Andy Polaris reviews Imagination at the Lambeth Country Show
The free concerts organised by London local councils in the summer – a tradition that continues despite government cuts and underfunding – have become a highlight of the year for cash-strapped music lovers and their families. The Lambeth Country Show in Brockwell Park is a weekend event begun in 1974 that usually has soul and disco Saturdays and reggae Sundays with established artists, supported by up-and-coming performers. Last Saturday MF Robots gave a lively example of Brit funk and are a breakaway group formed by Brand New Heavies drummer, co-founder and songwriter Jan Kincaid and vocalist Dawn Joseph with one album under their belt.
Leee John, singer-songwriter of the successful Eighties band Imagination, arrived on stage with name recognition and an enviable back catalogue of smooth soul and disco to cherry-pick from. Leee has continued to perform and tour since the initial global hits that brought him to our attention. The multi-racial audience of all ages were already buoyed by the good weather, DJ playlist and expectations of hearing songs that were the soundtrack of a good portion of the crowd’s growing up. They were not to be disappointed.
Complemented with a full live band and two backing singers, Gina Foster and Lyn Gerard, Leee embarked on a smooth cruise through chart hits that launched a career that is close to its 40th year and sold 30 million albums. It’s important to acknowledge that Imagination were part of a young black home-grown British soul explosion that included Light of The World, Central Line, Beggar and Co, Hi Tension, Jaki Graham, David Grant, Junior Giscombe etc, who had fermented in the Stateside funk and disco of the Seventies and were now producing their own hit songs.
Leee John already had a pedigree singing backing vocals for legendary RnB acts The Elgins, Chairman of the Board and the Delfonics. His band toured in Europe and America performing at both Studio 54 and on Soul Train (does any other black British band enjoy that endorsement?) and worked with legendary Paradise Garage DJ Larry Levan who remixed Changes which led to the influential remixes album Nightdubbing produced by Swain & Jolley.
It was refreshing to hear that his voice has lost none of its lustre and with his recent solo album Retropia he has explored more of his jazzy inflections and range. We were treated to a mixed bill that included hits Just An Illusion, Music and Lights, Burning Up, So Good So Right, In and Out of Love, and In the Heat of The Night along with boisterous perfectly timed rendition of Arrow’s carnival hit Hot Hot Hot and Marley’s One Love.
A tight band led by his long-time musical arranger John Watson kept up the momentum.The set climaxed with debut single Body Talk, the slinky soul slice of erotica that literally captivated the imagination along with a risqué bump and grind debut on Top of the Pops guaranteeing wider exposure. The single reached no 4, was gold certified and spent 18 weeks in the top 50. Here the audience gently swayed in unison shouting out the familiar chorus line in a call and response.
It was a confident joyous performance embellished by some nifty footwork, spins and dramatic finales (that included three costume changes of snazzy attire).
There is an element of showmanship which is lacking in many performers today who don’t rely on flanks of athletic dancers to beef up every (weak) song. With Imagination, strong melodies, music and lights and a willingness to enjoy the party were all that was required. For just over an hour that afternoon in sunny south London it was the best disco in town.