Think curly red hair. Think Manchester United supporter. Think chart fodder. Got it?
Of course! Mr Mick Hucknall, back after a gigging absence of three years with the latest iteration of Simply Red, was in the house for the first of four shows at that most venerable and intimate of London jazz clubs, Ronnie Scott’s. Only competition winners and industry types were allowed in – and judging by the barrage of notepads en plan vue, a great many of the latter category had made it.
Hucknall, curls carefully coiffured these days, was the last of the 12-piece collective to grace the stage, joining two backing vocalist divas, a brass section, keys, bass, guitar, drums and percussion. From the powerful rabble-rouser that was You Can Have It onwards, the 12-piece band showed every intention of being back in the pop business and loving it already.
You Can Have It and Fake confirmed that Hucknall’s voice is as powerful and note-perfect as ever, and his sense of rhythm remains a joy. The fans whooped after both songs as the band launched into You Make Me Feel Brand New – which was covered in confident style. Hucknall’s always been partial to invigorating other people’s songs with the Simply Red jazz-funk sound, and this one sounded as good as Holding Back The Years. It was followed by a Bob Dylan cover, just to prove the point.
For those feeling a tad nostalgic, there was a reminder of the band’s past history with So Beautiful mellowing proceedings – only for It’s Only Love and Come To My Aid to liven them up again. The line “does anyone out there really care?” from So Beautiful had fans screeching in the affirmative, and Hucknall announcing “I’ve really got going now – three years I’ve not done this!”
Of the new songs, new single and set closer Sunrise was the stand-out track, even if it did sound remarkably similar to Stars. Live, it gave the divas a prominent role as they shared the lyrics with Hucknall and the diminutive guitarist took occasional centre-stage. Elsewhere in the set, an up tempo dance number suggested Fairground revisited as the keyboard chucked out processed strings in favour of trance-like sounds.
And after a mere 40 minutes and 10 songs, it was over. All in all it was a timely run-through from one of Britain’s most successful bands of recent years, demonstrating that as a performer and writer Mick Hucknall is far from past his sell-by date. Yet it also threw up a niggling thought. Simply Red’s sound, powerful though it is, has scarcely evolved since we last heard them – which makes this comeback sound like more of the same. And however successful that is, we’ve heard it already.
But it was a wise man who once said, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.