The Brand New Heavies took their name from a liner note on a James Brown single that decalred him “Minister of New Super Heavy Funk.” The UK group has been performing since the 1980’s and was part of the impetus for the Acid Jazz movement. Original members Simon Bartholemew and Andrew Levy are touring the states with one of the group’s outstanding vocalists N’Dea Davenport. The group has recorded eight studio albums and is working on two more projects. Simon Bartholomew spoke with Atlanta INtown about the groups history and N’Dea Davenport talked about rejoining the group after several years away.
Your band became popular in the mid-’80’s as one of the first acid jazz groups. Can you talk a little about how you got together and what acid jazz is?
Simon: The original three members were all at school together and started as a bedroom band. We’d begun attending a club that was playing a lot of funk, The Cat In The Hat Club. This was absolutely unique in the UK and worldwide at the time, which seems funny now. DJs were searching for the rarest records, thus the term ‘Rare Groove.’ This scene began to expand a little, encouraging DJs Eddie Piller and Gilles Peterson to start their own label. This was at the beginning of Acid House and the big illegal raves that were starting out. The label was named Acid Jazz as a reaction to the Acid House movement and become a pseudonym for a type of music. So new bands such as Galliano, The Brand New Heavies, The James Taylor Quartet were signed. A first for the industry was the label putting out the Totally Wired series of compilations featuring and blending old funk and jazz tunes with the new stuff coming out. And that is basically what Acid Jazz is – a slightly undefinable old and new, a nod to the past with a movement forward.
Your band also was one of the first bands to incorporate hip hop into your songs. What inspired you to do so?
Simon: Our second show in the states was at SOBS (Sound Of Brazil) in Manhattan. Maurice Bernstein, a flautist and DJ/Promoter, had moved from London and started his Giant Step nights at which we were playing. Someone from Delicious Vinyl had invited down some rappers and for the encore at this electric show we had the likes of Q-Tip come up and jam. Someone said you should make a record and that got put together as “The Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol.1.”
How do you come up with your songs?
Simon: The band started as a jam band and that is the main way we write. Sometimes someone will write a song and bring it in. N’Dea wrote “Dream On Dreamer” with Dallas Austin and we kind of “Heavizied” it. “Brother Sister” came from a jam in a rehearsal room that grew into the full song.
What inspires you?
Simon: The energy and sharing that music brings; it’s so unique as a human experience. You can feel a certain way, maybe down, and then put on some, say Micheal Jackson, and your toe just stick up in your boot and get you bouncing. That’s magic!
Your band has gone through many transformations. What is the glue that holds your core together?
Simon: Playing shows is kind of addictive. The demand from audiences keeps you going. You especially feel that now with things like Facebook or whatever. There’s an inner personal pleasure to playing music, too. A kind of inner home perhaps. I’d like to say comfort zone, but that sounds lazy.
N’Dea: I think the moment was correct to do this now. Yes, I am making some U.S appearances with the band this summer. Especially because 2016 has been a very challenging year in the U.S. We have always been a powerful live unit together, creating timeless moments between us as artists and our more than faithful fans. I love collaboration and have created my own niche with whomever – when terms are focused and appropriate. In honesty, working with the band over the years has been filled with positives and equal experiences of negatives. This sometimes comes along with the politics of a band’s dynamic that can sometime create an estranged situation. A few months ago our associate [Grammy award winning producer] Mark Ronson insisted and pleaded with me to come play and be featured with the guys for his private birthday party in the UK. That resulted in a band shift in personnel and a long overdue veil was lifted. It got us talking again. So for now… I’m taking one step at a time.
The Brand New Heavies play Buckhead Theatre on July 2. For tickets and information, visit this link.
Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta based psychotherapist and consultant, writer and community organizer.