The infectious acid jazz groove of Brand New Heavies, which spawned hits Midnight at the Oasis, Never Stop and Dream on Dreamer, is set to get Mackems moving at a city centre music festival.
The band, which built its fan base from a cult following on the London club circuit, will headline Sunniside Live on July 16 in what’s set to be a highlight of the day-long festival.
Founding member Andrew Levy is still going strong on bass and keyboards after forming the band in 1985 with school friends drummer/keyboardist Jan Kincaid, and guitarist Simon Bartholomew.
Influenced by a melting pot of sounds, they soon began crafting their own and more than thirty years later, even without any recent chart appearances and after various line-up changes, are still a popular live act on the touring and festival circuit.
Andrew explains why: “Because of the change in the music industry people don’t buy records as much, as they can download or stream them. That motivation to own a CD or vinyl has gone, the only thing left that people can physically experience is a live band, you can’t digitise that.
“So if you’re a band who put on a good live show with half decent music you can pretty much play until you’re old.”
But Brand New Heavies aren’t just half decent: their sound became synonymous with the clubbing scene that exploded in the ’90s.
“We were very big in the ’90s, but there was something about the ’90s,” he recalls fondly. “It was a time which changed the way people socialised, there was a lot of parties, a lot of raves, the clubbing culture just blew up. Our music was very uplifting, positive and happy and it triggers a lot of memories of that time for people. And for us too, we love playing Stay This Way and Dream Come True.
“People can tell we love it and they buy into that.”
Going back to the formation of the band in 1985, Andrew said: “I loved James Brown and when I was 16/17 that was why I learnt the bass. Our guitarist and co-producer was also very influenced by him and Jimi Hendrix. One of my earliest musical memories was reggae because my parents were Jamaican. But we also took inspiration from jazz, rock, disco and funk. We put those together and ended up sounding really different to other bands who were around in the ’90s.”
It was a truly global sound that proved popular on both sides of the Pond, with the Heavies still in demand at US dates today.
“In Britain we didn’t get on the A list playlist, but it ended up working for us, rather than against us,” explained Andrew. “In America there was still the aftermath of segregation at the time. We came along and we were a multiracial band who looked quirky and they didn’t know what to do with us. We were an English band, but we wore ’70s clothes. We also played the kind of funk music they were shunning at the time, I think we dazzled them.”
Though the Heavies have crafted their own sound over the years, it’s one that’s been performed by various singers.
“We have had different singers and that’s not our intention, but it’s tough for everyone to agree on everything all the time,” Andrew said. “When the time comes that we do need a new singer we have a very high standard. It needs to be someone who can sing our songs the way they were written whilst also allowing for them to adapt them to their personal style, to make tweaks. They need to know what the Heavies are about with a powerful stage presence. And they need to know how to party.”
•Brand New Heavies will be partying with Sunderland on July 16. Tickets are £10 from http://www.sunnisidelive.co.uk/