Jul 13

SIMPLY RED – “Fairground”

Popular128 comments • 12,435 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.



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  1. 91
    mintness on 22 Jul 2013 #

    #87, **

    And to think we’ve only just recovered from another Hexham lad of now-dubious accent – but I believe he and his comrade will be back for more…

  2. 92
    AlexN on 22 Jul 2013 #


    Pretty sure Hexham Tesco only opened in 2005, sure you’re not thinking of now-defunct Safeway?

  3. 93
    Alan on 22 Jul 2013 #

    Or maybe it was a Presto – I’ve never really forgiven Ryton’s Presto for turning into a Tesco #stillhurts

  4. 94
    Patrick Mexico on 22 Jul 2013 #


    Meant Safeway, yeah it would definitely be that back in 1995. It was a good year, though 1996 and a return to Lancashire was pretty horrendous for the 11-year-old me who’d only been told he had Asperger’s 18 months before and had no idea how to deal with it, so will be reining in the personal anecdotes for future entries (though 1997, fortunately, was the flipside.)

    Claim to fame: for the year (1995-96) I lived in Northumberland I was in the same class at Corbridge Middle School as Michael Spearman, the drummer from Everything Everything.

  5. 95
    AlexN on 22 Jul 2013 #

    #93 Yeah it was actually a Presto up until about 1989 I think, then a Safeway, and subsequently it became a Morrisons and finally a Waitrose. I’m sure there’s some sort of socio-historical algorithm there, but fuck me if I know what it is.

    #94 I was at St Joseph’s in Hexham in ’95-’96 and also remember it as a pretty good year.

  6. 96

    Datapoint: the first Safeway to open in the UK was in Shrewsbury. Don’t think it’s a supermarket at all now: a whole bunch of all-fields-round-here were developed into retail-park peripherique in the 90s. (Causing the pedestrians-only model of town-centre shopping to collapse entirely — the main malls are currently morgues…)

  7. 97
    D.C. Harrison on 22 Jul 2013 #

    Re 87 – If only New Order had used Peter Beardsley’s version of the rap at the end of World in Motion (he was one of only five of the squad who turned up to the recording, I think), we’d have had a Hexham-related entry on Popular! Lovely guy, I’m told.

    Re 88 – I’m afraid we would have had to suffer that “anthem” even if Graham Taylor had still been in charge. As:

    a) It was the official song of the whole tournament, not just the England team.


    b) As hosts, England would have qualified no matter how inept they might have been in qualifying. Somewhere, Steve McClaren sighs sadly.

  8. 98
    Ed on 23 Jul 2013 #

    @96 Although apparently in America online retailing is in turn killing off the out of town malls, which are themselves becoming Ballardian mausoleums for late 20th Century capitalism.

  9. 99
    Izzy on 23 Jul 2013 #

    If shopping really is dying, where is the public space? I don’t believe people can or should get by without some degree of random social interaction, so what do they do? Shopping has been it for some considerable time, and in the days before shopping urban life looked different – more compact and less vehicle-based. I am uneasy about the social implications of what you describe.

  10. 100
    Rory on 23 Jul 2013 #

    @99 Gigs, concerts, festivals, theatre, cinema, galleries, museums, tours, parks, rallies, marches, matches, schools, universities, public transport…

  11. 101
    Izzy on 23 Jul 2013 #

    And fairgrounds. I don’t know though, those aren’t and can’t be everyday activities for the bulk of the populace; and I’m thinking specifically of America, whose cities are by and large aiui not built for walking around.

  12. 102
    Ed on 23 Jul 2013 #

    @100 All of which sound more worthwhile than shopping malls.

    On this song, it’s the one that fools me every time it comes on the radio. I hear the verse, and I think “This is pretty cool. I wonder who it is?” And then Mick goes “And I LOVE the thought…” And I think “Oh yes. That’s who it is.”

    The pedestrian chorus is not quite lead-footed enough to obliterate the subtle charm of the verses, though. I was fascinated to learn @42 about the Simply Red / Durutti Column crossover, and it made me think about what a proper collaboration would have sounded like.

    Maybe a bit like the fantastic Lewis Taylor, who would have been working on his marvelous, criminally under-bought first album at around the time Fairground was a hit. And maybe a bit like the verses here.

