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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.