One look at singer Mick Hucknall and it’s obvious where he came up with the name for his band, Simply Red. Shooting out from under his black hat are bright flames of Celtic curls.
Considering the band’s British working-class roots and the social commentary that comes through in much of its soulful, jazzy music, however, it’s not surprising that many people presume that the name has another meaning as well.
“It’s not really political,” insisted the 25-year-old Manchester native over a swordfish brunch at a West Hollywood hotel.
Still, politics are definitely on Hucknall’s mind.
“England’s getting crazy, getting dangerous,” he lamented. “People are fighting in the streets. I’ve never seen it in such a bad state. If (Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) was doing a good job, I wouldn’t be moaning, but she isn’t. If a guy over 40 in the north of England gets made unemployed, it’s likely that he’ll never work again. That’s the truth. It’s happened to my own father.
“When I left college I was three years without a job,” he continued, telling of his frustration at not being able to pursue his training in fine arts.
“That’s when I started deejaying (in dance clubs), but I couldn’t get enough work so I used welfare a lot, what we in England call ‘on the dole,’ like a lot of other people.” In 1984, Hucknall’s lack of employment led to his resumption of the singing career he began with a punk band in 1977.
Hucknall, who performs with Simply Red on Friday at the Palace, is hardly a party-line didactic. “I distinguish politics in two ways: party politics and social politics,” he said.
“Social politics by its nature doesn’t really concern itself with party politics because it deals with people. When I write a song with a political slant, it’s about that, not whether I voted for the Labor or Conservative party.”
Hucknall has mixed feelings about the United States. Though he feels the same about President Reagan as as he does about Thatcher, he has nothing but kind words for American people.
In fact, Hucknall has always considered himself something of a de facto American, because his musical inspiration came from such Americans as Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and Al Green.
“I was brought up with that stuff as a child. You wouldn’t believe the extent that it’s part of our culture,” he said. “It feels to me that the part of England I’m from is a region of the United States.”
In the midst of his first Stateside journey, however, Hucknall is discovering that Manchester is not quite like the real America. “The whole thing’s like a movie,” he said with wonder of such experiences as being surrounded by chattering Americans in a hotel elevator. “You don’t have people talking like that in Manchester. It’s all on the telly.”
Musically, Simply Red seems to be having no trouble relating to America, and vice versa. The group’s debut album, “Picture Book,” and second single, “Holding Back the Years,” are both climbing rapidly up the charts, with considerable air play on both pop and jazz stations.
“Ultimately, they’re not going (to care) about it if they like the music,” he said of the political or cultural conflicts that may exist between him and American audiences.
“The beauty of playing different places is that there are differences in the way they receive us. The important thing is that they all applaud. At least they have up to now.”