Jul 13

SIMPLY RED – “Fairground”

Popular128 comments • 11,756 views

#728, 30th September 1995

The scales of pop injustice tip in both directions. It is often taken as scandalous that Prince only managed a single Number One. But what then to make of Simply Red’s total? Mick Hucknall’s blue-eyed soul brand trampled the LP charts underfoot with Stars: they were a ruby-toothed sales goliath. But as far as singles go, “Fairground” is your lot. And it’s hard to imagine many people being sad about it.

Simply Red were one of those bands who are easy to loathe. In a way they were the Mumford And Sons of their day – successful to such a degree they stood in for a pile of musical wrongs: bogus authenticity, misplaced nostalgia for older musics, the supposed complacency of the Great British Public. The traits which might have won another musician a fair hearing – his socialism, his love of dub reggae – were brushed aside in Hucknall’s case. Instead we heard about his arrogance, his pettiness, and his colossal libido.

“Fairground” gives us some of the case for Simply Red and a big piece of evidence against them. It surprised people at the time, and on the verses at least it’s their strangest-sounding single. “Driving down an endless road…” it begins, and that’s not at all a bad description of the lonesome vibe here – the odd combination of flowing, tumbling Latin percussion (lifted from dance act The Goodmen) and Hucknall’s ruminative vocal, working together to create something genuinely arresting, even haunting.

So far, so good. But this journey has a destination, and it’s “Fairground”’s belting, red-faced chorus. In comes the piano, up go the decibels, and suddenly I remember why I detested Simply Red. The Hucknall Yell – incarnate here as that triumphant “LUV the thought” – was Mick’s favourite vocal trick. It took him a while to hit on it – it’s not on “Holding Back The Years” at all, and on “Money’s Too Tight To Mention” he builds up the volume rather than switching suddenly into it. But it’s on “A New Flame”, it’s really prominent on “Stars”, and it takes over “Fairground” completely.

I don’t like it because it feels like a very cheap way to ramp up the passion in a song – and Hucknall seems to me a lazy singer in the first place, a man with a sturdy voice and a checklist of soulful mannerisms rather than any great expressive skill. But the Hucknall Yell is particularly irksome on “Fairground”, because the song was going.interesting places without it. The trouble is, those places probably wouldn’t have included the top of the charts.



1 2 3 4 All
  1. 61
    Kat but logged out innit on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Made the mistake of watching a dude do Mick Hucknall on Stars In Their Eyes in 1991 at work. GENUINE HELPLESS CRYING INTO KEYBOARD. If I didn’t know better I’d say it was a Mary Whitehouse Experience sketch…

  2. 62
    Cumbrian on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Speaking of SITE – does anyone know of an online copy of Jarvis Cocker’s appearance as Rolf Harris? I’ve looked all over for that and never turned it up.

    That Mick Hucknall one is certainly something

  3. 63
    punctum on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Not interested in an overrated nineties pop singer’s impersonation of a man in his eighties who lives in Berkshire, thank you very much.

  4. 64
    Cumbrian on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Well, I’ve never seen it – not having watched the series at the time – and thought it would be moderately entertaining. You obviously disagree. The question still stands for anyone else.

  5. 65
    punctum on 19 Jul 2013 #


  6. 66
    swanstep on 19 Jul 2013 #

    I wonder whether Rolf is watching the cricket? Australia have scored 5 runs in the last 10 overs; Shane Watson may have to be resettled in PNG.

  7. 67
    Cumbrian on 19 Jul 2013 #

    #65: Really? Blimey – I must be living under a rock or something to have missed that. I assume it was in the press?

  8. 68
    punctum on 19 Jul 2013 #

    His lawyers tried to keep it out of the press, but yes, it was made public knowledge some months ago. So you can see that the reason why any SITE/Jarvis/Rolf footage may have been taken down is because of these, um, issues.

  9. 69
    weej on 19 Jul 2013 #

    You can find it here, Cumbrian, or a clip of it at least.

  10. 70
    punctum on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Nope, sorry, if you people are going to go with this, I’m getting well away from here.

  11. 71
    Mark G on 19 Jul 2013 #

    That link is blocked under copyright.

  12. 72
    Mark G on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Actually, I’m fairly sure Jarvis has had the clip blocked himself, for quite some time.

