British Gospel music in the high street; time for a shelf

I reeled off prominent names within the British Gospel music arena as I stood in front of the payments desk at a huge music store in central London. The sales assistant expressed a perplexed look and shook his head slowly as he confirmed on his PC database that there were no matches. ‘

For a second I was tempted to ask if he stocked the book British Black Gospel, but that would have been too much like JR Hartley, remember the TV advert?

He was quite intrigued at my list as I sensed the geeky side of him, like the determined librarian, didn’t want to be beaten. His personal quest for knowledge compelled him to turn the tables and ask me who they were. I explained that the dozen or so names that I so efficiently came up with were pioneers or popular artists within the British Gospel environment. I could sense the genuine interest in his response as he explained that he really loved Gospel, particularly those choirs that appeared on Britain’s Got Talent.

I walked away from the store and felt rather disappointed and interrogated myself with the same questions in different formats. Why no British Gospel music section?

Over 70 years since the early establishment of Black inspired Gospel music in Britain and still no shelf space in a major UK music store? Is Gospel music in Britain irrelevant, ignored or powerless? Perhaps it belongs to a small niche or cult-like gathering that prefers to keep the music contained, conserved and free from the contamination of pop-laced secular musical poison?

The title of this inspired feature was lifted straight out of the recent Katy Perry v Flame plagiarism case. On this occasion, the underdog Christian rapper won, but in his defence, his attorney made a point that resonated with me and made me wonder if he represented the wider thinking;

“They are trying to place my client in the gospel Music alley that nobody visits”.

This statement could be interpreted in a number of ways, but in a courtroom where attorneys words may determine win or lose, life or death, was it a desperate attempt to win over the jury? Whatever it was, transform back to my music store visit in high street London and you would be forgiven for thinking it’s a true statement or sentiment.

Brand British Gospel needs to find a way into the mainstream stores. Talent and potential are words that belong in a dictionary. Gospel music doesn’t deserve to be owned or highjacked by the chosen few, the converted, but it should be heard and appreciated by the mainstream masses and accessible. Accessibility means organising and unifying the different strands or streams that make up the music business. Business means creating profit or a commercial product that is in public demand.

In order for the brand to grow and diversify, funds post-profit should be reinvested back into the venture. It also requires the raising of money and attracting sponsors from all walks of life in order to fuel growth and development.

In the future, I believe that Gospel music in Britain will only find its way by osmosis if operated by business-minded individuals with souls and minds umbilically linked to the spiritual reason why we sing. Those who can fully understand what true ministry actually entails. Instead of confusing the latter word as a euphemism for stagnation and hyper spirituality.

A good place to start would be a recent cutting edge book by Earle Earlybird Smith entitled Practical Pentecostal Praise & Worship.: How to turn the ‘Art’ of Worship into the ‘Heart’ of Worship.

Perhaps one day we will all walk into a City high street music store and be pointed to the British Gospel section after enquiring about Noel Robinson, Triple O, Sandra Godley or Lurine Cato material.

Until that day comes, work towards Blessertainment.