Formed: 1983, Manchester, U.K.
Members: Michael James "Mick" Hucknall, vocals (born Manchester, England, 8 June 1960); Gota Yashiki, drums (born Kyoto, Japan, 26 February 1962); Ian Kirkham, saxophone (born England); Dee Johnson, backing vocals. Former members: Tony Bowers, bass (born England, 31 October 1956); Chris Joyce, drums (born Manchester, England, 10 November 1957); Tim Kellett, trumpet, keyboards (born Knaresborough, England, 23 July 1964); Sylvan Richardson, guitar; Aziz Ibrahim, guitar (born Manchester, England); Heitor Teixeira Pereira, guitar (born Brazil); Shaun Ward, bass; Janette Sewell, backing vocals; Fritz McIntyre, keyboards (born Birmingham, England, 2 September 1958).
Best-selling album since 1990: Stars (1991)
Hit songs since 1990: "For Your Babies," "Fairground," "Say You Love Me"
Although Simply Red started life as a soul band in 1984, the act's front man Mick Hucknall quickly asserted his right to be the leader and decision-maker within the group. Over the subsequent decade and a half, a sizable parade of musicians came and went; Simply Red's lead vocalist, nicknamed Red after his striking mane of red hair, proved to be the man in control of the creative strategy and the hiring and firing policies that accompanied it. Yet it was some years before Hucknall confessed that Simply Red had always been his "solo career." It had clearly taken him quite a while to realize that his fellow musicians were merely the supporting act to his formidable singing talents.
Hucknall, the one-time lead singer with the Manchester punk band the Frantic Elevators, changed course in 1983 and decided to pursue a black sound that was soulful and R&B-tinged rather than one built on the more aggressive tendencies of new wave rock. He gathered a number of instrumentalists, most with Manchester links, to shape a soul combo that would initially present itself as a democratic sextet in which all members would have a say. Three of the musicians emerged from legendary city group the Durutti Column: the bassist Tony Bowers, the drummer Chris Joyce, and the keyboardist and brass player Tim Kellett. They were joined by the guitarist Sylvan Richardson and another keyboardist, Fritz McIntyre.
Notable Debut Album
Snapped up by Elektra, Simply Red issued a notable debut album, Picture Book (1985). While the first single, a cover of the Valentine Brothers R&B song "Money's Too Tight (to Mention)," made only a modest impression, it was the re-release of "Holding Back the Years," a Hucknall original, that propelled the group to the lofty heights of the U.K. and U.S. charts. In the United States the song became a surprise number one hit and helped secure platinum status for the album.
While the American audiences were familiar with the phenomenon of blue-eyed soul—white acts immersing themselves in R&B stylings, such as the Box Tops in the 1960s and Hall and Oates in the 1970s—it was not familiar to the English, and questions arose about Hucknall's authenticity. But the singer's distinctive and passionate vocal delivery was the perfect answer to those doubters.
Expectations were high for the second album, Men and Women (1987). Focusing on a classy range of covers—Bunny Wailer's "Love Fire," Cole Porter's "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," and Sly Stone's "Let Me Have It All"—sales of the recording matched those of the debut album. Hucknall also linked up with the legendary Motown writer Lamont Dozier. By now the carousel was turning, and the band's personnel began to change. The vocalist Janette Sewell briefly came on board, and the guitarist Sylvan Richardson was replaced by Aziz Ibrahim and then by the Brazilian Heitor Teixeira Pereira, otherwise known as Heitor T.P.
Topping the U.S. Charts
With the third album, A New Flame (1989), Hucknall climbed to the top of the U.S. charts again with a version of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' Philly classic "If You Don't Know Me by Now," and global sales of the collection confirmed Simply Red as one of the leading purveyors of smooth, slick soul with a white gloss.
Yet the American honeymoon appeared to be over as the 1990s commenced. Stars (1991) enjoyed huge U.K. success—five singles, including "Something Got Me Started," and "For Your Babies" achieved solid chart placings in Britain—and more than 9 million copies were sold worldwide, but America was less taken with the set. Nonetheless, Hucknall confirmed that Simply Red was more than just a highly talented covers act; the album features all original material and reveals a range of styles, from hip-hop to house, augmenting the basic soul model.
By the time Stars was released, Tony Bowers and Chris Joyce had joined the exodus, with Shaun Ward coming in on bass, Gota Yashikion on drums, and Ian Kirkham on saxophone. Yet the revolving door continued to spin, and by the time of the release of Life (1995), the two rhythm players had also gone, with Hucknall, Heitor T.P., McIntryre, Kirkham, and backing singer Dee Johnson forming the remaining lineup. The album gave the band their first U.K. number one hit: "Fairground" hit the top in 1995. But the group's impetus in the United States had faded, despite its huge successes elsewhere.
Establishes Reggae Label
In 1996 Hucknall wrote "We're in This Together," the official theme song for the European soccer championships held that year in the U.K.; the band's Greatest Hits (1996) album was notable for a collaboration with the Fugees on Aretha Franklin's "Angel." A year later, he was back with a version of Gregory Isaac's reggae gem "Night Nurse," featuring Jamaican rhythm superstars, the drummer Sly Dunbar, and the bassist Robbie Shakespeare; the track reflected Hucknall's love of the Caribbean genre. Shortly afterward he established the label Blood & Fire, which aimed to promote vintage reggae tracks.
Blue (1998) saw Hucknall and company return to form with the exquisite "Say You Love Me," a U.K. Top 10 hit, but the album also saw a return to the earlier cover version approach, with the Hollies' "The Air That I Breathe" securing another high chart placing in Britain. Love and the Russian Winter (1999) was a more eclectic affair, tapping into club and drum and bass stylings, but the pleasing ballad "Your Eyes" became a U.K. hit in 2000. The impact on the United States was, however, minimal.
Mick Hucknall and Simply Red have explored areas generally denied to white English performers. Avoiding the more predictable gestures of rock, the band has drawn on a range of principally black styles—soul in the 1980s and reggae and dance in the 1990s. They have never quite built on the foundation of their early successes in the United States, however.
Picture Book (Elektra, 1985); Men and Women (Elektra, 1987); A New Flame (Elektra, 1989); Stars (EastWest, 1991); Life (EastWest, 1995); Greatest Hits (EastWest, 1996); Blue (EastWest, 1998); Love and the Russian Winter (EastWest 1999).
M. Middles, Red Mick: The Biography of Mick Hucknall of Simply Red (London, 1993).
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