Simply Red — Bio­graphy 2009

This year Mick Huck­nall cel­eb­rates 25 years of unbroken ser­vice with the band he foun­ded, fron­ted and named. Simply Red emerged out of the streets and clubs of Manchester in the post-punk era of 1984 and with­in 12 months were rid­ing in the Brit­ish charts.

The ori­gin­al line-up of sing­er Huck­nall, bassist Tony Bowers, drum­mer Chris Joyce, gui­tar­ist Dave Fry­man, keyboardist/singer Fritz McIntyre and horn play­er Tim Kel­let became reg­u­lars on the thriv­ing club cir­cuit and soon caught the atten­tion of record com­pany scouts on the hunt for new talent.

Exec­ut­ives at the UK arm of renowned US label Elektra were the most per­sist­ent — and most gen­er­ous – and Simply Red found them­selves with a major record deal with­in six months of start­ing up and on their way to a record­ing stu­dio with ace Amer­ic­an pro­du­cer Stew­art Levine.

At this point the band exper­i­enced their first change as gui­tar­ist Sylvan Richard­son replaced Dave Fry­man dur­ing the mak­ing their first album Pic­ture Book which was released in Octo­ber 1985 and climbed to num­ber two thanks to the top 20 suc­cess of début hit Money’s Too Tight (Too Mention).

While four more tracks from the album made minor indent­a­tions on the chart, it was a song Huck­nall wrote in his bed­room which announced Simply Red’s arrival in the big time. While Pic­ture Book peaked inside the US top 20, Hold­ing Back The Years found its way to the very top of the Amer­ic­an singles chart in July 1986 while in the UK, on its re-release six month after peak­ing at 51, the record climbed to num­ber two.

While album num­ber two – Men And Women – fea­tured the same band with the addi­tion of horn play­er Ian Kirkham and vocal­ist Janette Sewell, a new pro­du­cer in the shape of Alex Sadkin was at the helm for the March 1987 release. A new writ­ing team also appeared with Huck­nall shar­ing the cred­its with Motown legend Lamont Dozi­er while tracks by Cole Port­er (the clas­sic Ev’ry Time We Say Good­bye) and reg­gae legends Bunny Wail­er and Sylvester Stew­art aug­men­ted Hucknall’s solo efforts.

Boast­ing four chart singles, Men And Women became Simply Red’s second suc­cess­ive UK album to stall at num­ber two. It also took the band back on the road and fol­low­ing major UK, European and Amer­ic­an tours, they broke new ground in Aus­tralia, Japan and New Zea­l­and. In fact in 1987 Simply Red spent nigh on nine months on the road, play­ing an impress­ive 120 live shows.

Simply Red’s third album A New Flame was issued in Feb­ru­ary 1989 and it sig­nalled anoth­er break­through for the band which now spor­ted Heit­or T.P. on gui­tar. After top­ping the UK album chart for the first time, Simply Red’s ver­sion of the Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff soul clas­sic If You Don’t Know Me By Now swept to num­ber two in the UK but went one bet­ter in Amer­ica. Top­ping the US singles chart for the second time put Simply Red along­side fel­low Brit­ish acts such as John Len­non, Dav­id Bowie and Queen.

The qual­ity and suc­cess of the new album – it sold a mil­lion in the UK and over 6 mil­lion world­wide – also her­al­ded the band’s move from club and theatre dates to major aren­as includ­ing play­ing to 60,000 people in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Between Octo­ber 1988 and March 1990 Simply Red once again set off to con­quer the world, play­ing 140 shows along the way. At the same time Huck­nall was plan­ning the band’s fourth album which would again break new ground.

Stars was the first album to fea­ture a col­lec­tion of songs writ­ten entirely by Huck­nall and while eight were solo efforts, two were cre­ated with fel­low band mem­ber McIntyre. With three top 20 hits – Some­thing Got Me Star­ted, Stars and For Your Babies –the band’s fourth album was again pro­duced by Lev­ine who had returned to the fold on A New Flame. It also fea­tured new bass play­er Shaun Ward and per­cus­sion­ist Gota along­side Huck­nall, McIntyre, Kirkham, Kel­lett and Heitor.

For band lead­er Mick Huck­nall and Simply Red, Stars became an album of truly clas­sic pro­por­tions. In Amer­ica, where it wasn’t con­sidered radio friendly, the album still man­aged sales of 700,000 while it topped the 8 mil­lion mark world­wide, includ­ing over 4 mil­lion in the UK.

While the album Stars was a genu­ine glob­al tri­umph and the accom­pa­ny­ing tour — tak­ing in places like Israel, Greece and Singa­pore for the first time — attrac­ted over 1.5 mil­lion people, it was in the UK where new records were set. It topped the album chart on five sep­ar­ate occa­sions for a total of 12 weeks, spent 134 weeks on the chart, was the biggest selling album in both 1991 and 1992 and earned the band BRIT Awards and World Music Awards for Best Album.

It would now be a fur­ther four years before Simply Red returned with a new stu­dio album but a highly regarded live EP recor­ded at the Montreux Jazz Fest­iv­al in 1992 earned them new fans and kept them in the charts.

In 1995 the album Life became Simply Red’s third suc­cess­ive chart top­per and it her­al­ded a change in the band’s line up as Kel­let and Ward depar­ted and reg­gae stars Sly Dun­bar, Rob­bie Shakepeare and Bootsy Collins aug­men­ted the reg­u­lar line up in the record­ing studio.

