Blazing torches on the castle ramparts above the stage provided a dramatic backdrop for the flame-haired singer from Manchester and his band’s performance on a clement July evening high up on Edinburgh Castle’s esplanade.
The Edinburgh Castle concert is part of the extensive world tour the commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Simply Red’s fourth album ‘Stars‘ – one the UK’s biggest selling albums of all time.
But as Mick Hucknall announced early in the performance, it was also a celebration of band’s formation 31 years ago with the release of their first album ‘Picture Book‘ in October 1985. Three singles from the debut ‘Come to my Aid’, ‘Money’s Too Tight’ (The Valentine Brothers cover) and ‘Holding Back the Years’ featured in the band’s set.
With these milestones and an extensive UK anniversary tour in November 2016, it was hardly surprising the audience was treated to a ‘greatest hits’ set list with only the latest single ‘Shine On’ from the current album ‘Big Love’ from 2015 representing the only new material previewed – as far as we could tell.
The 9 pm start on a bright summer’s evening meant this outdoor concert high above the city had a distinctive atmosphere whereby the band built momentum by starting with ballads back-to-back and slow reggae numbers such as ‘Night Nurse’ (1998) while the audience largely remained appreciative yet firmly seated.
This sombre mood allowed Hucknall to engage with the audience by explaining the background to the 1985 hit ‘Holding Back the Years’ (written as a teenager in his dad’s house in Manchester) before playing a solo acoustic intro to the moving song inspired by his mother’s sudden desertion from his family when he was a child.
His talented band was also introduced: Steve Lewinson (bass), Kenji Suzuki – guitars; Kevin Robinson (brass instruments and backing vocals); Dave Clayton (keyboards) and “new boy” Roman Roth – drums. The only original band member is Ian Kirkham (woodwind and keyboards) who was occasionally given the spotlight for solo performances.
As the light slowly faded the stage lighting and castle torches glowed brighter. Many in the audience, including my wife and me, were soon up dancing in the aisles to eighties hits such as ‘The Right Thing’, ‘It’s Only Love’ and ‘Remembering the First Time’.
While we don’t listen to Simply Red regularly, we admire Hucknall’s rich voice and song-writing talent. The skilled musicians also deserve credit for performing shimmering and note-perfect live interpretations of the band’s musical legacy.
At concerts like this, you’re reminded of the extraordinary calibre of the band’s output especially hits such as ‘Something Got Me Started’ from multi-platinum selling ‘Stars’ (1991) and more recent hits such as ‘Fairground’ (1995’s ‘Life’) and ‘Sunrise’ (2003’s ‘Home’). Simply Red’s eclectic musical repertoire has its roots in a rich range of musical genres such a blue-eyed soul, Jazz, Blues, reggae, hip-hop and pop.
Gratitude for the audience was expressed throughout the show but was captured for prosperity when Hucknall paused between closing numbers to take a photo of the fans for Simply Red’s Facebook page.
Generously playing two encores featuring covers of ‘Ain’t That a Lot of Love’ (Homer Banks) and ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’ (Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes), the band left the audience wanting more, but Scottish fans didn’t have to wait for long as the band returned to Scotland in November 2016.
We hope Simply Red don’t flicker out or go into hiatus as they have done in the past and continue to ‘shine on’ and release new music and delight audiences around the world for years to come.