First Night: Simply Red Lyceum, London - The people's soul provider

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The Independent Online
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 womaniser-pop-star when he's not vilified as a tax-exile-supporter of Tony Blair's Labour government.

These cliches ignore the most crucial thing about the singer; his voice. Opening a series of sold-out concerts at the prestigious yet intimate Lyceum, Hucknall grabs the chance to re-establish himself as what he essentially is: a fantastic, emotive interpreter of both his and other people's material.

Launching into the jazzy "Sad Old Red", Mick, resplendent in a designer silk ensemble, throws a few shapes like the seasoned soul pro that he is. 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. When he's not giving his own financial backing to Blood and Fire, the fine re-release Reggae label, he's covering Gregory Isaac's sleazy "Night Nurse" 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, performs with added poignancy.

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 "Fairground", the Simply Red frontman proves that his music has little to do with the tacky designer funk of M-People or Lisa Stansfield. Rather, it belongs to the Great British blue-eyed soul tradition of Georgie Fame, Rod Stewart, Robert Palmer and Paul Young.

Even if the guy in seat P24 happily snoozed through most of the performance, 40 million album buyers can't be wrong.