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A hike with Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr

He walks casually and briskly up the stone-paved path from Taormina to the mountain resort of Castelmola.

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A hike with Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr

He walks casually and briskly up the stone-paved path from Taormina to the mountain resort of Castelmola. The man in the light brown trousers, the dark t-shirt and the white sneakers doesn't look like a rock star at all. Nothing is reminiscent of the charismatic zampano who once unleashed the masses with just a few gestures at Live-Aid or in Wembley Stadium, when he raised his arms in a redeemer pose, waved them back and forth - and 80,000 fans imitated him.

That would also seem strange in this environment, between cacti and spurge bushes. Jim Kerr, singer of the Scottish rock band Simple Minds, is more “casual” on his morning hike in his adopted home of Sicily. Apart from the mirrored sunglasses. It looks at least a bit extravagant and is reminiscent of the great rock 'n' roll eccentric Lou Reed, with whom Kerr once worked.

For half an hour he has been walking up the path to the 550 meter high mountain village. He calls this his morning walk. At the moment it is still quite warm in Sicily, at 10 a.m. already over 20 degrees. Kerr wipes a few drops of sweat from his forehead but is otherwise in amazing condition. He walks and talks in unison without seeming to run out of breath. "Alive And Kicking", you can tell that the 63-year-old does something like this more often.

The fact that he now pauses for a moment is due to the rising panting of two tourists who have been in his slipstream for a long time. That bothers a bit. He waits, nods politely as they pass by - two Germans complaining that the path to the mountain town is steeper than expected. And, no, they didn't recognize him, the Scottish rock star in exile in Italy.

"I'm hardly ever recognized by tourists. The last thing you want in the hills of Taormina is to meet a guy who was on MTV in the '80s,” laughs Kerr. You don't get the impression that he's suffering from it. "The only people who recognize me are locals. But I don't meet them when hiking, but in the city or when they pass me on a scooter and wave."

In the 80s and 90s, Kerr wrote hits like "New Gold Dream", "Don't You (Forget About Me)" and "Alive And Kicking" with his friend Charlie Burchill, the guitarist and founding member of Simple Minds , filled the largest halls and football stadiums with this mixture of electro sounds, punk, later folk and rock. That was over in the noughties. The band from Glasgow seemed burnt out, the albums didn't sell well, and at times the group didn't even have a record company anymore. The "New Gold Dream" seemed to be over.

Only in the last ten years have they found their way back to success. The fact that they were able to do this has mainly to do with Sicily, says Kerr. Taormina is also where the songs on Simple Minds' new album, Direction Of The Heart, came from, but Kerr's fascination with the island goes way back.

His love for Italy began at the age of 13 when he went to Rimini on a class trip. “It was like realizing for the first time that the world also exists in colour. Glasgow was mostly gray back then,” he says. "Even then I said to myself: When I'm old, I want to live in Italy." In 1983, the Simple Minds played in Sicily for the first time, since then he's often vacationed here and later lived with friends in Taormina for months. When his band got into trouble, he bought a piece of land in 2000 and wanted to build a hotel there.

In 2004 he was able to open his “Villa Angela” and he helped to mix the concrete himself. Instead of a coin, he dropped a guitar pick from Charlie Burchill into the cement for good luck. On the day of the opening, he wiped off the last dirt early in the morning before the first guests – two Germans, no Simple Minds fans – ceremoniously cut a ribbon at the opening.

After the slump caused by the pandemic, business is now thriving again, and an annex will soon be completed with eight additional beds to the existing 28. Kerr now speaks fluent Italian and has been an Italian citizen for two years.

“As Scots, we didn't want to be pushed out of the EU with the rest of Britain as a result of this crazy Brexit. All my life I have felt European in my heart. Two months before Brexit came into effect, Charlie Burchill and I became Italian citizens. No one should later be able to say that Boris Johnson kicked us out of the EU. He didn't make it.” Kerr calls this his rebirth in Sicily – as a person and also as an artist.

The singer rests for a moment on a stone wall, he is halfway to the mountain village of Castelmola, 550 meters above sea level. From here you can also see the district where his hotel is located, among the houses that nestle against the hilly landscape, behind them the bay in front of Taormina and on the right Mount Etna, at around 3400 meters high the largest active volcano in Europe. Its summit is partially covered in clouds that are slowly spreading towards Taormina. One believes Kerr immediately when he says that he can never get enough of this panorama.

The Scot isn't the only artist who felt this way. Taormina used to be a place of longing for creative people and eccentrics who found inspiration here. Tennessee Williams and Oscar Wilde flocked here, as did Ernest Hemingway, who was in Taormina healing from a World War I wound - and wrote his early short story, The Mercenaries, here. Not forgetting D. H. Lawrence, who hoped the Mediterranean climate would alleviate his tuberculosis, and then endured his wife's affairs with an Italian muleteer, which inspired his scandalous novel Lady Chatterley.

