A number one single in America. Doing ‘Money‘s Too Tight (To Mention)‘ live on the Grammy awards show. The first Simply Red album Picture Book sticking like glue to the British charts for over eighteen months. and selling three million copies worldwide . . . a lot has happened to Mick Hucknall in the last eighteen months. much ofit in America. where the boy with the copper curls and sweet soul siren wail is a massive draw live. and the darling ofcritics and the record- buying public alike. llucknall‘s been enjoying his success. and he‘s got a lot ofstories to tell.
'I‘hough made in Manchester. Simply Red‘s music falls within an American soul tradition; selling records by the warehouseful has meant he‘s worked with his hero. soul songwriting legend Lamont Dozier. He‘s written a song for Diana Ross. Stranger experiences happened on tour — one late night hotel room jamming session was abruptly terminated by a bodyguard on behalfof another guest — an irate Frank Sinatra!
llucknall relates his brushes with the high and mighty in the most culturally dominant nation in the world. where fame. not class. is the key to doors that would be padlocked in Britain. ‘Fuckin‘ wild!‘ is his most popular description. How he was kissed in that superficial showbiz fashion by Diana Ross. Tina Turner and Grace Jones. How he stumbled across Little Richard and Donovan in the same lift. And how he met and got on famously with a NA'I'O general. A .\'A 'l‘()general'.’
It turns out llucknall became good friends with the daughter of a
general high up in the Star Wars project. ‘lle‘s not like you‘d think.‘ he says. grinning. ‘he‘s a nice guy — he‘s really hip!‘ And so it was he discovered the inside story ofone of the most notorious episodes of recent history. when the world. fingers crossed. held its breath. ‘You know when Reagan was shot and Alexander llaig went on TV sweating and saying he was “in control“? Well. this guy told me that llaig and (‘aspar Weinbergerwere at the TV station for the press conference and they were arguing furiously about who actually was in control. So they raced each other up this spiral staircase. and llaig got there first and went straight on the air. with Weinberger lookingon but frightened ofgoing on. And that‘s why llaig was sweating like mad!‘ lfdoors open when you make it big. for some people making it big is the same as sellingout. For i llucknall. though. it‘s different: ‘Selling out is making music to make money. not making music that you want to make. The financial aspect is almost irrelevant. Do people say to Little Richard “what does it feel like now you've got a million bucks'."“ Mick llucknall lives for music. not money. He was driving his family crazy when he was six years old with his incessant singing. lle wasin a school band before punk‘s energv fuelled his formation of’l‘he Frantic Elevators. a punk and R648 hybrid
that led to him checking out the sounds ofJames Brown and llowlin‘ Wolf. Then he set himself up as black music 1).] while Simply Red were evolving. building a reputation and hustling fora record deal. He‘s more excited about the live gigs than the record sales — to promote the new album Men and Women Simply Red are doing a year long tour that will take in three continents and leave llucknall with more passport stamps than Marco Polo.
lt‘s commonly held that Simply Red's blistering live performances— crisp pop and slow-burning soul delivered with wallop and panache - were obscured by the production on Picture Book. llucknall goes along with that. ‘We weren‘t entirely happy with it. We felt it had a gossamer sheen over it. like there was something in the way ofit. At the time we were really quite in awe. We‘d just started out. and here was a guy ( Stew art Levine) who produced Randy (‘rawford and the Crusaders
and you think “he knows“. You
10 The List 6— 19 March
'l‘he idiosyncratically coiffured Mick llucknall talks to Andy Spinoza about music. money and General llaig.
don‘t argue. But for all the criticisms of the first one. it hasn‘t done us any harm.‘
'l‘hat‘s not only the understatement of the year. but hasn‘t the middle of the road quality ofthe album actually been the key to its success? He disagrees: ‘If the album had been harder. it probably would have sold just as many records.‘
The new album has been produced by Alex Sadmin (Marley. Grace Jones. Duran Duran). ‘lt just seemed to us like he had open ears.‘ says llucknall. This time his voice is in the foreground ofthe new songs. some ofwhich are real belters — there‘s a cover of Bunny Wailer‘s ‘Love Fire. the elegantly-tailored new single "l‘he Right Thing. and a string of more hits where that came from. ‘I think my voice has improved by just doing concerts.‘ he says. ‘lt‘s got a bit richer. a bit deeper.‘
'l‘he perennial subject ofpop and soul music is love and sex — no more and no less than a soundtrack to young people getting their kicks and
their growing pains. As the title implies. Men and Women runs sweetly down this classic pop groove. Hucknall has never sought to hide the fact that. as an NME piece about Simply Red touring the US somewhat exaggerated. he enjoys his sex as much as he does his music. About the infamous article he says ‘It just cheapened it. It made me look as ifl was a balling heavy metal loony. And I‘m honestly not like that at all.‘
The new album has a direct bearing on his life in the past eighteen months. ‘A lot of the songs are about things that l have experienced over the past year. about relationships that I‘ve not been able to fulfil because of the work I‘ve been doing. Like being in a country for two weeks and then having to leave it. And the idea of it being called Men and Women was that it might reﬂect on anybody else‘s relationship.‘
On ‘Let Me Have It All“ on the album. Hucknall spits some pointed lyrics about how ‘You‘ll never catch me walking down that guilty middle-class street.‘ It‘s a broadside at his critics now that money‘s not at all too tight to mention. but talking about it is also a launchpad for his left-of-centre views — ‘now I feel I‘ve become a lot more militant than I was before.‘ He goes on to lambast England‘s ‘double standards‘. but there‘s no party line — Hucknall distrusts politicians ofall hues. and has turned down Red Wedge‘s request for support.
Hucknall is a straight-talking. uncomplicated guy. And like his strongly felt politics. his personality is not easily pigeonholed. ‘I think that‘s going to be a good thing for me. The press are always trying to take angles. and most of the time they‘re wildly inaccurate.‘ Autobiography. he‘s keen to impress. should never overshadow the work — ‘Marvin Gaye was a sex maniac-cum-cokehead. but you don‘t fail to mention that he was a genius at the same time.‘
Popularity and fame breed curiosity. and Hucknall has become the target oftabloid gossip and fan adulation as well as record industry backslaps. So his record company did some market research on their hot property; he takes up the story. ‘Most people‘s perception of me on the street was that one. I don‘t like Margaret Thatcher and‘ — that infectious laugh is in the way. and he‘s having trouble getting the words out — ‘that I stole Andrew Ridgeley‘s girlfriend offhiml‘ He‘s grinning impishly. ‘That‘s what the general knowledge is about me!‘
Mick Hucknall is at pains to point out that only one of these popular beliefs are true. When Hucknall got back from America he found that old habits not only die hard. but they‘re often the best habits. too. "l‘hat‘s the beauty of it — to come back. And the first thing I did was go down the pub and played a game ofpool and had a Guinness. That‘s the real beauty ofit.‘
Simply Red appear in Glasgow on 9th and Edinburgh on lUt/i Marc/i. See Rock.