Steve Alexander Smith - British Black Gospel: The Foundations Of This Vibrant UK Sound British Product

British Black Gospel: The Foundations Of This Vibrant UK Sound by Steve Alexander Smith

Cross Rhythms Rating: 7/10
Paperback Book
Tags: Paperback, Book, Gospel
Normal Dispatch Time: 1-5 days
History of the British gospel scene taking in genres like black choirs, R&B gospel, reggae and hip-hop.

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Reviewed by Tony Cummings

Considering how few books have been published about American gospel music it is heartening that Lion Hudson have published this history of the UK variants. Certainly the publisher has chosen the right format too, with plenty of emphasis given to photos - including some extremely rare ones - with London-based Smith's contributing short chapters and/or extended captions to bring together a great deal of information, much of it previously unpublished. So in this 192 page volume we travel quickly through the American origins, Thomas Rutling (the one-time member of the legendary Fisk Jubilee Singers who settled in Britain) and the Caribbean migration (a rather confused and incomplete chapter which takes in early JA-based originators like Otis Wright and Jackie Edwards - but not The Grace Thrillers) and then some long forgotten British-based acts like The Harmonisers, Joyful Sound and The Gospel Flames (but, similarly, not Rupie Edwards). The book then travels onto The British Gospel Highway which gives surprisingly extensive coverage of behind-the-scenes figures like Helmut Kaufmann (ICC), Juliet Fletcher, Michael Martin (the Paradise manager who Smith rather preposterously suggests was "one of the most underrated figures in British Gospel music"), Ken Johnson, Ralph Weekes and Viv Broughton. That is followed by easily the best chapter, British Gospel Pioneers, which offers short essays on The Singing Stewarts, R L Edwards, The Soul Seekers, The Persuaders, The Heavenly Hopes/Kainos (the latter Greenbelt favourites), The Doyley Brothers, Re:Mission, Maxine & The Majestics, Echoes Of Joy, Tyndale Thomas/The Challenges, Bazil Meade/LCGC, Bishop John Frances/Inspirational Choir, Simon Wallace, Noel Robinson, Lavine Hudson, Bryon Powell, Lawrence Johnson/Nu Colours, Mark Beswick and Karen Gibson. Next, there's a chapter, They Play The Devil's Music, which tries to group together acts that were outside the "norm" for gospel, The Overcomers, Paradise (who get twice as many pages as LCGC - surely an imbalance here), Ben Okafor, Jahaziel and, most surprising of all, Out Of Darkness (the multi-racial rock band who were completely ignored by the black church and who would have been better included in a much needed British CCM history). The book then peters out with a short British Black Gospel Music In The New Millennium which briefly touches on a heap of new acts. As someone who has been writing about the British gospel since 1980 (my wife and I are even credited in the book's Acknowledgements) I think Steve should be congratulated for the great deal of original research he has done in writing British Black Gospel and his pieces on obscure but important figures like Aldin Young and The Harmonisers are groundbreaking. What the book lacks is any kind of cultural context (after all British gospel has a close relationship with the British CCM scene particularly since the development of modern worship music) while Steve doesn't give nearly enough space to the development of UK gospel hip-hop. But as a primer to a neglected field of creative and spiritual endeavour, this is a much needed book.

Style: Gospel
Cross Rhythms Product Code: 81910
Product Format: Book
ISBN: 9781854248961
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 224
Publisher: Monarch Books
Content Type: General book
Cat. Code: 9781854248961
Items: 2
Extras: CD
Release Date: 2009

History of the British gospel scene taking in genres like black choirs, R&B gospel, reggae and hip-hop.

Gospel music in Britain today is a rapidly emerging genre and its effect and influence on other areas of the record industry cannot be underestimated. The style of gospel is wide and apart form the traditional hymn based choir arrangements there is a whole range of subgenres incorporating Soul, Jazz, Funk, Reggae, R n B, Calypso, classical music, hip hop and praise and worship which form part of this colourful and inspirational market.

Steve Smith traces the roots of modern black gospel from 19th Century Black pioneers such as Thomas Rutling and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who performed for Queen Victoria, to the contemporary sound of the London Community Gospel Choir. He tells his story with a wealth of anecdotes and photos. The book is accompanied by an audio CD of the spectrum of British black gospel.

Posted by Steve in London at 21:38 on Sep 8 2009

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