Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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The Brand New Heavies: Call In The Heavies

Jan Kincaid - Brand New Heavies
Jan Kincaid - Brand New Heavies Simon Bartholomew - Brand New Heavies Andrew Levy - Brand New Heavies The Brand New Heavies

Having initially emerged out of Londonâs 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, âForward!â. Which - featuring their flagship US vocalist NâDea Davenport while also simultaneously introducing UK songstress Dawn Richard - is currently being pioneered by the pounding, disco-flavoured grooves of its offshoot single âSunlightâ. Meanwhile, other tracks of note range from the funky, driving âOn The Oneâ and irrepressible, chunky âAddictedâ; to the lurching instrumental âItzineâ and undulating soul shuffler âOne More For The Roadâ.

Originally conceived under the name âBrothers Internationalâ 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 groupâs core line-up to this day) - the band rapidly gained a cult following on the capitalâs underground club scene before in 1988 changing their name to âThe Brand New Heaviesâ to sign with Chrysalis Records dance/soul imprint Cooltempo, for whom they released on single (the Jay Ella Ruth-vocalled âGot To Giveâ) before being unceremoniously dropped.

Following which 1990 saw the band signing to Eddie Pillerâs seminal independent label Acid Jazz to release their largely-instrumental, self-titled debut album. Which found the Heaviesâ line-up being supplemented by the additional talents of saxophonist/keyboardist Jim Wellman and Lascelles Gordon.

Interestingly, meanwhile, The Heaviesâ time with Acid Jazz additionally saw them being signed Stateside by influential US indie Delicious Vinyl. Which in turn led to the bandâs core threesome (Kincaid/Bartholomew/Levy) now bringing on board Atlanta, Georgia-born soul songstress NâDea 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 NâDea on vocals - which in turn impressively led to the setâs spin-off singles âNever Stopâ, âDream Come Trueâ and âStay This Wayâ 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 âHeavy Rhyme Experience Vol. 1â. Which (featuring no female vocalists) now found them joining forces with numerous high-profile US rappers of the time - including Gang Starrâs GURU, The Pharcyde, Grand Puba and Main Source. However, it would be 1994 (with NâDea 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 âBrother To Brotherâ. Which - still considered by many fans to be the groupâs peak - would in turn spawn such enduring chart and radio hits as âMidnight At The Oasisâ (a cover of Maria Maldaurâs 1974 pop/jazz nugget); âDream On Dreamerâ; and âBack To Loveâ.

Meanwhile, following Davenportâs 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 sheâd duetted on his 1987 global- chart-topper âI Just Canât Stop Loving Youâ, in addition to co-writing his all-time classic âMan In The Mirrorâ), would front the group throughout their 1997 UK Top Five album âShelterâ and its successful offshoot singles âSometimesâ, âYou Are The Universeâ and âYouâve Got A Friendâ - 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 Siedahâs 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 âSaturday Nightâ and âApparently Nothingâ (whose success was accompanied by the Top 15 compilation âTrunk Funk - The Best Of The Brand New Heaviesâ) - before the considerably-quieter Noughties would see American R&B vocalist Sy Smith feature on 2003âs Japan-only-released âWe Wonât Stopâ set and British soul singer Nicole Russo take lead throughout the 2004-released âAllaboutthefunkâ 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 NâDea Davenport - with whom they went on to release the 2006 studio album âGet Used To Itâ and 2009 live set âGreatest Hits Live In Londonâ.

⦠Which pretty much brings us back-up-to-date. As The Heaviesâ three founder-members - Jan, Simon and Andrew - hold court in Central Londonâs sixteenth-floor bar/restaurant The Heights, reacquainting themselves with âBlues & Soulâ 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 âForward!â?

JAN: âI 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 âForward!â is basically just another classic Heavies album within that MOULD."

PETE: âForward!â also sees The Brand New Heaviesâ flagship female vocalist NâDea Davenport returning to the fold for several of the tracksâ¦

JAN: âYeah, NâDea 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 NâDea 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 weâve had a relationship as a band with NâDea from the very beginning and we still DO have, at the same time WITHIN that NâDea will still do HER own thing and weâll also do OUR own thing. So in that sense weâre a bit like an open MARRIAGE in a way - itâs like weâre 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.â

SIMON: âYeah, because while someone as creative as NâDea 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 itâs all ABOUT.â

PETE: Alongside the tracks featuring NâDea, the new album also finds you introducing a new female singer - Dawn Joseph - on three songsâ¦

JAN: âWell, itâs nice to have a UK singer on board too, simply in terms of making things WORK quite easily. Because it means we donât have to do stuff like get on planes, which in todayâs 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 youâre working with someone from America you canât always DO that, because youâve got to think about things like BUDGETS. Plus with NâDea 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.â

PETE: With it being seven years since your last studio album, what are the main ways in which you feel âForward!â differs from your previous releases?

JAN: âWell, weâve always been a band I think whoâs developed sort of ORGANICALLY. So even though on the one hand ECONOMICALLY itâs 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.â

PETE: So, with a quarter-century of released music now behind you, what do you think is the key to The Brand New Heaviesâ longevity?

JAN: âReally, 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, weâre not trying to second-guess the genre or are trying to jump on the next bandwagon, because thatâs just not what weâre ABOUT⦠Instead, weâre 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 havenât 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 weâre just happy to still be doing what weâre DOING - which is making music and playing LIVE! Because I think itâs a very exciting TIME right now musically. There are a lot of interesting ideas floating around, interesting marriages of styles... You know itâs 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 âSTICK AROUND!â! âCause weâve got at least two MORE decades worth of music in us!â

The Brand New Heavies new album âForward!â is out now through Heavy Tone Recordings

Follow on Twitter: @BrandNewHeavies



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