IDMC: The 120-strong British gospel choir

Wednesday 1st June 1994

Albums by British gospel choirs are a rarity. But now the 120-strong IDMC have emerged with a blistering new release. Andy Charalambous reports.


Out from within the ranks of the New Testament Church Of God (NTCG) come the 120-strong IDMC (Inter District Mass Choir) with a significant new album released on the Akef record label and produced by Bradley Young entitled 'Prove Me'. In terms of what's happening throughout the black gospel scene here in the UK, this album is proving to be a remarkable feat - gently breaking the mould of just sitting back and waiting for things to happen. More importantly, it is the first album to be released by a British gospel choir since 'Hush And Listen' was recorded by LCGC a couple of years ago.

Even more significant however, is the man behind it: John Fisher, whose idea it was to blend the four NTCG district choirs from Brixton, Deptford, Leigh and West Croydon into one major outfit and record an album in front of a live audience and then promote the finished product as a marketable unit throughout the UK. In a reviewing nutshell, the album is good, and by our standards here in the UK, it will certainly go a long way in putting smiles on the faces of those who enjoy a plethora of finely tuned voices ministering in song. Production is adequate rather than outstanding for this type of recording, although I personally feel that one should not be prepared to assess a project such as this purely on its technical merits, when the real assessment should come by way that it has come from nothing when there is nothing out there to speak of. The fact that the album is out there in the first place is an achievement of magnitude in itself.

The album also casts an eye over the sad but strangely optimistic fact throughout British gospel music today - that if you want to be heard throughout peoples' homes and automobiles, then you have to go out there and do it yourself, a point heavily reinforced by the industrious John Fisher.

"It has come to my realisation that if we want to make anything or want our industry to happen, then we have to make it happen for ourselves. That's why I initiated the move to set up the record label and company so I could harness a lot of the talent in England at the moment - coming out from the choirs, groups, soloists, musicians, songwriters who do not stand a real chance in getting the elusive record deal from record companies.

"I also wanted to give everybody a chance who felt they were good enough to get their ministry - whether it be singing, songwriting, producing, being a musician - an opportunity to record."

'Prove Me' is not the only British gospel DIY offering making its way out onto the market place. The Wades also have an album out very soon which is being produced on a similar basis to go it alone once the final product is out on the streets. The good thing about this air of independence is that at long last, a credible British gospel industry is now slowly taking shape. This alone is a much sought after dream being realised by many of today's people associated with the black gospel scene up and down the British Isles.

Right now, it's this new album by the IDMC that is quietly making new friends amongst gospel DJs and buyers alike scattered around the UK. Like most choirs that decide to hit the commercial trail, the IDMC have been thrusted forward from out of their comfortable church surroundings after having ministered largely to their own flock via national conventions and other such church events hosted by the NTCG. Since last summer, the choir has slowly been developing its strategy to go out and minister rather than merely to entertain and boasts some notable lead singers to reinforce their message. There are the likes of Peter Francis ex LCGC and Shirley Ashley who previously sang with The Angelical Voice Choir and The Spirit Of Watts. Also recruited are Ian Pitter, formerly of the all male group Source Of Light, and Loraine Howe, who also has sung with The Angelical Voice Choir.

In general though, most black choirs are very coy about using the term 'entertain' when performing and the IDMC is no exception, as the choir's director Andrew Simpson points out. "We're not there to entertain, but to minister. If when we sing we don't touch anyone, then it's all in vain. We might as well not be there at all." Andrew is no different to a lot of other directors fronting a large outfit, indeed he possesses a humble and down to earth attitude that belies the authority that goes with his task and thinks nothing of style or perception when it comes to categorising his role as the choir's director or on the IDMC as a whole as he also explained.

"I see my role as an encourager who is always there, reminding them of their purpose. There are others who could conduct the praise and worship within the choir and lead times of prayer, but I see my role mainly as the director and as being part of the team and not really standing out as an individual. Our style hasn't been modelled on anything other than focusing entirely on God when ministering. Many of our singers are not professionally trained so whatever talent God has blessed us with, we want to give back to Him."

Andrew's remarks were typical of a man who probably finds that any attention focused on him would be an uncomfortable burden rather than a chance to revel in the limelight. Yet his attitude purveys a deep respect for his work coupled with an obvious love for the choir's ministry as a whole - which in these days of limited recognition is rare even by a choir director's standard.

Without doubt, the IDMC look to have a very bright future, their album gives them plenty of credibility for stepping out into a tricky market where few choirs have succeeded in the past. Whether or not they have the perseverance to weather the storm of change that surrounds most choirs remains to be seen, although somehow I think they will probably do very well indeed - especially if they live up to the title of their first album which in case you've forgotten, happens to be 'Prove Me'.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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