In 1982, a Pastor in a West London church quickly put the call out to his young, impressionable and vulnerable members. An urgent meeting was called for precisely 7 pm that evening, prompt. Everyone was to be there on time and poor punctuality would not be tolerated.
The minister started by reading a passage of scripture (sermonette) and judging by the expression on the faces of the mothers (some slowly shaking bowed heads from side to side) someone will very soon be escorted to the equivalent of a spiritualised electric chair. The tone of the read softened slightly towards the end, a bit like the reading of a person’s last rites as they lay dying, helpless. If it was anything like my parent’s code of conduct – the calm before the storm.
For a brief moment in time, it seemed that the main man on the rostrum was the most powerful man on the face of the earth. His briefcase was close by, perhaps containing evidence or God forbid, the launch codes that would fast-track billions of humans into a nuclear dust bowl era. I quickly composed myself and snapped out of this silly imagination. Back to reality.
Turns out, there was a small group of men out there that were ‘influencing and contaminating the minds of the young congregation’. I must emphasise that they were not terrorists, drug dealers, political agitators or part of a paramilitary religious cult. These three men were much more dangerous and any association would carry severe penalties from this church.
We were warned not to join an emerging cross-denominational Gospel Choir that was being put together by a group of what would appear to be renegade youths. Why? Because such an unholy illegal venture would lead us astray and was not the will of God.
One of the three Gospel choir ‘Che Guevara’ type revolutionaries was a man called Bazil Meade, and his organisation was top the pastors banned list. That organisation was the London Community Gospel Choir.
I immediately saw something different here. A brilliant idea that was long overdue, plus three men sharing the same positive vision. There was absolutely nothing wrong with this new and revolutionary concept.
At the time, there was no way I could realise that the birth of this choir would represent a seismic shift and be of huge significance in the history of Gospel music in Britain. This choir formation represented a watershed, and the meeting I attended represented the last desperate line of defence from a tired and insecure old guard.
In the immediate future, I didn’t audition for the banned choir, but neither did I return to that church again.
What I experienced that evening from my pastor and his team was the outpouring of extreme fear, control tactics and to some extent intimidation.
The London Community Gospel Choir has survived the test of time and Bazil Meade, ‘the revolutionary’ (The Godfather of British Gospel) was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list in 2018.