Last Friday Haff was the guest of Georgie B, famed former lead vocalist with the Brit-Funk outfit Second Image, to see him perform with his latest project, The Groove Association.
Anyone who knows anything about British funk and soul music will instantly recognise the classic song ‘Can’t Keep Holding On’, with its tight horn arrangement laced with a thumping bass. It’s one the best funk songs Britain has produced, one that is interestingly, and sadly, out-of-issue. The group behind that single were known as Second Image; the group formed in 1979 as ‘Stateside’ and were managed by none other than legendary DJ Robbie Vincent. Although group had some success amongst soul fans in the UK, and they performed on several big television shows of the era, the group struggled to break into the mainstream. After six years together, they decided to call it quits and move onto new pastures.
Four years ago however, the group did reunite for the 30 Years of Brit Funk celebration at London’s indigo2. Following the reception and success of the night, lead singer George Bromfield, aka Georgie B, decided to re-enter the music business, and set about on a new project. That project turned out to be The Groove Association, a platform for Georgie B, and other UK soul singers, to showcase their talent and new releases. Georgie B has released two albums and various singles under the Groove Association moniker, his most recent being the excellent 3AM album. In support the album, he, along with The Groove Association ensemble, performed on St George’s Day at London’s Jazz Café to a sold out crowd. Last Friday they did it all again with another gig at Under The Bridge, sadly situated underneath Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge [Haff, as is Georgie B, a loyal Arsenal fan, bordering to the point of affliction].
Sadly, this time around, the venue was not sold out; that said, a decent crowd of soul and funk aficionados had made their way to Chelsea in anticipation of The Groove Association live on stage. In preparation for the main event Solar Radio’s James Anthony and Ash Selector provided the tunes, whilst Everis did a live PA, performing three songs of his soon-to-be-released EP. Everis did a fine job warming up the London crowd with his wonderful voice; indeed, Everis has one of the most natural soul voices we’ve heard in a while, and if his performance on the night is anything to go by, his upcoming EP release should make for exciting listening.
Pretty soon after Everis had finished his PA, The Groove Association took to the stage, with Georgie B, dressed in a dazzlingly white shirt, taking centre stage. What was most interesting is Georgie B’s followers: these fans have been with him since the Second Image days, many seemed to be friends with the man himself, with frequent shout-outs to his friends, family and fellow musicians in the audience. The set began with the remix version of ‘Let’s Break The Ice’ which creatively sampled Booker Newberry III’s classic ‘Love Town’. It was a great opener to the set, with Georgie B’s eight-piece band, including singer Deborah Bell, laying down the groove superbly.
Georgie B himself was on point vocally, and sounded at times better on stage than he does on record. Indeed, whilst his records are generally top-notch, it seems that Georgie B is more comfortable and happy performing on stage; given the admiration of the audience of him, it’s easy to understand why. In this day and age it is refreshing to see an artist truly appreciate his fans. In return, Georgie B and The Groove Association delivered the goods, performing selections from his 3AM album, including ‘Jazz Funk Heaven’, ‘Choose Me’, and the title track ‘3AM’ on which he revealed his falsetto ability.
One of the highlights of this stellar set was the rendition of ‘Daisy 2.0’, a mid-tempo ballad that wouldn’t go amiss on a Charlie Wilson album, which live on stage featured a rather tasty saxophone solo from Ian Thompson. Keeping the romantic vibe going, the group then performed their latest single, another mid-tempo ballad, ‘I Can’t Wait’.
At this point Georgie B handed over the lead microphone over to Deborah Bell, whose career as a singer has really taken off since she began collaborating with Georgie B and The Groove Association in 2013. Bell is currently promoting her own EP Close Your Eyes, and performed the title track of the EP superbly. Her voice is stunning, and might even be better live than on record, hitting a soaring high note at the end of her solo. What was more impressive is that Bell is seven months pregnant, yet still managed to put on a great performance. Bell then joined Georgie B on a duet of their song ‘When a Woman Falls in Love’, which also featured a cheeky sample of ‘Risin’ To The Top’; the two performed brilliantly together, having a musical chemistry between them although, as Georgie B was quick to point out, the baby isn’t his.
As the set came to its finale it was time for two big ones. From the opening notes of ‘Can’t Keep Holding On’, the Chelsea crowd were in the groove, many no doubt reliving the first time they heard the Brit-Funk classic. Georgie B and the gang had no qualms revisiting this early material, and produced a knock-out rendition of the song, surely the crowd pleaser of the night. Then came The Groove Association’s version of the Skipworth & Turner classic eighties groove ‘Thinking About Your Love’. As cover versions go, the studio version is pretty decent, but the live version was great to hear, with the band really digging deep into the groove. With the crowd in the dancing spirit, Georgie B and the Groove Association ended with two uptemo steppers – ‘Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us‘ and ‘Old Skool Magic‘ – and departed the stage to join the revellers on the dance floor, as James Anthony and Ash Selector continued the music from the DJ booth.
All in all, Georgie B and his ensemble put on a tasty night of British soul and funk. What The Groove Association symbolise is the unity and love that is present within the British soul community, with long-time friends and family grooving along with Brit-Funk royalty. It’s hard to imagine other music communities uniting like that. Sure, it is probably a bit of a disappointment to Georgie B that the venue did not sell out, but those in attendance were there purely to see Georgie B and the Groove Association, not simply to have a big night out, demonstrated by the singing along of the crowd on nearly every song.
The Groove Association, under Georgie B’s direction, also remind us that artists of that generation – and the demographic that buys and listen to that music – are not, as the record executives might have it, past their sell by date. The talent and creativity remains, but sadly if you’re not a legacy artist willing to record a volume of duets or the great American songbook, the opportunities simply aren’t there. But as Georgie B has proved, independent soul artists can get their music out to a receptive audience. We applaud his ability not just as a performer, but also in his ability to allow other musicians and singers to be showcased to the soul community.