POP MUSIC / Down at the old Foghorn and Ferret: Joseph Gallivan braves the ecru knitwear and skinny ribs of two thousand twentynothings for the Brand New Heavies . . .

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The Independent Online
Lights] Logo] Action] At the Shepherd's Bush Empire, a minute into their first number 'Have a Good Time', the Brand New Heavies were looking sharp in the lights beneath their elephant-in-a-sunburst banner. The air-brushed jazz-funk of the first track of their latest album Brother, Sister came across hard on the crisp PA, getting the packed house of twentynothings moving.

Anyone who suspected that the Heavies might be a little shop- soiled after nine years of modest success would have been disabused of the notion within minutes. For a start, they've gained a totally new fan base since 1990, when the goateed groovers of West London bought their first album, The Brand New Heavies, on the Acid Jazz label. The new generation have clearly all been shopping at the same market stall - it was skinny-rib heaven on a hot night, with a good showing of ecru knitwear - but they have all digested the new album, and sang along joyfully at every chance.

Of which there are many, since many of the new songs consist of choruses interspersed with funky jams. The formidable lead singer N'Dea Davenport is the open secret of their success. As well as providing the lyrics, she's the willing focus of an already hyperactive 10-piece band. In a black boa and orange Bacofoil dress slashed to the waist she managed to dance like a dervish while keeping her mouth glued to the mike.

She's been described as having 'the body of a ferret and the voice of a foghorn', which is praise indeed in the world of live soul. Davenport's voice is solid in tone and able to reach the highs, but she employs it with an urgency that prevents it ever from becoming showy. You could see the crowd lift itself for the sassy vocal parts of 'Dream On Dreamer' and 'Stay This Way'. This must be in part because the fans had the grooming and the moves of a club crowd, and her big womanly vocals were recalling the sound that has dominated clubs for the past three years, Garage.

All of which leaves the boys in the band plenty of leash to fool around on. Bassist Andrew Levy can be forgiven for thinking he is Bootsy Collins - although he often has little more to do than plod along with the drums, at least he looks interesting: shades, spangly orange shirt, leather trousers, muscles. It's easy these days to pursue the Funk, in its rocky Seventies incarnation, so determinedly that one comes out the other side and turns into Lenny Kravitz. The Brand New Heavies' individual energies keep them collectively in balance.

There's even a place for lead guitarist Simon Bartholomew. One day he's going to have someone's eye out. When called upon for solos, however, Bartholomew was superb entertainment, finishing a passage with his teeth, then playing some natty runs behind his back. The crowd went wild, having only see this sort of thing on video before. Even that his strap broke and he fluffed the ending was easily forgiven. He has another chance tonight. And he is good - dextrous, imaginative and always smiling. He could lose the silver T-shirt though.

The good news is this band are more than mere image. Like Tony] Toni] Tone] they talk a lot about 'grooves' and 'the vibe' and make a great thing of playing with real instruments and no samples. Over the course of two hours, The Brand New Heavies managed to break through the rhetoric by imparting a sheer sense of their own enjoyment to the crowd. Even if N'Dea had to whip the crowd into shape at times. And straighten out the boys for the final luvvie bow.

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