|Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir|
“As a gospel town,” writes Miko Giedroyc, “London may not equal Detroit, Atlanta or Los Angeles, but I can testify from personal experience that it’s ahead of New York City.” Here Miko writes about the strength in depth of our gospel scene, and previews “The Resurrection”, a newly written gospel oratorio, presented by the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir, featuring Tracey Campbell, Yolanda Antonio, Kathy McLeish, Sophie Harriot, Hermione Fawcett Thomas, Richard Butt and Lawrence Rowe, at the Jazz Café Camden, on Easter Monday April 6th, 7.30pm:
In Britain, jazz music still fails to get the profile it deserves. Over thirty years ago, Ian Carr named it “Music Outside”, and in spite of substantial progress since then, notably within higher education, jazz is still more outside than inside today. But compared to Britain’s gospel music, jazz is as mainstream as The Great British Bake-Off.
British gospel is of astonishing quantity and quality…and invisibility. A myriad of generally small Pentecostal churches in and around the big cities of Britain which have large West Indian and African communities generate a torrent of singing and playing talent. For every single Catholic or Anglican church plodding its way through the hymnbook on Sundays, there are several Pentecostal churches in which home-grown contemporary gospel music of high quality is the expected norm. Exceptional talent will often, but not always, spend time in larger institutions (the bigger churches and independent choirs) but these have low visibility outside Pentecostal Christian circles relative to the quality of their music. One or two artists (eg Mica Paris) have achieved wide recognition, but otherwise it is usually as backing vocalists and instrumentalists with big acts that British gospel musicians and singers have direct contact with the wider public.
And yet, as a gospel town, London may not equal Detroit, Atlanta or Los Angeles, but I can testify from personal experience that it’s ahead of New York City.
Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir (SSGC) exists to bring the Spirit-filled music of these amazing singers and players into mainstream Christian worship, working every month at Farm Street RC Church in Mayfair and St James’s Anglican Church Piccadilly. Its founding director was Tracey Campbell, one of Britain’s top gospel artists, and a great deal of Britain’s gospel talent has worked with SSGC and nurtured it. Some jazz artists too: for example, Dave Okumu, who wrote a beautiful but also functional congregational mass setting for SSGC in 2007.
Taking as blueprint the Passions of JS Bach, The Resurrection is a newly written gospel oratorio, a setting of John 20/21 and the Emmaus narrative from Luke 24 for choir, band, narrator (Evangelist) and soloists playing the key roles (Christ, Peter, John, Mary of Magdala, Thomas and the two Emmaus disciples), with original music in combination with well-known gospel anthems. The guest soloists are all among Britain’s finest gospel singers, and Tracey in particular is singing the part of Christ. The script has been written by one of SSGC’s altos, Ellen Havard, Artist in Residence at the Oxford Playhouse, the original music by choir members and directors (including a song by Tracey). The piece is written to be intelligible to, and enjoyed by, everyone, not just Christians.
Excerpts from it will be performed in Easter Glory on BBC Radio 2 on Easter Sunday at 8pm, and on Sunday Worship with The Rev Lucy Winkett, Rector of St James’s Piccadilly, on Radio 4 the following Sunday (the pre-record for which happens in the church at 9am on Saturday April 11th, to which all are welcome).
Our guest soloists – Tracey, Yolanda Antonio, Kathy Mcleish, Sophie Harriot, Hermione Fawcett Thomas, Richard Butt and Lawrence Rowe – have a list of credits and plaudits too long to cite!