The short title above tells just one story about last night’s Barbican concert (*). Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir, one of the very happiest and best (and yet still relatively little known) sounds in London’s musical life made it onto the big stage at a full Barbican Hall last night. And triumphed.
For the sake of completeness, a longer title to describe the HUGE show last night with over 250 singers, of which SSGC were just a part might be “Gospel Explosion with the London Symphony Orchestra, Associate Artist André J Thomas, featuring London Symphony Chorus, LSO Community Voices, Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir and soloists.”
And yet what stays in my ears, and what I want to concentrate on, is the sound of this wonderful choir, truly sounding better than ever under the direction of Clarence Hunte and rising with ease to touch every heart in the Barbican. This was such a big moment for SSGC, that is what I want to focus on. Their mini-set of four numbers received a standing ovation. The vocal quality, the range of timbre and pacing, the burning conviction and total joy and fabulous clarity with which they sing are all breathtaking.
The four-number mini-set consisted of In His Presence’s majestic “Ride On King Jesus”, We The Kingdom’s rhythmically insistent “Holy Water” (with fine soloists Alexis Constantinouand Hannah Oguntade) , then a wonderfully dreamily hushed yet beautifully controlled “Nunc Dimittis” by Peter Yarde Martin, and an incredibly affirming and joyous “We Shall Overcome”
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SSGC have been performing for years. I remember them doing Sunday lunchtimes at the 606 Club as an accompaniment for the sausages and mash, or at St Stephen’s Walbrook, where they would serenade the Henry Moore altar and make it feel a lot more welcome than objectors did in the 1980’s when they took the church’s Rector to various obscure church courts (LINK).
And more recently I have heard them at their monthly gig on the first Sunday of every month (except Jan and Feb) in the courtyard St James’s Piccadilly. As they remind me: “it’s not a church service: it’s an outdoor mini-festival, themed each month by one of life’s important values, and exploring that theme through the prism of gospel/soul music and spoken word.” A fair proportion of the audience happen to chance upon it and wander in while doing something else: I have never been to another gig where about a quarter of the audience comes equipped a Hatchards or Waterstones carrier bag.
They also do Evensongs and concerts at St Martins in the Fields. The next ones are concerts, on 20 Dec and 6 Jan. Last year they did Cadogan Hall, so Barbican, with more than double the capacity is another step up. Congratulations SSGC!
(*) NOTE: This review (manifestly and unashamedly) focuses on just a section of the Barbican concert. Readers are VERY welcome add thoughts on the rest of the concert in the comments.