Life’s been better than he ever could have imagined

2012-02-18 00:00

LEEE John, the former front man for the band Imagination, has been enjoying a love affair with South Africa, since he first visited the country in the early nineties — and he can’t wait to hit the stage at the 80s Rewind Festival at Kings Park Stadium in Durban on February 25.

The British singer-actor-film-maker first came to the world’s attention in the early eighties when, with the group Imagination, he had hits with Music and Lights, In the Heat of the Night and Just An Illusion.

The band sold millions of albums and toured the globe performing for fans, including Princess Diana, Prince Charles, Princess Caroline of Monaco and the Mandela family in South Africa.

And he told Weekend Witness that he especially loves coming to perform in SA, and is always “surprised at the number of fans he has here and how much they love the music”.

“There’s this one Imagination which I hardly ever do — Shoo Be Doo Da Dabba Doobee (This Means War) — but whenever I’m here, it often gets requested,” John said. “I remember one time, Zinzi Mandela took me to a club and she told me they would play a song for me which had meant so much to the people during apartheid –— and it was This Means War. I was blown away.”

And while he’s looking forward to taking to the stage in the Rewind Festival, alongside the likes of eighties’ hit makers, Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet, Howard Jones, Rick Astley, Marc Almond of Soft Cell, Midge Ure from Ultravox, ABC’s Martin Fry, Nik Kershaw, Go West and The Village People, he intends returning to South Africa at the end of the year for a full-length tour.

“I’m releasing a greatest hits album at the end of the year and hope to take the Imagination show round the country,” John said. “I also have plans to do a duet with a South African musician, but nothing’s settled yet, so you’ll have to wait and see who it is.”

The singer, who was inspired by the likes of Aretha Franklin and the Supremes, has over the years dabbled with a range of genres, among them dance and garage — releasing the tracks Your Mind, Your Body, Your Soul and U Turn Me with Ten City vocalist Byron Stingily, and Call on Me under the artist name Johnny X.

He’s also having fun with jazz. He released the album Feel My Soul, which features a mixture of jazz standards, and original compositions, and has toured Britain and Europe with his jazz quartet. “Vocally, I find it very challenging,” John said of the new genre.

Away from the mic, he has spent time in front of and behind the camera. John made a guest appearance on the iconic British sci-fi series Doctor Who in 1983, playing the character Mansell.

“When I was asked to do it, we [Imagination] were riding high in the charts. My manager found out that someone had dropped out and was I interested in playing a space pilot. It was great. I performed with Keith and Lynda Barron and with Peter Davidson, the fifth doctor,” he said. “It was such a pleasure to be part of what has become television history ... I’m even on the making of Dr Who DVD.”

The singer has also turned his hand to documentary film-making, and most recently completed the Flashback Project, which takes a look at the history of black music in Britain.

“I feel very fortunate to have been part of a thriving period of experimentation in music ... things were happening all the time,” John said. “We took the lead and carried the flame ... and we gave the Americans a run for their money.”

He also made a documentary for the SOS Children’s Village charity, which was accompanied by a book, From Within The Heart, after he visited South Africa in 2007. The charity is a cause close to his heart, and while he’s in Durban for the 80s Rewind Festival, he plans to visit the Pietermaritzburg Children’s village.

“I plan to see how we can help them and what they need to keep doing the things they’re doing,” John said. “We’ve been so privileged in Western society and when you see the work being done by the care mothers and other charity workers, you can’t help but be amazed. If I can give back a little something by highlighting what they do, that’s great.”

THE international 80s music celebration, 80s Rewind Festival takes place at Durban’s Kings Park Stadium on February 25. Tickets range from R350 to R1 000 and are available at Computicket.

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