Live Review: Simply Red at First Direct Arena, Leeds [9th February 2022]

Mick Hucknall still holding back the years and delivering a stunning set of classic ‘Blue Eyed Soul’ tunes at the arena in Leeds

Billed as Simply Red but lets face it, it’s really the Mick Hucknall show, I doubt many of the thousands in the arena tonight could name any other band members. However, that doesn’t matter a jot as long as he’s on form and in voice – which he certainly is.

I feel sorry for Hucknall, he’s had no end of unfair criticism in the last few years, we’ve all grown older, greyer and more wrinkly since Holding back the Years graced our turntables in the mid 80’s, and after over 50 million album sales and almost 40 years later he is still expected to look and sound the same. Or maybe it’s that everyone owned a copy of either Stars, Picture Book or A New Flame and their hit singles were played everywhere that they now face being hit with the ‘bland but popular’ stick, a fate that Coldplay will no doubt face in a few years time, if they haven’t already.

I met a few folks in the bar beforehand who are following them around on this UK tour and they showed no lack of enthusiasm for the show tonight, despite missing the whole of Mica Paris’s excellent support set for the sake of a few extra drinks in the VIP area.

Mica strutted and pouted through some great soul tunes dressed in a dark 2 piece suit, thigh length boots, gloves and the biggest false eyelashes I’ve ever seen. Tracks like Where is the love? and Breathe life into me kept the toes tapping throughout as her unmistakeable voice rang through the cavernous arena.

The arena is full for Simply Red it has been a few years since they last played live, so there are questions to ask around if Hucknall can still cut it as a white blue eyed soul singer. It takes around 30 seconds to decide that the answer is a definite YESHome booms out from the band and he emerges with a wave and a simple “Well we’ve made it” message to everyone, which was to congratulate the survivors of the pandemic and then more soberly follows that with “Let’s dedicate tonight to those that didn’t make it”. What followed was a demonstration of how to keep a soulful voice strong and loud in your sixties. He has to pull the mic away from his mouth several times as note after note are hit with just enough gravelly precision, emotion and visible strain.

Despite having a new top 10 album Blue Eyed Soul released in November 2019 to promote, they choose instead to concentrate on a greatest hits set. With a songbook piled high with crowd pleasers it isn’t long before the seated audience are up and dancing in the aisles to the likes of For Your Babies, A New Flame and Stars. Amazingly Holding Back The Years is very early in the show but with this amount of hits to fit in, perhaps it’s not a total suprise. Plenty of covers too with the most unusual being Gregory Isaac’s Night Nurse and then Barry White’s It’s Only Love Doing It’s Thing fitting more cohesively with the other choices.

The band are set back from the front of the stage giving Mick enough room to dance around the polished floor in his slightly baggy suit and untucked shirt. Either side of the massive stage are projection screens and also at the back. During Come to my aid we get visions of extreme environmental distress, I’m not sure it was originally intended as a green message but it fits now in the same way Ordinary World has worked for Duran Duran.

Its not long before we are grooving along to The Right Thing and Fairground, those grey haired and wrinkly 50 and 60 somethings in the audience getting flashbacks to nightclubs and discos at a much simpler time in life. You marvel at the musicianship in the band and the ease at which Hucknall can flip from soft crooning to a wailing soul banshee.

1st encore is Something Got Me Started and the Homer Banks cover of Ain’t That a Lot Of Love hardly a bum on seat in the place and this is a full arena for a change. “It’s going to get a lot worse” Hucknall says before the unmistakeable opening bars of Money’s Too Tight (To Mention) and finally a slow number If You Don’t Know Me By Now, originally made famous by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes but tonight Mick Hucknall and his Simply Red band owned it all.

This run of arena shows in the UK goes to Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Nottingham, London, Brighton and Cardiff. Then they are booked in festivals and parkland shows across the summer before hitting Europe in November and December. This will be a busy year for Simply Red but deservedly so and perhaps this could turn the tide on the years of neglect.

Simply Red play Scarborough Open Air Theatre on July 22nd tickets available here

Words and Photos by John Hayhurst