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Depeche ModeDepeche ModePalau Sant Jordi, November 20th and 21st
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Simple MindsSimple Minds (and Shakespear’s Sister)Razzmatazz, November 17th
Barcelona is bracing itself for another trip down British Eighties’ music memory lane this month, with Depeche Mode, Simple Minds and Shakespear’s Sister all popping over to perform. It could have been an even bigger retro time: Spandau Ballet were also pencilled in, but have pushed their concert back to March 2010, apparently because their latest album needs a bit more work. Simple Minds and Shakespear’s Sister will be playing together, the latter stepping in after Simple Minds’s planned partner-in-rhyme OMD pulled out.
Depending on your thoughts about Depeche Mode and Simple Minds, it may surprise you to hear that while the former sold out their first planned concert at the Palau Sant Jordi with the result that another date was added on, the latter will be headlining, for one night, at the significantly smaller Razzmatazz. Musical destiny is a fickle creature. But regardless of where they now find themselves performing, it’s no small feat for any group to keep going for three decades and such effort is a salutory lesson for the reality-show winners and industry-made bands of today who are more interested in short-term fame than long-term achievements. If they bothered, they could learn much from both these bands about making (and keeping) one’s place in the music history books.
First, Depeche Mode. Who’d have thought that four mild-mannered Essex boys who wore the least make-up of all their early Eighties’ peers and made sweet and catchy electronic songs about love would, 20 years on, be such a force in cynicism, tattoos, and notorious drugs habits? While Duran Duran rack up one decent plasticky pseudo-meaningful album a decade, and Spandau decide it’s time to bury their “you owe me money, mate” differences, David Gahan and co. have been quietly toiling away, popping out thoughtful, magnificent album after thoughtful, not-so-magnificent album, making a total of 21 since Speak and Spell first hit the shops in 1981.
Their enduring success has various explanations. Firstly, unlike some of the other bands in eyeliner, Depeche Mode found an audience in men as well as women. And flatlining from a speedball OD in Los Angeles, as Gahan did in the mid-Nineties, is always guaranteed to make you that little bit cooler in some quarters. Plus they’ve long spoken out against capitalism, making some spooky predictions about the mess we now find ourselves in. If Reagan and Thatcher had taken note of Depeche’s forecasts, we’d all probably be much happier. And Depeche might have gone on to write happier tunes. Instead, not surprisingly, all the anti-capitalist angst caused a kind of collective depression in their output. But that’s not been a bad thing in terms of their careers, with the production of many more meatier tunes than the sappy efforts of their peers, young and old, who are clearly just in it for the money and groupies.
And then there’s Simple Minds. More about stadium rock than the arty Depeche, the record sales and profile of the Scottish band never really equalled that of the other group. True, lead singer Jim Kerr had the hands in marriage of both Chrissie Hynde and Patsy Kensit, but most people can probably only name three Simple Minds songs at a push. However, one of those is likely to be ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ from 1985 cult movie The Breakfast Club, a hit which has undoubtedly helped the group stay alive and kicking. In the late Eighties, the band became stalwarts on the political issues musical circuit: they wrote anti-apartheid song ‘Mandela Day’ and worked with Amnesty International, while their only UK number one was ‘Belfast Child’, written following an IRA bomb attack.
In the following decades, their light faded but never went out altogether, as they kept things bubbling away with regular albums and tours—their latest disc, Graffiti Soul, went into the UK Top 10 earlier this year. Meanwhile, Jim Kerr didn’t go the drug overdose route, but literally went in the opposite direction with a move to Sicily where he bought a hotel. He now helps keeps the profile of both the band and the Hotel Villa Angela in Taormina in the public eye through travel articles.
So, to sum up, durability in the music industry takes hard work, clear vision and no small amount of luck. The proof will be on stage this November in Barcelona.