The Brand New Heavies are back – and they’re bringing disco with them
It’s not every day that a pink Hummer comes to your house and picks you up. It’s a sunny October morning and when I knock on the frosted window, two men in flaming shirts come out. Andrew Levy, in a sequined shirt, white jeans and massive sunglasses: “I had to change with that at the leisure center. I cooked scrambled eggs and beans for breakfast, I couldn’t wear that! ‘ And Simon Bartholomew, sporting a silk and feathered haircut, swagger and a smile. I can tell he has a gift for gossip.
Levy and Bartholomew have been friends since their teens in West London decades ago, when they met at school and bonded while learning the guitar themselves.
You might know them best as The Brand New Heavies – and for an early ’90s hit series with N’Dea Davenport on vocals – Dream On Dreamer, Never Stop, Midnight At The Oasis.
Now they’re joined by new vocalist Angela Ricci, previously backing vocalist for Kelis, Rita Ora and Gary Barlow, a Brand New Heavies fan in the ’90s and now touring with the group.
They wave to me inside this temple of ’90s kitsch, brandishing guitars and wearing their signature flamboyance.
Levy kindly offers me a Prosecco to start the party but I take some water. I’ve never chatted with a band in a pink Hummer – not since I interviewed my first musician in 1998 in the grubby back room of a Leeds pub for an assignment for the student newspaper.
At that time, my Saturday job was in the King’s Lynn branch of HMV, where I whipped too many Robbie Williams and The Corrs CDs (by the way, Gary Barlow’s were stacked unsold in the back, ready for sale or the return van that came every week).
Another album that was flying off the shelves at the time was The Brand New Heavies’ Shelter, featuring one of the band’s most beloved tracks, You Are The Universe.
I recite this story and Angela Ricci’s eyes light up. “My first job was also at HMV! The huge Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus. ‘
We’re talking about how our mutual love for music kept us entertained – them dreaming of making it, I was just playing records in clubs and writing about it.
If Levy and Bartholomew are the wise owls of the group, Ricci is the new peacock of the neighborhood – glitzy, glamorous and with a soft voice. Born in Kinshasa and raised in Italy, she is now a London girl. She releases her own solo songs and covered Kelis’s song: “She’s awesome, we were on tour with her kid.”
The band have once joked that singers are to them what drummers are to Spinal Tap – Ricci appears here for the duration though and has the vigor the band needs to bring songs to life that still resonate for almost 30 years. after many of the bigger ones have been written.
The whole trio now have children – Levy was up at dawn to take care of his family, Bartholomew is in a group of moms and dads at her children’s school, Ricci has a 17 month old child whom she just took her to a festival for her first taste of mom on stage.
Generations change but the band is as strong as ever, playing a mix of festivals and indoor concerts and planning to embark on a postponed world tour to Australia, South America and Japan next year.
In the 90s, the group hung out with everyone. Levy says, “We partied a bit with my old friend Stella McCartney and the models back then, we used to go to Stella’s fashion shows.” In fact, Levy walked the runway as a model in the infamous McCartney Graduate Fashion Show at Central St Martin’s.
“We danced with Bjork in a Met Bar lock-in and turned down an impromptu invitation to a Grace Jones party in LA because we were busy, which we always don’t care about !.”
Ice Cube is another example. Levy says, “He came to our studio in New York in 1991 while we were doing our album The Heavy Rhyme Experience. He said he really liked our music, we couldn’t believe it.
They also talk to me about dating Prince and playing Mark Ronson’s 40th birthday party. They were close to Jamiroquai – Bartholomew plays guitar on Emergency On Planet Earth – and the sounds of both were kind of audio shorthand for the mid-90s.
Bartholomew tells me another story about spending time with a young Steve Coogan and Simon Pegg on a foggy night at the Teatro, but we’ll skip the details of this one.
In recent years, too, a lot has happened in their world and a lot of interest in their music. You wonder why they don’t get assaulted as we walk through the quirky quirky streets of Dalston outside my apartment, where they’ve picked me up. The guys from the store downstairs are looking out the door and we get some glances as we pose on the limo.
I mean to these people: do you know Pharrell is a fan? And Q-Tip too? And these guys did some of the music for Happy Feet?
Well, maybe a new generation is about to experience The Brand New Heavies because they’re making music again on a multi-album deal they just signed.
Levy said, “We just signed one of the biggest recording deals we’ve ever had – a seven-figure recording deal to release five new albums over the next few years.
“Our first new single will be out in the spring of next year, but we’ve been busy touring. We better hurry and start writing again.
What can we expect when they do? “To mix it up a bit when we start writing again, we want to put on some 90s dancing and try some classic disco with overdriven guitars… and a bit of rock! Said Bartholomew.
Ricci said: “It would be great to see collaborations with young producers and bands today, who may have been inspired by the Brand New Heavies and are doing well in their own right. DJs topped the charts.
“I’m excited about what the future has in store for us as a band, thrilled to be involved in new music and to bring together old fans and new converts!” ” She adds.
With that, Ricci jumps off the Hummer’s pink beanie and the guys put their guitars back on.
It was certainly a memorable experience and one that I never expected when I was behind the HMV counter selling all those Brand New Heavies albums 23 years ago.
I promise I’ll go to one of their next shows and you should too.
The Brand New Heavies play Indigo at the O2 on November 11 and a dozen UK dates, with the tour sponsored by Truth Naturals. You can book tickets at tbnh.co.uk
10 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT ALL NEW HEAVIES
- Pioneers of the Acid Jazz scene of the 90s, Andrew Levy, bass and Simon Bartholomew met at the West London school in the 1980s and formed the band in 1985.
- The Brand New Heavies reached 16 UK Top 40 singles and released two Platinum albums and two UK gold albums, with the Top 10 albums worldwide.
- Mark Ronson cites the group’s self-titled debut album as one of his six best albums of all time. He told Simon Bartholomew that Simon and Nile Rogers are his two best guitarists
- Jay Kay and his band Jamiroquai signed to Acid Jazz Records in 1991 after sending in a demo of himself covering a Brand New Heavies song.
- George Michael sampled the group’s hit number 3 “Never Stop” in his 1992 charity single “Too Funky” (which features lip-syncing models Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Patitz)
- Stevie Wonder is one of their famous fans. When they were featured at one of their concerts, he stunned the group by singing their own song to them – Never Stop –
- By supporting James Brown once, the singer attempted to steal their brass section. “We were doing sound checks,” explains Simon. “At the end, he came over to shake our hands and started talking to our brass section. Later I realized he was actually trying to steal them!
- Andrew was a model in Stella McCartney’s St Martin’s Fashion Degree collection in 1995
- Simon was dating photographer Mary McCartney, Stella’s sister and daughter of Beatles legend Sir Paul
- Before joining the group, Angela Ricci was a teenage fan of their group, introduced to their music by her father.
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