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Being funky isn’t something that goes away with age. Just ask acid jazz pioneers The Brand New Heavies. Celebrating over two decades as a band, the beloved London outfit are back and are gearing up to embark on a new tour and work on new material.
Energetic guitarist Simon Bartholomew is in good spirits as we chat to him in the midst of rehearsals for their 21st anniversary shows. He lets out a Homer Simpson-esque “woo hoo” almost as proof of the positive vibes, as confirms that revered singer N’Dea Davenport will be on hand for the celebrations. “When we all get together it’s the kind of band that’s serious about the music but also we have a really good time. We get a little carried away. You need to watch out for your energy levels, making sure you have some left.” Even with each passing year, despite physical and musical changes, the guys and gal are on their a-game. “Some things get harder. We all know that our perception of hangovers changes but generally we’re ready to rock really. Music keeps you young.” There’s no rest for the wicked, as Bartholomew explains. “When you get up and play a show you get energy that can, even if you were going to fall asleep, keep you going for days.”
The anniversary has given The Brand New Heavies a brand new focus, as they have been in the process of getting back to business and reconnecting with their fans or their “funky family” as the group calls them. First getting together in London in the late 80s the band started to make international noise with the release of their self-titled second album in 1991. “We were doing stuff in the UK and Europe and then a guy at Delicious Vinyl Records heard our record and he wanted to sign us up. We had a different singer on it and it wasn’t doing massively well, the major labels [in the UK] weren’t really doing anything with it. This American label had N’Dea [Davenport] on the books, she joined the band and re-sang the songs. Then we had a no. 3 [single] on the R&B chart, that’s what really kicked us off and woke up the UK and the rest of the world really.” This recognition gave the humble crew the chance to have their first real taste of overseas touring. “It was an amazing time. We got to go to America, play with George Clinton, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock. When you’re 23, 24 it’s really quite mind-blowing to be able to go out to the States.” Like many the muse that is New York proved to be a great inspiration for the band. “Travelling to New York and all that stuff is like something you see on TV. We went to New York before [Mayor Rudolph] Giuliani took over and cleaned it up. It was a crazy place then. You’d go down back alleys full of transvestite prostitutes and all this stuff and you’d walk about. It was good fun.” Side-stepping the issue of whether Bartholomew partook in any of said services, we took talk out of the gutter and back to their origins in London. “Once this acid jazz thing got started, and there were other bands of course, it came from quite small clubs and you watched it grow to a global phenomenon, now every place you go there’s a funk club.” As their audience continues to grow they will be hitting the studio to work on their awaited next album. Watch this funky space.