(Shepherds Bush Empire, November 4th 2009, Review by Adam Tait)
With the Brand New Heavies being the acid jazz, funk institution they’ve built themselves into over the last 20 years, and Speech Debelle being one of the coolest names being spoken around London at the moment, Wednesday night’s show at the Shepherds Bush Empire carried the promise of excitement,a promise which was fulfilled.
Opening act Speech Debelle was something more than impressive, mixing gentle, flowing grooves with her own style of London hiphop. The use of gentle acoustic guitar and double bass to back her witty lyrics showed a progressive nature to her style that is more and more prevalent in rap music, but rarely this good. Debelle’s easy-going attitude with the audience involved everyone, and prepared the atmosphere for what became an exceptionally involving show.
So, with Speech Debelle done, the stage was well and truly set for the Brand New Heavies’ arrival. This arrival was one clearly designed to build audience excitement, wave by wave. The band took to the stage in pairs or in threes, culminating with guitarist Simon Bartholomew and bassist Andrew Levy appearing dressed like features from some strange circus. Finally the ringmaster herself, N’dea Davenport, arrived in top hat and sequinned gold jacket, by which time the audience was well aware that everyone was ready to roll.
The Heavies’ music seen live displays a funky, soulful core. Bartholomew, Levy and Davenport strut and shake themselves around stage like they’re at a New Years Eve party, and this proves to be infectious for the audience. From above you could see a rapidly spreading ripple of movement as more and more people realised they’d brought their dancing shoes. Drummer Jan Kincald ’s funked-up beats provided a back drop for a set of show-tunes that are brilliantly punctuated by the brass section and the backing vocalist. These proved to be songs it was evidently difficult not to dance to.
Large parts of the audience were evidently long-term fans who knew all the words, and were eagerly expecting every rise and fall of every song. It felt like the Brand New Heavies were happy with that. They looked like a band that had been on the scene for 20 years and simply want to enjoy their own music with other people who know and love it. They don’t need to put on shows to captivate new audiences; they’ve established themselves as cool, and they know the secret of having fun.
The Brand New Heavies is a band which knows how to enjoy itself thoroughly and well. And that enjoyment is contagious.