Simply Red's 'Simplified' American Soul Ed Gordon talks with Mick Hucknall of the R&B group Simply Red. Hucknall, who is English, has a new CD, Simplified, that includes some American soul favorites.
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Simply Red's 'Simplified' American Soul

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Simply Red's 'Simplified' American Soul

Simply Red's 'Simplified' American Soul

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(Soundbite of "A Song for You")

Mr. MICK HUCKNALL (Simply Red): (Singing) I love you in a place where there's no space or time. I love you for my life. You're a friend of mine.

ED GORDON, host:

That's Mick Hucknall of Simply Red with the Donny Hathaway classic, "A Song for You." In the 1980s, Hucknall invaded America with a slew of pop songs influenced by American soul. He even wrote an R&B standard of his own, the now classic "Holding Back the Years." His latest effort is called "Simplified." It's a CD that flirts with various musical genres, while Hucknall reinterprets some of the very songs that made him famous as a singer of blue-eyed soul, a term he doesn't care much for.

Mr. HUCKNALL: No, I don't like it. I think being singled out like that way is offensive on the other side, like the idea of `brown-eyed rock.' I just think it's unnecessary. I think you could apply that to Elvis, Sinatra, any of the British bands who were influenced by the blues. You could use that as an issue, and I think it's irrelevant.

GORDON: You see yourself, I would imagine, based on what you just said, as a singer--a singer who can sing whatever music genre is put in front of them. Is that fair?

Mr. HUCKNALL: I find it unusual, for me personally, in this modern age, that you can--that people can't be more multidimensional in what they listen to and also in what they express through their music. It seems crazy...

GORDON: You...

Mr. HUCKNALL: ...that we just have bands set in one genre. I just can't imagine being in one genre.

GORDON: But why did you decide to take what essentially are, for the most part, on this CD, hits that had already been or songs that had already been established by the band and, to some degree, redo them, give them a new twist?

Mr. HUCKNALL: Well, we set up an independent company, first of all, that enabled me, after a certain time, to re-record some of my songs so that I owned the master recordings. I had an issue with the major music corporations in that the artist pays for the cost of making the recordings and--but don't get to own those recordings that they've paid for, and that seems patently absurd. And so I wanted to just make sure that I had, for my own integrity, versions that I was proud of of these songs that I've written.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HUCKNALL: But the real reason, the most important reason for me, why I did that, was that I'm now 20 years singing professionally, and my voice is seasoned. And I felt almost a responsibility to record these songs now, as I am a man of 20 years' more experience.

(Soundbite of "Holding Back the Years")

Mr. HUCKNALL: (Singing) Holding back the years, thinking of the fear I've had so long. When somebody hears, listen to the fear that's gone...

GORDON: And that's "Holding Back the Years." When you know that you've hit a song so well the first time out, was there any trepidation in remaking this one?

Mr. HUCKNALL: Yeah, of course, but I think it's better to understand that I've been singing this song throughout the world since 1985, and the song has actually evolved with me. I've not been doing the identical arrangement from the original hit. I've really tried to go for something that feels more timeless than just like an '80s arrangement or something that's very fixed in time stylistically.

(Soundbite of "Holding Back the Years")

Mr. HUCKNALL: (Singing) Nothing has the chance to be good. Nothing ever could, yeah, whoa. I'll keep holding on. I'll keep holding on.

GORDON: Mick, do you ever look back now, 21 years into the career and some 50 million albums later--are you at all amazed at the success that you've been able to find?

Mr. HUCKNALL: By the success of it, very much. I was confident that I would be doing this as a profession, because I've been singing since I was four years old and there wasn't really anything else I was ever going to do. And once I picked up the bug to also write songs at about 16, then, you know, whatever level of success I was going to achieve, this is what I was going to do. And whether it be singing on a ship, a cruise ship, or singing to thousands of people, this was what I was going to do. The size of the success has really been surprising, I suppose, and amazing, really.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Mr. HUCKNALL: (Singing) The only way out was to give you more love, more of my love, more and more and more and more and more...

GORDON: Here in the United States, when the first album was released, you had such a tremendous outpouring of love. Sometimes when you reach that success, that level of success, the first time out it can be daunting to try to either match that or continue. Was that anything that you struggled with?

Mr. HUCKNALL: Oh, very much. I think it was a very difficult time for me to--I'd been thrown into it so fast. After graduating from university, I was unemployed for four years and I was living in a really bad area of Manchester, and within the space of three or four months, I was famous, you know? It seemed to go so fast. And then for it to happen in America--I didn't quite know how to handle it, you know, in a lot of ways. There is a phenomenon for artists from Europe or, say, artists from America working in Europe, that we tend to go--when we're thinking across the water, we tend to go for the next new thing. We reach out for something that's brand-new, almost like consumers would, you know, if they marketed something brand-new as more appealing. It's much harder to do to establish yourself as a regular artist that people don't get bored with. But also, we've enjoyed a huge success, a much bigger success in Europe than we have in the States, probably principally because we're Europeans, you know? We're British. There are many American acts that come over to Europe that are huge here, but just can't get into Europe, you know? So it's roundabouts and swings, I think, in some ways.

GORDON: Well, you haven't been doing too badly here, we should note, and the new CD is something for the real music connoisseur to lavish in, in the sense that you have a little bit of everything: the Latin flavor, the classic "A Song for You," as well as the Simply Red classic, "Holding Back the Years." It's all here, a new take on it, and it is a great CD. Mick Hucknall...

Mr. HUCKNALL: Thank you very much.

GORDON: ...we thank you very much for joining us today. Appreciate it.

Mr. HUCKNALL: Pleasure. Pleasure. Enjoyed that.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Mr. HUCKNALL: (Singing) Driving down an endless road, taking friends or moving alone. Pleasure at the fairground on the way. It's always friends that...


GORDON: To listen to the program, visit NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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