The first time I heard Mick Hucknall’s voice, I was convinced that he was a 12 year old black American girl. So when it was revealed to me that the passionately posed, skinny, northern ginger kid on the cover of the Stars album was in fact the singer of these songs, I was convinced it must be a hoax. Like many ageing 80s groups, Simply Red had their “Farewell Tour” in 2010, and seem to have suddenly decided they’re actually not disbanding and want to continue selling tickets. The cynics among us would argue that this is a fraudulent way of prying money out of devoted fans, presumably to help their grandchildren through university, or to buy new cheekbones. Whether or not there are ulterior motives underneath it all, here I am, 25 years after the album was released, significantly decreasing the average age of the Metro Radio Arena, watching that very same little ginger kid shimmying his way across the stage in a sparkly jacket, singing his heart out to some of the best funk and soul music this country has produced.
“Mick’s 56 years have had no effect on the quality of his voice, which glides deliciously over the mellow interludes of the band”
Just as the grey hairs seem to be eluding his firey mane, Mick’s 56 years have had no effect on the quality of his voice, which glides deliciously over the mellow interludes of the band, who groove their way from one song to the next with graceful effortlessness. It is because Mick, unlike many 80s male singers, was never reliant upon synthy or echo-ey effects to make his voice sound good, so his live performance has never disappointed. He can weave his way between the dirty slap-bass funk of ‘Freedom’, bringing all the prim-and-proper-M&S-clothed women sat in the audience to their feet, dancing like they’re 17 again. Then suddenly, he plunges into the soulfully enchanting lullaby of ‘For Your Babies’, bringing tears to the eyes of men whose hearts are safes which normally only a harsh football result or the death of a relative can jimmy the lock of. And all the while, he makes strong political statements, whether it be ranting about how vanity and social status are polluting the minds of the youth in ‘Your Mirror’, or the satirical mockery of Thatcher’s ‘Wonderland’. The night is over before any of us are ready, and is quickly followed by one of the most ferocious demands for an encore I’ve ever heard. Thank God they came back on, or they would have had to face an arena full of angry, middle aged Geordie women- a force to be reckoned with I’m sure.
“bringing all the prim-and-proper-M&S-clothed women sat in the audience to their feet, dancing like they’re 17 again”
But they couldn’t leave without playing their most popular hit ‘Fairground’, and of course, the immortal ‘Holding Back the Years’, the song which, I believe, captures both Hucknall’s song-writing and vocal abilities perfectly. And yes- he can still reach that note- one which most girls my age would struggle with.
He ends with a bow, a tribute to the wonderful band, and a joke: “We’re running out of anniversaries!” Everyone laughs and begins to gather their belongings, but I look around and notice that although technically they will never run out of anniversaries- who will come back to hear them? With an ageing fan base- how will their music survive into the future? Well let’s start with this article. Guys- go home and listen to Simply Red. Now.