Few would mention Manchester group Simply Red in the same breath as the Sex Pistols.
One was renowned for polished, soulful vocals – the other for raw, rasping power.
But the lineage of Simply Red, like so many Manchester bands of the 1970s, can be traced directly back to the Sex Pistols’ gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4th, 1976.
There were only around 40 people in the audience that night. But the 40 read like a Who’s Who of the Manchester music scene.
Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto of the Buzzcocks rubbed shoulders with Mark E. Smith of The Fall.
Also there were Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook, who went on to form Joy Division, and TV journalist and future record producer Tony Wilson.
Add future Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr and frontman Morrissey and you had a heady cocktail of creative talent.
Into this intoxicating mix walked Manchester art student Mick Hucknall – the future lead-singer and founder of Simply Red. The impact on him was profound.
He quickly formed the first incarnation of Simply Red – a punk group called Frantic Elevators – from people he met at the Sex Pistols’ gig.
Along with Hucknall, the band consisted of Kevin Williams on drums, Neil Smith on lead guitar and Brian Turner on bass.
The group were not an overnight success. They alternated record labels for nearly seven years and released three singles, none of which reached the charts.
Their fourth single, released in 1982, was a song called Holding Back the Years. It did little for the Elevators, but would prove to be a monster hit four years later when Hucknall re-recorded it with Simply Red.
After the Elevators’ demise in 1983, Hucknall and manager Elliot Rashman brought together a group of local session players from various Manchester bands.
The line-up included bass guitarist Tony Bowers and drummer Chris Joyce, who had previously been members of the The Durutti Column and The Mothmen. Tim Kellet on brass and vocals had also been in The Durutti Column.
Completing the group were David Fryman on guitar and Fritz McIntyre on keyboards and vocals. Hucknall, of course, was lead singer.
The band’s title was derived from Hucknall’s hair colour (Red was his nickname too) and the shirts of his football team – Manchester United. Hucknall was a life-long fan.
The word ‘Simply’ was added because it made the name sound better!
The newly formed Simply Red signed up with Elektra Records in 1985 and Fryman left to be replaced by Sylvan Richardson. Then it all started to happen…
Simply Red released their first single – a cover version of a soul song first released by the Valentine Brothers three years earlier. It was Money’s Too Tight (to Mention).
The single was an international success, reaching the UK and Irish Top 20 and the Top 30 of France, Holland, Italy and the USA.
Simply Red’s first album, Picture Book, was released in 1985 – a year before the band’s first major hit.
The re-recorded Holding Back the Years went to No. 1 in Ireland and the USA, No. 2 in the UK and No. 3 in Italy. Simply Red had arrived.
The band’s second album, Men and Women, was released in 1987. The lead single, The Right Thing, reached the Top 40 in most countries but missed out on the Top 10.
That all changed with the group’s third album A New Flame in 1989. Their cover version of the song If You Don’t Know Me by Now climbed to No.1 in the US charts, becoming one if the biggest singles of the year.
Hucknall remained a constant as the band’s line-up changed around him. He was also becoming something of an international pop superstar.
His fame was cemented by the release of the 1991 album Stars, which spawned five top 40 singles in the UK and abroad. It was Europe’s best-selling album for two years running.
After two years on the road, Simply Red released the album Life which included the single Fairground. It became their only UK No. 1.
By this time the group had won three Brit awards and two Ivor Novello awards as well as gaining three Grammy nominations.
Hucknall was the only original band member left after the departure of Fritz McIntyre in 1996. The group kept going with a series of tours and collaborations with other artists including The Fugees.
Simply Red’s final concert took place on December 19th 2010 at the O2 Arena. Fans in their thousands came to witness it.
A far cry from the 40 punk followers in the Lesser Free Trade Hall 34 years earlier.
*Many more unmissable pictures and memories of the past can be found in Clive Hardy’s brilliant book Around Manchester in the 1970s – on sale at a reduced price for M.E.N. readers.
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