Canvey Island, Brit Funk and the “Southern Freeez”

Considering we in the UK are experiencing a bit of a heatwave at the moment, this post title sounds a bit ironic but all will soon make sense, so please bear with me. Living up here in the North of Scotland, there are lot of places “down south” that I’ve heard of, but don’t necessarily know much about. One such place is Canvey Island and since starting this blog, it keeps coming up in the research as having spawned an awful lot of bands. But where is Canvey Island, and is it indeed an island? Well technically it does seem to be, but like a few other similar landmasses, it’s separated from the mainland of Essex by a mere sliver of water.

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Canvey Island off the coast of Essex

The first time Canvey Island came up in the research was when I wrote about Eddie and the Hot Rods (link here) as they came from the place, as it seems did The Kursaal Flyers and the band that came to be known as “Canvey Island’s finest”, Dr. Feelgood. The whole pub rock musical genre flourished there in the 1970s and that part of Essex became the destination of choice for artists such as Graham Parker, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello.

But it’s not pub rock I’m going to write about here, it’s another phenomenon that found its roots on Canvey Island – A genre of music that came to be known as Brit funk. Again, living in the North of Scotland I would have had no idea such places existed, but in the early ’70s an old coastal Country Club was turned into a nightclub called the Goldmine. The DJ in residence was Chris Hill and the club came to specialise in “soul nights” where only serious and devoted fans came to get their fix. By 1978 however coach loads of soul fans were arriving from all over the country to experience a piece of the funk action and this unprepossessing building on Canvey Island was firmly on the map as the soul, jazz & funk mecca of the UK – Strange but true.

Acts that came to be associated with Brit funk were Light of the World, Level 42, Beggar and Co, Linx and Freeez. These bands enjoyed chart success in the early ’80s making regular appearances on TOTP, but today’s featured song is the one I remember best from that era, and have fond memories of – Southern Freeez by the band Freeez. It reached No. 8 in the UK Singles Chart in February 1981 with the very “cool” Ingrid Mansfield Allman providing the vocals.

Southern Freeez by Freeez:

The reason I have fond memories of this particular song, despite not really knowing anything about the whole Brit funk scene at the time, is because it came about the year I turned 21. I was a student back then and just about every week an invitation to a fellow student’s birthday bash popped through the mailbox. Mid-week venues were plentiful as many a landlord was happy to throw open the doors to their unused function suites, and provide DJs of varying abilities in return for lucrative bar takings. Being a dance record, and having been a hit early on in the year, Southern Freeez regularly made it onto the playlist and the lyrics always made me smile. I don’t think it happens so much nowadays, but back then an awful lot of romances started life on the dancefloor and all down to whether you “liked their style”, “saw it in their eyes” or were driven to distraction watching them “on the floor doing the Southern Freeez” (which it turns out was a dance move – the band dropped out for a bar and everyone froze).

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As someone who (until recently) always had a closer relationship with the whole sound and feel of a song as apposed to the lyrics, I kind of liked how you could tell so much about a person by how they danced. Mr WIAA and I were always the dancers in our social group and because of that we always gravitated towards each other, being “soul” mates of sorts. It seems that nowadays, where relationships invariably start life on Tinder or via some other virtual medium, attraction is down to looks alone and with a quick “swipe” you are out of the picture for good. Such pressure on everyone to look a certain way, and sometimes all very false and unreal. If I could bottle it I would, but when you really immerse yourself in the music on the dance floor, you are showing your true colours – Nothing false or unreal there. (Fervent non-dancers however, will probably choose to disagree?)

Getting back to Brit funk, it seems that many 1980s pop groups such as Haircut 100, Wham! and notably Spandau Ballet tapped into the style and sound to help launch their careers. This scene reduced racial boundaries in the clubs and raised the profile of black and white musicians working together – All down to a converted Country Club on Canvey Island!

Until next time enjoy the sunshine, but if it all gets a bit too much, you could always drop out and freeze.

Southern Freeez Lyrics
(Song by Andy Stennett, John Rocca, Peter Maas)

Love saw it in your eyes
Sensed it in your smile
Boy I like your style
Oh yeah

When I saw you on the floor doing the southern freeez
Then I knew you were the one the only one for me

Love feel it in your touch
In the way you move
I like it very much yes I do

Time time is moving on
Guess it’s getting late
Soon you’ll take me home

People everywhere doing the southern freeez
Laughing all the time this is the life for me

Heartbeat whisper in my ears
Now it won’t be long no
Just you and me my dear yeah
Sweet darling making love so slow
Your so beautiful yes you are
You got me all a glow

When I saw you on the floor doing the southern freeez
Then I knew you were the one, the only one for me