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Pop: Simply blue




TOO OFTEN, the sound bite culture reduces talent to a few tabloid catch-phrases. Mick Hucknall, the man who is Simply Red, is portrayed as a womanising pop star when he's not vilified as a tax exile supporter of Tony Blair's Labour Government.

However, these cliches can make us ignore the most crucial thing about the singer: his voice. Opening a series of sold-out concerts at the prestigious, yet intimate, Lyceum (not used as a music venue since the mid-Eighties), Hucknall grabs the chance to re-establish himself as what he essentially is an emotive interpreter of both his and other people's material.

Launching into the jazzy "Sad Old Red", Hucknall throws a few shapes like a seasoned soul pro, resplendent in a designer silk ensemble. "Come and take me home," he jokingly leers to the predominantly female audience, before switching to a cover of Neil Young's "Mellow My Mind".

Hucknall has impeccable taste, for the most part. When he's not collaborating with Crusader Joe Sample or Lamont Dozier, or giving his own financial backing to Blood and Fire, the re-release reggae label, he's covering Gregory Isaacs' sleazy "Night Nurse", Dennis Brown's "Ghetto Girl" or Barry White's sensuous "It's Only Love".

Indeed, as red drapes fall behind the 12-piece orchestra, the foreplay continues and we enter the boudoir with "Thrill Me". As documented in the self-penned songs of the current Blue album, the singer has suffered in love himself recently and, at times, seems to be performing accordingly, though neither an inflection, nor a rasp are ever out of tune.

Beaming through a crowd-pleasing finale of "Holding Back The Years", "Stars" and The Valentine Brothers' "Money's Too Tight To Mention", before encoring with "If You Don't Know Me By Now", "Something Got Me Started" and the joyous "Fairground", the Simply Red frontman proves time and time again that his music has little in common with the designer funk of M- People or Lisa Stansfield. Rather, it belongs to the great British tradition of blue-eyed soul that embraces Rod Stewart, Robert Palmer and Paul Young.

A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper