REAL GONE GOES OUT: Simple Minds – Dreamland, Margate, Kent 20/6/2024

Simple Minds are no strangers to Margate. They previously visited the seaside town in 2013 on a Greatest Hits tour, and again two years later, promoting ‘Big Music’ – arguably been the best Simple Minds record in many a year. Both gigs took place in the currently closed Winter Gardens, and the band’s presence in the shabby listed building seemed like a bit of a departure from their 80s arena days. It’s also been said that, around that time, Jim Kerr’s voice was supposedly not as good as it had been, but for the hardcore fans, these shows were still well received.

Early reports on the net suggested that the band have been sounding fantastic on their current tour in the summer of 2024, with the fabulous Del Amitri in support. It isn’t long after Simple Minds take the Scenic Stage at Dreamland that these claims prove to be more than true. With line up changes over the previous few years and now with the brilliant Cherisse Osei occupying the drum stool, the band are an absolutely tight unit and sound more enthused than ever. In addition, this night’s huge outdoor space – reminiscent of being at a mini festival – provides a much more natural setting for Kerr, founding guitarist Charlie Burchill and the band than the Winter Gardens ever had been. They’ve literally been on stage for about two minutes and are halfway through a solid sounding ‘Waterfront’ before it’s clear that Kerr completely owns that space and is thrilled to be there. With Waterfront’ showing off a bigger bass sound, too, the music is more than able to pick up any slack should the seasoned frontman’s voice – now much deeper than it had been in the 80s – have the occasional wobble. Moving into ‘Once Upon A Time’, the bright sounding pop-rock further highlights a tight band with a huge drum sound. The sound mix doesn’t make Burchill’s guitar especially audible – and this will continue to be the case as the night goes on – but the main ingredients of the arrangement are incredibly clear. Gordy Gourdie’s keys are especially sharp, though never so sharp that they obscure any of Kerr’s vocals, and despite having sung this number countless times since 1985, Jim approaches it with an energy and enthusiasm throughout, whilst a massive video screen frames (and dwarfs) the band with an animated version of the ‘Once Upon A Time’ album artwork. The more electronic ‘The Signal & The Noise’ supplies a massive musical sidestep, but in doing so, celebrates the eclecticism that often still lurks within the band’s catalogue, and the number’s huge, busy arrangement fills the outdoor venue with a real ease, and despite being one of the night’s less familiar picks, it sounds great.

Greeting the crowd, Jim tells everyone he’s “knackered”, but appears very friendly and clearly isn’t about to let that hamper his performance. In fact, he’s more making up for any suggested end of tour fatigue by continuing to making the best use of the massive stage. An old pro, he also knows that by sporting a white jacket, it ensures that even those audience members right at the back of the venue will be constantly drawn to him. With years of experience, has the crowd hanging off every word as a parade of huge hits – ‘Glittering Prize’, ‘Promised You A Miracle’, ‘Sanctify Yourself’ and ‘Come A Long Way’ greet the fans in quick succession. Ged Grimes offers a fantastic bass workout during ‘Glittering Prize’, presenting a fat tone that lifts the track beyond its 80s sheen; ‘Miracle’ quickly asserts itself as an evergreen fan favourite and is captured for lo-fi posterity via a sea of phones; ‘Sanctify Yourself’ highlights Osei’s rhythmic wallop, and ‘Come A Long Way’ gives the whole band plenty to work with, featuring Jim and second vocalist Sarah Brown in great form.

At the point where it starts to feel like Simple Minds are hitting their peak, the remainder of the set eclipses the first half. ‘New Gold Dream’ blends pop rock and a busy synth-based groove to sound bigger than ever. Cherisse plays a short but perfectly formed drum solo which, in an age where drum solos are often old hat, has an impressive power and melody. Then, everything descends into quiet as the opening drones of ‘Belfast Child’ fill the air. This is potentially a tricky move, considering Kerr’s different vocal approach, since the stripped back first half of the track offers him nothing to hide behind. Nevertheless, he takes the folk-based melody and shares it with confidence, before the rest of the band chug through the drum based groove for an even more impressive climax. It’s a lengthy piece, and naturally doesn’t have the party spirit of something like ‘All The Things She Said’ – which also sounds superb tonight – but everyone is hanging off every moment and completely behind this atmospheric performance. If anything, the audience are more enthusiastic than the Madness crowd the previous week – which comes as a surprise – but it’s clear that this isn’t a gathering of casual followers looking for some entertainment by the sea; there are people here who’ve followed the band for decades, and are very obviously thrilled to see Simple Minds riding on the crest of a “new” creative wave. On this night, they’ve wheeled out plenty of hits and classics, but ver in the manner of an act purely serving nostalgia. Simple Minds are genuinely vibrant, and its a joy to witness.

Pulling everything to a close, the ever brilliant ‘Someone Somewhere In Summertime’ summons the kind of precision and power as ‘All The Things She Said’ and ‘Waterfront’ earlier in the night, before the expected ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ is given an extended workout allowing for maximum band and crowd interaction. Kerr puts his command of a crowd into perfect use once again, not only encouraging singing, but even leading everyone into a moment where the entire venue drops into near silence. That’s no mean feat with a sell out crowd and people who’ve had a few pints. There’s little else to be said about the song itself, of course; it’s familiar to millions and become one of the band’s staples – but as with ‘Once Upon A Time’, if Kerr has any feelings that the song is overplayed, or in any way tired of singing it after nearly forty years, he never lets it show.

With a lot of great numbers already played, it was obvious that ‘Alive & Kicking’ would do some heavy lifting during a short encore – and, as expected, is rapturously received, with the crowd singing at the relevant moments – but, in many ways, it’s the other two selections that offer the bigger interest tonight as the band prepares to bid everyone farewell. An enthused ‘Book of Brilliant Things’ becomes a perfect showcase for Sarah taking over on lead vocals, and one of SM’s more overlooked hits, ‘See The Lights’ (from 1991’s ‘Real Life’, an album destined to live in the shadows of ‘Street Fighting Years’) presents itself in a strong and stately manner. As singles go, it never seems to be at the forefront of the casual fans’ memory, but tonight its certainly been a reminder, if one were ever needed, that Simple Minds’ gift for radio friendly hooks has always been strong. In fact, it’s never left them: 2015’s ‘Broken Glass Park’ – sadly missing from tonight’s selection – is as good as anything from the band’s 80s glory years.

The show comes to a close, but it’s very clear that Jim and company have had as much of a good time as the Margate audience. As a tape of Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’ is played over the speakers and the audience begins to file out, members of the band – Jim included – are still on stage dancing, clearly not wanting the night to end. And who could blame them? With a set packed full of hits and weighted towards the brilliant ‘New Gold Dream’ and ‘Once Upon A Time’ albums, there won’t be many fans who are going home unhappy. Granted, there’ll be that odd guy in the audience who’d secretly been hoping the band might break into ‘Carnival’, ‘This Fear of Gods’, or ‘Veldt’, but this near-flawless show has been the epitome of “crowd pleaser”, providing an absolutely fantastic night out.

Words by Lee Realgone
Photos by Katy

June 2024