Monday, November 13, 2023

Brand New Heavies Weigh In To Birmingham

Simon Bartholomew and Andrew Levy, aka The Brand New Heavies, brought a dazzling show to Birmingham’s premier music venue, the Symphony Hall, featuring the vocal talents of Angela Ricci and the smooth sounds of the London Concert Orchestra to craft an evening that was spectacular in both its scale and its delivery.

The Brand New Heavies were pioneers of the London club scene’s acid jazz/funk style back in the late 80s and early 90s, moving rapidly through a series of record deals with their first album hitting the charts in 1990, their second in 1992 but not seeing mainstream success until their third, as the acid jazz/funk sound moved out of the club niche and into national airplay. Their third album, ‘Brother Sister’, spawned some of their most recognised songs, including ‘Dream On Dreamer’ and the Maria Muldaur cover ‘Midnight at the Oasis’. All of these and more got the whole audience on their feet, bringing huge smiles to the faces of Bartholomew and Levy.

The whole ensemble of more than 20 musicians were dressed to kill too. Leaning heavily into the funk section of their wardrobes, their outfits were colourful, flamboyant and with a strong 70s hint of sequins and extravagant shades without ever appearing retro or tacky. A brief interval saw a costume change but rather than being a ‘slip into something more comfortable’ moment, the three front of stage performers upped the ante with even more sequins and glitz. The combination of the venue, the outfits, the orchestra and the slick, energetic presentation of music that got everyone moving made for a powerful show which appealed to an incredibly diverse audience, from children to grandparents and from every cultural background.

The band is driven by Bartholomew and Levy with various other artists and writers contributing over the years, both to studio and recordings and live albums. For this tour, Angela Ricci does a tremendous job, both of bringing the stylish, classy and dynamic sound needed for the songs and of filling the space on the broad stage between the two front men.

The whole show was beautifully paced with various musicians taking the centre stage and enough twists and turns to keep the audience full of energy, singing along and cheering to the visible delight of the performers. An occasional instrumental break would allow Ricci a costume change and the varied set list enabled the Heavies to showcase their best known compositions alongside many less familiar fan favourites. Opening with a medley to get the audience warmed up, the first half was a masterclass in musical craftsmanship and pacing with the lively ‘Jump ‘n’ Move’ being the energetic high point. The second half shifted into the more commercially successful hits with ‘Never Stop’ opening and ‘Sometimes’, ‘Dream on Dreamer’, ‘Midnight at the Oasis’ and ‘Brother Sister’ quickly following.

The show closed with a song which only peaked at 21 in the UK singles chart but is the band’s most popular song on Spotify and arguably their best-known composition - ‘You Are the Universe’. It was a fittingly uplifting and inspiring end to a thrilling, glamorous, polished show.

There’s one more date to come in this tour in Manchester, yet with the energy and enthusiasm of the fans on show in Birmingham, there are sure to be many more.

Peter Freeth



Images: Peter Freeth

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