‘We’ve made it. We’re still alive!” begins Mick Hucknall. He’s obviously talking about the pandemic – more sombrely dedicating the gig to “all those who didn’t make it”. However, he could be describing the 37 years in which he’s been through some 20-odd band members, womanising, alcoholism and a brief band split to emerge as a happily married 61-year-old who radiates warmth and contentment. Despite selling 50m albums, it’s years since Simply Red’s pop-soul was contractually obliged to blare from every wine bar and taxi in the country, although you’d never know it from the sea of middle-aged couples swaying along and marvelling at the Huck’s timelessly honeyed chops.
After six years off the road, his famous hair hasn’t gone simply grey but the introductions are as rusty as the barnet. The Huck announces wrong songs (“Er, this isn’t For Your Babies”), shouts “Let’s go back to 1988! Er… 1985!” and introduces Gregory Isaacs’ lovers rock classic Night Nurse as “Sort yer cold out.” Such endearing off-piste moments are welcome in Simply Red’s otherwise succession of machine-polished smashers, in which the newest song dates from 2007.
Hucknall’s career wasn’t built on experiment, but Homer Banks’s 1966 northern soul stomper (Ain’t That) A Lot of Love is reworked as deep house. Visuals of the stricken planet remodel Come To My Aid into a climate change anthem and it’s hard not to admire how 1987’s The Right Thing cheekily sneaked the line “I’m getting harder now!” into the Top 20. The socialist singer’s yell of “It’ll get a lot worse!” before Money’s Too Tight (To Mention) seems to reference the cost of living crisis, but the crowd come for old hits and get them. Sole other original member Ian Kirkham blows up a sax storm on the slinky, underrated Thrill Me. Stars, Fairground and the rest start dancing in the aisles, before Harold Melvin’s If You Don’t Know Me By Now becomes the celebratory singsong of a band and audience enjoying growing old together.