Finally Simply Red also claimed the elu­sive num­ber one spot in the UK singles chart thanks to Fair­ground while three oth­er tracks, includ­ing We’re In This Togeth­er, the offi­cial song for the Euro 96 European foot­ball cham­pi­on­ships, also charted. The accom­pa­ny­ing Life world tour ran through 1995 and 1996 and brought new bassist Steve Lew­in­son and vocal­ist Sarah Brown into the group.

Des­pite some ini­tial res­ist­ance from Huck­nall, 1996 saw the release of Simply Red’s long awaited Greatest Hits col­lec­tion and the 15 track album meant anoth­er num­ber one for the band plus the spe­cially recor­ded top five hit Angel, fea­tur­ing the con­sid­er­able tal­ents of the Fugees.

The line up of Simply Red took on a totally new appear­ance for the 1998 album Blue which was destined to make it five num­ber one albums in a row plus a fur­ther four hit singles includ­ing Hucknall’s Say You Love Me and the pop clas­sic The Air That I Breathe.

While McI­intye and Heit­or moved on, so Gota returned as co-pro­du­cer togeth­er with Andy Wright and Huck­nall under the ban­ner AGM.

Although the band made only three appear­ances dur­ing 1998 – all in Lon­don – they returned to full-time tour­ing the fol­low­ing year, cov­er­ing South Africa, Europe and Lat­in America.

As Simply Red neared the end of their long and suc­cess­ful rela­tion­ship with Warner Music and East West Records, the label they switched to in 1991, they man­aged one last album for the cor­por­a­tion in the shape of Love And The Rus­si­an Winter which delivered a fur­ther two chart singles.

By 2002 Huck­nall and his man­age­ment team of Andy Dodd and Ian Gren­fell had cre­ated a unique and ground-break­ing busi­ness mod­el in the music industry under the ban­ner simplyred​.com which over­saw the band’s record­ing, tour­ing, mer­chand­ising and spon­sor­ship activ­it­ies. It was an altern­at­ive way for­ward for a band which had col­lec­ted more than 130 plat­in­um and gold sales awards from around the world.

Home was the first release from the rad­ic­al new set-up and Simply Red cre­ated an album which peaked at num­ber two in the UK and delivered four more hit singles includ­ing the top ten hits Sun­rise and a ver­sion of the Styl­ist­ics’ hit You Make Me Feel Brand New. The suc­cess of Home earned it the accol­ade becom­ing the biggest selling inde­pend­ently released album glob­ally in the his­tory of the music industry.

Fol­low­ing the hugely suc­cess­ful World tour around the Home album, Huck­nall con­tin­ued to search for new chal­lenges for his estab­lished team of elev­en play­ers. In 2005 he went to work on a Lat­in inspired unplugged album entitled Sim­pli­fied which, for the second time, util­ised Hucknall’s new home-based stu­dio and led into a series of pres­ti­gi­ous Albert Hall dates in Lon­don and a major European tour.

The top three UK album and European top ten hit fea­tured Per­fect Love and the double A‑side Some­thing Got Me Started/A Song For You as single releases before Simply Red – fea­tur­ing long time play­ers Ian Kirkham, Dave Clayton, Chris De Mar­gary, Dee John­son, John John­son, Sarah Brown, Kenji Suzuki, Pete Lew­in­son, Steve Lew­in­son, Kev­in Robin­son — returned to the stu­dio to record the 2007 album Stay.

It was released fol­low­ing con­cert dates in the UK, Europe, Aus­tralia and Canada and Simply Red’s tenth stu­dio album in 22 years made it 10 top ten hits in a row with an impress­ive num­ber four pla­cing. The album fea­tured Lady — Hucknall’s first joint com­pos­i­tion with Jools Hol­land – and a cov­er of the inspir­a­tion­al Ron­nie Lane song Debris.

Ever anxious to stretch him­self music­ally, Huck­nall embarked on debut solo effort in 2008 with his trib­ute album to the great soul sing­er Bobby Bland which he fol­lowed with a few select Trib­ute To Bobby con­certs ahead of more Simply Red gigs through­out Europe and the UK.

In the run up to Simply Red’s sil­ver anniversary, Huck­nall under­took the unen­vi­able task of pro­du­cing the ulti­mate Simply Red col­lec­tion. Released in Novem­ber 2008, ‘The Greatest Hits 25’ double CD fea­tures the top 25 Simply Red tracks from the past two and half dec­ades and includes a brand new cov­er ver­sion of the Moody Blues 1960s smash hit Go Now.

For a band with all-time world­wide sales of over 50 mil­lion and 30 top 40 UK hits to their cred­it – in addi­tion to hav­ing played over a 1000 con­certs to more then 10 mil­lion people – Simply Red are set to cre­ate more records with their Greatest Hits and the 2009 world tour.

Back in 1985, in his group’s first offi­cial press bio­graphy, Mick Huck­nall con­fid­ently pre­dicted “it’s just the begin­ning.” Now let’s hope that, des­pite recent ques­tion marks raised over the future of the band, the 25th birth­day cel­eb­ra­tions don’t bring the cur­tain down for the last time on Simply Red.

Bri­an Southall