Fresh from performing in front of 80,000 people in São Paulo, Brazil, in January 1988, in support of the Men And Women album, Mick Hucknall immediately set about preparing new material for Simply Red’s follow-up record. Writing some new songs during a sojourn to Italy, the Milanese heat wasn’t the only thing to make Hucknall feel hot under the collar – the singer’s latest love interest had brought out his inner Don Juan, inspiring him to once again channel his amorous appetites into a clutch of soul-tinged pop gems.
Listen to ‘A New Flame’ here.
However full his heart was, the departure of Simply Red guitarist Sylvain Richardson left a hole in the group’s line-up. Knowing how well the band had fared in South America, Hucknall invited Brazilian guitarist Heitor “TP” Pereira to fill the gap before decamping to George Martin’s recording studio in Montserrat, where sessions took place for Simply Red’s much-anticipated third album.
“The whole band was getting more sophisticated”
From the off, it was immediately clear that Pereira gave Simply Red the suave and sensual edge Hucknall sought – much how Nile Rodgers had brought his own elegant gloss to Chic. “He played in a beautiful Brazilian way – floral and melodic, which floated,” the singer later reflected. “The whole band was now getting more sophisticated with our playing ability.”
As if to show they meant business, A New Flame also saw the return of Stewart Levine, the producer of Simply Red’s debut album, Picture Book. “It was a winning combination,” Hucknall said. “When I came back to working with him, I was happy and our relationship was the same, if not better.” With Levine’s guiding hand, the record promised to be a classier, more streamlined affair, eager to continue Simply Red’s journey to soul-pop glory.
Brimming with confidence, and with the album at the mixing stage, Hucknall spent £1,000 getting a ruby-studded tooth fitted at the dentist, as if anticipating his re-emergence as the UK’s most visible pop star. Keen to release one of his own compositions as A New Flame’s lead single, It’s Only Love – a sweltering, jazz-infused assault on the senses – hit the airwaves in January 1989 and peaked at No.13 in the UK. Full of slap bass and a swaggering funk-like groove, it shone as brightly as the new gem in Hucknall’s smile.