The Brand New Heavies are looking to the future as they prepare to celebrate 35 years of hits with a huge new best-of collection and UK tour.
The group – featuring core members Simon Bartholomew and Andrew Levy – arrived on the scene in 1988 with their debut single, Got To Give, with an acid jazz sound that, over the years that followed, took the genre into the mainstream commercial charts.
“There was no go-to producer that knew how to produce and mix that kind of music,” Andrew says in RETROPOP’s October issue, “so we had to do it ourselves! We were working in studios where they’d never heard that sort of music before, because the only bands that were going to record live in studios were rock bands and the engineers at the time weren’t really tuned into that funky, heavy on the on the kick drum, loud snares and big bass kind of sound.”
They did try a session with Pete Wingfield, who had worked on ‘Searching For The Young Soul Rebels’ (1980), the first album from Dexys Midnight Runners, for an early version of Dream Come True, but the budget wasn’t there for them to sustain a relationship. “He got it completely and actually he was really good,” Andrew adds. “But it was too expensive and we just ended up going into the studio and doing it ourselves, which was actually really good fun.”
In 1988, they struck gold when Chrysalis subsidiary Cooltempo picked them up for their first single, but for The Heavies it was a slow burn: “Soon after that, acid house became really big and we were no longer of massive interest on a commercial level, because our scene was a lot smaller. We were playing warehouse parties and one time Andrew had to climb up a lamppost and plug in the wires to get electricity for the DJ,” Simon laughs, while Andrew admits their brief stint on a major label empowered them to push forward.
“That gave us a lot of confidence in terms of pushing ourselves and believing that we would be big and we would be on ‘Top Of The Pops’,” he shares. “If you’ve got confidence and you know you’re good, then you can go far…”
It wasn’t long before success presented itself when fledgling east London indie label Acid Jazz took on the group for their eponymous debut album. Released in 1990 in its first iteration, the record was far from an overnight success, but the largely-instrumental original recording attracted the attention of US label Delicious Vinyl, who showed interest in the group and, following the departure of vocalist Jay Ella Ruth, put them in contact with N’Dea Davenport and urged them to rework the project.
Featuring added vocals, the US release hit No. 17 on the Billboard R&B Chart and when Never Stop hit No. 3 on the R&B Singles rundown, it caught the eye of bosses at their soon-to-be label back home. “Suddenly we were seen as more of a thing and London Records, who signed us in the UK, had originally thrown our cassette in the bin, not seeing it as something that was commercial,” laughs Simon. “But as the scene became commercial and you had bands like Jamiroquai getting signed up, it was really because The Heavies had done their thing and had that No. 3 in America, which suddenly gave it more commercial and financial appeal.”
The Heavies went bigger than ever before on their second LP, ‘Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1’. A New York performance alongside rappers Q-Tip and MC Serch inspired the project, which featured collaborations with Gang Starr, Main Source and the Pharcyde, among other hip-hop acts that helped them become even more of an overseas success.
Were there ever plans for a second instalment? “We attempted to do ‘Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 2’ about three or four times over the years but it’s very expensive and quite admin-heavy,” Andrew sighs. “Because you’re dealing with so many different artists and their teams, there’s a lot of travelling involved – especially back in those days, anyway…”
Their second record scraped into the UK Top 40 at No. 38, but in 1994 they earned their biggest success yet when ‘Brother Sister’ rocketed into the Top 5 and delivered a pair of Top 20 hit singles with Dream On Dreamer and Midnight At The Oasis – a cover of Maria Muldaur’s 1974 soft rock hit.
Follow-up LP, ‘Shelter’ (1997) – sans Davenport and with the addition of Siedah Garrett – matched the success and its singles did even better, with the original Sometimes landing at No. 11 and their cover of the Carole King classic You’ve Got A Friend peaking at No. 9 – becoming their first UK Top 10 hit.
All of those classics feature on ‘Never Stop… The Best Of’, out September 29, but when it comes to the future, is there more Brand New Heavies on the horizon? “We need to get busy because we’re not getting any younger,” laughs Andrew. “I want to do an album every six months, to be honest!”
Read the full interview in the October 2023 edition of RETROPOP, out now. Order yours or subscribe via our Online Store, use our Store Finder to locate your nearest stockist, or get Digital Copies delivered direct to your devices.