Simply Red star Mick Hucknall
When i ask Mick Hucknall about his favourite memories, the Simply Red star doesn’t miss a beat. “The Grammy Awards in 1987, that’s very vivid,” he replies instantly.
“I sang Ben E King’s Stand By Me with Ben E King, and Whitney Houston and Luther Vandross – that wasn’t bad…”
That “pinch me” moment at LA’s Shrine Auditorium was rapidly topped by another. “I was chatting with a voluptuous female and Miles Davis walked past – that was thrill enough, but then he stopped, turned round, came back to me, looked at me and said, ‘Simply Red!’
“I’m nodding, thinking ‘S***, he knows who I am!’ He said, ‘I love that album Picture Book, man’. Miles Davis! The fact that he knew my music was mind-blowing, one of the all-time greatest moments of my life.”
Years later Mick saw the jazz legend play in Switzerland and recalls musicians including Quincy Jones “becoming like little boys in his presence backstage…they were in awe of Miles; I just sat there, I didn’t say a word, he was revered.”
Mick’s new album Time
As Hucknall, 63 on Thursday, is for a generation weaned on timeless soulful hits like Stars, Fairground and Holding Back The Years – a hauntingly emotional number, about the mother who deserted him, delivered in a voice like honey oozing through silk. Sinatra adored it. How are your fans with you?
“My wife jokes about this, perfectly normal people behave completely weirdly around you. Fame does strange things to people. Some become illogical; they feel they have to compensate or say something.
« You learn to have as much patience as you can – for a red head – and ease the way through their discomfort.
“Once in a while, I’ve been rude and I regret that. Our music has been the soundtrack to their lives and it’s a beautiful thing. »
He pauses and adds with feeling, “Oh God, I love my job! The way you can create a piece of music that can affect so many people. Weddings, funerals…it’s a good thing, it’s wonderful.”
His new album Time is his third since he reformed Simply Red in 2015 after a five-year hiatus to help raise his daughter Romy True, now 15.
Simply Red reformed in 2015 after a five-year hiatus
Time mines Mick’s twin loves, the music of black America and British pop, the “cycle of genius” that began with the Beatles.
“In lockdown, doodling with my guitar, I thought who am I really, what makes me tick? Be who you are, be the guy who grew up in East Manchester.”
Abandoned by his mother Maureen aged three, only child Mick was raised in Denton by his father Reg, a hardworking barber. Songs on Time reflect his influences, his concerns, and the family he loves.
Better With You is about meeting his art dealer wife Gabriella Wesbury. They married in 2010. There are gentle protest songs, touching ballads, and servings of sweet, summery soul. A child of punk, Hucknall doesn’t shy away from politics on tracks like Hey Mister – he’s pro-Labour but was anti-Corbyn.
He was 16 when he saw the Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Electric Circus in December 1976 supported by the Clash, Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers, and Warsaw (the nascent Joy Division).
“Punk had a huge impact because the Stones and the Beatles were unobtainable, like the Royal Family. We saw the Buzzcocks and thought we could do that. The song-writing related to who we were.”
He recalls seeing Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley fight on stage. “A flap more than a fight, slapping each other, it was comical.”
Mick and his best friend Neil Smith formed their own punk band the Frantic Elevators, who even sounded like the Buzzcocks, and opened for bands like The Fall and Devoto’s Magazine on their first tour. « John McGough was very kind and supportive to me and you remember things like that. »
Mick pulled the plug after their final single, a 1984 version of Holding Back The Years. Why?
“I got sick of being on the dole. We weren’t going anywhere. My best friend got time for stealing a car, went to the equivalent of borstal and was never the same…I thought I can’t keep doing this, I’ve got to do something with my life.”
Roger Eagle, who ran Eric’s club in Liverpool, was his gateway, widening his horizons by introducing him to blues, reggae, rockabilly and much more. Mick DJ’d for Eagle at Liverpool club, Adams, and played in local skiffle band, Lawnmower.
“The Frantics rehearsed there. I’d stop over and DJ for Roger. I got to hang out with Bo Diddley, Brownie MaGee, and Alexis Korner. Alexis was incredibly encouraging, he was like a father figure. Those things stick with you, they inspire you to push ahead.”
Simply Red’s string of hits began in 1985
Simply Red’s string of hits began in 1985 with their cover of the Valentine Brothers’ Money’s Too Tight (To Mention). “I loved the original. We met the Valentines in LA and they thanked us. They made more money from our version than theirs.
“I do covers as a tribute. I think, we’ll do it and maybe it’ll be a bigger hit.” – like their US chart-topper, a version of If You Don’t Know Me By Now, originally a hit for Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes.
Mick also celebrated blues legend Bobby Bland with his hit 2008 solo album Tribute To Bobby.
He adores soul godfather James Brown – “I’ve got 74 singles and 35 albums by James Brown. We opened for him at Hammersmith Odeon and he was watching us from the side of the stage with curlers in his hair. He didn’t care.
“I thought ‘Jesus, that’s James Brown with curlers in his hair’ and he still looked cool. He always looked cool.”
Simply Red’s Grammy-nominated debut album kick-started a run of multiplatinum LPs that peaked with 1991’s Stars, which sold more than 3.4million copies in Britain alone.
At the height of Mick’s fame, the tabloids lapped up his Jagger-level bedroom antics. He dated Catherine Zeta Jones and model Helena Christensen and drank himself into oblivion. But the wanton womanising stopped when he fell for Austrian born Gabriella, mother of Romy.
“It’s changed me for the better,” he says. “Family is the greatest prize. Money and success without someone to share it with is a very lonely place.”
He pulled the plug on Simply Red in 2010 “because I wanted to bring up my kid,” he says.
Simply Red play London’s Shepherds Bush Empire tomorrow night as a warm-up for a run of European festivals. “After that, I’ll go back to being lazy and hanging out with family,” he grins. “These days I don’t like taking on too much.”
Romy turns 18 in 2025 – the band’s 40th anniversary year – so there will be a full UK tour.
The Hucknalls live in Surrey; Mick is “the house chef”. He cooks Indian, Italian and a little French but his speciality is “a mean Lancashire hotpot I learnt from my dad. My girls would say ‘he’s a good cook’. I’m not saying that, but they eat it.”
Mick is now 62 and lives in Surrey with his family
He owns a river in Ireland, but says his fishing concern is “more philanthropical than business.
“My grandad was Irish so I have a great affinity with Ireland and when I had an opportunity to take control of a river, I had a sense of responsibility. We’ve doubled the salmon. But it’s not a business; I’m pretty crap at business.
“I’m good at relaxing; I’m a total, unashamed TV addict. I love science, history, politics – there’s too much turmoil at the moment, but I don’t want to go on about it.”
He rates Ricky Gervais, “probably our finest comedian” but feels comedy “has gone a bit weird…The things I love have been cancelled. I loved Little Britain, The League Of Gentlemen, Alan Partridge…I feel old.
“I did love After Life and we all watch Always Sunny in Philadelphia which has an irreverent take on any politically incorrect subject. I like humour to be a challenge.”
Young bands don’t excite him. “I’m 62, I don’t really care. I support young artists; I wish them well. But why would we be fascinated with a 20year old? I grew up through the greatest musical period of a lifetime, from the Beatles to the end of punk. Incredible creativity. Ray Davies of the Kinks is greatly under-rated.”
Where do Simply Red sit in that pantheon? Mick smiles and says simply, “For a working-class kid from Manchester I’ve done okay.
- Simply Red’s new album Time is out now.