Whilst delivering a recent British Gospel history presentation at the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, I threw out a question to the community-based audience and did not for one second realise that the answer would come back to hit me like an Aussie Boomerang. The answer, by the way, inspired the thought process behind this feature and rather bizarre, or some would say ludicrous title.
Can anyone name a current British Gospel artist?
The person who answered my question, bright-eyed and hand held high with a rich tone of pure enthusiasm, appeared to be surprised at my rather shocked, yet intrigued expression. That individual, like so many along the course of my book tour (British Black Gospel: The Foundations of this vibrant UK sound), attended the lecture out of pure and innocent curiosity for a style of music that they had recently grown to admire.
I answered the question and pointed out that the answer I expected was more along the lines of Noel Robinson, Guvna B, Lurine Cato, Triple O, Sandra Godley, Chris da Ambassador, Birmingham girl-group Chos3n and London Community Gospel Choir. But in the midst of offering an answer, I was challenged by the perception of someone, who in their mind-set had already decided what British Gospel was.
I was not about to arrogantly neutralise or preach about what Gospel should be, in fact, the very essence of my book explores the many facets, struggles and controversial perceptions of Gospel music in Britain. To bend this visitor to my way of thinking would go against the very deep psychological motive behind why I put pen to paper in the first place.
Instead, that viewpoint of UK Gospel immediately triggered my thought process into why the Stormzy ‘Gospel’ song rose high in the mainstream charts, but yet our domestic Gospel music industry reach and output in Britain doesn’t travel beyond its own niche atmosphere.
I am walking into Ryan Bruce territory when I begin to list the obvious, such as Stormzy has a much higher music Industry profile with resources to back him up. Another Brucy bonus would no doubt be the songwriting skills and hit-making science, which again seems to be a vacant post amongst UK Gospel high profile artists and production teams.
Rewind the history books and equally intriguing that Rock and Roll Legend Elvis Presley’s first and perhaps only Grammy whilst alive, was a Gospel album (How Great Thou Art). The consensus no-brainer would be that Stormzy, the man of the moment could pull off any genre had he chosen to do so. Perhaps Frank Sinatra and Earth Wind and Fire covers will follow.
High industry profile aside, was there something else about the Stormzy Gospel track that created an immediate impact with the public?……I think there is.
‘Blinded by Your Grace‘ is authentic and the lyrics are pure urban Gospel. He is simply testifying as to the fact that if it wasn’t for the Grace and Mercy of the Almighty, he probably wouldn’t be alive. Yes, a Gospel choir adds to the ingredients and ambience and he may have stolen a trick from R Kelly’s ‘I Believe I Can Fly’, but it is simply a down to earth track from a black guy from the big city estates.
I haven’t looked yet, but I expect to find this track on the Premier Radio and UCB playlist, or will it get the Kanye West Jesus Walks treatment (long story!).
On a spiritual and scriptural level, the bible states that if God’s people refuse to praise him, then the very stones will cry out. I am not for one minute assuming the moral high ground and referring to the biggest Grime artist to emerge out of Britain as a lifeless stone. I cite the holy Bible to express the strange irony that Stormzy has picked up on where Gospel artists in the UK have failed. Perhaps UK Gospel could learn something from his approach and Modus Operandi.
In conclusion, it seems that outside the British Gospel community, Joe public has created their own definition of what a Gospel artist is. It’s a wake up call for all those who create, represent and perform Gospel in the UK and perhaps, just perhaps, I should consider including Stormzy in the next edition of my book, British Black Gospel.
This feature was inspired by a presentation at the Black Cultural Archives on December 14th 2017 (Uncovering the roots of British Black Gospel). Performing a Gospel rendition on the day was the special guest, the inimitable and talented British Soul artist, Aretha Fontaine.