by Margaret Chrystall
BOTH drummer Brian McGee and his pop star brother Owen Paul sound as if they have few regrets about what music – and Simple Minds’ music has given them.
These days, the brothers are united when the line-up of XSM – Ex-Simple Minds plays live.
And long after his enormous 1986 pop hit My Favourite Waste Of Time, Owen gets to be the rock singer he always wanted to be from his early days as the kid brother watching drummer Brian rehearse with early Simple Minds’ singer Jim Kerr and guitarist Charlie Burchill.
“We do one-offs throughout the year because I still go out as a solo act and have a new album coming out in August, so there’s a crossover point...”
And Owen must also be doing something right – he’s still on good terms with the long-time Simple Minds core of Kerr and Burchill.
“I’ve met Jim and Charlie in the last three years or so at Twickenham and when they’ve done a couple of shows, they kindly invited me as a guest and we’ve always got on fine. I was never within the band, but it has never been a problem.”
The XSM format happened after former bass-player Derek Forbes asked Owen to front Scottish “supergroup” called Four Good Men which played some shows in 2009 with Graham Duffin from Wet Wet Wet, Bruce Watson from Big Country, guys from The Silencers and they did a couple of shows in 2009.
Owen said: “It went really well and a couple of pormoters spoke to Derek and said ‘You know the guys in Simple Minds are going about as they do, but half the songs, the biggest songs that everyone knows, are as much yours as they are theirs, why don’t you get together with Owen and get his brother Brian back involved and do an Ex Simple Minds brand and do the early Simple Minds stuff?’.
“It was songs like Love Song, The American, all the songs from back in the day which – at that point – Simple Minds weren’t playing much of.
“We ended up getting booked all over the world.
“We play the songs pretty much as it was originally done. Simple Minds were playing stadiums with their new original material and had a tendency maybe to branch out from the original production of the songs.
“But we don’t do that, as you will see at Belladrum. We play them pretty much as was, harder and more indie.
“It went really well, but we went quiet for a bit when Simple Minds did their 5X5 tour – in effect, they played all their earlier material they hadn’t done for years.
“We thought that defeated the object of us. But now we’re back doing the XSM thing again and I absolutely love it!”
And though Brian left in 1981 – after the full-on early years – he loves Simple Minds too.
He said: “I met Jim Kerr and Charlie in school – I’m talking when I was about 13 or 14. They said to me ‘We’re going to start a band’ and I went ‘OK’.
“Charlie was playing guitar and Jim was singing and I said ‘That’s a great idea – I’ll go as the drummer’. So I went home that night and said to my mum ‘I want to be a drummer – I need a drum kit!’
“And my mother – God love her – said ‘How much are they?’
“So we got me a drumkit that cost about 40 quid, from a woman of about 85 years of age. And this is how it started, all that.
“I then sat in the basement of my mum’s house and rehearsed and reharsed, then we started practising and it just went from that to 100 miles an hour. Pure fate.
“We were all meant to do that.
“The number of bands that I knew in Glasgow and Edinburgh that never made it. They were better musicians, but that was irrelevant. It was all about being in the right place at the right time. And I was lucky.”
But things happened very fast for SimpleMinds and Brian departed.
“I left the band after doing five albums and didn’t regret it. I regretted it at the time.
“But after the event I thought ‘You know what? That was right for me!’.
“I don’t regret it – possibly from a financial point of view – but that’s not what I’m chasing. That’s not what life is all about.”
And the adventure that the original band members shared before Simple Minds became a global stadium band still connects them, Brian feels.
“Don’t get me wrong, if Jim was to walk past me or give me a call or we met each other, we’d be like brothers because we spent so much time together.
“I’ve known Jim since first year at school. They they were on The One Show recently and I’m still a Simple Minds fan.
“I can’t not be! I love the band.”
XSM – Ex Simple Minds play the Garden Stage at Belladrum on Saturday. Look out for a longr version of this interview here tomorrow.