The Brand New Heavies: Call In The Heavies
Having initially emerged out of London’s thriving acid jazz scene of the late-Eighties, globally-acclaimed British organic funkers The Brand New Heavies release their first studio album in seven years, “Forward!”. Which - featuring their flagship US vocalist N’Dea Davenport while also simultaneously introducing UK songstress Dawn Richard - is currently being pioneered by the pounding, disco-flavoured grooves of its offshoot single “Sunlight”. Meanwhile, other tracks of note range from the funky, driving “On The One” and irrepressible, chunky “Addicted”; to the lurching instrumental “Itzine” and undulating soul shuffler “One More For The Road”.
Originally conceived under the name “Brothers International” in the West London suburb of Ealing in 1985 by three schoolfriends - drummer/keyboardist Jan Kincaid; guitarist Simon Bartholomew; and bassist Andrew Levy (who remain the group’s core line-up to this day) - the band rapidly gained a cult following on the capital’s underground club scene before in 1988 changing their name to “The Brand New Heavies” to sign with Chrysalis Records dance/soul imprint Cooltempo, for whom they released on single (the Jay Ella Ruth-vocalled “Got To Give”) before being unceremoniously dropped.
Following which 1990 saw the band signing to Eddie Piller’s seminal independent label Acid Jazz to release their largely-instrumental, self-titled debut album. Which found the Heavies’ line-up being supplemented by the additional talents of saxophonist/keyboardist Jim Wellman and Lascelles Gordon.
Interestingly, meanwhile, The Heavies’ time with Acid Jazz additionally saw them being signed Stateside by influential US indie Delicious Vinyl. Which in turn led to the band’s core threesome (Kincaid/Bartholomew/Levy) now bringing on board Atlanta, Georgia-born soul songstress N’Dea Davenport (who had signed an artist development deal with Delicious Vinyl) as their new lead-singer and re-recording their aforementioned debut album as a quartet with N’Dea on vocals - which in turn impressively led to the set’s spin-off singles “Never Stop”, “Dream Come True” and “Stay This Way” becoming transatlantic hits.
Nevertheless, despite this initial burst of international success with Davenport up-front as lead-vocalist, 1992 would find The Heavies taking an unexpected stylistic left-turn with the album “Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol. 1”. Which (featuring no female vocalists) now found them joining forces with numerous high-profile US rappers of the time - including Gang Starr’s GURU, The Pharcyde, Grand Puba and Main Source. However, it would be 1994 (with N’Dea now very much back in the saddle) that would see The Brand New Heavies attain their global breakthrough via the UK Number Four, Platinum-selling album “Brother To Brother”. Which - still considered by many fans to be the group’s peak - would in turn spawn such enduring chart and radio hits as “Midnight At The Oasis” (a cover of Maria Maldaur’s 1974 pop/jazz nugget); “Dream On Dreamer”; and “Back To Love”.
Meanwhile, following Davenport’s 1995 departure to complete a long-delayed solo album, 1997 would next find The Brand New Heavies bringing on board a new lead-songstress in the form of LA singer/songwriter Siedah Garrett. Who - having previously (and prestigiously!) collaborated with super-producer Quincy Jones and ultimate pop megastar Michael Jackson (with whom she’d duetted on his 1987 global- chart-topper “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, in addition to co-writing his all-time classic “Man In The Mirror”), would front the group throughout their 1997 UK Top Five album “Shelter” and its successful offshoot singles “Sometimes”, “You Are The Universe” and “You’ve Got A Friend” - the latter a cover of the classic Carole King 1971 ballad, which interestingly provided The Heavies with their first (and only) UK Top Ten single.
Following which Siedah’s unexpected leaving the group in early 1998 eventually found them drafting in old friend (and former Young Disciples lead) Carleen Anderson to front the band on their 1999 Top 40 singles “Saturday Night” and “Apparently Nothing” (whose success was accompanied by the Top 15 compilation “Trunk Funk - The Best Of The Brand New Heavies”) - before the considerably-quieter Noughties would see American R&B vocalist Sy Smith feature on 2003’s Japan-only-released “We Won’t Stop” set and British soul singer Nicole Russo take lead throughout the 2004-released “Allaboutthefunk” LP. Nevertheless, with neither album attaining anything like the success and profile the band had achieved during their Nineties heyday, 2006 would next see The Heavies delighting their old skool fans by reuniting with the still-much-missed N’Dea Davenport - with whom they went on to release the 2006 studio album “Get Used To It” and 2009 live set “Greatest Hits Live In London”.
