REMEMBER THE TIME – JULY 1986 by Sharon Davis

Something a little different again this month because just recently I’ve been talking to Imagination’s Leee John who is celebrating his 40th anniversary in the music business this year of 2022.  You may remember the trio, with him singing afront Errol Kennedy and Ashley Ingram, through hits like “Body Talk”, “Just An Illusion”, “Music And Lights”, “Flashback” and others I can’t recall just now.  

Anyway, he reminded me of the time we worked together on a charity record which he wrote with Ashley Ingram to raise awareness and funds for SCAR (Sickle Cell Anaemia Relief).  As you probably know, Sickle Cell is a disabling and, sadly, an often fatal blood disorder which is prevalent among African, Afro-Caribbean, Asian and Mediterranean peoples.  It attacks the red blood cells, taking on the appearance of a sickle – hence its name.  So I checked out my notes and an interview I’d written up at the time, unearthed some visuals, and here we are –  back in 1986.

It was on 27 July that some of the UK’s top soul artists flocked to the SARM West recording studios in London to record “This Is My Song”.  Contributing to this were (deep breath) Junior, David Grant, Mark King, Phil Fearon, Haywoode, Kiki Dee, Lenny Henry, Janet Kay, Sinitta, Paul Hardcastle, Dark Secret, Dotty Green, Sharon Benson, Tom Robinson, O’chi Brown, (phew…keep going) Brenda Fassie, Ray and Sharita Shell, Aswad, Carol Thompson, Bill Fredericks, Miquel Brown, Mike Nolan, Patti Boulaye, Juliet Roberts, TC Curtis, Errol Brown, DC Lee, and others.  Yup – the studio and surrounding areas were literally heaving.  On top of the sixty or so artists, there were film and television crews, radio folk, photographers, journalists…..and little ol’ me!  Leee John collectively called them all “People In Progress” or “PIP”.

So, let’s backtrack a minute.  Leee decided to form PIP after attending an Artistes Against Apartheid meeting where Harry Belafonte was present and told him “You are involved.  As the world turns, you turn with it.” So moved was Leee by these words that “This Is My Song” was born.  The next step was to set the wheels in motion, so he asked me and others in the music business to put their organising and administrative skills to good use by ensuring the recording sessions were successful.  Every artists asked to contribute, including the recording studio peeps, gave their services for free.  I think I’m right in saying, “This Is My Song” was actually first performed at Imagination’s fifth anniversary concert, and later at a charity dinner for the Sickle Cell Anaemia Relief organisation, where the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.  He told me “I had a large number of people who came and said they wanted to sing with us.  This shows how we care for both our own community here and the unity of people around the world who are certain that it can work.”

Before spilling the beans about the organised mayhem of the Sunday recording sessions, another side step to explain that the two principle charities to benefit from the single were SCAR who, alongside other organisations, offer support for practical and financial help to victims and their families, to bring the disease to the public’s attention and to raise money for much-needed research.  And CCETSA (The Canon Collins Educational Trust Of Southern Africa) which concentrates on funding literary projects in the refugee camps of Africa.  It also provides funds for students studying in Africa, UK and elsewhere, as well as providing money for teachers working in these African camps.

So, here goes.  Once everyone had checked through SARM’s reception area, with each visitor/singer signing guest books, posters and t-shirts to be auctioned later, a bee-line was made to the downstairs lounge and catering area (strictly no alcohol) which soon proved inadequate. But, hey, who cared, we were high on adrenalin.   Lead vocalists including Kiki Dee, David Grant and Junior were called into the main studio at regular intervals throughout the morning until Leee and producer Derek Bramble (known for his work with the fabulous Jaki Graham among others) were satisfied with the results. Haywoode was also lined up to sing lead vocals but she had disappeared (“I always seem to be late for important things” she whispered to me as she rushed through the studio) By 4pm, somehow things fell into place as all artists were actually in situ, causing a ‘sardines in a tin’ scenario, but before they were ushered into the principal studio for chorus and main vocal sequences, Lenny Henry spearheaded an impromptu jam session. I can’t remember whether that was recorded or not, but it was filmed although I never saw a playback.

After the session, Lenny, with the film crew at his heels, roamed through the building talking and joking with anyone who chanced to be in his way.  Meantime, the BBC crew encouraged DC Lee, Phil Fearon, David Grant and Leee to adlib the single’s chorus before their rolling cameras.  Once again, Haywoode wasn’t around (“probably in the loo” someone suggested unhelpfully!)  Then all of a sudden, there was a bit of a kerfuffle as a security guard lifted her in the air and literally flung her down in the middle of the seated singers, causing one shocked camera man to drop his equipment.  Would have made great television!

The outside filming also caused the inevitable chaos with the local residents who, gamely, eventually decided ‘if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’.  Then, for some reason, a few policemen arrived.  They didn’t do anything; just watched.  All the artists congregated in a nearby children’s playground, designed like a huge castle, to sing “This Is My Song” once more.  In one corner the “straight” version was heard, in the other, Aswad led their own alternative reggae version.  Dotty Green jumped about to the music so much her blouse slipped off to reveal one boob, much to the delight of a nearby cameraman, while children skipped and laughed about, adding an unexpected special touch to the proceedings.  I’ve no idea from whence they came, but come they did – and stayed.  Getting this large number of people to work together as one wasn’t the easiest of things to manoeuvre, yet somehow the long human, dancing snake slid its way down Basing Street and back into the studio.  Film crews and photographers hung from parked vehicles, stood on car roofs and shuffled about at ground level. One poor chap almost got trampled underfoot as he spotted the ideal angle for a photo shot; cables from a shoulder-held camera became tangled around a parked car and someone’s legs, bringing both camera and operator to an unexpected abrupt halt!

The studio was bursting with singing, film equipment, cameras of all sizes, singers and media folk.  The walls sweated as music was pumped around, from corner to corner, with a plethora of voices soaring to the ceiling. The electrifying atmosphere overrode any pangs of discomfort.  In fact, I didn’t hear anybody moan or become aggravated by the conditions they were asked to work in, such was the determination to get the song recorded and released.  So, by mid-evening, the overheated but happy singers had sung their hearts out, given their all, to wearily leave the studio in search of fresh air.  And home.

“PIP is the seed, the seed is just the beginning” a tired, but excited Leee John told me as he bid me goodnight.

Sharon Davis