Brand New Heavies

Genre : Funk
Performances at JIJJF
Friday March 3, 2006
Dji Sam Soe
Saturday March 4, 2006
Dji Sam Soe
Website :
Song Teaser : (All songs need windows media player)

Page Status: …

About This Act :
You may think you know The Brand New Heavies. But consider this. Here is a band whose story runs like the backbone through the body of modern UK soul…and hip hop…and dance…and funk. They have had fifteen Top 20 singles in Britain, enjoyed a string of hits in the American pop and R&B charts, and sold more than four million albums. They have influenced hip hop/pop crossover artists from N.E.R.D. to the Black Eyed Peas. They are world-class musicians, and have been friends since their schooldays, a combination which means that the rapport between them when they play together is telepathic. They have been together since the 1980s and yet there is still no other British group even vaguely like them. And as of right now, they have a new album, Allaboutthefunk, out on the streets that is as fresh and funky and effortlessly modern as anything they have ever put out. So how cool is that?

“It’s very cool indeed,” says 25-year-old Nicole Russo, the latest in a line of superlative singers who have fronted the band over the years, including Siedah Garrett, N’Dea Davenport and Jay Ella Ruth. “Before I met the guys I was out in Philadelphia working with the Roots. I had always considered The Brand New Heavies to be a UK version of the Roots, and I’d always been a fan. So when the idea of getting together with them came up I was thrilled.”

For Russo the chance to join the group meant making a fresh start to a singing career that began when she was whisked off at the age of 17 from her home in Wembley to work as a singer and songwriter in America. A young English girl with a massive soul voice, Russo released her debut solo album, Through My Eyes, on the ailing Telstar label in 2002, years before anyone had heard of Joss Stone. “The irony was that when Joss Stone became successful, my record started to get played more often,” Russo says.

With a voice that sounds from a certain angle like Anastacia’s and a stash of melodies and lyrics that burn with youthful brio, Russo has pumped new life and glamour into the veins of the greatest British funk group since the Average White Band.

“They have a fantastic empathy, a level of communication that is unbelievable,” she says. “It clicks as soon as they get together and pick up their instruments. It’s a really nice thing to see and a good thing to be a part of.”

That kind of empathy does not come about overnight, and the key to the Brand New Heavies singular success is that they have forged a sound and an identity and an understanding which goes that much deeper than the rest. The group started in the bedroom of drummer and keyboard player Jan Kincaid in Ealing, West London. Kincaid, together with his mates, guitarist Simon Bartholomew and bass player and programmer Andrew Love Levy would borrow instruments from their school to mess around with during the holidays. Their original inspirations were the old-school funk supremos James Brown and the Meters, but it wasn’t long before they began forging a sound of their own as they performed their first gigs at the warehouse parties of the 1980s that were the forerunners of the Acid Jazz movement.

“Acid Jazz grew up around us,” says Kincaid. “It was really about older mods with their rare groove records, original Levis and goatee beards. But we were always influenced by a lot of other types of music as well – reggae and rock and jazz . We were a lot more diverse.”

That diversity and their extraordinary feel for a fine funk groove got them over to America before they had even signed a record deal in Britain. In 1991 their single Never Stop reached No.3 in the US R&B chart and the Heavies became unlikely ambassadors for funk music in the country that invented the genre.

“In America at that time they were embarrassed by their own musical past,” Kincaid says. “No one took acts like Donnie Hathaway or Al Green seriously any more. For us it was the holy grail. And we could get away with playing like that because we were these eccentric English outsiders. They’d forgotten that you could make funky music with real instruments. There was certainly no multi-racial groups playing that kind of music anywhere.”

Returning as conquering heroes to Britain, they released their groundbreaking album Heavy Rhyme Experience Vol 1 in 1992, a collection of hip hop grooves which featured various guest rappers including The Pharcyde, making their recording debut.

But their biggest successes of the 1990s came with the platinum albums Brother Sister (1994) and Shelter (1997) featuring the vocal talents of N’dea Davenport and Siedah Garrett respectively. Augmented by a horn section and working with vocalists who could bring a new melodic poise to the instrumental magic at the core of their work, the Heavies entered a new phase of musical sophistication and commercial success, as they spun a succession of hit singles off the albums: Dream On Dreamer, You’ve Got A Friend, Sometimes and even a smoothly scintillating version of the Maria Muldaur standard Midnight At The Oasis.

Coming to the end of their ten-year record deal, the Heavies went back to basics, recording tracks featuring guest singers and rappers for a more experimental album which was released in Japan. Then, joined by Russo, they began work on Allaboutthefunk.

“We’ve always been about moving forward and evolving,” Kincaid says. “Lots of bands are happy to duplicate their biggest success and make the same record over and over again. But we approached this record in a spirit of open-mindedness.”

The result is an album that is resoundingly of the moment which nevertheless contains all the classic elements that have made The Brand New Heavies such a unique phenomenon. “We’re a UK band making soul-funk music,” Bartholomew says. “We’re in a class of one, which is an incredible place to be when you think about it.”

The individuals in the band have grown in other directions too. Bartholomew leads his own rock group Ignition, while Levy manages a female group who’s working title is ‘The Spiders’ and has a professional interest in interior design. They have wide-ranging tastes in music and take a keen interest in all aspects of the business. Nor are they the kind of quiet, retiring backroom characters, that have come (and mostly gone ) as part of the dance/DJ revolution. Bartholomew and Levy in particular regularly exhibit the sort of bizarre sartorial instincts that would make even André 3000, the flamboyant half of OutKast, blush. But whatever their personal ambitions, or the state of their wardrobes, their collective energy and continuing commitment to the group remains unswerving.

“We come from the school of Jamiroquai and Incognito,” says Levy, “But the difference is that we are a real band. I’m surprised that no one has come along and tried to copy what we do. There are hundreds of “real” rock bands around, but no other proper funk or soul groups that are organised along the same lines. We’re still doing what we’ve always done. There have never been a lot of challengers.”

“Yes, there have been people influenced by us,” Kincaid says. “And record companies have certainly tried to get up bands to sound like us, but it hasn’t worked for them. I think the reason for that is partly that we were never manufactured. You can’t win if you’re manufactured, especially when it comes to playing live and lasting.”

Pending Final Confirmation

  • Krakatau Featuring Richard Elliot
  • Special Percussion Gig featuring Benny Mustapha
  • The Young Generation Big Band conducted By Dwiki Darmawan

Artist still to be considered

  • Balawan
  • Bubi Chen Quartet
  • Gilang Ramadhan Group
  • Indra Aziz
  • Paragita UI Choir
  • Viewpoints – featuring Aryono Huboyo Djati
  • Vina Panduwinata

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