    #73 (ooh, forward in time…) Not the Jarvis “Two Little Boys” one though..

  13. 73
    Tom on 19 Jul 2013 #

    YouTube is bristling with intact Rolf Harris vids.

    Punctum et al – I’m very glad he’s been investigated, as claims like these need to be taken seriously. But as yet – as far as I know – there have been no charges for him, so let’s tread carefully here (& on the 2LB thread).

  14. 74
    Mark G on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Other blocked content type of things..

    There was an advert around christmas time based around “Please please please let me get what I want” for John Lewis. Shortly afterwards, there was an ‘apparently funny’ take-off done where Gordon Ramsay burst in to the scene, advertising his new TV series.

    Anyway, it ran briefly, as they do, but disappeared, and I couldn’t find it. So, I did suggest it was probably Morrissey who objected, but again there was no news on it.

    During the typing of this, I googled it to check who the original ad was for, and I find that Morrissey got £10,000 pay-out earlier this month, and is donating it all to an ant-fois-gras campaign run by PETA.

    So, there you go.

    Back to Huck…

  15. 75
    weej on 19 Jul 2013 #

    The clip isn’t blocked in wherever-my-VPN-is-currently-connected-to. FWIW.

    The Hucknall SIYI clip is as hilarious as billed, good find.

  16. 76
    James BC on 19 Jul 2013 #

    Even if Rolf had been charged I’d still quite like to see Jarvis Cocker doing Jake the Peg. But as you say, he hasn’t.

  17. 77
    Ciaran on 20 Jul 2013 #

    #53 That is kind of witty, if true.

  18. 78
    Patrick Mexico on 20 Jul 2013 #

    Anyway, David Ginola’s turn as Sacha Distel was miles better.

    It was an actual Frenchman impersonating another real Frenchman to make the most (stereotypically) French thing ever. I think he out-Starsteded Peter Starstedt (that was as difficult to type as it is to pronounce in my coarse Lancastrian brogue. Smurk on t’watter anyone?)

  19. 79
    AMZ1981 on 20 Jul 2013 #

    Going back to the case in hand I’ve made the point before that 1995 only had two guitar based number ones (Some Might Say and Country House). However we’ve already seen a pattern of guitar records stopping at number two (Common People, Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, Alright).

    Fairground’s second week at the top starts a curious six week run where the number two position is held by a guitar band. Pulp fly the Britpop flag for two weeks and then the next three runners up are all by what could loosely be termed classic rock artists before arguably the most famous Britpop song of them all comes along.

    From a personal perspective I was fourteen at the time and going through a bit of a hair metal phase; I was sure Def Leppard were going to get to number one when they leapt 7-2 and was gutted when they didn’t.

    By way of an aside one of the stranger records selling that month (it held its peak position of three on Fairground’s last week) was Living Next Door To Alice by Smokie and Roy Chubby Brown.

    Coming up next (apologies if anybody’s already spotted this) we have the first number one by one of the dominant genres of the last twenty years.

  20. 80
    Steve Mannion on 20 Jul 2013 #

    Well observed AMZ re three ancient rock acts stalling at #2, and then you get an even bigger even older act at #2 before the year is out.

    Also in addition to the #2 that occurred during Jacko’s brief reign – N-Trance’s ‘cover’ of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ ft. the late Ricardo Da Force (if nothing else his fourth appearance on a top 2 hit remarkably) – two of the four remaining #2 hits in ’95 were cover versions and after The Original no big club hit that year reached higher than #4 (with no further hits peaking at #3 after The Rembrandts theme from Friends around the same time as ‘Fairground’).

  21. 81
    Tom Lane on 20 Jul 2013 #

    In the U.S. we were spared all the Mick Hucknall tabloid stuff. They only went Top 40 five times, so Simply Red were never a big deal. But it is stunning to think they had more #1’s in the U.S. (2) than they did in England (1). I actually think of him as a very good Blue Eyed Soul singer. So, this song isn’t one of his best, for sure, but I think a good portion of his catalog holds up pretty well. Hucknall yell and all.

  22. 82
    Tom on 20 Jul 2013 #

    #79 not the first! The Guinness Book officially credits “Ice Ice Baby” but “Turtle Power” has a better claim and the first with rapping on is “Candy Girl”. But generally here it’s good form not to discuss number ones until the relevant thread starts ;)

  23. 83
    wichitalineman on 21 Jul 2013 #

    Pre-soul Hucknall, anticipating the La’s by a good few years.


