Music Q&A:
Leee John

The lead singer with 1980s soul and funk band Imagination talks about flamboyant outfits and film making

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What informs your music and songwriting?
I’ve been writing music since I was 10 years old. I had a contract when I was living in America with my father and when I came back to the UK I got signed with EMI as a duo. My surroundings, my environment, certain fantasies, observations and everyday things like other songs and people inspired my writing.

How have you evolved as an artist over the years?
I was always writing but now I am involved in film production and directing. I am on my sixth or seventh documentary. A major one is the Flashback film about UK black music and another I have just done is about knife and gun crime called Police and Thieves. I have done a range of things but I am still learning. I still feel that being in the world of entertainment I see myself as an artist, not a celebrity. Today, for me a celebrity is someone you don’t really know what they do. I keep growing, developing and discovering things about myself.

When you were younger what music were you into?
I was into Motown music, and jazz very early, on such as Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, The Stacks, The Stones. I love soul and gospel. I love all the Motown artists and always wanted to be one of those. It was really phenomenal for me when I got to perform with the Jacksons – we did a double bill in Paris together. I’ve met so many of my favourite artists, such as Kool and the Gang. I loved them as a kid and all of a sudden we were touring Europe together.

I came from a club culture – Brit funk, Brit soul. We just elaborated on our look and took it to the next level

Throughout the years you were known for flamboyant outfits. What was the thinking behind this?
You have to think of the period of the early 1980s. New wave was coming in. I came from a street culture that was extremely different. Everyone wanted to be unique. We took the club scene on to the stage in London. We exaggerated what people were already wearing on the streets and in the clubs. I came from a club culture – Brit funk, Brit soul. We just elaborated on our look and took it to the next level. And everyone was experimenting at the time. We were always pushing the boundaries – we knew we had to with music and lyrics, which was our foundation, but the visual was important as we always wanted to take this onto the road and for live shows. We wanted to make sure people would come see our show.

How did you stay relevant and credible both to the mainstream and underground followings?
I was spending a lot of time with DJs from an early age. They helped push Body Talk in the 1980s, and also with Instinctual in the 1990s, which became number one in America. This was David Morales’ first hit record. We did a remixed album with Frankie Knuckles and Tony Humphries. Larry Levan did one of our tracks, Changes, so we’ve always been part of DJ culture. I’ve worked with Victor Simonelli, Arthur Baker, Peter Rauhofer so in between jazz music and reggae, I’ve had a connection with a lot of these DJs who were my friends. I’ve often given them exclusives and kept in with them even since a kid.

What are you up to at the moment artistically?
I still perform and record. I had a great time last year – two soul number one records from my album Retropia. I love performing to audiences, which is one of my main things. I love the live band. For me, music is still one of the major parts of what I do.

As a black guy from north London the people I grew up with have been successful

What can we expect moving forwards over the next 10 years?
I’m really looking forward to the next 10 years. So many different things are inspiring me. I’m in a different period of my life since working on the Police and Thieves film, which is about people in my community in North London who have done well – for example an ex-gang leader, a police officer. Basically, I’m showing people that as a black guy from north London the people I grew up with have been successful, and trying to send this message to the youth, as it is rarely expressed to them. I feel like I’m taking on a new mission in my life. I’m involved with Voyage Youth, which is an incentive to encourage youth progression to help them achieve the best of their ability. I have a new calling in life. Besides music and performing, the knowledge I have, if I can pass it on to others, is an important part of life’s education.

What song do you wish you’d written?
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye. So relevant to today, it’s my ringtone. It never ceases to amaze me because it depicts everything that’s happening now, even though it was written years ago.

What was your best performance memory?
There’s been too many – I can’t say. Every audience is different; I don’t think psychologically I would dwell on that.

What’s on your rider?
Very simple – coconut water, champagne, still and sparkling water. No junk food, lots of fresh food – fish, chicken, salad, fruit.

What is your most embarrassing experience?
I was given a surprise party organised by mother last year. Fifty people were there. I had just come back from touring. I couldn’t believe my mother had done it and all these people had lied about their plans!

What is your worst lyric?
“Tease me with your loving, do do do.”

Any other information?
If you visit you can check out the trailer for the film we’re still working on. If you visit you can see Police and Thieves. Music has given me a great platform to do this, which enables me to take some of my time to help and make a difference.

Imagination are playing 1980s music festival Rewind North, Capesthorne Hall, Cheshire, 3-5 August. Rewind Scotland is on 20-22 July and Rewind South is on 17-19 August. Tickets are available now at

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