Mick Hucknall, he of the unmistakably smooth pop-soul voice, achieved enormous success in the 80s and 90s fronting Simply Red. The band sold 50 million albums with hits including Holding Back the Years, Stars, A New Flame and Fairground. Born in Manchester, Hucknall was raised by his father, Reg, after his mother left the family. In his youth he formed punk band Frantic Elevators but when they fizzled out he became the core member of Simply Red. Signing a record deal in 1985, their first album, Picture Book, went five times platinum. They disbanded in 2010. Hucknall’s second solo album, American Soul, is out on Monday 29 October on Atco.
THE FIRST MUSIC THAT I FELL IN LOVE WITH
I feel enormously privileged to be part of the generation that witnessed the magic of the Beatles first hand, and I think A Hard Day’s Night connected with my four-year-old self because it was the whole package: an album and a movie. It’s the archetypal pop record, full of fantastic two-and-a-half-minute pop songs composed by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the greatest ever in that field. At that time their music sounded so optimistic and uplifting, but because I come from the north-west it became even more powerful. They showed us you could come from round here and take over the world. It was amazing.
MY COMING-OF-AGE ALBUM
My dad knew I was mad about music. While he worked as a barber he would hear songs on the radio and we’d have endless discussions about them. So I got my first record player when I was 11 years old. I really liked the sound of Brown Sugar, which had just been released, so Sticky Fingers would be the second album that I bought. It is a landmark album for me because it reminds me of when I started to grow up. It launched me into teenage confusion. “Oh my God, there’s a zipper on the cover! That is sexy! OK, this could be interesting…”
THE RECORD THAT MADE ME WANT TO WRITE MY OWN SONGS
A bit of an odd choice, but it represents my time in Manchester at a key period, the very beginning of punk. Being part of it, cutting off my hair and doing the whole crazy thing of taking a lot of speed for a while, was all part of the deal. On this record Howard Devoto was in the band with Pete Shelley, so it has a very different dynamic to the one they eventually ended up with. Spiral Scratch had a very Mancunian flavour, so it related to what I was doing and where I was living. It inspired me and my friend Neil Cross to start writing songs, and we formed the band Frantic Elevators. So it was a big moment in my life.
THE RECORD THAT GOT ME INTO CLASSICAL MUSIC
Mozart’s Requiem in D minor (1791)
I always used to listen to quite a bit of classical music because my dad liked it, and if you’ve got any ear for music at all you have to enjoy Mozart. Some of the melodies in this requiem, where the different vocal parts combine and play off one another, are extraordinary. If I were Erich von Däniken I would say that he was otherworldly, that he came to this planet to show us civilisation and humanity. He is easily on the same level as Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci. As a musician and composer, I’m in awe of what he did.
… AND REGGAE…
Mr Bassie Dub – King Tubby (1978)
Blood and Fire was a reggae reissue label I helped to set up in 1993 to try to get some of this amazing music heard by a wider audience. This is one of my favourite tracks, a dub mix of Pablo Meets Mr Bassie by King Tubby, a Jamaican sound engineer. I originally bought the single in Rough Trade and I treasure it because it captures his tonal sensibility. All the echoes and effects that you hear were done live, so it’s effectively like listening to a live performance. Aural poetry.
… AND JAZZ
Miles Davis – Love For Sale (1958)
Apparently they’d not rehearsed it before recording, so on the track you can hear Miles clicking his fingers to count the band in, and off they go! They’re just feeling their way through it, playing so brilliantly it could have easily appeared on his Kind of Blue album. I first heard Miles Davis as a student, when I was struck by his extraordinary musicianship, and his work did affect some of the sounds of Simply Red. He was one of the reasons I chose to have a muted trumpet on Holding Back the Years.