    I love this record, and Peel played it to death in ’81.

    You can see why the Frantic Elevators were on a Liverpool label. I had their spaghetti western/Merseybeat single of Holding Back The Years in ’82 and was surprised and aghast when Simply Red’s version came out. How did this wholemeal soul act know the song, I wondered? having never known who any of the Frantic Elevators were.

    The comparison with Rod Stewart upthread is interesting. I’d say Hucknall has never been charming, whatever his politics and talents, whereas Rod has charm in abundance. Fairground always felt quite joyous, and unshowy to me, something Hucknall hadn’t been since the Frantic Elevators days.

  24. 84
    AMZ1981 on 21 Jul 2013 #

    #82 I was thinking specifically of Gangsta rap but I agree it’s best to wait for the thread.

  25. 85
    wichitalineman on 21 Jul 2013 #

    Enough spoilers!

  26. 86
    speedwell54 on 21 Jul 2013 #

    Mick Hucknall was and still is the go-to loathsome guy. I don’t know how unfair this is. I don’t know him, I don’t read the tabloids. Programmes like ‘Buzzcocks – particularly in the Mark Lemarr era- fostered this scathing attitude to him and many many others. It appears hard to separate the act and the song.

    Cumbrian makes a fair point at 25 about ‘playing the man’. For fear of stating the bleeding obvious, I guess a lot of singles fall into this image/marketing/ promotion stuff and benefit or suffer because of it, either at the time or with revised hindsight .

    Pleased to see a bit of warmth for this. I like it and the things that annoy others don’t annoy me. Video is a bit out of focus though. For me it sneaks into getting a vote at the end of the year, I have it at 6.

    Hardtogethits- a belated well done at 61 on ‘Boom Boom Boom’ but I think there is a great equaliser up thread here!

  27. 87
    Patrick Mexico on 21 Jul 2013 #

    Indeed, back to the #1 in question. A bit uncomfortable with a blue-eyed soul act having a “grunge” dynamic (quiet-LOUD-quiet-With a HUCKNALL YELL, they cried “MARK, MARK, PARK*) but Simply Red – yes, like Blackpool, they have many (understandable) detractors, and make, but they’re popular mainly because they don’t give up when the odds are firmly stacked against them. He was a constant nineties presence in my mum and dads’ car stereo, for such glamorous locales as Hexham** Tesco on a foggy November evening, and I’d say Mick’s like the drunken sage/long-lost uncle type – you definitely wouldn’t want to see him every day but every now and then he can tell a pretty good joke. Deserves a 6.

    * Y’know, the guy from back when Peter Kay was cool.

    ** This town will play a shock role in at least one future TPL entry, but it’s no spoiler – you’d never detect it in the accent, at least.

  28. 88
    Steve Mannion on 21 Jul 2013 #

    I think the Huckster’s 90s nadir was the official Euro 96 song ‘We’re In This Together’ – oh if only England hadn’t qualified.

  29. 89
    Will on 22 Jul 2013 #

    Didn’t mind Fairground, mainly cos of the Goodmen sample I have to say. They fell off commercially after this though, didn’t they? I can’t remember them having another big hit..

  30. 90
    Steve Mannion on 22 Jul 2013 #

    No other hits as the Goodmen although the album ‘Father In The Bathroom’ sounds…intriguing what with titles such as that, the follow up single ‘Damn Woman’, ‘Yokel’ and ‘Hand Wobble’.

    Via further Discogs/Polyhex dot-joining it turns out between them the Goodmen actually had a relative purple patch between 1999 and 2001 rivalling Norman Cook for noms de plume with this lot:

    DJ Manta – Holding On (#47, 1999)
    Jark Prongo – Movin’ Thru Your System (#58, 1999)
    Rhythmkillaz – Wack Ass MF (#32, 2001)
    Chocolate Puma – I Wanna Be U (#6, 2001) + Always And Forever (#43, 2006)
    Riva ft. Dannii Minogue – Who Do You Love Now? (#3, 2001)
    Tomba Vira – The Sound Of Oh Yeah (#51, 2001)

    Only know the mediocre Choc Puma and Riva hits there and I doubt any of the others match up to ‘Give It Up’.

1 2 3 4 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page