04 April 2008

THREE ILLUSIONARY BOYS

Imagination: Distinctive London-based trio, who created a unique blend of soul and dance music. Leee John (vocals), Ashley Ingram (vocals, instruments), Errol Kennedy (drums). One Of the most original British acts of the early 1980s, they were fronted by a charismatic lead singer.

(From The Guiness Book Of British Hits Hit Singles, 14th Edition)



What a great pop group, eh? Did you know they were one of the first acts to use the Roland TB-303? They may not have unlocked it's acid-potential, but listen to that distinctive swerve on the bassline, achieved with the 303 sequencer's unique 'slide' function. Remember all those other hits - "Body Talk", "Music & Lights", "In And Out Of Love" and "Flashback"? (as sampled by Boards Of Canada on early unreleased track "We've Started Up"). Yeah, proper pop from the days when pop mattered.

That last sentence is of course nonsense. Pop matters today as much as it ever did, it just doesn't matter to me anymore. Retro-pop matters to me because it reminds me of days gone by, when things like that were far more important to me. Lot's of stuff was far more important to me when I was a kid, and I think that's true for a lot of people. We spend our adult lives indulging in all sorts of activities buying loads of stuff and imbibing substances trying to get that feeling we had when we were little, when the world was all new and exciting. I've never bought a record that ever gave me as big a thrill as, say, getting that Action Man tank for Xmas when I was five years old. I see my own kids today getting so incredibly excited by the most mundane things like toy trains, or football trading cards or Carrie & David's Pop Shop. The items I own that I truly cherish are those bits of bricker-brack I've had since I was little, cos they resonate with those old feelings of heart-stopping excitement, which occasionally I might feel in my heart for just a flickering moment when I look at those old talismans. There's nothing more important than having a good childhood, I reckon.

But I digress. Let's get to the main thrust of this post - another charity shop find, in near mint condition, still in original shrink-wrap, for a mere 49p...

Did you know Imagination made a dub album? I didn't until I found this. I can quite happily listen to a reggae dub album without having heard the original versions, though it does sometimes concern me that I'm not really appreciating the engineer's art because I don't know the original song. In pop terms, it would be like listening to The Human League's "Love & Dancing" remix album without having ever heard "Dare", which would be an insane thing to do, surely? As I sort of suggested in my Dennis Bovell post recently, dub's transformative powers can sound most shocking when applied to music you're already very familiar with. That sense of disruption to recognised song-structures creating a destabilising effect in the mind.

Imagination's "Night Dubbing" is interesting for this reason, but also as an unusual early example of dub strategies applied outside the context of reggae music, feeding into the mainstream. Mixed by Tony Swain, Steve Jolley and Richard Lengyel (apart from "Changes", reshaped by Larry Levan in NYC), it's a collision of Jamaican-style echo dubbing and disco-style re-editing that picks all those hits apart and re-arranges them in more abstracted form, fragmenting the vocals and destroying the song narratives along the way. Hardly avant-garde by today's standards, but it must've sounded quite weird in the pop landscape of 1983. Even the sleeve image seems at odds with Imagination's usual upfront image, with the boys peering moodily from the shadows.

A lovely period piece, but let's not make a mountain out of a mole hill....

11 comments:

  1. John Eden12:00 AM

    ahhhh! Keep meaning to hear that but never quite brought myself to do it... great stuff again, you are spoiling me!

    "dub's transformative powers can sound most shocking when applied to music you're already very familiar with"

    is bang on, but what I found equally jarring is caning Scientist albums or whatever and then hearing those dubs *reigned in* when I stumbled across the "original" several years later.

    The vocals just carrying on and NOT fading into a wall of echo. Weird, like the world suddenly came into focus...

    anyway, big up, this stuff is great.

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  2. i've been looking for that album, though i've never come across it. i have the LL mix of "changes" on 12" though, and that is my jam. i LOVE it. imagination were extremely dope.

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  3. As a teenager I could never see beyond the outfits myself.... was quietly impressed at how readily you owned up to being a fan a few weeks back...

    In terms of lost childhood delights, some humanistic psychologists regard the ability to retain childhood total absorption in 'play' into adult life as a sign of mental health - so back to the mixing desk Gutta...

    And whilst we're in nostalgia mode, let's not forget that Leee John met up with Doctor number five a few years later...

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  4. 'I see my own kids today getting so incredibly excited by the most mundane things like toy trains, or football trading cards or Carrie & David's Pop Shop'

    I have no comment to make on Imagination I am afraid, but I cannot let the mention of 'Carrie & David's Pop Shop' pass with out screaming 'Aiieee, run for the hills'.

    Of everything my boy watches that is the one thing I cannot stomach (and Carrie is just so thin I find myself shouting 'Eat some food' at the telly, which puts the boy off when he is trying to dance...)

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  5. aye... an you never see her and Miss Hoolie in the same room do you?


    hmmmmm......

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  6. Imagination were great: loved their gert fat farty synth-bass sound.

    Swain & Jolley: someone please do a post on them.

    John's comment's about hearing non-Dub versions of material sourced in a Dub (eh?) hit a spot with me...being a White Dub Kid in the 70s - Dub was my entry-point into Reggae, so I didn't tend to buy vocal records until a bit later on when I started getting into The Mighty Diamonds, Heptones, etc (and usually my choice of material was determined by the album's producer or the fact I'd heard some Dubbed out version first...)...then finally hearing a vocal cut of something that I'd only ever heard an abstract snippet of: it induced a very freaky sense of dislocation...like John says: it's like your brain is suddenly flooded with too much information...it's a strange feeling hearing the rest of the lyrics, a melody... The only vocalists I ever bought stuff by in my early excusions were Keith Hudson (whose music I adore to this day) and Burning Spear...everthing else was: Dub, Dub, Dub...

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  7. Anonymous5:35 PM

    Nick I bought my copy of Nighdubbing last summer at a boot fair in Hythe. As an American, I'd never heard of Imagination (surely, the very name is tempting fate) but I saw Larry Levan's name and thought I'd give it a punt. Not bad, but not great. I think I'll give it another listen.
    Aaron (aka Prince Asbo)

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  8. grievous angel3:59 PM

    great post! have followed up at my blog...

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  9. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Nightdubbing?!Simply amazing!
    Sho, Sho, Sho, Showin' Out!
    Oops, that's Mel & Kim...Funny, Showing Out is still for me one of the best singles of ALL time! Thanks for giving that Dissensus linx , Nick

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  10. 'fraid I could never see beyond the fact that Leee John was publically a Thatcher/Tory supporter in the 1980s. Perhaps that stopped me from appreciating one of the great lost English dub albums, but what can you do?

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  11. that whole Tory/Thatcher connection is a whole other discussion in its own right. the political polarisation of the 80s really effected people's musical tastes back then didn't it? remember how utterly despised Numan was back then for voting Tory?

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