Back To The Future

28 August 2012 | 6:30 am | Cyclone Wehner

“I think it’s like an open relationship, basically... and it’s better for that… We respect that N’Dea is gonna wanna go and do things on her own, as each of us are, because that’s an important part of your journey…"

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It took British acid jazz pioneers The Brand New Heavies 20 years to tour Australia. When they finally did in 2010, the response was overwhelming. The band, fronted by original singer N'Dea Davenport, sold out shows with a minimum of press. “Oh, it was great!,” enthuses drummer (and keyboardist) Jan Kincaid. “It was the first time we'd been to Australia, so it was really exciting. It was just sad we hadn't been able to get there sooner.” What astonished The Heavies was the “energy” of the crowds. “It was like going back in time for us,” Kincaid says, “because people were really excited.” Now they're here for an encore. 

Kincaid formed The Heavies with Simon Bartholomew (guitar) and Andrew Levy (bass) in the mid-'80s – to gig. The outfit would spearhead London's acid jazz scene together with Jamiroquai. Ealing's finest released 1990's eponymous (and largely instrumental) debut album on Eddie Piller's Acid Jazz Records. They then cut a second version with Davenport, the Atlanta soulstress initially signed to their US label Delicious Vinyl as a solo act. (In fact, Davenport was the band's second vocalist, Jay Ella Ruth quitting early on.) The Heavies enjoyed their first crossover hit in Never Stop

Though media types often depict them as belonging to a retro rare groove movement, The Heavies were almost futuristic. In 1992 they offered the hybridised hip hop side-project Heavy Rhyme Experience: Vol 1, featuring Guru, Kool G Rap and The Pharcyde. But, following the UK-platinum Brother Sister, a frustrated Davenport resumed her solo career. The Heavies sought successive other divas, beginning with Siedah Garrett. Fortunately, Davenport eventually returned for 2006's Get Used To It. “I think it's like an open relationship, basically,” Kincaid says of The Heavies' dynamic in 2012, “and it's better for that… We respect that N'Dea is gonna wanna go and do things on her own, as each of us are, because that's an important part of your journey… I think it's only ever been a good thing that we've all gone off and done different things and then we come back with those experiences and bring them into what we do. It's massively important.”

The Heavies are working towards another album with Davenport. “We literally just started doing that – and we've got a little way to go,” Kincaid says. It'll likely materialise next year, with an EP beforehand. There's long been speculation, too, about a second volume of the cult Heavy Rhyme Experience. And, Kincaid reveals, that's still very much on the cards. For their '90s set, The Heavies collaborated chiefly with US MCs. Today Britain's urban industry is booming. Would they consider roping in homegrown rappers? “Definitely, yeah,” Kincaid affirms. “We'll try to seek out whoever's good and whoever we like.” He himself digs the UK's newcomers. “I love people like Tinie Tempah and Dizzee Rascal because they bring a different energy and they bring a really UK-centric thing to hip hop.”

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The Heavies have a tenuous Australian connection. Their song Jump N' Move was heard in Australian director George Miller's Happy Feet. According to Kincaid, it was all arranged by the band's publisher, but he figures that Miller and co were attracted to their “quirky” music. At any rate, The Heavies were “very happy” about the sync. “If someone was to phone you up and say, 'We want your song to be used in a movie about animated penguins,' you might think, Oh shit, really?” Nevertheless, Kincaid “totally got it”. He adds, “I've actually got one of the penguins that dances. They made toys and they have a penguin that you press a button and the song comes on and the penguin dances – so I've got one of those!” And Kincaid is familiar with Australian music-makers, notably our leading funksters The Bamboos. “I've got a load of their stuff – I'm a big fan of them.”

So what can The Heavies' fans expect on this 21st anniversary tour? “There will be some new bits and pieces, there will be all the classics, and just an exciting Brand New Heavies party, really – that's what we like to do.”

The Brand New Heavies will be playing the following shows:

Thursday 6 September - The Hi-Fi, Brisbane QLD
Friday 7 SEptember - Trak Lounge Bar, Melbourne VIC
Saturday 8 September - Metro Theatre, Sydney NSW
Tuesday 11 September - Prince Bandroom, Melbourne VIC