Kerr knows them all, the stories and myths about those wild sensitives who, like him, were drawn to Sicily. Except that he didn't suffer from serious illnesses or injuries when he chose the Mediterranean island as his sanctuary. Fading fame bothered him. “When I decided to move to Sicily it was a turning point. Things had only gone downhill with Simple Minds. I was bored with myself, thought I had nothing more to offer the music.”

In Sicily he wanted to enjoy life, the landscape and the food - and play a bit with the local soccer team at the same time. Until a few young fellow players who were also DJs asked him for his musical advice and included him in their song productions. "It was like a rejuvenation, I realized how much I missed the music, you just can't turn off creativity."

But with the income from 70 million albums sold, he could have bought a villa or a hotel anywhere else in the world. Can he explain what it is exactly that fascinates him so much about Taormina that he has now even become Italian? Many things come to mind: the mild climate, the interplay of sea, mountains and the volcano, the fantastic Sicilian cuisine.

When he realizes that all this doesn't sound particularly original, he actually quotes from Goethe's "Italian Journey" - in English: "To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.” (“Italy without Sicily creates no image in the soul: here is the key to everything.”)

Etna's clouds have come even closer. "It's definitely going to rain," says Kerr, setting off again, further up towards Castelmola. In autumn there are significantly fewer tourists in the region than in July and August. It's too hot to hike there anyway, and in the old town and by the sea you can't get your feet on the ground, he says.

The best season for hiking in Sicily is October and November and spring: "Even if it rains every now and then, most of the time in winter there is something that is scarce in northern Europe: that endless blue sky."

Hiking is like an antidote for him, it helps against the stress of everyday life. “I meditate while hiking. Life is regimented, especially on tour, every day and every hour is planned. Here in Sicily I usually get up very early, at 4.30 a.m., then I start hiking. To Etna, to the sea and to the hills of the hinterland.” Not very Rockstar-like.

As a rock musician, he used to enjoy lying in bed all day and banging away at night. “In Sicily I turned into an early riser. When hiking early in the morning, I feel fresh, that's when I get the best ideas for songs or for missing lines in the songs." That was the case with the new song "Natural", but also classics like "This Is Your Land", "Different World" or "New Sunshine Morning" were created while hiking.

After an hour he has arrived at the mountain village of Castelmola. The singer chooses a table in the panoramic restaurant "La Taverna Dell'Etna", the panorama is breathtaking. The sun is still shining, but the Etna clouds have almost reached it. Not all tables are occupied, a few Americans, English and Germans are sitting around him. Jim Kerr orders a caffè americano. Nobody recognizes him.

If he had more time now, he would move on from here into the mountainous hinterland - to Monte Veneretta, 884 meters high. The way there leads over an old mulattiera, a mule track paved with stones, through largely untouched landscape.

Takes about four hours. “After 20 minutes you are in another world, you no longer hear cars, only goat bells, crickets, birds or someone chopping wood. They are sounds of the old world.” He calls it liberation from the high-tech world.

The dark clouds from the volcano are almost over Castelmola now. time to pay. Kerr makes his way back and is promptly caught in the rain. "Get in, get out of the rain" - it's not as bad as he sings about it in the Simple Minds hit "Waterfront". The rain is more like a subtle sprinkler system that refreshes you slightly without getting your clothes soaked.

At one point on the descent, Kerr has a particularly good view of the maze of alleys in the old town of Taormina and also of the Teatro Antico, which can be seen "en miniature" from here. It is one of the most impressive surviving theaters of antiquity, built by the Greeks in the third century BC and a symbol of the city.

The tourist attraction is also a concert arena. Bob Dylan, Sting and Robert Plant have all played here. And a few months ago, Simple Minds, to a sold-out audience. Half the city was there, says Kerr, and many fans from all over the world came to see the band at this special place. A home game and one of the highlights of a tour that has taken them through the largest arenas in Europe in recent months.

"The Simple Minds are back in fashion and in top form," wrote the London Times about this comeback, which didn't come overnight but slowly built up over the years. With albums that received critical acclaim and propelled her back into the top ten. The cornerstone for this revival lies here in Sicily, says Kerr, here he not only built a hotel but also the band.

Back in Taormina it stopped raining. Kerr himself lives not far from his hotel. Guitarist Charlie Burchill lives about 200 meters as the crow flies in a house further down the hill. He can wave at him from the terrace of his hotel, the singer claims. He calls his friend on his cell phone, who shortly afterwards actually waves to him from the terrace of his house.

"We've known each other since we were eight growing up on the same street in Glasgow. Now we both live in Sicily, practically door to door again, are still friends, still make music together. There aren't many friendships like that, especially in a band. Usually the musicians split up at some point, hate each other.”

