Brand, New and Heavy

Dave Woodhall talks to acid jazzster supreme Andrew Levy.

Andrew Levy is the bass player and mainstay of acid jazz pioneers The Brand New Heavies, who are getting ready to tour again with a series of dates that includes Solihull Summer fest in July

Are you looking forward to the onslaught?

“I’m playing my guitar again. We’ve got an extensive list of dates, 43 in all between now and December that have been backed up from 2020. I don’t know how many we’ll get to do…”

That’s the problem, not knowing when you can start again. These are your first gigs since so how do you keep in shape mentally and physically?

“We did a live stream from the Jazz Cafe in February and one show in October. It’s not easy but I do have two young kids so they keep me going and occupied – up at 6.30 every day. I’ve also started a property developing business which I did some years ago and I’ve got back into.”

You’re playing the Solihull Summer Fest. You must have done a lot of local gigs over the years.

“Not tons because a lot of our shows are outside the UK but I remember a gig in Wolverhampton. That was a big one. We did Birmingham about two years ago and I remember being in the Bullring trying to buy a t-shirt. I’m terrible with dates but it doesn’t mean I don’t remember the shows.”

Which do you prefer – indoor gigs or festivals?

“I prefer headlining indoors with our own lighting, sound and curtains. We’re much better on a big stage, we can really fill out a stage. We like the theatrics, the atmosphere and the lighting are all part of where we’re coming from. We’re a bit divaish about setting up, we never let anyone borrow our stuff and we insist on a line check. There’s a lot of us on stage –

The Brand New Heavies

32 audio channels and eight people so it takes a bit of effort to get things. Festivals are fun though and it’s nice to hang out after. You meet a lot more people, more fans.

You’re playing on the same night as Kool & the Gang and Shalamar. There’s a few legends to hang out and share a stage with.

“And names that have massively influenced us, especially Shalamar. I can remember dancing to them and buying their records when I was fourteen or fifteen. They’ve got incredible production and songwriting. Then Kool & the Gang will presumably be headlining and the last song will be Celebration.”

Is there much change in your festival set from the one you’d usually do?

“It’s a bit shorter, sometimes less than an hour. It’s hard not to play the songs people like but we do change it a bit, bring out all the hits that they instantly remember.”

It must be hard to focus on the audience when you have safety barriers and a line of security between you and them. How hard is it to get them going?

“Pretty easy. We’ve done over 1,200 shows so it does get easy to overlook everything else. I just concentrate on one or two people who’ve caught my eye and I focus on them, get lots of energy from them. It goes back and forth and the crowd can see that.”

Then there’s the problem that at a festival you have a lot of the audience who aren’t there to see you.

“That’s right. That’s why I focus on the people at the front because they’re there to see us. The genre is usually very similar so I think they’ll get into it even if they aren’t there for us.”

You said you’ll be playing your better-know material but is there anything new in the pipeline?

“We’ve just signed a recording deal but we haven’t done much about it yet because the label want to make sure the roadmap is continuing. It should be out early nest year, we have a live album with our new singer that we could release but nothing planned so far.”

Will it be similar to your usual output, or are there gong to be a few surprises?

“We’re not ready to transmute into grime yet. We’ll stick to what we know and love and what our fans expect.”

And that’s what they’ll be getting at Tudor Grange.

“We’ve been doing it for thirty years so to change too much would be suicide. I love playing the songs, I love watching the audience reactions. The songs will be similar and I’ve been doing the same thing with mostly the same people for all that time.”

A lot of bands now have a line-up that’s got little connection with the one who made their hits but that’s not the case with The Brand New Heavies.

“No, we had one big change when our drummer Jan left but apart from that it’s those of us who were at school together. We’ve stuck together and it’s hard to turn down shows for people who pay money to let us play on stage. It pays the bills, we’re not getting younger but I have kids and I’ll work until I drop. There comes a time when you wake up in the morning and everything you do is for your family, which I’m happy to do.”

The Brand New Heavies play the opening day of Solihull Summer Fest 2021, which takes place at Tudor Grange Park on 24th-25th July. Tickets.