One for the road: Simple Minds' Charlie Burchill

(Image: © Duncan Bryceland/REX/Shutterstock)

Simple Minds guitarist Charlie Burchill tells tales of how a guitar lead once fixed the band’s tour bus…

What was your first ever gig and how did it go?

“Funnily enough, we recorded our Simple Minds Acoustic album in a place that is a studio now, but it wasn’t in the past; it was a social club - The Railway Club in Glasgow - and that’s where we did the first gig ever. We did it to about 30 orphans who were about 12 years of age and we did 10 Velvet Underground covers. I remember there were a few kids crying. First gig. Tough crowd!”

What gear have you got in your current stage rig?

“I’m using a GigRig switching system and I’ve got a [Strymon] TimeLine, the TC Alter Ego, a Page overdrive - which is fantastic - an [Origin Effects] Cali76, a Bi-Chorus by Analog Man, a [Boss] CE-1, a Fulltone Octafuzz, a Fulltone Clyde Wah and I’ve just added an Eventide H9. 

A kabuki screen dropped on top of the whole band and it was like being in a fishing net: no-one could play and nobody could get out of it

“I’ve got an old ’62 White Falcon that I’ve used for years; I’ve got two of them, actually, one I got about seven years ago, the other I’ve used for years and years, since the 80s. I have a new Black Falcon, a ’69 Les Paul and I have a T-Style that my guitar tech made me; it’s semi-acoustic. Then I’ve got my black Les Paul, another ’69. I use Matchless amps, three of them - two stereo and one dry. But I’m thinking about moving to Fenders.”

Which piece of gear is most essential to your live sound?

“An echo unit… the Alter Ego. I have that on most of the time - that and the CE-1 chorus.”

What’s the nearest you’ve come to a Spinal Tap moment?

“We opened a show in Aberdeen - we started a tour there - and we had this kabuki screen in front of us and, of course, the idea is… the intro tape, the whole bit, we come out, the kabuki falls and they drag it off. But the kabuki dropped on top of the whole band and it was like being in a fishing net: no-one could play and nobody could get out of it - and that was the opening moment of our tour! It was pretty hilarious and probably the funniest thing the crowd had ever seen.”

What’s on your rider?

“Bottle of whiskey, Macallan, usually an 18. Fruit and nuts, because we’re all super healthy these days, so nobody has blue Smarties or anything like that! It’s just the whiskey for after the show.”

What’s the best venue you’ve played in from a musician’s point of view?

“I would think The Barrowland in Glasgow. I don’t know, there’s just something about it. It has this atmosphere… it’s an old music hall and it has a sprung floor and it just ramps up everything and I don’t know why, ’cos I don’t really notice sound or anything like that from the stage. The audience would probably love other theatres, but for us playing, The Barrowland is magic.”

What’s the worst journey you’ve ever had to or from a gig?

“Going way, way back, we used to have an old ambulance for our gear and transport, and the clutch went on it and, first of all, it nearly killed us, of course, because it happened on a motorway. We managed to get it working by taping a guitar lead into the engine, but it took us about eight hours to get from Aberdeen to Glasgow and it was freezing, in the middle of December and it was three in the morning!”

What’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to you on tour?

“On my birthday in Australia, in Sydney, we got hammered and I woke up next morning and there was nothing in my room - no clothes at all in the room, not a stitch, not even a pair of shoes, nothing. I called up the manager and I said, ‘I know it sounds crazy, but someone’s nicked all my clothes in my room,’ and he said, ‘No, that’s insane - that’s impossible!’ I said it wasn’t impossible and I couldn’t even go down to get anything. He said, ‘Can you give me a bit of time?’ And he got back and said, ‘We’ve found your clothes…’ 

I called up the manager and I said, ‘I know it sounds crazy, but someone’s nicked all my clothes in my room’

“I remember that I had it in my head that I needed to get them washed because we’d been on the road for a bit, and I’d just chucked everything out into the hall and the maid thought it was dry cleaning and they all came back about an hour later. Cost me about 1,800 Australian dollars!”

What’s your best tip for getting the audience on your side?

“The best thing we have is Jim [Kerr, Simple Minds frontman]. Some people can just do it and others really don’t have it, but Jim’s great at talking to the audience; he’s a natural, very funny. And it’s instant. Before we even play a note, quite often we’ve got the audience. He just has a very natural storytelling sort of personality and when he talks you just feel that they’re there right away.”

What’s your favourite live album?

“I think it’s probably The Doors’ Absolutely Live. I grew up with it. The first album I ever heard in my life was LA Woman and I was 10 years of age and I had no idea about The Doors or any of the stuff about them. The second album I heard was Absolutely Live, which is a double-album, and my brother and I used to play it from beginning to end and I could tell you every single note on it and every lyric. 

“But The Celebration Of The Lizard, for a 10 year old - I just thought that this was some kind of a hallucinogenic type of magic thing in music and I think that’s why I wanted to be in a band because I thought, ‘That’s definitely an amazing world…’”

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