Dream Giver - Simple Minds Online Unofficially Mick MacNeil - Sun Interview

The Day The Music Died

Ten years ago Mick MacNeil walked out on No1 Scots group Simple Minds and just vanished. Today he explains why.
By Georgina Reid

Picture the scene. A number one album, a number one single and a sell-out tour.

That was the moment Mick MacNeil got on a plane and turned his back on supergroup Simple Minds. He fled a hotel in Brisbane at dawn with his beautiful wife Hannah. And, as he flew off into the sunrise, he felt nothing but utter relief - he had made his great escape.

He said: "My only regret is that I wasn't riding off into the sunset on a Harley Davidson because that would've made a better picture." "I didn't leave the band as such. I just vanished and never went back."

Now, after ten years of emotional turmoil, as he came to terms with the split, he's back - with his first solo album People, Places And Things. He has launched his own studio Internet site www.mixmuzik.com as a platform for new talent. Today Mick speaks out for the first time about the moment he decided to quit the band which gave him fame and fortune but almost destroyed his life.


Ten years of struggle and turmoil fell from his shoulders as Mick MacNeil roared off into the future without a backward glance. The keyboard star with Scotland's biggest rock band was free! He had wanted to leave in true Thelma and Louise style - only he wanted to grab his freedom on a Harley Davidson. The working class lads from Glasgow had struggled for 10 years but were at the peak of their fame. Founding members singer Jim Kerr, guitarist Charlie Burchill and Mick, had made it. They were on THE BIG ONE, a megabucks tour which would rocket them to super-stardom. But Mick had already made his decision to quit Simple Minds months earlier in 1989.

Arrogant

Mick, now 41, said: "I remember sitting in my suite at The Shelbourne hotel in Dublin and I'm just not happy. I was waiting for the chart show to come on TV to see if Belfast Child was at Number One. It was. The whole world is looking brilliant and anyone else would give their right arm to be in their position. I'm in a top band with an album at Number One and a single at Number One. Our last four albums had been Number One."

"But I just thought, 'Bloody hell, what's wrong with me? Why am I not ecstatic here? Surely I can't be so arrogant that I can take all this for granted?"

The boys were forced to become tax exiles for a year. Mick was hiding out in Dublin and the world tour had just begun. But the luxury champagne lifestyle they had worked so hard for had come at a price. He said: "Jim had a wee place in France and Charlie was seeing an Italian lassie at the time. There was me sitting stuck in Dublin feeling sorry for myself. I'd just got married to Hannah. My 30th birthday was coming up in July and I wanted to go home."

"I knew if I went back to Scotland I could kiss the tax goodbye. But I did, I had a great time and we were on the British leg of the tour so I could drive to gigs myself. It cost me around 500,000. But it could have been 10 million or a tenner. I didn't care about the money. I would rather have gone back to welding or the tools if I could change my life."

He kept his feelings secret until a week before the final tour date for Street Fighting Years. When he dropped the bombshell Kerr and close pal Charlie were gobsmacked. He said: "A week before the last date in November 1989, Jim called a band meeting to see what we were doing next. I remember going into the room. I knew I was going to tell them and I was nervous. I was paranoid that they'd already sussed. But from the reaction I got it was obvious it hadn't even crossed their minds."

"The American leg of the tour had been pulled and Jim decided we were going to Amsterdam to starting writing a new album after Christmas. At that point, I just said, 'Well, you can go, I'm going home.' We all got very angry and it got a bit nasty. Jim accused me of splitting the band up. Charlie told me I was a rat leaving a sinking ship."

"I didn't say I was chucking the band. I just told them I wasn't going to Amsterdam. I was going home and I'd sort something out from there."

Mick told how the final gig in Brisbane was the most heartbreaking of all. He said: "It was awful and there was a really bad atmosphere. The crew didn't know and I had always got on great with them. I sometimes felt closer to them than the band. I was hte only one who went to the end-of-tour party, just to say goodbye to them really."

