Simply Red light up the lakeside dusk

RICHARD BATSON The golden voice of the Simply Red front man lit up the lakeside dusk. Mick Hucknall was in soaring song as stately Blickling Hall began a weekend of big-name "pop" concerts to near sell-out crowds.

RICHARD BATSON

The golden voice of the Simply Red front man lit up the lakeside dusk.

Mick Hucknall was in soaring song as stately Blickling Hall began a weekend of big-name "pop" concerts to near sell-out crowds.

Around 6500 people poured into the country park near Aylsham last night for an "extra" show after Sunday's gig sold out within days.


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Another 9000-strong capacity audience will watch Irish legend Van Morrison tonight in the biggest weekend of pop music at the National Trust venue since it first dabbled in pop in 1998.

Blickling spokesman Joy Durrant said the trust had never doubted the pop events would prove popular, providing the right type of acts were booked, but were pleasantly surprised at the number of concert goers making a day out by visiting the hall as well.

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A hoped-for classical concert on Saturday had not come off, leaving the venue without an orchestral performance for the first time for many years, but there would be one next year.

Simply Red fans who missed out on the main Sunday show also look to have missed out on the best weather.

Last night's crowds were dressed for forecast damp and dull weather, while the weekend is warming for a scorching Sunday.

But apart from a few muddy patches in the parkland arena there were no problems.

Hucknall strode on to a hero's welcome from his fans, who were intent on enjoyment.

After the support acts, girl singer Peppercorn and rock band Vega 4, had warmed them up, Simply Red struck up with Home Loan Blues.

Hucknall, dressed in an open-necked white shirt revealing a silver chain necklace, looked relaxed and joked with the crowd about swallowing flying bugs in the spotlights – even singing a line from the children's song I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.

Many of the crowd were locals seeing Hucknall live for the first time. They included Norwich City striker Iwan Roberts, just back from the Holland pre-season tour and enjoying an evening with his wife Julie.

"I have always liked his music. My favourite is Money's too Tight to Mention," he said.

In the front row were a foursome from Yarmouth, Paul Sharp, Cheryl Dering and Arthur and Maria Humphrey, all sporting bright red fuzzy wigs in tribute to their hero.

Simply Red are riding on another wave of popularity following the recent Home album, and are in the middle of a year of touring taking them from South America and South Africa to the Middle East and Europe.

Last night's concert came at the end of a week which began in Beaulieu and Liverpool. Tonight Hucknall is at Leeds Castle in Kent, and next week the band are off to France.

A spokesman for the band said last night that their re-emergence was "one of the success stories of the year" with worldwide sales of the new album approaching a million – and both Sunrise and Fake singles proving smash hits across the European charts.

Simply Red were formed in 1983 by Hucknall after the art student cut his musical teeth in the rather more raucous and rebellious surroundings of a punk band called the Frantic Elevators.

Since then they have had a string of hits, from the classic smooches Holding Back the Years and If You Don't Know Me By Now – which both reached number two in the charts – to the funkier Something's Got Me Started and Fairground, the band's only number one.

And after a 90-minute slot by the diamond-toothed Mancunian showman, featuring all the favourites, the Norfolk crowds were certainly not holding back the cheers.

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