Genius Turning 51 Today: Simon Bartholomew
Simon Bartholomew, a bundle of energy, is looking both back and forward to a very diverse musical career. An act called Brothers International catapulted him into the center of the developing Acid Jazz (or Jazz-Funk) scene, along with his peers. Simon, a genius guitarist, also has an extremely strong stage presence. He is the Duracell battery bunny, on any stage he hits, with any act.
Brothers International delivered instrumental Jazz-Funk in the mid-1980s, a frustrating time to real Funk lovers. That is because the funky stuff coming out of America during those days was over-programmed. Unfortunately, the latter even applied to the most brilliant U.S. Jazz-Funk acts, including Earth, Wind & Fire or Roy Ayers. Exaggerated synth sounds and drum programming destroyed the real Funk. But help was on its way. The Acid Jazz scene did not give a damn about musical fashions.
The Brothers International evolved into The Brand New Heavies (BNH), with Simon in the middle of it all. Jay Ella Ruth was their first vocalist. Simon Bartholomew contributed his killer Funk rhythm guitar. In combination with fellow band members Jan and Andrew, they would create some of the funkiest sounds ever. During live gigs, Simon would sometimes evolve into Jimi Hendrix, by delivering the kind of solos the master was known for. Versatility, energy and enthusiasm, that is what he stood and still stands for.
The Brand New Heavies reached the peak of their popularity with the killer album "Brother Sister", which was released in 1994. Along with "Shelter", their 1997 release, it is one of the funkiest albums ever recorded, to a large extent thanks to Simon Bartholomew. The BNH did not want to be cool, or sound like American funk acts at that time, but they wanted to come up with true Funk. And they did. "Stay this Way", a BNH Funk hymn recorded even earlier, became one of the most memorable British Jazz-Funk classics ever. "Dream on Dreamer", one of their biggest hits, was so well composed and arranged, so funky and so convincing, that it even became a radio hit. Those quality off-beats, delivered by drummer Jan, who recently left the BNH, and Simon's input made it a big favourite.
Maria Muldaur's 1974 classic "Midnight at the Oasis" became yet another big BNH hit. The live version on that Japanese live album they released along with the Japanese version of the "Shelter" album is so funky it should be forbidden. Dammit! What a breathtaking performance! The BNH even were on Soul Train, doing "Stay This Way".
Later on, there seemed to be some problems, judging from the outside. Their former manager once told me the band needed to make itself rare, in order to have more success. That did not seem to work. Also their journey into Neo Soul, with a lot of programming, may not have been the best idea. Once, I saw a gig of theirs, which was problematic, since they were unrehearsed and the sound was weird. But, Simon still pulled it off, saving the gig by doing Jimi stuff.
Once I booked them for a festival I organized in Sofia, Bulgaria, and had a lot of opportunities to talk to them. The nicest people ever. We got into discussions on Jazz-Funk, and we joked into the night. At the Jazz Café in London, I invited Simon to an Incognito gig because of a film project I was working on. When I interviewed him, he talked about the Acid Jazz scene, saying, Incognito and the BNH were Soul brothers, since all of them were into it with a lot of passion. And they still are.
The BNH are not the only project Simon Bartholomew has been working on. He composed tunes for movies, such as "Happy Feet", he played with Jamiroquai on one of the early albums, he played with Mother Earth, and he is part of yet another killer Acid Jazz act called Akimbo. Well, he does it all. And, as a guitarist, he should be put in one line with Nile Rodgers, Jimi and other greats.
Even more importantly, Simon is a devoted and loving father, as well as a funny and nice guy. It was always a pleasure meeting him. A happy and funky birthday to Simon Bartholomew!
By Imanuel Marcus
Picture at top of page by Simon Bartholomew
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