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LIVE: Simple Minds / Del Amitri – AO Arena, Manchester, 16/03/2024

Being a fan of a band that have had the career that Simple Minds have had is akin to supporting your favourite football team, a series of highs and lows, ups and downs. From the glory days of the mid 80’s, playing massive outdoor gigs to leaner times, such as around the time of 2002’s Cry, where the venues were far smaller theatres (and not all of them were sold out), but the core duo of singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill have stuck at it and ploughed through, albeit with an increasingly The Fall-esque number of line-up changes.

But we find them currently riding high on one of those peaks, back at arena level status at the start of a UK tour, preceding a summer of global dates including a run of European festivals. Tonight, it’s the AO Arena, and the place is full of SM devotees of all different ages and eras, from their imperial phase of New Gold Dream-Sparkle In The Rain-Once Upon A Time, up until the present day, and the band’s last album release, 2022’s Direction Of The Heart. 

And there’s consternation amongst their newer fans that they have only been playing one song from that record on the early dates of this tour, and in fact this is the only song they’ve been playing that was written post 1995, thus ignoring their most recent material and reducing it to just a nostalgic look back.

But before we find out if that’s still the case this evening, there’s more Scottish music royalty in the house in the form of support act Del Amitri.

They arrive onstage and tell us how delighted they are to be doing the tour before kicking into ‘Always The Last To Know’. Like most arena shows these days there’s not as many people arriving here early (and it’s no wonder at an eye watering £8:50 a pint), but for those here it’s a set where you know more songs than you think you do.

‘Kiss This Thing Goodbye’ is warmly received and has sections of the crowd on their feet, before they depart after a hearty ‘Nothing Ever Happens’  (even though there’s strangely no ‘Roll To Me’ ).

There’s been pre-gig chatter from the Simple Minds’ camp suggesting we may get something different on the setlist than what has been played on the last few tours, and there’s plenty of speculation in the interval as to what that will manifest itself as.

Well, it’s definitely not from the off as at 8:30 sharp, we get the familiar thumping riff and crashing drums of ‘Waterfront’, followed by early singles ‘I Travel’ and ‘The American’ with Kerr, full of energy straight from the off and who has some moves for a man approaching 65.

Tonight sees a stunning use of visuals around each song, the backdrops and screens matching the original artwork or videos for a lot of the songs, invoking the era of each one.

And here comes the rarities. We get ‘Premonition’ from their 1979 second album Reel To Reel Cacophony and ‘This Fear Of Gods’ from a year later for the first time in nearly a decade, pleasing the hardcore fans most greatly. We do indeed get only one track from the last 30 years in the shape of ‘Solstice Kiss’, but with a back catalogue like they have it is probably to be expected.

Kerr then lists the places in Manchester that they’ve played in their time (Factory, Hacienda, Apollo etc) before mention of Maine Road gets some adverse football-related crowd reaction.

There’s the band introductions (which is handy if you aren’t keeping up with the changing line-ups), before Sarah Brown, Jim’s fellow vocalist takes centre stage for a roaring ‘Once Upon A Time.’

1982’s New Gold Dream album gets its own mini section in the form of ‘Glittering Prize’, ‘Promised You A Miracle’ and the title track, before the band file away to the side of the stage.

Simple Minds have always been based on a strong rhythm section and this line up is no exception, with bassist Ged Grimes, and the undoubted star of the evening, drummer Cherisse Osei.

And she is the reason that the rest of the band have made way as she gets her own spotlight time with a drum solo which sees her attack her kit like a Sheila E for the Tik Tok generation and to one of the best receptions of the evening.

After all that thrashing, there’s quite the mood change into ‘Belfast Child’ , their only UK number one single, and a divisive one at that. It sounds fantastic tonight, with its accompanying black and white video on the screens, making it even more evocative than usual.

I retreat to the back for the main set closer, the behemoth that is Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ to gauge the reaction to their most popular song and it’s so rare for a band to have an entire arena to be so engaged with just one song, the crowd-sung ‘La-la-la-lahs’ seem to go on for an eternity.

On the big screen, it’s clear to see that Burchill still has his enduring habit of mouthing the words to songs that he has played for 40 odd years, as if he’s only heard them a couple of times and is still trying to learn them.

The encore is nothing short of a victory lap, starting with a slowed down version of  ‘Book Of Brilliant Things’ interspersed with snippets of The Doors‘Five To One’, sung magnificently by Brown.

‘See The Lights’ has Kerr quite emotional with the crowd’s response, mouthing ‘thank you’ to the first few rows

A still-thrilling-after-all-these-years ‘Alive And Kicking’ and closing ‘Sanctify Yourself’ end the just short of two-hour proceedings.

For a band with such a back catalogue, they don’t get anywhere near the critical recognition they deserve and while it would have been special to get a 40th anniversary Sparkle In The Rain tour (they’ve done it enough with New Gold Dream), tonight we got the second best thing, a band at the top of their almost 50 year game.

  1. A really well written review, We were at this gig, the last time we saw them was 2015 at the Apollo. great to see them playing stadiums again , and getting the crowd on their feet immediately. I looked around the stadium to the arms swaying and people bopping around, and it took me right back to the Real Life Tour in 1991. Jim Kerr moves as it was still the 80s , (and better than a 65 should be able to do) . The line up is just perfect as it is. we got to do the early sound check that was well worth it to hear their answers to the questions being posed from some of the audience. A great night was had . (but that £8.50 a pint comment was in deed an eye watering moment to buy a round of drinks !!!!)

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God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.