Leee John was one-third of highly successful UK soul band Imagination in the ’80s. Currently on tour with his eight-piece band, Leee will be in Dalston for a very exclusive show on Saturday 3 May where he will be performing many of their favourite tracks including Body Talk, Just an Illusion, Flashback, Changes, Music & Lights. He is also currently working on songs for his new album. Here he talks to The London Word about creativity, childhood and community.
Where are you right now, and what have you been doing?
‘I’m in the studio editing our film: the history of UK black music Flashback.’
What is your favourite area of London?
‘I live in north-west London and it is very tranquil. I live near a park, therefore surrounded by green; you just wouldn’t believe that you are in London.’
What is your most vivid London memory?
‘I went to Gillespie Primary School right around the corner from the original Arsenal stadium. The players would pop in to see the junior kids. I remember all the Caribbean shops on Blackstock Road that delivered groceries to our house in Adolphus Road in Finsbury Park where my mother bought our first house.’
What would your perfect London day out involve?
‘There seems to be a boom of new designers and creative people in London. When I head out to shop I take note. I am passionate about music, film, clothes, history… so I guess a perfect day would be in the studio working on new projects that inspire me.’
What would your perfect London night out involve?
‘If I’m not invited to some fancy reception, party or special event, friends and I would meet for dinner at various restaurants we love.’
What makes London unique?
‘London is and always has been very multicultural, which is a complete education in itself; the city that’s always evolving. Different foods, cultures, religions; a multicoloured tapestry of beautiful blending.’
Which season do you most enjoy in London?
‘I’m a person who loves hot weather, so summer is the season for me. I can wear less clothing as I hate the cold. Although spring has a romantic feel, as the flowers start to bloom and the days become lighter.’
Where in London do you feel most creative?
‘Creativity for me can be anywhere at any time. I create a lot in my home-based studio but when I do venture to another space and studio, there’s definitely a different input and array of inspiration.’
Where in London have you never been, but have always wanted to go?
‘That’s a hard one as in the mid 1970s I was part of a Brit funk club culture scene, which we talk about in our Flashback film and we would go all over the place, a huge posse of cars going to parties and clubs. My mum got an MBE for her community work and I had to do an important show in Germany so couldn’t go to Buckingham Palace with her, so it would probably have to be there.’
Who is your favourite Londoner?
‘There are a few but to pinpoint one, it’s Bernie Grant. He cared about the community – especially Haringey, and helped open the Afro Caribbean centre in Turnpike Lane for the pensioners. The youth and community keep it running, which my mother Jessie Stephens does now. The community needs more of these centres but they don’t get PROPER support from the local government!’
What do you think is London’s best kept secret?
‘The amount of musicians and artists from Afro, Indian Caribbean descent who have had worldwide success and are from London.’
Which song, book or film do you think best encapsulates London?
‘There were many in different decades. I loved To Sir with Love in the 1960s with Sidney Poitier. It was about an East End school and featured the singer Lulu. Also Blow up with Terrence Stamp which encapsulates the ’60s scene. In 1970s there was a film called Black Joy with Norman Beaton and Paul Medford which depicts a black family in London. Amusing but it also portrays London at the time. 1980s Babylon with Brinsley Forde from Aswad. I could identify with this film growing up in London.’
What do you miss most about London when you’re away?
‘Definitely the markets in Leather Lane, Greenwich, Covent Garden, Brick Lane. We have the best Indian restaurants in the world too – and I’ve been to India. I absolutely love spicy food.’
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
‘Let every moment count, enjoy the gifts of the universe, try to give something back no matter how small and don’t ever stop learning, life is an education.’
Where would you go in London to revisit your past?
‘I actually did this recently: I went back to our old family house in Adolphus Road and my secondary school in Highbury Grove. Everything has changed.’
Who is your biggest inspiration in life?
‘There are so many great people, but I feel Martin Luther King’s plight for equality and civil rights inspired me the most. It shows that if you have a dream, you can climb to that mountain top, nothing is impossible if you have faith, strength, health and believe in yourself – then others will believe in you.’
What would you recommend everyone in London do at least once?
‘Take a trip down the Thames and discover other parts of London by boat in the day and by night.’
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
‘Flashback film check: www.flashbackprojectuk.com. I also have a new track out soon with Belgian DJ Electrokid called Turn It Up. A special album out in late September/October called The Truth with videos. I am also touring Europe in the summer with Kool and the Gang, Earth, Wind and Fire and some shows with The Jacksons in France. Also looking forward to the intimate show in Dalston on Saturday 3.’
‘A feeling you feel that you’ve never felt before and that you embrace, you devote your heart and soul too. It floats and takes you away on a natural high, that’s happiness – or could it be called love.’
Leee John performs live with his eight-piece band for an exclusive one-off show. Imagination featuring Leee John at:
13-15 Stoke Newington Road
This show is a ticket admission only, please buy in advance to avoid disappointment.