It’s not every day that a pink hummer pulls into your house and picks you up. It’s a sunny October morning, and when I knock on the cold window, two men in expensive T-shirts come out. Andrew Levy, in a sequined T-shirt, white jeans and huge sunglasses: “I had to wear these glasses at the entertainment center. I cooked scrambled eggs and beans for breakfast, and I couldn’t use this! Simon Bartholomew, in a silky, feathered haircut, smiles and smiles I can tell that he has a gift for speech.
Levi and Bartholomew have been friends since they were teenagers in West London decades ago, when they met at school and bonded while learning to play guitar.
You may know them better as The Brand New Heavies, and for a series from the early ’90s with N’Dea Davenport on vocals, Dream On Dreamer, Never Stop, Midnight At The Oasis.
Now they are joined by new vocalist Angela Ricci, former Kellys backing singer Rita Ora and Gary Barlow, a Brand New Heavies fan in the ’90s and now on tour with the band.
They invited me into this temple to the kitsch of the ’90s, brandishing guitars and wearing their signature opulence.
Levi offers me Prosecco to start the party, but I have water. I’ve never spoken to a band in a pink Hummer, not since I met my first musician in 1998 in the bleak back room of a Leeds pub on assignment for a student newspaper.
It’s not every day a pink hummer… New Heavies game Metro.co.uk gives you the full disco experience (Photo: w8media)
At the time, my Saturday job was at HMV’s King’s Lynn branch, whipping up too many Robbie Williams and The Corrs CDs (by the way, Gary Barlow’s was stacked in the back, ready to go. Sell or return the truck that comes every week ).
Another album that was flying off the shelves at the time was The Brand New Heavies’ Shelter, which features one of the band’s most beloved songs, You Are The Universe.
Left to right, The Brand New Heavies Simon Bartholomew, Journalist Chris Penland, Brand New Heavies lead singer Angela Ritchie and Andrew Levy
Read this story and Angela Ricci’s eyes light up. My first job was also at HMV! The huge Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus.
We talked about how our mutual love of music kept us entertained – they dreamed of doing it, I just played records in clubs and wrote about it.
If Levi and Bartholomew are the band’s wise owls, Ritchie is the new kettle on the block: dazzling, glamorous, and soft-spoken. Born in Kinshasa and raised in Italy, she is now a girl from London. She released her singles and sang to Kelis again: “She’s great, we’ve been on tour with her son.”
The Brand New Heavies (left to right, Simone Bartholomew, Angela Ricci and Andrew Levy) have signed a 5-album record deal and are on tour once again “We’re bringing disco music into everyone’s life,” says Levy.
The band had joked that the singers were like drummers to Spinal Tap. However, Richie seems to have been here for the duration and has the dynamism the band needs to bring to life songs that still resonate nearly 30 years after writing many of their greatest songs.
The entire trio has kids now: Levi wakes up at dawn taking care of him, Bartholomew is in dad’s band at his kids’ school, and Richie has a 17-month-old son who just went to a festival for his first taste. From my mom on stage.
Generations are changing, but the band is still going strong, playing a mix of festivals and concerts indoors and planning to embark on a postponed world tour to Australia, South America and Japan next year.
The Brand New Heavies at Liverpool Grand Central, October 2021 (Photo: Mikee Downes)
In the ’90s, the band dated everyone. “We had a little fun with my old friend Stella McCartney and the models at the time, we were taking part in Stella’s fashion shows,” says Levy. In fact, Levi walked as a model at the infamous McCartney Graduate Fashion Show in Central Saint Martin.
“We danced with Bjork at the closing of the Met Bar and turned down an impromptu invite to the Grace Jones party in L.A. because we were busy, so we still kicked each other!”
Ice Cube is another example. “He came to our studio in New York in 1991 while we were making the Heavy Rhyme Experience album,” says Levy. He said he’s really interested in our music, and we can’t believe it.
