The brainchild of Mike Pickering, a former DJ at Manchester's famous Hacienda nightclub, M People have managed a striking transformation from conception to execution. Setting unabashed 70s-style disco within current dance-music technology, they deliver the link missing from virtually all contemporary club fare: real songs. Vocalist Heather Small, a brassy, gospel-tinged diva, possesses the pipes needed to contend with the group's thunderous, pumping beat, but she can also quiver whisperingly and inventively craft subtle melodic variations. M People's recordings--last year's terrific Elegant Slumming compilation and the brand-new Bizarre Fruit (both on Epic)--are marked by spare but high-tech production, groove-oriented percussion swaddled in a lush horn section, sympathetic strings, and spirited backing vocals. Pickering and Paul Heard, the other main M person, write the songs and program the computers, never letting the technological side of the M People equation get in the way of the tunes. They've scored nine top-ten hits in England, and "Open Your Heart" is currently number one on the Billboard dance charts. As the incongruously bluesy acoustic slide guitar solo on "Drive Time"--a clever little road-trip love song ("White line high in my love express")--suggests, M People aren't just another disco-diva studio production. They're even traveling with a ten-piece band. Saturday, 10 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 929-5959 or 559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Norbert Schoemer.