Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Freeez: Cool as funk!

John Rocca (Freeez) 2020
John Rocca (Freeez) 2020 John Rocca (Freeez) 2020 Freeez: (L-R) Stennett, Whitmore, Mansfield-Allman, Sullivan, Maas, Morgan and Rocca '81 Freeez: (L-R) Peter Maas, John Rocca and Jean-Paul 'Bluey' Maunick

Universally recognised as one of the most pivotal, groundbreaking and successful Brit-Funk albums of all time, London outfit Freeez's 1980-released debut LP "Southern Freeez" marks its 40th anniversary via its re-release this month (through British independent Beggars Group's Arkive imprint) as the first half of a double-album, with the second half - titled "Variations On A Theeem" - comprising seven brand-new solo tracks from the band's founder-member John Rocca.

Produced by Rocca himself and pioneered by the popping bass and driving rhythm of its early-1981 UK Top Ten title-track single (featuring the super-cool guest vocals of British songstress Ingrid Mansfield Allman) plus it's joyous, mainly-instrumental UK Top 40 follow-up "Flying High", "Southern Freeez" additionally boasts such musical moods as the galloping Latin-jazz vibe of"Mariposa" and the soul/funk groove and title chants of the engaging "Caribbean Winter". While Rocca’s new tracks on the aforementioned "Variations On A Theeem" include a punchy remake of "Southern Freeez" (aptly titled "Southern Freeez 20+20") as well as the experimental bounce of "Feeel The Music".

Having started out in the backstreets of North London in 1978, following the success of "Southern Freeez" Freeez would later go on to score their biggest international hit in the summer of 1983 with the world-conquering "IOU". Which, produced and written in New York by renowned producer Arthur Baker (with lyric contributions and lead vocal from Rocca), would not only prestigiously hit Number One on the US Club Play chart but would also hit many Top Five mainstream charts across the globe, including a three-week stint at Number Two in the UK Pop listings. Following which the group's next single, October 1983's "Pop Goes My Love", would also attain Top Five status Stateside, while John would again hit Number One on the US Club Play Chart on two further occasions as a solo act - with "I Want It To Be Real" in 1984 and "Shine" in 1993, the latter released under the pseudonym Midi Rain. Shortly after which he would leave the music business entirely to become a successful IT professional, while the last 20 years meanwhile have seen happily residing in South East Asia.

...All of which brings us back to today and this month's release of the aforementioned Freeez + John Rocca double-album. Cue a forthcoming and articulate Mr Rocca on the line from his now-home in Malaysia for a revealing in-depth interview with "Blues & Soul" Assistant Editor Pete Lewis.

PETE: Let's start by discussing how the new double-album came about?

JOHN: "Well, one-day out-of-the-blue Beggars Group called me up and said 'John, it's 40 years since "Southern Freeez"', to which I replied 'You must be joking!'! I mean, I didn't even hear the 40, I was like '20 years, that's a long time!'... But then somehow or another it eventually did get into my head that it was actually 40 years! But at the same time, when they started talking to me about a re-release, to be honest, I wasn't particularly interested. Because to me what's done is done, and there's not really much more for me to do. But then when they pointed out to me that in London at the moment there's a jazz and jazz-funk movement happening which is not unlike when Brit-Funk first came out in the Eighties, I did get a lot more interested. So they sent me some links and I started looking at some of the current saxophonists and trumpet-players and bands, who I thought were great. At which point Beggars were like 'Well, we were thinking of you doing a new version of the title-track'. And though again - for similar reasons - at first I didn't really wanna go there, I guess at the end of the day these things do play on your mind. And with me having been doodling and playing around with music - basically just for chill-out/enjoyment purposes - for the last 10 years or so, I started thinking 'Well, I have actually got a few sorta jazzy/funky tracks that I've not done anything with just sitting here'..."

"At which point it suddenly came to me that both of my brother's sons - who are in their early-20s and both currently in the middle of studying for a Masters Degree in Music - are actually involved themselves in today's jazz-funk scene in London! So, though funnily enough, they're actually more on the trad-jazz side of things, I gave them a buzz, asked them what they were doing - and sure enough, they'd played with half the people that had been pointed out to me by Beggers! Which is when I began thinking 'Well let's see what happens - I'll dig out these tracks I've done over the last 10 years and see if they're suitable for us to maybe look at a 'Today-versus-yesterday/40 years on'-type concept. So with me then going on to work on a new version of "Southern Freeez" - which sounded alright - that's basically what we did! I got my two nephews Ben Rocca and Joel Rocca - who play keyboards and saxophone respectively - to play live on the tracks I'd already done. Then from there, I got a couple of other people from London - a bass-player called Alex Lofoco and a guitarist called Julienne Baraness - to come on board too... So yeah, that's the short story of how I came to combine the new with the old for this new release which combines the original "Southern Freeez" album with some new solo tracks from me."

The Freeez album “Southern Freeez/Variations On A Theeem” is iut now through Beggars Arkive.

BUY "Southern Freeez/Variations On A Theeem" VINYL

You can read more from Pete Lewis' exclusive interview with Freeez founder John Rocca, including the story of how Freeze formed and the influence Jean-Paul "Bluey" Maunick of Incognito/Citrus Sun fame had on the band. Also, we find out what happened to the band around the release of their "Southern Freeez" album,what caused their exit from the music scene in the '90s and of couse, what are Rocca's future plans. All in the not to be missed latest issue of Blues & Soul magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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