The opening night of the Barbican’s Soul Britannia extravaganza kicked off in style with a night’s entertainment from the Brand New Heavies and special guests picked from the ranks of contemporary UK soul.
The evening promptly started with a set from The Heavies and the superb N’Dea Davenport took charge of the stage, persuading the capacity crowd to get up out of the chairs and dance in the aisles (much to the frustration of the venue’s fire marshals). The crowd at the Barbican were a mixed bunch of soul heads and This Lifers from the band’s heyday and needed little persuading when it came to having a good time.
Davenport herself was tremendous and gave a performance of jaw-dropping physical and vocal energy. After 45-minutes of performing it was time for her to take a back seat and let the first of the evening’s guests acts take centre stage.
The first guest, David McAlmont, seemed slightly out of place with a more jazzy style to his mini-set. His rendition of Yes sorely missed Bernard Butler and following up with a Cole Porter cover struck a false note. Dressed in an immaculate brown suit he looked more Las Vegas than soul, and his crooning style jarred with the other guests. Maybe he should have realised that having a funk band backing you does not automatically make you funky.
After the interval the Heavies were fronted by Carl Macintosh of Loose Ends, who immediately got everyone back into the post-bar-break groove with a spurt of Marvin Gaye followed by some of his own hits. He great a great laid back performance that was full of flashes of effortless brilliance.
Just when we thought things couldn’t get any better Omar took to the stage and picked up where Macintosh left off, giving us a wonderful set including most of his well known tracks. The bass riff of There’s Nothing Like This still sends chills down the spine and predictably a Mexican wave of cheers erupted amongst the sell-out seats
Before the evening concluded it was time for N’Dea to hit the sage again, all Dolce and Gabbana, to finish off the great set they started in the first half. The mass encore had the entire evenings ensemble on stage in a fitting all-star tribute to James Brown. By then the audience were well and truly up on their feet and the Barbican’s ushers were going crazy trying to keep the fire exits clear once more.
And if that wasn’t enough Jazzie B hit the bar afterwards with the Soul II Soul sound system so the night could continue. The Barbican sure know how to throw a party.