Dream Giver - Simple Minds Online Unofficially Jim Kerr - Sunday Herald Interview

Jim Kerr - did you forget about me?

It may be more than 15 years since the heady days of Glittering Prize, but Simple Minds frontman Jim Kerr has always been a canny investor, amassing a fortune of 40 million. Now he's on the new media bandwagon and fashioning himself as an e-pioneer.

Jim Kerr may describe his navigation of our fame-obsessed age as "ghosting through", but as we sit in his cavernous glass living room admiring a 270 degree cityscape, it strieks me there are few spooks can claim a double upper in Glasgow's uber-hip Todd Building as their spirit home. But I say nothing, just nod and get back to the matter at hand: placing my teacup on Kerr's perspective-shaking glass dining table. It's not as easy as it sounds - all I can see is my feet.

But later, thinking on it, I start to see what he means. Next to Sean Connery, Billy Connolly or even man-of-the-moment, Travis frontman Fran Healy, Kerr is a will-o'-the-wisp figure on the Scottish celebrity landscape. Does he live here or not? How rich is he? How famous is he? The answers, in order, are: sort of, very and - as he himself has intimated - just famous enough. "The whole idea of having profile, in my case, is only worth it if you have something to sell." he says. "Why would you want to be scrutinised just for the sake of being scrutinised?"

And right now, Jim Kerr isn't doing much selling. Instead he's buying and on the shopping list so far are loft complexes, bits of restaurant chains, chunks of Internet start-ups, shareholdings in football clubs and an interest in a film company. It's as if Kerr, having done that New York-Tokyo-Paris rock star thing with Simple Minds, has returned with a goodie bag of ideas and concepts for his home town.

"If you'd said to me five years ago that I'd be as focused on Glasgow as I am I would have thought 'Highly unlikely'," he says. But here he is anyway. "It's all to do with opportunity and the opportunity is there for me to do all these things. But I loved my youth and gowing up in Glasgow. Everything about it is happy memories for me, but having said that I had this overwhelming desire to get out and see what else was out there. And you could say that after 20 years of that, I've been influenced by all these things: by the politics of people I've met, by their lifestyles, the food, all of those things."

Kerr still spends most of his time in London but, as he says, he's becoming more and more focused on the city of his birth. He finds a buzz in Glasgow now which reminds him of the energy he discovered in Dublin ten years ago; meanwhile the pace of the city's change and its growing hunger for the things Kerr has experienced - lofts, sushi, whatever - offer untold business opportunities.

"If I'm going to spend time here, it's in my interest, if I can contribute, to make things happen," he says. But he stresses there's a little more to it than just lucre. "You follow your passions and for me, if I get involved in a business, it's very rarely to do with the actual numbers, because anyone can talk a buisness up. But it's to do with whether it's worthwhile: does it make sense? Does it interest me? Do I think it would interest others?"

He's back in Glasgow this week to lend his support to Interactive City II, the new media symposium organised by former Factory Records boss Tony Wilson. Billed by Wilson as a dot com debate for the revolutionary digital era, it sets out to examine all and anyissues thrown up by the rise of the Internet, in particular the ongoing stushie over MP3 technology (which enables people to download music from the Interent) and what it means for the music industry. Former NME journalist Paul Morley, in his new book Nothing, describes Wilson as a cross between Jerry Springer and Malcolm McLaren; Kerr, unsurprisingly, is a little more complimentary.

"In the days when Simple Minds were starting out we'd play the [Manchester] venues like the Hacienda nad the Factory and Wilson was pivotal. He's a maverick. Wherever the action is he's there whether it's punk or the whole dance scene with the Hacienda. So I wasn't surprised to see him become an evangelist for the so-called new media."

Kerr has more than a passing interest in the new media himself having ploughed money into Student 24-7, a website aimed at the UK's college.population. He's also keeping a weather eye on developments in the music industry/e-pioneers face-off which threatens the royalties of the big bands and major labels. "It's quite intriguing for us because we have handed over what could be our last contractual album for EMI and they've sat on it for seven or eight months while they were bought by AOL, so we're waiting to see what's going to happen," he says. "So on the one hand you'd say 'Well, what a graet time to be independent', if that indeed is the case. But on the other hand it's like, 'Mmm, music for free - someone has to pay for it or else how's it going to get made?"

So far, Kerr has bee paid well for his music. Estimates put his wealth at 40 million and, looking around me, there's nothing to make me question the figure. Unless I was revising it upwards. He is wearing the rich man's shellsuit: baggy silk cargo pants, one of those urban sportswear zip-up tops and beige slip-ons.

His apartment is sparsely furnished, reflecting either the current trend for minimalism or, more likely, the live-out-of-a-suitcase emntality of its peripatetic owner. but if the architect-designed room begs for no clutter, the yawning pine shelves streching along the back wall positively scream for it. Instead they get a handful of CDs and about 18 inches of books whose titles reflect two of Kerr's abiding passions: football and lifestyle. Alex Ferguson's spine is cracked from a cover-to-cover reading, Barca looks unopened nad Lofts has maybe been dipped into. There's another one near the wall called Hip Hotels, I wonder how many Kerr hasn't stayed in.

