Mick Hucknall _460
From the early days rehearsing on Mathew Street to saying goodbye to Simply Red, Mick Hucknall tells Jade Wright why it’s time for something new
THERE’S a big difference between a best of and a greatest hits, explains Mick Hucknall. “With a best of tour, I get to choose which songs we play – with a greatest hits tour, the fans choose,” he chuckles. “And this is a greatest hits tour – so expect all the ones you know and love.”
Simply Red made their name with classic pop and soul-tinged ballads. Their phenomenal career has spanned three decades – they’ve released 10 studio albums racking up over 50m global sales, notched up over 30 Top 40 UK singles, won countless awards including 3 Brits, 2 Ivor Novellos and a Mobo Special Achievement.
They had number one hits in the USA, the album Stars was the biggest selling album in the UK for two consecutive years and they’ve played more than 1000 live shows to over 10m people.
“When you say it like that, it doesn’t sound like me,” laughs Mick. “I’m just a lad from Manchester. I’ve been lucky to be able to make my living out of music. I’m lucky to have a job at the moment – we all are. I’ve never stopped being grateful for the chances I’ve been given.”
Simply Red had the most rock’n’roll of beginnings – the legendary 1976 Sex Pistols gig at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester.
Manchester art student Mick Hucknall was one of the handful of young music fans present – along with original members of Joy Division, The Smiths and Buzz cocks.
The first incarnation of the band was a punk group called The Frantic Elevators.
“That was how I came to know Liverpool,” he explains. “We were managed by Roger Eagle, one of the owners of Eric’s, so we spent a lot of time rehearsing in that Mathew Street part of town. There was a whole scene around Probe Records, everyone knew everyone. I was pleased to be in Liverpool. I was a massive Beatles fan – I still am – and to walk down Mathew Street was something special.
“We got to know a lot of the Liverpool bands – OMD, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes, The Mighty Wah! and Big in Japan.
“We used to rehearse in this big old warehouse and then I’d stay on and DJ in the evenings in one of his clubs.”
Frantic Elevators played for seven years, with limited releases on local labels, but split in 1984 with critical acclaim for their final single, Holding Back the Years.
A year later, Hucknall and Elliot Rashman assembled a band of session musicians and began to attract record company attention. They adopted the name Simply Red (imaginatively taken from Hucknall’s hair colour).
They signed to Elektra in 1985, and their first single was Money's Too Tight To Mention, a cover of a soul standard originally recorded by The Valentine Brothers.
It was a massive international success, quickly followed by the re-recording of Holding Back the Years, which Hucknall had written about his family life – his mother left him when he was three.
“You write about what you know,” he shrugs. “You have to.”
If You Don't Know Me By Now became their second US number one hit and one of the biggest singles of the year internationally.
“I’ve always loved soul music,” says Mick. “So covering those great soul hits was as great for me as playing songs I’d written. I’ve always loved to write, to express myself, so by writing and singing those songs I’ve got the best of both worlds.”
The band's popular career peaked in 1991 with the release of Stars, which became the best-selling album for two years running in the UK, with singles including For Your Babies, Something Got Me Started and Stars itself.
After touring and promoting Stars for two years, Simply Red returned in 1995 with Fairground. It went on to become the band’s first British number one single. And then, it all started to go a bit quiet. Greatest hits and covers albums followed. Mick did a series of covers of Bobby Bland songs at last year’s Summer Pops.
And then, this year, he announced that the band were due to split in 2010, after a farewell tour.
“I've kind of decided that the 25 years is going to be enough, so we’ll do one greatest hits tour, and one best of, where we choose the tracks we’ve most enjoyed. After that, who knows, but there’ll be no more Simply Red.”
SIMPLY Red play the ECHO Arena on Saturday, July 25, as part of the Summer Pops Festival.