"We're about dancing around and enjoying life - pure escapism" - The Brand New Heavies Interview
Updated: Sep 30
The Brand New Heavies celebrate thirty-five years since the release of their debut single with Never Stop… The Best Of, a new compilation bringing together twenty-one hits, available on double heavyweight vinyl and double CD. As guitarist Simon Bartholomew and bassist Andrew Levy gear up for three special concerts featuring strings from the London Concert Orchestra, the pair took some time out to answer our questions for this exclusive interview.
Pioneers of London’s burgeoning Acid Jazz scene of the early ‘90s, The Brand New Heavies took their love of sophisticated ’70s funk grooves, gave it a modern twist and enjoyed substantial global success and an ongoing influence to this day. The band was formed in 1985 by guitarist Simon Bartholomew, bassist /keyboardist Andrew Levy, and drummer/vocalist Jason Kincaid, powering through the ‘90s with extraordinary vocalists and collaborators. The Heavies always remained contemporary; this freshness was reflected throughout the first decade of success, with the band enjoying platinum sales in the UK with the Top Ten albums Brother Sister (1994) and Shelter (1997), along with 15 UK Top 40 singles, ranging from originals like ‘You are The Universe,’ ‘Dream On Dreamer,’ and ‘Sometimes,’ to canny covers of 70s classics such as ‘Don't Let It Go to Your Head,’ ‘Midnight at the Oasis’ and ‘You've Got a Friend’.
“The Brand New Heavies and their pitch perfect jazz-funk revival were my musical coming out party. They were my introduction to all the incredible music I would spend the next 30 years of my life DJ’ing in clubs” - Mark Ronson
TM: Never Stop... The Best Of The Brand New Heavies brings together all your singles from the band's time with London Records, featuring fifteen Top 40, five Top 20, and Top 10 UK hits. How did your musical style evolve over those years, and what continues to inspire your sound today?
Simon: The Brand New Heavies started out really funky; we were mostly inspired by rare groove and funk. As we got more into songwriting and introduced a lead singer into the band, D'dea Davenport, we developed our sound to kind of fit with the pop world and took on other influences like Philadelphia Soul.
Andrew: What continues to inspire our sound today is actually just the love of our fans! When they come to see us, sometimes you start the beginning of the songs and think "oh my god, we've been playing these songs for such a long time!" so we continue to develop our songs live on stage; longer intros and outros and extra long solo to keep it interesting.
"The inspiration really comes from our fans who follow us. We love our fans, so thank you fans!" - Andrew Levy
TM: You've collaborated with a wide range of artists and had a range of amazing singers throughout your career. Was the band as a collective always part of the plan?
Simon: Well firstly, I'd just like to say that collaboration doesn't make you go blind! It's always been about collaboration: we work with different musicians within the band itself, different horn players and saxophone players.
We've had a number of incredible singers in the band. There was Siedah Garrett, who wrote 'Man in the Mirror' for Michael Jackson. Carleen Anderson is phenomenal, funk royalty! Right now we've got Angela Ricci, who's an incredible songwriter and performer.
Andrew: Another amazing vocalist we collaborated with on our last album is Beverly Knight, who is incredible. She sings all of her parts in one or two takes. She was great to work with; we love Beverly!
Simon: We've worked with Mark Ronson more recently, which was amazing. We made a hip-hop album and collaborated with a bunch of rappers and one of those songs ended up on the film Happy Feet with the penguins!
TM: Never Stop… The Best Of, is released today on London Records. In the streaming age, are you surprised by the continuing popularity of physical music formats and how do you listen to music yourself in 2023? ANDREW: I think we are surprised that people still want cassettes and vinyl because streaming's so easy. But when you really look at it, vinyl and CDs are nice to own. It's nice to physically have something you can put in your pocket like this Never Stop… compilation of our hits! It's nice to touch something. We do a lot of traveling in Japan and they've never stopped buying physical albums. There's a Tower Records there with thousands of pieces of vinyl and CD everywhere. It's incredible.
Simon: I think with vinyl, it kind of takes up a lot of real estate in the house, on the shelves and I think people are having a really enjoyable experience taking a record out of its cover and enjoying that experience. If you're in the mood, you can use the digital formats. I think it's about combining them both, really.
TM: Your music has a timeless quality that appeals to both long-time fans and continues to bring in new generations of followers. How do you strike a balance between staying true to your roots and appealing to a wider audience?
Andrew: Because our songs are very uplifting and life-fulfilling songs, I think they appeal to everyone. They're not very politically focused; it's just about having a good time and thinking a lot of yourself, marching through life and just looking after yourself, really!
Simon: We came from a pure funk background in a way, so that's always inside the music but then we developed a veneer of accessibility. That's something people can relate to in the lyrics and this uplifting, happy energy within us all.
"We're about dancing around and enjoying life - pure escapism". - Simon Bartholomew
TM: This compilation is a chance to reflect on the history of the Brand New Heavies but you show no signs of slowing down; 2019's TBNH album enjoyed some of the best reviews of your career and you have live dates ahead. Andrew: Well, TBNH was very special to us because our drummer and original founding member, Jan Kincaid left the band just before we started recording it. There was always that pressure on us to make it fantastic. We wanted to show people that the band is still around and still relevant and we can still make and write and produce songs, so we put a lot of effort into it.
Our message in 2023 is the same as it was in 1990 - it's about dancing! Of course, there are love songs in there and some funk instrumentals, but if it ain't broke don't fix it! We just love people to smile and dance and have a good time.
Simon: With anything we write, we put all the Heavies touches on there and tick all the Heavies boxes like disco, funk, and strings, everything else. And we make sure we put real strings on it rather than synthesized ones! Which leads me to tell you about the shows we're doing at The Barbican (London), Manchester and Birmingham in November. Come down to those and see the real recreation, and you can actually buy the albums at the shows as well!
Andrew: Townsend Fans. I love you!
Never Stop... The Best Of The Brand New Heavies is out now on Double Vinyl and 2CD alongside exclusive merchandise
Order the album now for the chance to win one of two Test Pressings, signed by The Brand New Heavies!