In the early 1990s the London music scene was developing into something that would later be labelled Acid Jazz. Not long after the second summer of love (they called it aciiiieeed) and rare groove warming up the hipster clubs in the late 80s, a new movement and a collective of artists, took something old and created a bag of their own.
The Brand New Heavies were London’s answer to Chaka Khan and Rufus, and created a template for the 90s funksters. Liked by the US rap fraternity and new wave Soul and RnB listeners alike, they caught mainstream radio ears in the early 90s with the sun-drenched Never Stop (featuring the honeyed vocals of N’Dea Davenport).
Their debut album was on Heavy rotation throughout the early 90s, and like the Young Disciples Carleen Anderson, in Davenport they had the kudos of having some serious female vocal talent from the US at the helm.
Almost 30 years on, one of the founding members – Jan Kincaid – has now moved on to create his own funk collective in MF Robots, but his High School compadres Andrew Levy (on bass) and Simon Bartholomew (guitar), are back on stage for ‘The Funk Is Back’ tour at Islington Academy.
They immediately give the crowd (most of whom look they remember the halcyon days) exactly what they want, opening with the one-two punch of People Get Ready and Never Stop (the latter featuring new female vocalist Angela Ricci). The new chanteuse conducts herself as any TBNH lead vocalist should, by appearing in bright gold boots, a double-breasted red jacket cum mini dress, and a bright gold overcoat over the top. And she proves she can hold her own vocally on arrival, before sharing some of bands current tour stop offs, which include Brighton, Switzerland, Exeter and Dartford.
One of the disappointments of the set is the lack of a soulful male vocal on tracks such as Get Back To Love (from the Brother Sister album). In this show it’s really missed and the decision to have guitarist Simon Bartholomew cover vocal duties, feels, and sounds like an afterthought. It’s a shame as even though the female percussionist in the group gets involved adding backing vocals it’s the one part of the show that never really gels.
What’s not lacking is the sense of old Skool fun and celebration, which the group fall naturally back into with ease, and new tracks Hideaway and Stupid Love slot in extremely well. The hits just keep on coming too, with Sometimes, Midnight at the Oasis, Dream on Dreamer (which is a highlight) and You Are The Universe (originally sung by MJ foil Siedah Garrett).
There are some nice interludes by the band too, keyboard and drum solos aren’t overblown, and more often than not add something different to the sound, although one of the trumpet solos was a bit too intense for some ears.
Stay This Way, a deep cut ballad from back in the day, starts very gently but ends almost frenetically, before a triumphant Dream Come True ends the set with a three part harmony sing along being conducted with the audience.
The vibe was mature, and the garb was most definitely 70s Chevy…but the Heavies also need to make sure they keep spending some time keeping it tight in the rehearsal room too. All that said if you want to dance and party, this is for you.
On tour across the UK now.