It’s generally well known that Mick Hucknall was in a band called The Frantic Elevators before he formed Simply Red. However I was surprised to see that he was also briefly in a band called World Service, which performed at Manchester Polytechnic Union (now the Met) supporting Alexei Sayle on March 31st 1984.
Here’s the review in City Life, the following month:
Rob Graham (mentioned above) was the resident ‘Pop’ writer at City Life, and Mick Hucknall was the resident DJ at the Poly Union on Wednesday nights, where he DJ’d the ‘Black Rhythms’ night, credited as ‘Red':
Below is an ad for what must have been a small gig, judging by the venue in Spring Gardens, from City Life No.11 May-June 1984. By that time, the band’s name was established:
Soon after, City Life’s Rob Graham reviewed a Simply Red performance, possibly the one at Manhattan, but it’s hard to say because he doesn’t mention the venue:
And apparently Mick Huckfield took Rob’s advice… pursuing the ‘honeyed soul’ sound and developing an ‘image’.
Around this time, Mick began sporting an expensive looking black frock coat (was it from Geese?) teamed with a metal-topped antique walking cane and a variety of retro hats. He cut a fairly incongruous figure, striding round Chorlton and Whalley Range, catching the 85 bus in and out of town, as though he’d wandered off the set of a victorian costume drama straight onto an 80’s double-decker.
Mick’s new image may not have guaranteed national recognition, but it did cause a mild local stir; one day my dad came back from the shops saying, “There was a strange man swanning round the freezer aisles in Safeways… he had an old-fashioned walking-stick which he didn’t seem to need, and he was acting like he owned the place.”
“Did he have red curly hair?”
Simply Red’s first two single releases didn’t chart, but their third ‘Money’s Too Tight To Mention’ charted in June 1985, and was in the charts all over that summer. Most of us had no idea the song was a cover; this kind of misunderstanding just couldn’t happen in the YouTube era. I didn’t hear the original until years later, when I was amazed by how similar it was to Simply Red’s audacious copy:
The Valentine Brothers – Money’s Too Tight To Mention (1982)
Simply Red – Money’s Too Tight To Mention (1985)
The band headlined the free open-air concert at Platt Fields in August 1985, which was a great event:
I remember stumbling to The International on Anson Road for some kind of after-party with my friends, feeling that Manchester really was (probably) the centre of the musical universe… although there was a nagging instinct that ‘Money’s Too Tight’ seemed to have sprung, fully-formed, from nowhere in Manchester that I recognised.
The first album ‘Picture Book’ came out in the autumn and I bought it, hoping for some more classic dance tunes. There were six up-tempo tracks but I was disappointed that none of the other five were as infectious or as perfectly formed as ‘Moneys Too Tight’.
Simply Red’s lyrics often tended toward heavy repetition of words and phrases, a habit loosely borrowed from funk which somehow hinted at a lack of ideas. Jericho’s beautiful (and beautifully sung) verses were marred by the heavily chanted repetitive chorus line; the lyrics also emphasised the word ‘money’, giving the theme an oddly high profile on the album… which, I suppose, should have been a warning sign…
Simply Red played The Free Trade Hall in the November, and I went because my friend had press passes to do an interview, having already interviewed the band once before prior to their chart success:
The concert was great; there was a strong sense that this band was about to become massive. I got swept up by the atmosphere and found myself right at the front, waving my arms in the air, while my friend maintained a professional distance and took the piss out of me afterwards.
(There’s a list of Simply Red’s tour dates on the band’s official website at www.simplyred.com.)
Fast-forward to November 1989, when Mick unexpectedly decided to revive his Black Rhythms night at The Ritz, on a series of Tuesdays. There wasn’t much warning or publicity… just a few fly-posters, hastily pasted round town. We reckoned Mick was convinced his name alone would bring in the hoardes but it didn’t quite work like that.
The Black Rhythms playlist contained a broad mix of black music, including jazz-dance and soul classics, and provided a welcome antidote to the acid-house infestation which had gripped the city. The night should have been a great success, but sadly not many people came along, perhaps because it was mid-week. Hewan Clarke, The Jazz Defektors and a couple from ACR turned up each Tuesday evening, along with a few other stragglers from the old Berlin nights, of which I was one; but The Ritz seemed huge and half-empty and the atmosphere was correspondingly subdued and low-key.
This may have been when I first heard The Valentine Brothers’ version of ‘Money’s Too Tight’. Certainly I heard Wayne Gibson’s ‘Under My Thumb’ for the first time at one of these nights, and for years afterwards continued to confuse it with the original, alarming several soul DJs with my unexpected requests for a song by The Rolling Stones.
1963 on www.mdmarchive.co.uk remembers Mick Hucknall using DAT tapes to DJ, which would make him worthy of a footnote in DJing history, I imagine.
In 1993, Mick Hucknall invested in the company Blood and Fire which was dedicated to saving, restoring and re-issuing rare reggae recordings. More information can be found at www.reggaenews.co.uk although the interview with Steve Barrow dates from 2002 and Wikipedia states that the company ceased trading in 2007.
Mick Hucknall also invested in the Malmaison Hotel (off Auburn Street!) and Barca Bar in Manchester.