Over in the stainless steel kitchen area there's a big deli jar of olives on top of a classic Smeg fride in sky blue (Man City colours). A glimpse inside suggests there's a Peckhams nearby that badly needs re-stocking.

Kerr gives off the air of someone who is quite alone, but the facts say otherwise: he has three children, two ex-wives - singer Chrissie Hynde and actress Patsy Kensit - and his own relatives in Glasgow. It's a large external family and he seems to occupy an almost patriarchal role in it. He is relentlessly tactful about Kensit's apparently troubled relationship with the Oasis star Liam Gallagher and eternally diplomatic in everything else to do with the two women. After all, there are kids involved and with James, his son by Kensit, already the focus of much media attention because of her hospitalistion last month for depression, you can understand the protective cloak he throws around such an intimiate subject.

"We still have our barnies and such, but there's been a lot of energy put in by all of us to keep the relationship going," he says. "But when you have kids it's instinctive, it makes sense. Whether you're married again or whatever, you've to put a lot of energy into being diplomatic at times. Sometimes you've got to try hard not to be too judgmental. I think, when I look around at my ilk - people in bands or the entertainment industry - I think we have, out of our cares, made some kinds of sense."

Laughing he tells a story about a conversation he had recently with Natalie and Yasmin, his step-daughter and duaghter from his marriage to Hynde. Was he ware, they asked, that mum had been arrested in New York?

"I said 'What did she do?' and they said 'Didn't you hear? She went into this Gap shop in Times Square and ripped this leather jacket to bits.' So there's a touch of Absolutely Fabulous to it, you know the kids are going 'Ohhh gawd'." He mimes a 'Please can I swap my right on liberal mum for a normal one' roll of the eyes. Pure Saffy.

"Again a couple of weeks ago I was sitting in the car, the kids were in the back we were talking about some plans we had for next year and Yasmin says 'Are you putting out a new record next year' and I say 'Yeah, looks like it' and there's a silence. Then Natalie says 'Are you going to be on TV' and I say 'Well I hope so'. Again there's a silence. Then I definitely heard one of them say "Oh fuck."

But if Kerr ghosts through the tabloids and gossip columns today it wasn't always that way. Already a rock star when he met Kensit, his marriage to her put him very much in the celebrity spotlight. "I always knew what the deal was there," he says. "I might not have liked the balance of things, but we always had a reading of it. If you're in a band and you marry some blonde starlet or something, you know that you are then gossip column fodder."

More recently it was his desire to tangle with Celtic FC which put him in the headlines - he and Kenny Dalglish heading a 30 million consortium which attempted to buy the club in 1998. Is tangle the wrong word? No, says Kerr, tangle pretty much describes it and if his failed takeover bid taught him anything, it was that football and the City make uneasy bedfellows.

"That was a real eye-opener," he says leaning back, a wry smile on his face. "The fact that we couldn't at the time even explain our bid in full as a result of City regulations. We were having a press conference where we could only insinuate and I'd never been involed in anything like thata. There was a touch of the Zeligs about it, a touch of 'What the hell?'".

A passionate fan, you sense that he could talk long into the night about the club and its woes. He probably has before now. "I just hate to see them lagging behind as always," he says.

We're talking in the week that Martin O'Neill is named as the club's latest manager and Kerr, natually, has his opinion on the new man. "There's no doubt that he's an impressive character, but I'm wary in as much as I haven't heard about the package that he's going to get to ake the thing forward. It's always the great unmentionable, and unless our great absentee landlord is going to put money in this pocket..." he tails off.

"I do think the Celtic brand is huge, but I don't think we have the brains in Glasgow, or the talent, to manage it."

Kerr may be undecided about O'Neill but as the conversation moves from football to films, he's unequivocal about his views on another man: the actor and director Peter Mullan who won acclaim for his film Orphans. "While I'm very much a Glaswegian and a Scot, I don't go out of my way to be a champion of purely local causes and all things Scots," says Kerr. "And although there's been activity in the Glasgow film industry in the last ten years, there was nothing that made me want to run across to my friends and say 'You gotta look at this.' But when I saw Orphans it fundamentally struck me in the way that a lot of great music strikes me and for three or four days afterwards I was totally consumed by it. I just thought, 'This is the fucking real thing'. And as flawed as it was, I thought Peter Mullan was fantastic."

Kerr backed the sentiment with hard cash for Mullan's Antonine films, giving the singer another seat on another board and pulling him yet further from what was once his core business: Simple Minds. Though he still claims a passion for music, it's increasingly obvious that Kerr is as much a businessman as an artist. As we wind up he tells of a new plan he's looking at, a hotel in Sicily. Then we talk about the FT's web site and the perils of day-trading. Of course these moments are interspersed with the wide eyed retellings of stories he heard from Dalgish - scoring against England at Wembley, psyching out Vinnie Jones ("a fanny merchant" apparently) - but there seems little doubt where Kerr's focus now lies. Whether you're Bob Dylan or Picasso, he says, you have to do business. "If you're going to generate money, you want to make sure that some of it comes your way. That's always been my attitude."

Even ghosts have to live.

Interview by Barry Didcock
Photographs by Martin Hunter
Sunday Herald Magazine, Sunday, June 11th, 2000

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