A trip back in time as The Brand New Heavies reprized the cover of Brother Sister’s 1994 album, which reached #4 on the album charts 27 years later. From left to right, drummer Luke Harris, singer Angela Ricci, Simon Bartholomew on guitar and Andrew Levy on bass (Photo: Jim Marks)
They also told me about Prince dating and playing Mark Ronson’s 40th birthday. They were close to Jamiroquai (Bartholomew plays guitar in case of emergency on planet Earth) and their voices were a kind of vocal shorthand for the mid-’90s.
Bartholomew tells me another story of my good time with young Steve Coogan and Simon Pegg on a foggy night at the theatre, but we’ll skip the details of that.
The original two, left to right, are Andrew Levy and Simon Bartholomew (Photo: Dean Chalke)
Also in recent years a lot has happened in his world and there has been a lot of interest in his music. You wonder why they don’t bother them when we hit the eccentric Dalston streets outside my apartment, where they took me. The guys from the store downstairs look out the door and we get some looks as we park in the limousine.
I want to say to these people: Did you know that Pharrell is a fan? And the Q-Tip too? And these guys were part of Happy Feet’s music?
Well, maybe a new generation is about to discover The Brand New Heavies because they’re bringing music back together as part of the multi-album deal they just signed.
“We just signed one of the biggest record deals we’ve ever had – a seven-figure record deal to release five new albums in the next few years,” says Levy.
Our first new single is coming out in the spring of next year, but we’ve been busy doing a tour. We better hurry up and start writing again.
What can we expect when they do? “To mix it up a bit when we start writing again, we want to play a little ’90s dance and try some classic disco with distorted guitars…and a little rock!” Bartholomew says.
Bartholomew, left, and Levi, right, dressed in T-shirts from sponsor, Truth Naturals, are more energized than ever, which is a blessing considering they just signed a five-album deal (Photo: Jim Marks)
‘It would be great to see some collaboration with today’s producers and youth bands, who may have been inspired by Brand New Heavies and are working so well for their own rights,’ says Ritchie. He even releases some of the best DJ remixes.
“I’m excited about what the future holds for us as a band, excited to be involved in new music and bring together old fans and new converts!” She adds.
At that time, Ritchie jumped out of the hood of a pink Hummer and the guys put their guitars back on.
It was definitely an unforgettable experience that I didn’t expect when I was behind the counter at HMV selling all of the Brand New Heavies albums for 23 years.
I promise I’ll go to one of his next shows and you should too.
Brand New Heavies will play Indigo at O2 on November 11 and a dozen other dates in the UK, with the tour sponsored by Truth Naturals. You can book tickets at tbnh.co.uk
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The pioneers of Acid Jazz in the 1990s, Andrew Levy, Bass, and Simon Bartholomew met at school in West London in the 1980s and formed the band in 1985.
The Brand New Heavies has hit 16 in the UK’s Top 40 singles and has released two platinum-selling and two gold albums in the UK, with Top 10 albums worldwide.
Mark Ronson cites the band’s self-titled album as one of his six greatest albums of all time. Simon Bartholomew tells that Simon and Neil Rogers are the best guitarists.
Jay Kay and his band Jamiroquai signed with Acid Jazz Records in 1991 after he sent a demo tape of himself covering the song Brand New Heavies.
George Michael got a taste of the band’s No. 3 song “Never Stop” on their 1992 charity single “Too Funky” (featuring lip-sync supermodels Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford and Tatjana Pattiz)
Stevie Wonder is a huge fan of hers. When they were shown at one of his concerts, he surprised the band by singing his own song, Never Stop, to them.
Backing James Brown once, the singer tried to steal his copper oath. “We were doing proper checks,” Simon says. Eventually, he came over, shook hands and started talking to our brass section. Later I realized he was already trying to steal it!
Andrew designed Stella McCartney’s Fashion Degree Show collection in 1995
Simon used to date photographer Mary McCartney, sister of Stella and daughter of Beatle legend Sir Paul.
Prior to joining the band, Angela Ricci was a teenage fan of their band, and her father provided their music.
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