“Let’s keep it funky,” shouted Mick Hucknall early in this Edinburgh Castle show, as A New Flame skipped into Shine On’s gently stabbing horn riff.
Simply Red | Castle Esplanade, Edinburgh | Rating **
Despite a well-aged soul singer’s voice he is, it must be said, no James Brown, although at 56 he’s still an unlikely but enduring sex symbol for many, drawing whoops when his jacket – understated black like the rest of his outfit – was cast aside midway through the show. To look at him now is to imagine where Gary Barlow’s career might be a decade from now; fondly remembered for its studied inoffensiveness, with a nostalgic frisson for those who used to pin his picture on their walls.
Back to celebrate their 30th anniversary last year after only half a decade away, Simply Red never really get “funky” in the purest sense. There was a bit of glossy reggae early on, courtesy of the Sly & Robbie-produced Night Nurse (the smoke in the Kingston studio “was green, and I felt strange,” joked Hucknall knowingly), and then a medley of ballads which could hardly have slowed the pace any more. For Your Babies was typically sentimental, but his memory of writing Holding Back the Years as a teenager in his father’s house in Stockport (it’s about his estranged mother) at least added an air of heightened emotion.
Only towards the end of the set were his skilled band and horn section (including long-time foil Ian Kirkham) allowed to cut loose again with lively, soulful versions of The Right Thing, Fairground and Ain’t That a Lot of Love. A set to please the fans, then, but one which sprang very few surprises.