The Brand New Heavies at The Jazz Cafe
The rare groove boys are back in town. And are here to remind you that there is still a place in the world for your widest flares as they hit the crowd with a wall of solid boogie anthems and instrumental jams.
A mid-Wimbledon Saturday night, in Camden the air is strangely muggy, almost a Mediterranean clime. Inside, the Brand New Heavies begin a weekend of daytime and evening gigs at The Jazz Cafe. Within minutes of the stage show starting, it's hotter than outside.
The crowd cheered as one by one the 8-piece band came on, with special cheers for the core duo of Andrew Levy (bass), Simon Bartholomew (guitar), and the singer Sulene Fleming in her funky black catsuit. Dressed in 70s Blaxploitation waistcoats, feather boas, and sunglasses, they knew their visual style as much as much as their music – bless the iconic imagery of Miles/The JB’s/SuperFly that they do.
Their blueprint rediscovered Rare Groove sound became an accomplished R&B pop set a while ago. But it’s clear that on this night their sound was a standalone success, and live, it worked even better.
Buoyed along by a crowd singing all the hornlines, guitar parts and choruses with one voice, the set was simply hit after hit: BNH, Never Stop, Sometimes, Dream on Dreamer, Midnight at the Oasis, Brother Sister, Stay This Way, Spend Some Time, You Are the Universe and Dream Come True.
Touches of wah-wah on the bass and guitar added to the odd edge. It’s was on a night like this that a dance DJ could never hope to match the energy of the band: the spirit of the 70s funkmasters was alive and well onstage in Camden.
There were moments of effortless, crowd-pleasing showmanship: flashes of pyrotechnic singing, instrument solos, a wide variety of breaks and percussion flair, all done without losing the tempo or club feel of their soul-funk groove.
Talking points for me were Simon’s hairdo (Sweet called and want their hairstyle back), Sulene Fleming’s vocals touching the jazz singing heights of Tania Maria, the crowd singing the long oohs at the start of “Brother Sister”, and the banter from Sulene and Simon working up the already high levels of excitement in the crowd.
Everything landed on target. They took 1970s Funk and Soul out of the trunk and through thick and thin produced something accessible and slicker, and something that could get us all hot on a Saturday night with no bother.