Simply Red...In The Face

So I’m hanging backstage at London’s prestigious Towne & Country where we are about to do a show. Now one thing about playing with a high profile artist like Curtis Mayfield is, you never know whom you will meet or what situations might arise.

On this particular night, a young guy with rather bushy red hair comes backstage and is gushing over Curtis. He is going on and on about how he grew up listening to Curtis and how he is his idol. Not a particularly unusual sight but this was a famous artist in his own right and was acting more fan than peer. The guy introduces himself and it turns out to be none other than Mick Hucknall, the lead singer for Simply Red. Curtis is very receptive as he usually is to fans and fellow artists and spends some time talking music, holding court and generally enjoying the attention, even though he has NO clue as to who Mick or his band are. They spend about 20 min or so together and then it’s time for us to get ready to hit.

Ok, I should mention that since Curtis had that brilliant falsetto, we rarely played very loud on stage. He sang so lightly, that in order for the monitors to have his voice hot enough we just kept stage volume to a minimum. We were of the mindset that we could play with a quiet intensity and let the PA do all the work for the audience. So it was not unusual to be able to verbally communicate cues or any changes to the set while we played.

During an instrumental section of a song Curtis had walked over to me at the keyboards and leaned in and asked what was that guy’s name he met backstage and who his band was. Very slowly and articulately I said “Mick… Huck… Nall… Sim…ply… Red.” I’m sure the first several rows could read my lips enough to understand what I was saying if not even hear me!

It wasn’t often that Curtis would do this, but since the young man was such a fan and made such an effort to catch the show, Curtis steps up to the mic and announces “Ladies and gentleman, we have a very special guest in the house tonight.” Remember Curtis is a very soft spoken, sweet man. Always has a good intention. He continues “ I am very pleased to have at the show tonight a young gentleman you all know. From the group Symphony Red, (“ohhhh shit!”) Nick Huckleberry!” I was mortified but probably not as much as the crestfallen Mick. This is his idol and he knows he’s going to be introduced from stage by his idol, and he is now Nick Huckleberry from Symphony Red! Theguys in our band looked at me like this is the info I gave Curtis. Probably the audience felt that way too! I’m sure I am standing there shrugging with the “it wasn’t me I swear” look on my face (while secretly laughing too). Finally there was a burst of applause for “Nick” as I think it only took but a millisecond for the audience to decipher Curtis’ faux pas. Those Brits are smart like that! I can only imagine what Mr Hucknall felt after that. For Curtis, it was a sincere mistake, however one that was never brought up again afterwards.

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