1According to his autobiography Twisting My Melon, which band did Shaun Ryder once mistake Simply Red for at a Newcastle gig in 1989?
“I’ve heard story before, but I know absolutely nothing about it.”
WRONG. Bizarrely, he confused you with the Happy Mondays – his own group. After a few drinks, he ran late for a gig and “jumped onstage” – only to discover that it was a Simply Red concert, and he was actually playing the venue next door.
“Maybe I’ve forgotten it, but I can neither confirm or deny it because he could have walked on by the side of the stage and I didn’t see him as I was too busy with the crowd. You’d have to ask him!”
2Which crooner once complained about you making too much noise in a San Francisco hotel room?
“That would be Frank Sinatra!”
“I wish I’d been told because I’d have loved to have met him. His daughter, Nancy, once told me that he really liked the Simply Red song ‘Holding Back the Years’, so that was a thrill. He complained about the noise because these two record company executives were doing coke in my bathroom and making lots of noise and I think that’s what the problem was.”
3Simply Red’s ‘We’re in This Together’ was the official song for UEFA Euro 1996. What number did it reach on the German singles chart?
“[Laughs] I’ve absolutely no idea but I’m sure you’re going to tell me right now!”
WRONG. It peaked at Number 32. And charted at Number 11 in the UK.
“Fascinating! That was a weird one for me and caused tension with my management, because they persuaded me to use this song. It was actually recorded in South Africa, which was close to civil war, and it was an appeal for them to realise that they’re in it together. Then we got approached by the FA to give them an anthemic song and then the Home Office intervened and said they didn’t want it to be uptempo because they didn’t want to have hooligans starting riots, and they briefed us that they wanted a solemn piece.
I wasn’t comfortable with that because I love football, and that song has nothing to do with the game, but I went along with it… unhappily. I always thought David Baddiel and Frank Skinner and The Lightning Seeds’ ‘Three Lions’ was the better football anthem that year.”
4Complete the following lyrics: ‘I feel like the ’unchback of Notre Dame….’?
“[Laughs] ‘I’m an ugly sod but it’s not my fault’, if I remember correctly?”
You do! CORRECT. From your pre-Simply Red punk band the Frantic Elevators’ song ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’.
“Although we never achieved global success with the Frantic Elevators, we had so much fun going up and down the country in a transit van and doing John Peel sessions. We never made it – but we had a bloody great time trying! My favourite experience was supporting the Fall on some tour dates, because Mark E Smith was very nice and supportive towards us; he was someone who wasn’t jealous of other people’s success in any way. I used to drink with him in Manchester’s Dry Bar, and it was sad loss to see him die so young [in 2018].”
Frantic Elevators formed (as did countless other groups) after seeing the Sex Pistols at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in 1976. Did it feel as epochal as it’s been made out to be?
“This is a real mystery to me, because I went with my best friend Neil [Smith, Frantic Elevators’ guitarist] who I’d known since I was three years old and his brother Ian, who turned us on to the Sex Pistols. That was the gig everybody claims they went to, but the one I remember more was the Sex Pistols’ 1977 gig at the Electric Circus [in Manchester] because of the line-up of them, The Clash, The Damned – who didn’t turn up – and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. All on the same bill!
I used to go to the Electric Circus every Sunday. I saw an early Motörhead gig there. Years later, I was at the MTV Awards in New York and Lemmy came up to me and gave me a big kiss, with his big fucking wart rubbing over my cheek! I must be one of the few men Lemmy’s kissed! He’s a real icon.”
5Which Oscar-winning actor once danced on top of a table in LA to Simply Red’s ‘Money’s Too Tight (to Mention)’?
“Well, that would be the great Jack Nicholson!”
“He’d just finished shooting Terms of Endearment and was with [co-star] Debra Winger. It was a surreal night because there was a porn star right in the front of the stage. I knew she was a porn star because I’d seen her on one of the channels. When we came out to do the encore, there was some dude standing on a table in a pair of shades waving his arms around. Squinting into the stage lights, I thought: ‘Jesus, that’s Jack Nicholson!’. Afterwards, he invited us for drinks and we spent the evening chatting with him. I saw him from time to time over the years.”
Who’s been the most unexpected person that’s turned out to be a fan of Simply Red?
“Miles Davis, George Harrison, Van Morrison, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck… we became a global success overnight. We’re not some little indie band that sells a few thousand copies and gets great reviews in the NME!” [Ouch!]
6In which 2002 film does God tell Factory Records boss Tony Wilson: “It’s a pity you didn’t sign the Smiths, but you were right about Mick Hucknall. His music’s rubbish, and he’s a ginger”?
“That’s 24 Hour Party People, isn’t it?”
“That was strange because I got on very well with Tony Wilson and had dinner with him not long before he died [in 2007] and I’ve never quite figured where that came from because I always liked and admired him. But I don’t know if there was a bit of jealousy there because we were incredibly successful and Factory were bankrupt most of the time. I don’t know whether it was a quote created by Steve Coogan [who played Wilson in the biopic], because if Tony actually said it, then he’s two-faced ‘cause he was always lovely to me.”