The long terrace of "Villa Angela" is enthroned above a pool further down the slope, from here you have the great all-round view of Taormina, the sea and Mount Etna on the horizon. Only the small coat of arms of Glasgow, which is discreetly worked into the outer wall, reminds of the Scottish hotel owner. It depicts a fish with a ring in its mouth, a bell, a robin and an oak tree - attributes of Saint Mongoose, the patron saint of Glasgow.

So much homeland ties must be. And, as a sort of logo for the hotel, Kerr has integrated the Celtic motif of a Claddagh ring into the floors and tables - two hands holding a heart with a crown. It was his late mother's wedding ring.

The motif can also be seen on several Simple Minds albums. That being said, there is no memorabilia, no gold or platinum records to point to the owner's rock star life. For the past two years, during lockdowns, the singer has holed up here with his guitarist. Just the two of them, self-sufficient in a hotel that had no guests because of the pandemic. The tourism stronghold of Taormina was a ghost town.

"We felt like we were in the horror movie 'The Shining' - only without the horror and Jack Nicholson, who would have chased us through the empty corridors with an axe," he says with a laugh. They occupied rooms with a mobile recording studio, went hiking in the morning, then they recorded new songs that can now be heard on the album "Direction Of The Heart" - electro rock to feel good.

They shot the video for the single "First You Jump" in the ancient theater of Taormina - a song about jumping, about taking off and about leaving bad times behind. What comes to mind when you sit isolated in an empty hotel for weeks and look at a volcano that erupts a bit every now and then.

That happened three or four times during the lockdown phases, says the singer and shows a few videos that he took with his cell phone. "Throughout all the craziness of those months, there were few constants for me: my old friend Charlie, our music and, strange as it may sound, Mount Etna, that massive, mythical mountain," he says, gazing at the volcano Horizon. It juts out into the sky, which is now blue again, like on a kitschy, beautiful postcard.

When the Scot was on the island for a longer period of time for the first time, he immediately hiked the volcano. That was in winter. “There was snow on its peak, at the same time there were lava flows. It was the first time I had seen ice and fire together. Unforgettable."

An active volcano as a calming constant in a world gone haywire. “Etna has seen everything, wars, famines, earthquakes. But he's still there, loud and proud, spitting fire and lava over and over again. You feel like you're living in the Stone Age," says Kerr, enthusing about the brooding, dangerous presence that the volcano radiates.

During more violent eruptions, the airport in nearby Catania may be closed for a few hours. "Then Sky News reports, and friends from all over the world call me worried if everything is okay with me. I always joke and say, 'I'm wading through the lava in my Gucci shoes right now.'” He laughs. The volcanic ash often strew as far as Taormina. "Then we have to sweep them up on the patio," says Kerr, "but that's not dirt, the ash is extremely rich in minerals, a kind of turbo fertilizer that makes everything in the area grow."

That probably also applies to the music. The new song "Vision Thing" is a vibrant hymn to inspiration, to the people who have supported you in life in general and to Kerr's father James in particular. He died in 2019. He also loved hiking and often visited his son in Sicily.

His father's favorite place was the coast, in Giardini-Naxos, below Taormina. "We'd often sit there after our hikes with a sandwich in hand on one of the seawalls, our feet dangling over the water." Kerr pauses for a moment. "My dad used to say to me, 'Boy, isn't this the most beautiful place in the world?'"

Arrival: There are non-stop flights to Catania from many German airports, from there continue by rental car to Taormina.

Accommodation: "Villa Schuler", charming luxury in the old town, double rooms from 240 euros,; "Hotel Rivage", right on the beach, double rooms from 80 euros,; "Villa Angela", Jim Kerr's boutique hotel above the center, double rooms from 180 euros,

Jim Kerrs Wandertipps:

1. From the old town to the 884 meter high Monte Veneretta - with stops at the rock church Madonna della Rocca and in the mountain village of Castelmola. View of Naxos Bay and Mount Etna (7.5 km).

2. Eight-kilometer circular hiking trail to the 546-meter-high Monte Recavallo, starting in the mountain town of Forza d'Agrò through the rural hilly landscape (Francis Ford Coppola shot scenes from his mafia trilogy "The Godfather" here).

3. Etna hikes - without a guide only allowed up to around 2500 meters; Tours higher up with a guide are permitted, you take the cable car (30 euros), from the mountain station you go by bus up to the tour at 3000 meters (68 euros including guide fee,

More information:; (Italian Tourist Board)

Participation in the trip was supported by BMG Rights Management. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at

Hiking has been experiencing a real boom for a number of years, including among younger people. But hiking can also be dangerous, especially if you want to climb the mountains with the wrong shoes. The right preparation is everything here, too.

Source: WELT/ Peter Haentjes

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