  13. 103
    Ed on 23 Jul 2013 #

    Would have been a 7 from me, but loses a point for the dismal video, especially the entirely unmerited hands in the air at 1′ 16″:


    And finally, Taking Sides: Simply Red vs Wet Wet Wet.

    Both 80s hipster soul with a political edge turned into multi-platinum megastars, while not completely abandoning their earlier ideological positions. Both with frontmen generally agreed to be pestilential. But which is better? There’s only one way to settle it.

  14. 104
    Rory on 23 Jul 2013 #

    @101 Whaddayamean, I have to go to the mall every day? Please don’t make me, officer.

    I don’t know whether dying malls means the death of physical retail, but in any case is shopping the best avenue for “random social interaction”, except on the most superficial “That’ll be 9.99” “Here you go” level? Something like chatting with other parents while waiting for my son at school feels more significant. How about bars and clubs and pubs? Evening classes? Fan conventions? Theme parks? Monster truck rallies? Church?

  15. 106
    thefatgit on 23 Jul 2013 #

    #103 Or an amalgamation of both:

    With his long flowing, curly/straight auburn/jet black hair. A supermodel on one arm and a needle in the other…


  16. 107
    Izzy on 23 Jul 2013 #

    Marti’s a famously nice guy, ‘pestilential’ seems a tad harsh

  17. 108

    Re Shrewsbury: town centre and the retail park still all seem busy enough, it’s currently just the three main malls that are empyy dead. They were originally set up for small local trade and bijou custom though, in grim fake half-timber hobbit holes burrowed deep into the cliff face of the central hill: they were gloomy and oppressive even when business was rockin (Shrewsbury town centre has a tricky underlying geography). The big chains are all clearly doing well enough, for now.

  18. 109
    James BC on 23 Jul 2013 #

    I think town centres will eventually have showrooms, run by big clothes/book/gadget/household item makers so that people can see their products without necessarily buying them there and then. The Apple shop could be a precursor – Apple don’t care whether you buy instore or online because they get the money either way, but there are benefits to having a high street presence.

  19. 110
    Ed on 23 Jul 2013 #

    @105 Great pics! You can see why the zombie apocalypse looms so large in US culture these days.

    The latest evidence seems to show that in the US in the past couple of years people have been moving out of the suburbs and countryside, and into the cities:


    @107 “Pestiliential” not meant to be a character judgment; just a description of a widely-held view. You say Pellow appears to be a nice guy IRL. Isn’t Hucknall?

  20. 111
    Tom on 23 Jul 2013 #

    #104 There was a spate of articles a few years ago, or so it seemed to me, on supermarket hook-ups, how to meet eligible bachelors over the frozen peas, etc. with the ‘why now?’ hook being extended opening hours.

    I am not suggesting the Popular Comments Crew would be able to confirm or deny this social trend, of course.

  21. 112
    Izzy on 23 Jul 2013 #

    I don’t know either of them, though Pellow certainly appears extremely charming whenever he’s on breakfast telly. But I’ve many times seen others describe him as the nicest man in pop, whereas I’ve never once heard that about Mick.

  22. 113
    Rory on 23 Jul 2013 #

    @111 Our new Sunday closing time: was Before Sunset, now Before Midnight!

  23. 114
    mapman132 on 23 Jul 2013 #

    Never thought I’d be posting this on this board: http://www.deadmalls.com

    Especially of note was the Dixie Square Mall in suburban Chicago: opened 1966, closed 1978, used in the Blues Brothers movie 1979, abandoned for good 1980, visited by yours truly 2004, finally demolished 2012.

  24. 115
    thefatgit on 23 Jul 2013 #

    The Waitresses invented supermarket hook-ups, didn’t they?

  25. 116

    Pretty sure (gay) supermarket hook-ups feature quite early on in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City — which was being serialised from 1974. (It’s a good 20 years since I read them, mind you.)

  26. 117
    Chelovek na lune on 23 Jul 2013 #

    I remember Sainsburys in the (original, non-phone company-related – it was still BT Cellnet then) 02 centre on Finchley Road in Hampstead encouraging single shoppers to “flirt in the aisles” on certain evenings by handing out devices that would bleep when you walked past someone of the opposite sex also carrying said device.

