Folding back the years
After putting music on the back-burner to focus on family life, Mick Hucknall has brought Simply Red out of the woodwork. But it’s only a temporary resurrection, he tells Andy Welch
Becoming a father can change a man, and Mick Hucknall is no exception.
“When Romy was born, I immediately went into some sort of autopilot,” he recalls of the arrival of his daughter, who turns eight this month.
“And then I was out. That was it. I didn’t want anyone saying, ‘How about this show?’ or, ‘How about that tour?’ I was out,” he continues – and by ‘out’, he means tying things up with Simply Red, the band he’d fronted since the mid-Eighties.
“If everyone knew I’d finished, I could say, ‘It’s over, I’m gone’. That was easier for everyone than being selective. There was no reason to take any phone calls about anything band related.”
So the band played their final concert in 2010 and, while Hucknall has performed with other musicians and recorded some solo music in the ensuing years, mostly, as he reiterates several times throughout our interview, he was doing very little but looking after Romy, walking his dog, watching daytime TV and generally enjoying married life with wife Gabriella.
Last year however, a little reminder from his manager about what year it was sparked another U-turn: Simply Red was resurrected; a new album, Big Love, has just been released, and there’s a tour planned.
“I’m amused by the fact I’ve made this record,” says Hucknall. “Had my manager not come round to the house last summer and told me our 30th anniversary was looming, I’d still be at home.”
He says his manager telling him he should tour to celebrate the milestone, combined with the thought of his old record label releasing “yet another Simply Red greatest hits” with no new material in it, was enough to end the hiatus.
He started writing, with the idea that he may record two or three songs to go on any inevitable repackaged hits compilation (“At least there’d be a few new things for the fans”).
But three songs soon led to four, and he then set himself the challenge of writing a whole album.
Before long, in gaps between making Romy’s breakfast and picking her up from school, he’d done it, and was ready to start recording. Big Love was taking shape.
“The theme of it is based on reality. It’s based on family. I have a family that I thought I’d never have, and it changed my life completely,” says the singer.
Part of the challenge when writing the new material was imagining what Simply Red fans would want to hear in 2015, while at the same time trying to honour what the band, who sold more than 50 million records around the world, had done before.
“I am responding to the last 30 years, and I am trying to sound like Simply Red. That sounds a bit mad but that’s it, reaching out to the core audience in the hope this is what they want,” he explains.
“The subject matter is what I want, because that’s my life now. My music has always been personal, from Holding Back The Years onwards, and the thing about personal music is that it communicates with the individual and it’s personable. It becomes about the listener, rather than me. I’m singing a song about my dad, say, but they’re thinking about their dad.”
And there is indeed a song called Dad on the album, in which Hucknall pays tribute to his old man, Reginald, a barber, who raised him from the age of three, in Stockport, Greater Manchester, after his mother left.
“I relate Dad to Holding Back The Years,” says the 55-year-old, referring to Simply Red’s early single, a No. 1 in both the UK and the US.
“Both songs are very personal, about the same situation. My scenario at home was me and my dad. He never married, there were no grandparents around. It was me and him for 18 years. Holding Back The Years is about leaving home and rites of passage, and Dad is a tribute to his devotion and dedication to me.
“This is the guy who worked six days a week, did all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, looked after me and wouldn’t go on welfare. He deserves something,” Hucknall reflects.
“It took a few years to reflect on all that, and it was only a few years after his death that I thought about it a lot and wanted to do him justice in a song.”
The rest of Big Love is just as personal, although perhaps comes from a slightly happier place now, Hucknall, a notorious womaniser in his younger days, has settled down.
“I never thought I’d have a family like this,” he says, adding that as soon as the tour – which will take Simply Red through the end of 2016 – is over, he’s out for good. Again.
“I have no intention of making another Simply Red album, I know that much. Not for 10 years, when it’s the 40-year anniversary, at least. I’ve no reason to. I can say that 100%. This one was an accident.”
Until then, the forthcoming tour will see him entertain the fans who wish he wasn’t so keen to disappear, with hits from the catalogue such as Money’s Too Tight (To Mention), A New Flame, Fairground and the Billboard chart-topping cover of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ If You Don’t Know Me By Now.
He plans to take his wife and daughter on tour with him – along with a teacher, so Romy doesn’t miss any school - and although she has seen her dad perform and knows what he used to do for a living, he’s excited about the prospect of his little girl seeing him on stage again.
“I can honestly say I have not missed any of this, recording, performing and promoting. I’m very happy at home, I have a great life and I’m not anxious to achieve anything,” says Hucknall. “I’m very grateful an album came out of the anniversary, and until the end of 2016, I am completely dedicated to Simply Red. There’s an audience out there that might never have seen us, we’re all still alive and nothing is stopping us.
“After that,” he adds with a smile, “all bets are off.”
• Simply Red’s new album Big Love is out now. They begin a UK tour on November 28. Visit www.simplyred.com