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Imagination can make a man of you: The Leee John interview

Whether you knew it at the time, many of the biggest British musical acts of the early 1980s were fronted by gay men.

Marc Almond, Jimmy Somerville, George Michael, Holly Johnson, Pete Burns, Steve Strange, Boy George, Morrissey, and Billy Mackenzie among them.

Occupying the funkier area of pop, Leee John is the Hackney-born singer-songwriter and keyboardist who, in 1981, became the flamboyant frontman and one third of Imagination.

Famous for their scantily clad outfits and Leee’s soaring falsetto, the trio scored a number of hits including Music And Lights, Flashback and Just An Illusion, which memorably formed the pulsating backbone of Mariah Carey’s Get Your Number in 2005.

Famously, the August week future Pet Shop Boys Neil Tennant (in his “Elvis Costello new wave phase”) and Chris Lowe met in a Chelsea record store, Body Talk, Imagination’s sultry first hit, was in the top twenty, having peaked at No. 4 the week anti-Thatcher summer riots were engulfing inner cities from Brixton to Toxteth, all presciently soundtracked at the top by The Special’s Ghost Town.

“I was quite shocked that Chris said he liked Body Talk by Imagination,” recalled Tennant in 2013. “Of course, I secretly liked it, but because I was a new wave snob, I wasn’t going to say I liked it. He was a happy-go-lucky disco fan.”

Whether you’re a fan of disco, funk, soul, R&B, or just great pop, you may want to check out a comprehensive 17CD box set that’s just released entitled 40 Years, which covers everything Imagination did plus a smattering of Leee John’s solo output.

If you’re lucky and follow the link here, you might be lucky to snaffle yourself an exclusive edition signed by Leee himself.

To celebrate the mammoth landmark release, Leee agreed to a video interview via Zoom — amazingly, my first ever webcam interview, as you can probably tell from the footage.

Over the course of an illuminating hour, we take in myriad subjects from Smash Hits to Madonna’s bits, and Christmas holly to Swain & Jolley.

As you can see, Leee John is looking rather well. In rude health, even. This may be because Leee John has stopped eating pasties, but it’s more likely because he’s in a happy place, no doubt buoyed by the response to his brilliantly uplifting recent single with Belgian artist Plastic Bertrand.

Man, this guy loves to sing.

Steve Pafford

Leee John and Imagination: 40 Years is available here

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