17 Jun, 2013 Train Of Thought
Train travel has played more than a part in the career story of Simple Minds. Back in ’77, it was the Glasgow Queen Street to Edinburgh Waverly express that would regularly hurtle both Charlie Burchill and myself as we made countless trips through to the Scottish capital. Doing so, it enabled us to drop off our first demo recordings and generally hustle the local music scene, bigwigs – all of whom seemed to reside in Edinburgh in those days – into giving us gigs, writing about us, or even just delivering on the spot advice on how we could go about contacting the major record companies that inevitably were based so very faraway, way down south, in London town.
The London to Glasgow sleeper train itself became a regular fixture only a year or so later, when we had indeed sorted ourselves with a major record deal. Arista records, the label who released our first three albums, would book us beds on the night train, ensuring we would be in the capital nice and early, also making sure no record company money was spent on having rooms in even the crappiest B n B’s. At the end of a long day doing all sort of promotional activities, we would then find ourselves on the platform at Euston Station awaiting yet another sleeper train that of course would take us overnight back home to Glasgow. Bleary eyed we must have been, as we were dumped back on the platform particularly as I don’t think we ever slept a wink on those overnight trains. The excitement of what was happening with the band would keep us chattering away with no notion of time. High – jinks and horse-play would then of course come into play as we made the most of any alcoholic drink that was on offer from the bar. Quantity was no problem, plus miracle of miracles, we had started to have a little cash in our pockets (Our wage was £50 per week) and had no use for sleep.
Milan to Verona by rail is a journey I will never forget, even if it occoured in 1976. Both Charlie and I, along with our pal Robert Clark, had finally decided that our skill as hitch-hikers had deserted us as we struggled badly to get any lifts from seemingly anyone in the surrounding city of Milan. We had at that point been on the road successfully thumbing lifts for a whole 3 weeks previously and naturally were not only exhausted, but also soaked to the skin and thoroughly famished to boot.Making matters worse; we were rapidly running out of whatever little money we had.
Therefore the seemingly spontaneous decision to try our luck by taking the first train heading in a northern direction. In this case it was to no less a city than Verona, the same city where by some mystical coincidence Simple Minds would some years later film our one and only – to date – in concert documentary.
That was all a long time ago of course and as a result some recollections are inevitably blurry, nevertheless I am sure as I now recall it, that it was on the trip to Verona, which in turn was the first stage of our journey back home to Glasgow, that we spoke about putting a band together as soon as we possibly could. This we did a month or so later when we rehearsed in the cellar of Brian McGee’s parents house in Pollokshields, Glasgow. We called ourselves Biba Rom and those hitch-hiking/train travelling days were among the happiest I have ever experienced.
Other train journeys that come to mind? Well, I recall writing lyrics on the back of some scraps of paper on the train from Philadelphia To New York. Less than four hours after we had played to 135,000 people and were seen on TV by the then biggest global audience for a televised music event. But that was already history as far as I was concerned, plus, our producer Jimmy Iovine was already waiting in a Manhattan Studio fully expecting me to sing a song that as yet I had no set of complete lyrics for. Did I let him down? Not at all; and Oh Jungleland, written enroute is still one of my fave lyrics from a Simple Minds tune.
I could go on babbling about train journeys relevant to our career as well as others that brought great pleasure, and I probably will someday. The Japanese Bullet Train and the Hamburg – Berlin back in the era of the Cold War immediately spring to mind. Plainly the drama of those will never fade from my memory. As for travelling on the Moscow Underground? Now that is one that is relevant to Simple Minds and if you are curious to know why, you can always begin by listening to the opening track on our last album “Graffiti Soul”. It’s a beauty!