The comeback of 1990s funk & acid jazz: interview with The Brand New Heavies’ Simon Bartholomew

Simon Bartholomew The Brand New Heavies

Simon Bartholomew © to the owners

To celebrate 30 years since the 1990 release of their eponymously titled debut album, and a year after recording their latest studio work TBNH, legendary acid jazz & funk English band The Brand New Heavies were back on track in 2021 with their fUnKin in the UK Tour, which was the occasion to set up this interview.

Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Simon Bartholomew, one of the two core members of the Brand New Heavies together with Andrew Levy, has spoken with us about music, life, dreams and what it takes to create Top 40 hits like Dream on Dreamer, Never Stop, Midnight At The Oasis and totalling more than 3 million albums sold in a career that spans three decades.

Simon, the year 2020 marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Brand New Heavies’ debut album; how do you feel about it and what achievements are you most proud of, at this stage in your career?

It’s been really great to hear that the fans still love the album and say it’s our best for years. One fan said they now find it hard to choose between the first two seminal albums and the new one. We’re glad because we really put a lot of effort into making it sound effortless. It was great fun to do and there’s more where that came from… to be doing amazing shows and making music still is an achievement in itself and we thank the people that dig us as we are family!

Simon Bartholomew The Brand New Heavies

Simon Bartholomew © to the owners

Do you believe there is a future for acid jazz in contemporary music? And what about funk music?

Acid jazz, amp and funk music are very much alive! Many people are now learning instruments and there’s a whole Golden Age of incredible classic material to check out. There are many new bands, notably Vulfpeck, who are still funkin’. In fact, funk isn’t something that can come and go, it’s how you walk, talk and feel. So maybe it doesn’t have a future if we mechanise everything… but meantime, keep funkin’!

How did you come up with this stage name for the band?

Well, we use the same name off stage! It comes from the back of a James Brown’s LP where it says he is the minister of the super new heavy heavy funk. We had until the next day to get a name for our first release, so we joked around and turned it brand new, and there you go!

Which of your songs are you most attached you?

Right now, The Funk Is Back, but it may change in 5 minutes… all our songs have different meanings and feelings and they all make a body. I like the body! It is body music, after all.

What kind of music do you listen to, these days?

I’ve been listening to Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and some hip hop music from Stones Throw Records and some reggae… I just bought a 12” vinyl of I Wanna Do The Do by Bobby Rush, and also a Roy Ayres’ 12” vinyl of Running Away…

What was your dream job as a child and what would you be doing now if you weren’t a musician? Did you have any sort of plan B?

Making toys for Kinder eggs… they’ve really dumbed them down now! Also, working in special effects. But I always wanted to be a rockstar, and I still do!

Any interesting memories about the music scene in the 1980s and 1990s you’d like to share?

It was funny talking to Jay Kay and he was asking what it is like to go on tour before he got going. I played in his band at the Jazz Cafe with him when he got his music deal. There were loads of jam sessions there. I also played with Clyde Stubblefield, the guy behind The Funky Drummer! Lots of dancing and new places and people putting on illegal events… it was coooooooool!

What do you think of talent shows like The X Factor?

Very well made entertainment. But the horrific homogenisation is not a good side. I expect Marvyn Gaye, Ian Dury or Led Zeppelin wouldn’t make it past the first round… too weird. Not good!

Are there any other musicians you would like to collaborate with, at this stage in your career?

Loads… but the Roy Ayres’s track is on too loud and I can’t think straight!

Would you like to add anything else at all? New projects, new plans?

I have a solo LP I made 30 years ago I’m gonna mix it and I am building a website called Massive Little World, I have the second Akimbo’s LP to finish too, and other stuff… time is a tricky and precious thing! Thanks for the interview!

★ If you are interested in music from the 1990s and 2000s, you may also like this article about Take That and our interviews with electronic music legend MobyTom Higgenson of Plain White T’s (remember Hey There Delilah?), Prince’s musical director Morris Hayes, Skunk Anansie’s Skin, Maxim of The Prodigy and Skye Edwards from Morcheeba

The Brand New Heavies - Simon Bartholomew and Andrew Levy

The Brand New Heavies: Simon Bartholomew & Andrew Levy © to the owners

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Founder of The Shortlisted Magazine

The one behind the wheel.