    In Hampstead! I ask you…

    This would have been the very late 90s , so somewhat post-Waitresses

  27. 119
    Izzy on 24 Jul 2013 #

    All those malls seem very sad places, but above all very small places. I had had in mind behemoths like Trafford Centre or Bluewater, not that I’ve been to either, rather than those poky rat holes. I guess we have those little centres here too, but I’ve never really thought of them as malls. Humanity doesn’t seem likely to be significantly poorer for their absence.

    I’m not a mall connoisseur as such, my only regular exposure is to the fairly large ones that serve as town centres in a particular kind of UK town. I do enjoy those trips, particularly where the mall has expanded over the years, such that one can see different eras in mall design side-by-side. They seem to break down thusly:

    • 70s low and wide, smoked glass, fairly pleasant and cool environment
    • 80s low and tight, shiny tiles, somewhat claustrophobic
    • 90s narrow and high, a lot of white latticework, rather characterless
    • 00s irregular angles, long sightlines, darker decor
    • 10s not many of those about for obvious reasons, but I’ve seen one or two with large open communal spaces, high ceilings, and more natural textures; they are quite pleasant to be in

    If you could find a town which boomed in the 70s then had a long slump before reviving hard in the last decade, it might boast a mall capable of bucking this sad trend. It would run rather counter to macroeconomic logic though.

  28. 120
    Kinitawowi on 25 Jul 2013 #

    #109: I work in The Land Of The Purple Shirts, whose high street presence basically has just descended into online showroom level. Except we’re a reseller not a maker, so I’d give it three years before we go the way of the rivals. Serves the managers right for thinking “ooh, we’re the last men standing, we’re awesome” rather than “oh shit, how long have we got left?”.

  29. 121
    Kylie on 26 Jul 2013 #

    I just wanted to say that my early childhood was plagued by my mother playing a Simply Red album constantly at home, it might’ve been “A New Flame” because I remember that nasty cover of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” *shudders*

  30. 122
    Rory on 26 Jul 2013 #

    @121 That was Australia’s only Simply Red number one single, for three weeks in 1989.

  31. 123
    Graham on 27 Jul 2013 #

    Great comparison with Mumford and Sons, and spot on about the cheapness of the chorus.

  32. 124
    DanH on 1 Jun 2014 #

    I had a P.E. teacher from Europe who made us exercise to Red’s “Stars” and “Something Got Me Started,” and I heard “Stars” a lot in retail, so I guess both were U.S. A/C hits. Said teacher also would play curious non-American hits like the Maisonettes’ “Heartache Avenue” and Blue Zoo’s “Cry Boy Cry.” When I clicked on both songs many years later, not knowing what they were, both triggered an ‘ohhhhh THAT song!’ revelation…especially the former, which I regard as one of the most cracking pop songs ever, but that’s another discussion….

  33. 125
    hectorthebat on 22 Apr 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1002
    Theater van het Sentiment, Radio 2 (NL) – Top 40 Songs by Year 1969-2000 (2013) 17
    Porcys (Poland) – The Best Songs of the 1990s (2013) 69

  34. 126
    Mostro on 23 Apr 2015 #

    I was never a huge Simply Red fan, but at the time this at least seemed like a slight novelty, with its 90s club feel and percussion a departure from their previous work. Listening to it again, that novelty is gone and it’s even less impressive.

    What struck me about the verses- aside from how meandering and pointless they are- is the incredibly flat and dulled down voice they’re sung in. It sounds like a passably competent but inexperienced singer trying to do “low key” under the impression that this consists of singing in a relatively quiet voice and too deliberately trying to suppress anything that smacked of making an effort.

    Pretty sure Hucknall knows his singing at least, but it’s not coming across there.

    And then I remembered what Tom had said and wondered if this was a deliberate attempt to increase contrast with the chorus, which is of course introduced by the “Hucknall Yell”…?

    If so, it doesn’t really work. It reminds me of the Queen song “Mustapha”, which opens their “Jazz” album; much of it is in slightly underproduced mono, but bursts into full widescreen stereo when it hits the chorus. Sounds like a nice trick- and it does work to some extent- but it also means that half the song comes across as very flat, especially when it returns to mono. That’s sort of what happens with “Fairground”.

  35. 127
    Kelly O'Neill on 17 Apr 2021 #

    I actually think I like this more now than when it first came out, however 6/10 for me, and I feel that’s generous.

  36. 128
    Gareth Parker on 2 May 2021 #

    I think this ambles along pleasantly, not too much to get excited about. 6/10 would be my mark.

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