"I stayed up all night. Someone offered me and Hannah the chance of a wee house up in Queensland and our agent suggested I take a wee holiday, time to think. We jumped at it. Rather than go to bed, I just nipped upstairs and packed a bag. I didn't want to be there in the morning. We were on the first flight out of Brisbane that morning at about 6AM."

"That was it. I was gone. We had a brilliant time. It was the nearest place to paradise I had ever seen. I felt this huge weight lift off my shoulders as we took ooff. I didn't think about the future."

Mick knew the boys were hurt after he left but they went on without him. For both parties, it was the end of a relationship, as heartwrenching as a marriage break-up. It would be nine years before Charlie forgave him. He said: "Their reaction had taken me aback. I couldn't understand why they hadn't sussed why I was so bloddy miserable. We were all too caught up by our own lives to think about other people. I didn't like who I was, or what I was becoming. I had to do something drastic to change it, so I did."

"The end of a any long-term relationship is hard though. It wasn't friendly and it wasn't a nice feeling. Contracts were signed for my deparature. I didn't even like them by then and I'm sure they didn't like me. My biggest pain was that I thought they were my pals and it turned out they were not. But this was a long time ago and there's been a lot of water under the bridge since then."

Victim

Mick's departure signalled a massive upheaval for Simple Minds as Kerr and Burchill went on a spring-cleaning spree.

One victim was their long suffering manager Bruce Findlay. Mick said: "Bruce was quite simply the biggest Simple Minds fan that ever lived. In hindsight he had the right approach. He cared more about pleasing the fans rather than some giant record company boss. Jim had alraedy started talking about making changes. After I left, everything kind of went, and Bruce fell into that bracket of upheaval."

"I don't think he deserved it and I have a lot of sympathy for him after the way he was treated."

Mick bumped into Jim a year later in a hotel in Los Angeles. He said: "Jim had married Patsy Kensit by then and I'd seen her getting out of a limo at the hotel. There was Jim larger than life walking down the corridor. He cracked a joke and broke the ice. We spoke briefly on the phone saying we would meet up but we never did.

Throughout the 90s Mick struggled to come to terms with his new life. He toured with The Pretenders after Kerr's ex-wife Chrissie Hynde called him up. Mick turned down an unplugged tour with Annie Lennox - which he now greatly regrets.

He and wife Hannah have two sons, now nine and six, but normal married life came as a shock. Mick said: "I still wasn't happy. I can't work it all out. To quote Bono's words from U2, I still haven't found what I'm looking for. Like loads of marriages today, it didn't survive. I was very hard. The way I dealt with it wasn't good and I raise my hat to my wife for what she did, how she did it and how she's still dealing with it."

All the time Mick wrote hundreds of tracks in his own studio. He found a certain peace when friend Martin Stevenson came on the scene. He said: "All of a sudden this guy came into my life with this spiritual approach which I had never considered before and I felt comfortable with it." He launched himself on the Internet with his own website, putting on clips of his music. All of a sudden he's mobbed by e-mails from fans desperate to get hold of his music. He said: "I was so surprised. I didn't expect it."

Relaxed

"I had so much stuff sitting gathering dust on shelves I decided to put an album together." The 27-track double album is available only on his Internet website. Jim Kerr has a copy but Mick's relaxed enough with life now not to care.

He saw his former bandmates a year ago when Jim and Charlie were guest on TV's Lottery show. "It was great seeing Charlie again. We had a big bearhug and it was all dead, dead emotional. It felt really good, but it was very brief and I've not seen him since. Jim's asked me to get involved in a couple of things, but either they've never come to anything or the timing's been wrong. But I hope some time in the future we could do something together. Time cures a lot."

Ironically Mick seems to have come full circle. These days he's holed up in his private recording studio in Glasgow's West End. He's also working with some new Glasgow talent, passing on his own experience and talent to today's young home hopefuls. He's involved in a community group called SWAMP in Priesthill and Pollok, the area he grew up in - taking youngsters off the streets and giving them drum and guitar lessons. Ironically the latest talent he's discovered through SWAMP is a young singer - called Jim Kerr.


