RIGA - Everyone who has seen "24 Hour Party People" 's the film that made you a scholar of the '80s Brit punk music scene 's knows about the notorious Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester, which brought together the men who would later form such bands as Joy Division, The Smiths and Buzzcocks. Among those present was 16-year-old Mick Hucknall, who would later lead Simply Red, a blue-eyed soul group that kinda, sorta defined their decade.
Quite a journey: Manchester to the Baltics. Simply Red will be playing in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Keep in mind, this is the Baltics, where everyone really loves the music of the Thatcher-Gorbachev era. And there certainly is a surfeit of irony to be found in the idea of a famously lefty band (the name Simply Red refers not only to Hucknall's famous red shock of hair but to his brand of iron lady-bashing politics) playing in a less-than-lefty country, which loves them anyway.
So is Simply Red good? Well let's look at what may be the group's most famous song, "Holding Back the Years" (1986), a nostalgic lament similar in spirit if not quite brilliance to "Yesterday." The video showed a 26-year-old Hucknall with a flap of his red hair waving across his forehead recalling scenes from everyone's idea of a typical English childhood: cricket games, walks in graveyards, cold distant fathers regarding young sons who have just fallen off bicycles. And then there's the slow smooth sound that isn't quite sad, but isn't quite so happy either.
Simply Red's 1989 cover of Harold Melvin's "If You Don't Know Me By Now," was their biggest hit, popular among sex-starved secretaries and people who enjoy listening to five-minute long pop songs that feel like three hours.
Maybe that's too harsh. Yes, that definitely is too harsh. Simply Red is good music to drive to as well as nod off to sleep to. Consider their 2003 video, "Sunrise," in which a now middle-aged, fatter, Hucknall, with thinning hair and a craggier face, creepily contemplates beautiful 's insanely beautiful 's women in bikinis around a swimming pool and wonders why he's having such a hard time getting laid:
I don't know if it's even
in your mind at all
It could be me
At this moment in time
Is it in your mind at all
It should be me, it could be me
Yes Mick, it should be you, but somehow, for some reason, it just isn't.
It should go without saying that Simpy Red has contended with some nasty rock criticism in its career, particularly when it was most successful. The group's music isn't really for the critics. It isn't really for snarky bastards interested in scoring a few cheap shots. It's about people who just want to listen to really slow songs which rarely change their beat so that you never get confused or too upset about anything.
Aug. 11 's Saku Arena, Tallinn; More info: www.piletilevi.ee
Aug. 12 's Arena Riga, Riga; More info: www.bilesuserviss.lv
Aug. 13 's Siemens Arena, Vilnius; More info: www.tiketa.lt