THE BRAND NEW HEAVIES LIVE IN BIRMINGHAM – WHAT HAPPENED?
A trip to the centre of Birmingham and my first ever visit to The Symphony Hall for tonights show by Acid Jazz/Funk legends The Brand New Heavies who are on tour in support of their latest release “Never Stop: The Best of the Brand New Heavies” accompanied by the “London Concert Orchestra”. There are a few bands that have done shows and tours accompanied by and Orchestra, and many of them might not have been an obvious choice, but The Brand New Heavies are one band that, even without hearing it, you can imagine makes sense with their signature Jazz/Fun/Disco fusion offerings.
Forming in the 80’s as an instrumental Acid Jazz Instrumental band (going under the guise of Brothers International) they are a band that has remained active for decades, scoring various hits, probably most notably “Midnight At The Oasis”, “Dream On Dreamer” and “You Are The Universe” in the 90’s and even has a few notable songs featured on Movie Soundtracks (Tonight the set had one of those included: “Jump n’ Move” from “Happy Feet”).
I felt a bit under dressed walking to the venue, following the hoards of people heading to the Symphony Hall dressed in their best, with sequins as far as the eye can see. Once inside there was a roar of chatter as people gathered in the bar area, queuing for drinks as they awaited the show. Being a more, what i suppose could be called, civilised kind of venue (felt more like a theater) there was a tannoy announcement giving a 10 minute warning that the show was about to start, at which point everyone made a beeline to find one of the various doors to get into the main hall.
As a hall the scale is immense, obviously designed for the enjoyment of orchestral music and theater shows it did seem like an obvious choice for a show of tonights kind (featuring an orchestra) but, as the evening went on, it became apparent (to me) it may not have been the best choice.
Whilst fulfilling my photographic duties down by the speakers the sound was fantastic, well mixed. But when I retired to my chair (in the mid section on the bottom floor) all definition got lost in a wash of sound. When the orchestra played their parts it fit well with the acoustics of the hall and the sound was glorious, but the front line lost all the low end thump. It was hard to hear the drums at times and all the nuances of Andrews masterful bass playing and Simons guitar solos we barely audible.
The sound was worlds apart from the last time I saw them (when they stood in as special guests for Tears For Fears in Telford when Alison Moyet was ill). For me when you listen to Jazz/Funk/Disco you want to hear that low end, you want it to hit your chest, you want to feel the groove. My perceived sound issues didn’t bother the masses at all though, maybe i’m just used to the smaller venues.
When it came to the size of the venue, although impressive it did leave a lot of empty seats in the upper stalls section. The floor was packed, with people spilling into the aisles to dance, the venue stewards working overtime trying to ask people to stay to the side to leave a through-fare for those who were wanting to get in and out, but it lasted for a short time as the crowd were lost in the moment dancing away.
I personally think that sound and size wise, the Wolverhampton Civic Halls would have been a much better venue for this show to be held, with the newly refurbished stage large enough to accommodate the increased touring party and the place would have been batter sight with every seat filled. HOWEVER I must stress that these only negative views from tonights show were nothing to do with the performance that the band gave.
As the band confidently stride onto the stage (Simon in a white suit, red top hat, red rimmed shades and Andrew in his sparkly leopard print flares) the place erupts with cheers and applause. It was time for the show to begin, kicking off with some of the wonderful instrumentals, setting the tone and letting the music speak for itself, giving us a chance to witness the song writing skills that Andrew and Simon have, and although I was taking some shots i couldn’t help bob my head along with the beat.
The crowd were lapping it up. The lighting show was on point. After the instrumentals it was time for Angela Ricci to join the stage, dressed in suitably matching shimmer, to fill the halls with her fantastic voice. The first half of the set was filled with some of the deeper numbers, showcasing some of the best sounds that TBNH have created over the years, those known by the hardcore fans.
Simon occasionally addressed the crowd, he is most certainly the most mischievous of the group, really interacting with the crowd, getting up close and personal and putting on a proper show. But it can also be said that both Simon and Andrew are happy to step aside to let the talent of their band shine, aware that as a unit they deliver some of the tightest performances you will ever see on stage.
After a short intermission and a costume change it was back to the stage (with even more outrageous sparkly stage attire, which not many can get away with these days but TBNH most definitely can) for the second half filled with those songs that would please even the casual fan (although hopefully the first half would get those to dig deeper into the back catalouge for some lesser know gems).
The bigger hits such as “Never Stop”, “Back To Love”, “Brother Sister” and “Midnight At The Oasis” were included in this hits packed second half, really giving Angela a chance to impress all in attendance with her incredible set of lungs, her voice really filling out the Hall.
I think at this point the concept of specific seats had been abandoned as it seemed like the majority of the people had now made their way to the aisles to join everyone else in a more open space to strut their funky stuff, which pleased the band, with Simon encouraging everyone to have a good time and Andrew even climbing down the stairs to join a small gathering to his side of the stage, giving an up close and personal performance for a lucky few.
The one thing I did notice was that were a few very young people in attendance, and when I say very young I mean from the ages of about 4. Obviously not on their own, but it’s nice to see some parents introducing their children to music performances at such a young age and what a performance to witness, in fact this was probably a positive for the sound issue meaning that the younger ears weren’t harmed and there was no need for ear protection giving them the full experience.
The night was finished with a two song encore, ending with my favourite TBNH track “You Are The Universe” with a huge, over the top, wonderfully overindulgent finish to a huge show of appreciation from the fans. Decades in the game have made this band one of the tightest, one of the most fun and enjoyable ones still on the circuit today so if you do enjoy some Jazz/Funk/Disco with plenty of sparkles then catch them on this tour (visit their site for more details).