Demon Life Of The Band That Loved To Party

In the last 20 years Mick has tasted the highs and lows of being a rock superstar. He's done the lot - from touring Britain in the back of a van to staying in first-class hotels and being invited to play with some of the best in the business like Eurythmics star Annie Lennox. Here, Mick looks back on the good times...

Jim And Chrissie Hynde:
"Jim kept their relationship really private. We toured with The Pretenders and we knew they were in love. The spotlight was always on them, everywhere you looked it was Jim and Chrissie which pissed us off endlessly. One time Charlie and I went to the MTV awards against our will. We were in jeans and trainers and there was Jim and Chrissie getting out of a limo all dressed up to the nines."

Bono And U2:
"Our paths crossed alot. There was always graet cameraderie between us. We were the same kind of guys doing the same kind of thing. We were equal up to a point, then we kind of stayed in second gear and U2 went into over-drive."

The Myth Of Jim Kerr's Giant Manhood:
"Jim became known as having the biggest schlong in showbusiness. Well I wouldn't go that far. He liked to get his knob out at any time. Once, in the early days, we'd had a few drinks and were running around naked. I was always the one with the camera. We came home from the tour and I completely forgot about it and just bunged the film into Boots. I got a shock when my sister picked it up. It didn't look good."

On Touring:
"We liked to party and we liked a good drink too. But we were generally well behaved guys. I only lost the plot on a couple of occasions. Once, we were in this really expensive hotel in Italy and they weren't selling us any more drink. We'd had more than enough. There was a big grand piano and it was locked. I decided to lever it open and then I broke into the bar and got stuck into the champagne. It turned out the piano was quite expensive."

On Simple Minds' First Real Gig:
"I was working as an apprentice welder in a factory when Jim called and told me we could do The Apollo that afternoon, could I make it? I just turned to the gaffer and said, 'I'm playing The Apollo tonight cheerio!' The Apollo was mega-stardom. We were supporting Siouxsie And The Banshees. We were third on at about four in the afternoon and no-one was there."

On Touring With The Pretenders:
In 1994 Chrissie called me up and asked me to get involved in her album and ultimately aksed if I would do some gigs. I didn't think I'd missed the band until I toured with The Pretenders. I was excited and everyone was so enthusiastic. Plus the singer was brilliant. Chrissie was such a beautiful singer she was a joy to tlisten to at any time."

On Annie Lennox:
"It's my one big regret. I was asked to do an unplugged tour with Annie Lennox. They wanted me to strap on my accordian. But I was still mixed up and said no. I really regretted not doing it. Next to Chrissie, Annie Lennox is a pure star with the vocals."

On Their First US No 1 Don't You
"We knew Dont You was going to be a hit, on the back of the move The Breakfast Club. I was standing in a pub in Shawlands and someone came in with the news we were No 1 in the U.S. I bought champagne because I thought it was the thing to do but I didn't have enough money to pay for it."

On The Love Of His Life:
"My Triumph motorbike. I suddenly decided I wanted a Harley Davidson. I was Mick MacNeil, rock star. No way would the examiner fail me but I was crap and he did. I went straight to the nearest bike shop and bought a 125cc scooter and a full set of leathers. I'd wait till midnight and then go down to the Safeway carpark and practise all night. I passed and ended up with my wee Triumph which I adore."

On His New Album People, Places, Things:
"There were no plans to make an album. I built my own studio to record other artists. When I set up the Internet site I was overwhelmed by the number of requests to hear the new material. I looked at all the work I'd been collecting over the last ten years and put it together. There were so many. I've split it into two discs called Night and Day. All the tracks were inspired by experiences, images, fellings and moods."

Interview by Georgina Reid
The Sun, Thursday, March 2, 2000

back to news