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Freda Payne discusses her latest LP release, REACHING OUT, and her new contract with Holland-Dozier Holland and Invictus Records.

UNTIL relatively recently, there was a good deal of speculation as to whether Invictus Records would retain their leading beauty, Freda Payne. But it was all settled amicably and finally the long awaited new album has been released. What decided Freda into accepting a new three year contract with the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland team?

"Well, let's say that it was decided on a mutual compromise for the betterment of all concerned," was Freda's well-thought-out reply. But, beneath that touch of officialdom, she is vastly more pleased with the "Reaching Out" album than anything else she has ever recorded. Unfortunately, my first admission to her was that I — personally, I stressed! — far preferred the "Contact" album, which is still one of the most-played LP's in my personal collection. "Oh, really," she retorted, semi-icily and semi-taken aback, I imagine. But she quickly continued: "Well, I like it much better, I must admit," and she was quickly back in her usual easy-going manner.

"It shows me as being more versatile than the "Contact" album, don't you think? And it's better for a more varied audience. Some of the songs in the new album I like very much whereas on "Contact", I really only liked a few. I always felt that "Contact" was over-produced. But I would have to say that "Reaching Out" still isn't perfection for me. You see, I couldn't have continued in the mould I was getting in because it wasn't honestly me. At the beginning, when I first joined Invictus, it was all new to me; I had been singing lounges and the 'pop' aspect of it all was like a new experience. But now that early enthusiasm has been killed and I felt that I was cheating myself and the audiences I played to by not giving the fullest exposure of what I am capable of as an artist.

"Sure, I still do "Band Of Gold" and "Bring The Boys Home" on every show, I could never go anywhere without them now. But I am now getting comments from everywhere that I play, from both white and black audiences alike, that they didn't realise just how versatile I was. You see, I'm not like a Sarah Vaughan, shall we say, who — no matter what song she may sing — she always is Sarah Vaughan and that's what her fans want. I would like to be able to give my audience all kinds of music at one time."

Vocally, perhaps, I'll agree that Miss Payne is on almost top form on "Reaching Out" and this is a point that she wants to stress. "Though I never play my own albums at home for my pleasure, I have been playing the new album and I feel I am singing better on this album than on "Contact"," she underlines, adding: "But I'll agree that a lot more love was put into "Contact". It's just that in every way, Reaching Out" is a more honest example of me."

To get into a happier — and more agreeable — subject, I threw in the fact that "Band Of Gold" was making its second lofty entrance into the British pop charts." Really,'' she exploded, obviously surprised and not really aware of the British obsession with buying old records, "that really is great. As I said, I do that song every single time I go on stage."

Of course, it's only a relatively short time since Freda was in Britain and she does tend to look upon London as something of a second home. But the only problem with the tour was that too few people really knew about it and it was publicised very poorly. "The British side of the tour was successful, though," she pointed out, "because I enjoy doing cabaret and because I'm not really just a record artist who has to go out and promote every record as it's released. But doing those Air Force and Army bases in Germany was hard work. You know, in and out of cars, in and out of the cold. But it was something I felt I wanted to do on humanitarian grounds and I certainly don't regret it at all."

Prior to that, Freda made her acting debut when she took one of the starring roles in the movie, "Book Of Numbers". Whilst the film itself didn't exactly set the world on fire, the critics generally acclaimed Freda's part in the film. "The film did alright, I guess," she half-heartedly confessed, "but I really wasn't that happy with it. Now, I look upon it as just something I have done. It was a chance for exposure in a different field and it was an opportunity for me to work with a completely different set of people. I would like to continue in films and I have been reading scripts ever since. Unitl now, nothing has really come along and fired my imagination but when it does, I would certainly like to build my career in films.''

Meanwhile, back to that new album, "Reaching Out". I asked Freda what she would do if the album wasn't the success it probably will become. "I honestly don't know where I would go from there," she mused, "but I don't think I could very easily slide back into that old style. You see, I feel very different from the way I did three of four years ago. I may feel better about it if the material was there or if Holland-Dozier-Holland could come up with songs like those old ones. But I really wouldn't want to go back exclusively."

So, to equalise my previous question, I enquired as to whether Freda would get even further away from "Band Of Gold" and "Bring The Boys Home" if the new LP became a giant. "No, not further away," she emphasised, "but I would have to play it by ear and judge the situation when it occured."

For me, one of the biggest problems is that I don't see a hit track on the album. With the notable exception of "Mother Misery's Favourite Child", the best produced track on the album and one of the few Holland-Dozier-Holland songs on display. "Well, that's the new single," she confirmed, "but then I like "Reaching Out", the title track, as a straight ballad. It's a very simple song but I really enjoy listening to it still. And when the album is playing, I look forward to that one track more than any other. And then I feel proud of it. And I like "Mood For Love", I think it's a catchy number."

So, on reflection, and having listened more closely again to the album, "Reaching Out", something that Freda said early on during our conversation sank in. She said how a great deal of love had been put into the recording of the superlative "Contact" album and maybe that's just what is missing from "Reaching Out" — the spark of real interest that is always going to be stronger and more imaginative than the mere fact that a job has to be done. Listening to some of the musical arrangements — and on this point Freda does concede — they are so obvious, so dull although artistically correct The love Spark is missing. And, with Lamont Dozier now enhoused at ABC, one wonders whether a writing team of Holland-Holland can ever recapture those halcyon days of Holland-Dozier-Holland.

I hope so — for the sake of Holland and Holland, for the sake of Freda Payne, the Chairmen of the Board, the Honey Cone and the other acts who owe almost all of their populairty — at least, their initial recognition without which their popularity could never have grown — to the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland music machine.

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