Did he ever try to sign you?
“Well…[Laughs] the first time I met Tony was on my 18th birthday in Cavendish House at the Manchester Polytechnic, which was famous for having the biggest selection of whiskies in Manchester. I was with Neil [Smith] and we decided we would start at one end and try to get to the other side of the endless row of whiskies behind the bar. It didn’t go well! By the fifth whisky, we drunkenly staggered up to Tony Wilson, who was sat by the bar, and slurred: ‘We’re in a band called the Frantic Elevators and we’re going to be really big! You should sign us!’ He pretty much just treated us as drunken lags and ignored us. By the end of the session, I ended up in the toilet and Neil had to climb over the door to get me out!”
7Which sitcom character performs a cover of ‘If You Don’t Know Me by Now*’ in a 2003 Christmas special?
“I’m sure you’re going to tell me!”
WRONG. It was David Brent in The Office, played by Ricky Gervais.
“Of course! I remember it now. That was very funny. I recently saw Ricky Gervais on the street and told him his Golden Globes speeches were the best things I’ve ever seen. They’re fucking genius! I’m a big fan of After Life too.”
Talking of comedy: you’ve been parodied by Spitting Image, spoofed by Leigh Francis on his Keith Lemon sketch shows, and, famously, ribbed by Paul Kaye’s Dennis Pennis. Do you find the mockery amusing?
“When I became famous, I found it hard to handle the fact I became a public figure. I still think it’s weird. When you achieve that status, it’s open season for people to take the piss out of you, but I can enjoy a good laugh.”
*Simply Red scored a UK Number Two hit with their cover of Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes’ ‘If You Don’t Know Me by Now’ in 1989.
8Simply Red’s ‘Stars’ was nominated for 1992’s inaugural Mercury Prize. Who beat you to the award?
“Wow! I sound useless, don’t I? No idea!”
WRONG. Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica‘ won.
“Oh well! Good luck to them! To me, the real award is how many people you get in a venue and how many people buy your records. The rest is all guff.”
9What did you sing when appeared on the ‘90s comedy Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge?
“I believe I sang ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’?”
CORRECT. You were the only real celebrity to ever appear on the spoof chat-show.
“It was for his Christmas special, Knowing Me, Knowing Yule, because I was a huge fan of Alan Partridge. I later sang a duet of Tom Jones’ ‘Help Yourself’ with Steve Coogan playing his Tony Ferrino character [on The Tony Ferrino Phenomenon in 1997], which wasn’t quite as funny. I think Steve’s found it hard to get away from Alan Partridge; he now effectively seems to be Alan Partridge. There’s no way out.”
Any chance of a follow-up role on This Time with Alan Partridge?
“I think the format’s a bit tired now. It’s been and gone, but those Knowing Me, Knowing You shows were very funny and still hold up.”
10Which actor claimed she once vomited over your head in the ‘90s, causing you to have to shave off your distinctive red locks?
“Martine McCutcheon! God, it was so tedious that she kept repeating that story over and over again when it wasn’t true!”
“She was blind drunk. We’d been to see Oasis at Knebworth [in 1996]. I was heading back to meet a very famous beautiful model, who will remain nameless, in a club. Martine was with another friend of mine and I offered her a lift back to London. As we were driving back, she felt sick, and she threw up down the side of the car and over my leg as I was quickly shoving her head out of the window! So I took her back to my house and put her to bed, and made her bacon and eggs for breakfast in the morning. And I stood up an incredible model because of Martine being sick on my lap, so I wasn’t supremely in her fan-club, even before she kept telling people that she had been sick in my hair and I had to cut my dreadlocks off.
Well, if you look at the photographs of me at Knebworth, my dreadlocks were already cut off Martine! I think it’s a story she thinks makes her look good to any of the people who like to bully me. I don’t care, but it’s embarrassing for her. She was too drunk to remember anything anyway!”
On the subject of Oasis…in 2008, Noel Gallagher wrote a bitchy open letter to The Sun about you (branding Hucknall ‘irrevelant’ and saying: “The last time I heard of you, Fanta-pants, you were getting slung out of Knebworth for being shit and fat.’). Were you friendly with the Gallaghers before that?
“Not really. They were very unpleasant and aggressive, but I’ve since made up with Liam and I’m on reasonable terms with him now. I’m very pleased for him, ‘cause out of the two of them, he seemed to be the most unlikely to achieve that level of success on his own, and he’s kind of left his brother behind in terms of success. God bless him, I love people doing well when you don’t expect them to.”
The verdict: 6/10
“[Laughs] That’s brilliant because I kept thinking ‘I don’t remember that…’”
Simply Red’s new single, ‘Better With You’, is out now. Their 12th album, ‘Time’, is released May 26 on Warner Music, and available to pre-order. The band are touring Europe from June 2023