… Which pretty much brings us back-up-to-date. As The Heavies’ three founder-members - Jan, Simon and Andrew - hold court in Central London’s sixteenth-floor bar/restaurant The Heights, reacquainting themselves with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for a revealing interview centred around their aforementioned new LP.
PETE: What did you want to achieve musically with your new album “Forward!”?
JAN: “I think just to make a true Brand Hew Heavies ALBUM. I mean, while we do definitely have our own sound, at the same time within that there is a lot of DIVERSITY - and so I think “Forward!” is basically just another classic Heavies album within that MOULD."
PETE: “Forward!” also sees The Brand New Heavies’ flagship female vocalist N’Dea Davenport returning to the fold for several of the tracks…
JAN: “Yeah, N’Dea is bringing what she ALWAYS brings - a good quality vocal which has become synonymous with the traditional Brand New Heavies sound that people know and LOVE. You know, with N’Dea and us both having a very strong, individual sound I think the combination makes for a really winning FORMULA. But then having said that, though we’ve had a relationship as a band with N’Dea from the very beginning and we still DO have, at the same time WITHIN that N’Dea will still do HER own thing and we’ll also do OUR own thing. So in that sense we’re a bit like an open MARRIAGE in a way - it’s like we’re kind of married to each other but still go off and do other things as WELL. Which I think is the modern way of DOING things, and the most sensible way to BE.”
SIMON: “Yeah, because while someone as creative as N’Dea has always got other things she wants to express and do, I guess the same is also now true of US - in that even WE are now talking about producing other people and exploring other areas. Which, as Jan just said, is very much the modern WAY. You know, these days collaborations is what it’s all ABOUT.”
PETE: Alongside the tracks featuring N’Dea, the new album also finds you introducing a new female singer - Dawn Joseph - on three songs…
JAN: “Well, it’s nice to have a UK singer on board too, simply in terms of making things WORK quite easily. Because it means we don’t have to do stuff like get on planes, which in today’s economic climate is a good way to BE. Like if we wanna be in the studio tomorrow we can BE in the studio tomorrow. Whereas when you’re working with someone from America you can’t always DO that, because you’ve got to think about things like BUDGETS. Plus with N’Dea having her own diary and her own things to do, bringing Dawn on board too also makes it more flexible in terms of things like being able to GIG when we want to… You know, we can pretty much do everything we wanna do when we wanna DO it. Which I think is a better way for things to be for us as a BAND.”
PETE: With it being seven years since your last studio album, what are the main ways in which you feel “Forward!” differs from your previous releases?
JAN: “Well, we’ve always been a band I think who’s developed sort of ORGANICALLY. So even though on the one hand ECONOMICALLY it’s a really shit way of working, on the other hand there is a lot of stuff there to PLAY on… So yeah, I guess the seven-year break between albums in ITSELF is another thing that makes this new record different, and was the reason why it all came together pretty QUICKLY.”
PETE: So, with a quarter-century of released music now behind you, what do you think is the key to The Brand New Heavies’ longevity?
JAN: “Really, at the end of the day, a group like us survives because we simply do what do and we do it really WELL. You know, we’re not trying to second-guess the genre or are trying to jump on the next bandwagon, because that’s just not what we‘re ABOUT… Instead, we’re basically just playing to our STRENGTHS really, while still managing to fit into the changing world around us and stay VALID. I mean, places where we haven’t really had a lot of gigs in the past - Asia, The Philipines, the whole of Eastern Europe - are all really opening up for us now. And so at the end of the day I guess we’re just happy to still be doing what we’re DOING - which is making music and playing LIVE! Because I think it’s a very exciting TIME right now musically. There are a lot of interesting ideas floating around, interesting marriages of styles... You know it’s a brave new world out there in terms of selling music and marketing it. And with us already having spanned like almost three decades, our message to our fans is ‘STICK AROUND!’! ‘Cause we’ve got at least two MORE decades worth of music in us!”
The Brand New Heavies new album “Forward!” is out now through Heavy Tone Recordings
Follow on Twitter: @BrandNewHeavies
READ MORE FROM OUR INTERVIEW WITH THE BRAND NEW HEAVIES IN OUR LATEST PRINT ISSUE...
CLICK BELOW TO GET YOUR COPY DELIVERED TO YOUR DOOR OR CHECK OUT YOUR NEAREST QUALITY MAGAZINE RETAILER (INCLUDING WH SMITHS & MENZIES)
Words PETE LEWIS