01 Dec, 2009 The Spirit Of MacNeil
Twenty years ago Charlie Burchill and I limped back from our world tour with Simple Minds. Our latest Street Fighting Year’s album had been recognised favourably in many parts of the world as the brave effort that it was. Many other places however did not take to its mix of politics and social balladry and resultantly for the first time Simple Minds witnessed a dip in sales of records, concert tickets, and the associated merchandising.
Problematic as that may have been – as it left us with some serious debts to be repaid. It diminished in comparison to the genuinely shocking news that Mick MacNeil, our co songwriter and keyboard player, had decided that he would be leaving Simple Minds. Now, that was a real problem.
His reasons for deciding to do so are better left for Mick to explain and for that reason I will skip my version of events that led up to what was to be a colossal fracture to the framework of our band. I will say however that if you ignore the gossipy and trite stuff, my own belief is that most people are not cut out for the long haul involved in sticking it out with a rock group.
This life is only for specific or specialised types and I am one of them, as is Charlie Burchill. We feel that we were born to be in Simple Minds. Mick patently was not. He never had the stomach for it beyond 10 years, and has gone on record as saying how unhappy he became and that all he wanted to do was be back home.
It does not make him or anyone else inferior in anyway however, it just made him no longer right for Simple Minds, and despite our initial small protestation, he made the right decision for himself and for us. In addition, had he not quit and continued to hang around unhappy with his lot, there is every possibility that after a certain point he might have been asked to leave. Who knows?
The decade known as the 80’s had witnessed our group emerge from being a little group with a passionate local following in Glasgow, gradually rising all the way into the big league of popular music, becoming one of the top bands of a generation along the way. It had been a most rewarding experience, beyond our dreams to be honest, but the decade was coming to a close and we knew that a new and freshly exciting generation of bands were coming over the horizon, all of them ready and willing to challenge the then established order.
I guess what I am saying is that if ever there was a time to regroup, rethink and re- strategise, it was there and then. The last thing needed was for people within the group to be quitting, for things to be fragmenting, creative engines dropping off the machine etc.
That kind of thing could have seriously put the kibosh on us, and let’s be frank, it almost did!
A fairly quiet type, it was sometimes difficult to read the ways of Mick. But he had no need to elaborate verbally as his innovative music spoke plenty. Was his departure in anyway foreseeable in the months leading up to his decision? I did not think so at all, hence the shock. I knew however that he had not been the happiest over the previous year and that a number of animated quarrels had occurred involving all of us that had particularly upset things. But then again I truly loved being in SM, and in totally blinkered fashion refused to envisage a better existence for anyone considering leaving. I thought that you would have to be mad to quit SM, or very confused at least!
So confident that he would rethink his rash decision, I don’t think I extended myself in trying to convince Mick to reconsider his decision. I saw little point as he had his view, and within that view it seemed that all was wrong, and with no blame at all on his part. As you could imagine, not all of us entirely agreed with that.
Meanwhile the music was moving forward as Charlie and I, along with producer Stephen Lipson, were literally sweating it out in the basement of a recording studio in Holland. Tracks like Real Life, See The Lights, Let There Be Love were materialising, all written by Charlie and featuring still to this day in our live sets. Those same tunes have become classics in someway or another. The quality involved in them alone led us to believe that although we would be a different entity minus Mick, we would nevertheless be able to continue should he stick to his decision – which as we all know, he did.
Did I miss Mick in the aftermath? Considering some of the tight spots that we have since got ourselves into, I just don’t recall ever turning around and wishing things to be other than they were. We are not the types to dwell on the missing parts or walk around with an abundance of regrets. Things are what they are in our view, and as bad as it might get, there is always a way of moving forward. I would suggest that within Simple Minds we have lived philosophically in some middle ground, where things are seemingly neither as good nor as bad as it might appear at the time.
In terms of musical contribution, thru being unaware of any music Mick has done since he walked, I am not in a position of knowing what we have missed out on. The question surely is – was Mick in fact the genius that many Simple Minds have made him out to be?
Without an iota of doubt, he was all of that that and more in my opinion.
Equally then, are Simple Minds the live force they are today, due still to the talents of Mick MacNeil.
Well, put it this way. Last night’s 26 song set in Brussels, featured 16 songs that he either wrote or co wrote, and with that being so it is obvious that Mick’s presence is always with us.
A fan of early Minds himself, our current live keyboardist Andy Gillespie deserves unlimited credit in the way that he has conscientiously called up the spirit of MacNeil’s work throughout this last decade. Simple Minds fans have taken Andy to their hearts for his amazingly creative efforts. Both Charlie and I have also. Meanwhile, it is thanks to Andy that Mick’s wonderful melodies live on and become even more known with every passing day and each show that takes place, including of course this current tour of UK/Ireland where we will play a fair quota of Sons and Fascination tracks.
In the end, the most respect we could offer to Mick when he left was to acknowledge that nobody could ever replace him in Simple Minds.
It is for that reason that we never tried and never would. But our music has gone on regardless and it will grow still over the years to come, God willing!
Thanks to the incredible foundations that Mick MacNeil more than helped create.