Simply Red

Stay: Live at the Royal Albert Hall

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It is some measure of Simply Red leader Mick Hucknall's attitude toward career planning that with the release of 2007's Stay, his band's first album of all-new material in four years, he did not intend to tour behind it because he wanted to be at home for the birth of a child with his girlfriend. Such a preference, however, cannot have hurt him with his group's largely female following, who came out in droves when he finally announced a single concert at London's Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the new CD. One show grew to two, and finally to six sold-out performances in May 2007, and from the visual evidence provided by this video, shot in the middle of the run, the female-to-male ratio in the audience ran at least five to one. That's hardly a surprise given the music. Despite having been born in Manchester, England, Hucknall clearly would have preferred (musically, anyway) to have been raised in Memphis or Philadelphia, the better to inhale directly the influence of Stax and Philadelphia International Records. Still, even at his local record store, he got the point, and he wasn't only infatuated with the funky rhythms and punchy horn charts of the music on those American R&B labels; he also understood that Sam & Dave, Teddy Pendergrass, and the rest of his primary influences were lovermen who sang alternately devotional and pleading lyrics to appeal to female listeners. Whether covering songs by his heroes or writing his own material in the same vein, Hucknall has remained true to those sentiments, and his listeners at the Royal Albert Hall swooned approvingly as he and his six-piece backup band (plus background singer Sarah Brown) delivered them, either in the form of new songs from Stay (the source of nine of the 21 selections, all played in the first two-thirds of the show) or the hits that came with increasing frequency as the night wore on. Since Simply Red was a factor in the American singles charts only until the early '90s, the song selection and sequencing will seem less effective to U.S. viewers who may, for example, wonder why "Holding Back the Years," the group's biggest Billboard Hot 100 hit, comes in the middle of the show. It was also a hit for Simply Red in the U.K., of course, but only one of many there, and clearly Hucknall chose the set list both to showcase the new material early on and to build to a climax with more up-tempo numbers toward the end. No one in the hall appears to have complained. (In addition to the 101-minute concert, the DVD also contains a ten-minute backstage documentary; twelve minutes of black-and-white footage from an added show in Amsterdam; some miscellaneous interview material, and a photo gallery.)

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