound daily work ethic, Kerr has already made a start on producing a follow-up and hopes to keep the momentum going by getting the Lostboy! show on the road before Simple Minds duties start calling in earnest again. To that end, Lostboy! AKA Jim Kerr makes his live debut this weekend with a trio of intimate club shows in Aberdeen, Glasgow and London. Kerr is only too aware that he has it "all to prove", starting from scratch with a new band (featuring some old faces) and a full set of unfamiliar material for the first time in 30 years. Even at the earliest Simple Minds gigs, they would not have rolled out so many brand new songs in one go.
"I always had it in my head that this brat was going to have to go through the same thing I had to go through," says Kerr. "I can't pretend to unlearn the things I've learned in my own 30 years playing but what I have to do is go on there and blow people away and have them thinking 'I don't know what I heard there but I know it's really special and I know it's going places'. That's my intention. I have to show that these songs are born to be played live."
Lostboy! has already received the thumbs-up from the online fan community but Kerr still feels a "nice obligation" to include some Simple Minds' material in the set and has carefully picked a couple of rarely-to-never performed Minds' tracks from the early days, which he feels will be a good fit for Lostboy!. "Maybe I'll need it as a lifeline!" he laughs. "Of course, your fans are going to support you, but we all know fans are rather conservative by nature. I'm a fan myself and you inevitably like the classic line-up and you don't like your band to be messed with."
There is one final connection to his Glasgow past which Kerr can draw on this weekend when Lostboy! makes his hometown debut at King Tut's Wah Wah Hut. Kerr first played the venue as a member of Johnny & The Self-Abusers in April 1977 when it was still called Saints And Sinners. The gig reportedly inspired a riot and the title of their first single. Lostboy! has every intention to lay waste to the place once more: "If you'd said to Lostboy! in 1979 what would you like to happen, he would have had no idea about iconic things like Live Aid and platinum records, but if you said what do you want to be, he would have said 'I want to be a great live band'. There's nothing that gives more satisfaction than playing live."
• Lostboy! AKA Jim Kerr plays The Warehouse, Aberdeen, Friday, and King Tut's, Glasgow, Saturday. Lostboy! is out now on earMUSIC