It’s hard to know who started this fashion for proving your back catalogue via acoustic treatment. Perhaps it was the MTV unplugged albums of the 90s, or the contrived informality of Mumford & Sons, but everyone’s at it, even A-ha next year. At this rate we can anticipate Kraftwerk’s Electric Café on mandolin and bongos. However, Jim Kerr mentions Simple Minds’ own reluctance to sound like hippies crouching over a camp fire half-way through this intimate West End show, by which point they’ve already proven that their idea of acoustic is akin to sharing a hanger with a jet plane taking off. After all, this is a band whose last album was called Big Music. Drummer Mel Gaynor might be absent, but percussionist Cherisse Osei does the work of twenty drum machines.

Like a ninja choreographing Future Islands, Jim Kerr has already grabbed a fan’s phone for a selfie, upheld his mic stand, and walked through the auditorium before the evergreen New Gold Dream has even finished. With entertaining stories between songs, Kerr’s a definitive front man, attacking every song like it’s the encore. Charlie Burchill’s spent 40 years watching his mate’s gleeful dad-dancing, although there are less scissor kicks these days. Yet Burchill’s reflective guitar playing is as unique as Marr, Clapton or the Edge, with his distinctive pose of holding it like a dance partner to tease out unforgettable stadium riffs. It might be acoustic, but it’s classic Simple Minds. The only song that misses the synthesizers is the closing Alive and Kicking, which adopts its football chant defiance nonetheless

Tellingly there are no songs beyond their imperial period of the 80s, only what Kerr shamelessly describes as ‘these classic songs’, but their pompous reputation is ruined here by effortless passion and playfulness, with the sound quality more crystal than the huge chandelier above the stage. Glittering Prize certainly chimes as majestically perfect as ever.

The butch Stand by Love is somehow reminiscent of Tom Jones, while they pull unknown funk from Someone Somewhere In Summertime, which follows a blissfully melancholic Big Sleep. They’re as kind to Don’t you (forget about me) as it has been to them. Their cover of Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town is diverting enough, but they return for several encores to allow Kerr to show off some new jackets and freshly thoughtful arrangements of Waterfront and Promised you a Miracle. He’s grinning to the last, as is the crowd, as though high on knowing they’ve made a superfluous acoustic album an essential live experience. They’re extraordinary.

My music-heavy novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 –  is available here – – 

A farcical road trip around Europe. ‘This is what would happen if the Blues Brothers went on a search for the Holy Grail.’

http://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-life-assistance-agency,thomas-hocknell-9781911129035

and on ebook here –