Good As New

5 September 2012 | 6:00 am | Matt O'Neill

"Yeah, that’s the plan... To make two records; another Heavy Rhyme Experience and another Brand New Heavies album with N’Dea. It’s always hard, because you never know how long an album’s going to take, but I’m looking forward to it."

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At this point, acid-jazz sounds like a rather naff concept. Still, once upon a time it was actually quite revolutionary stuff. Brand New Heavies are a product of that movement. When describing the band as 'acid-jazz pioneers', you're not talking about a band of background music innovators but an exciting and groundbreaking group in their own right. Their lineup alone was atypical – live musicians in an electronic era. Their early work, in the mid-'80s, meanwhile, was a clear influence on the eventual output of Bristol's Wild Bunch (aka Massive Attack).

“I really just think of it as great music made by great musicians. You can see how it's fed into hip hop, house, disco, breakbeat, all of it. It's all part of the tree, so to speak,” Simon Bartholomew laughs. “I don't know if I'd say we're underrated – you know, it's been twenty-one years and we're still here, so I don't think we can really complain – but I think acid-jazz has always been a bit of an underrated scene in general.”

The band began quite simply in the mid-'80s as a regular jam session between friends. As matters progressed, they evolved into a recording and, eventually, a performing entity. From those relatively inauspicious beginnings, The Brand New Heavies morphed into one of their culture's most successful and adventurous outfits. Never fully deserting their acid-jazz origins, the band nevertheless arguably took their sound further than any of their contemporaries, influencing developments in trip hop, hip hop, funk, soul and countless other genres along the way.

“You know, these days you see a lot of bands and they seem to start out wanting to be a band – record deals, albums, that sort of thing – but we were just a bedroom band,” he laughs. “We started going to this funky club and they were playing old rare groove records and stuff.  We were three friends who played drums, bass and guitar so we just started jamming and playing funky music in the drummer's bedroom every Sunday.

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“We're not really an acid-jazz band, really. I mean, there's no denying we came up with the acid-jazz scene, but that was just an umbrella term for what was going on. To me, I really see acid-jazz as just the record label Acid Jazz and the bands that were associated with it – but I know it's more than that to many people. I just think of us as just a funky band.”

As an example, The Brand New Heavies' 1992 album, Heavy Rhyme Experience, Vol. 1, saw the UK group collaborate with a range of (now-legendary) US rappers and hip hop artists (Q-Tip, Masta Ace, The Pharcyde, Gang Starr and Kool G, to name a few) to create one of the first hip hop albums of almost exclusively live instrumentation – a rare occurrence even now, 20 years later.

Even today, the band remains unpredictable and exciting. The past handful of years, for example, have seen them deliver both traditional Brand New Heavies albums – 2006's Get Used To It – but also one-off experiments. Dunk Your Trunk, a download-only album released last year, was just a record of instrumental funk jams the band kicked out in four days. There's even talk of a follow-up Heavy Rhyme Experience.

“Yeah, that's the plan,” Bartholomew says, a tad sceptically. “To make two records; another Heavy Rhyme Experience and another Brand New Heavies album with N'Dea. It's always hard, because you never know how long an album's going to take, but I'm looking forward to it. I'm actually hoping some of those old-school cats will be up for rejoining us for the album too!”

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