Simon Wallace & UK's Chosen: The British gospel group

Wednesday 1st December 1999

British gospel is currently the ad man's fave. Leading the way is SIMON WALLACE & UK's CHOSEN. George Luke reports.

Simon Wallace
Simon Wallace

David Grant, Lloyd Wade and friends accost some chocolate-eating passenger on a bus and tell him he's "gonna feel it." Luton ex-choirboy Junior Simpson goes all Pentecostal on us for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter. Even Sky TV advises us to "watch religiously". Adland's love affair with religious iconography has grown to include gospel music - and one group to benefit from the new craze is Simon Wallace's choir, UK's Chosen. In case you're wondering who they are, they were the ones asking the Lord to buy them a Mercedes Benz - but they'd rather be remembered for their recently released debut CD, 'My Steps Are Ordered'.

Throughout the '80s and into the '90s, Essex-born Simon Wallace was one of the seminal figures of British gospel. His gospel funk band Clarity were pioneers in making streetwise Christian music. Then his choir the Angelical Voice Choir (covered back in CR6), though criminally ignored by the CCM companies, were, recognised by the black majority church as one of the, if not THE, most anointed UK choir of the era. Simon appeared on Blue Peter, the Rock Gospel Show and even performed before the Queen and Prince Philip. Gospel music has been in Simon's blood. "My earliest recollection of gospel music was of going to church," he says. "My brother was the organist and I played piano and sax from an early age. I also taught choirs. Gospel music is really a lifestyle. What we believe is what we preach, and the greatest message you can preach is the message of your life. I try to live the best I can."

Simon's gospel pedigree came in handy when he decided to form UK's Chosen. "There was a great deal of interest," he says. "People started telling other people I wanted to form a choir, and I had people ringing me up. I set a date, told people to come, and I auditioned everybody. Currently, we have 33 choristers. I'm a member of COGIC myself, but UK's Chosen come from all different churches. I wouldn't say there's a lot of conflict theologically, with different church members' doctrines; I try to stay away from traditions - 'you can't wear this, you can wear this, you can't do this or that.' I'm not interested in traditions; a lot of them come from people's backgrounds and the way they were brought up. Provided everyone's living a clean life and aren't doing anything that could be detrimental to the Gospel, everything's fine. Obviously, we do have problems, and when they arise I try to sort them out straight away. When managing a large group with so many different personalities, you have to be wise. Treat them as individuals and let them know what you expect of them. Treat them as individuals and with respect -1 find that works."

Simon And Co got asked to do the Merc ad after someone from the ad agency went to one of their choir rehearsals. "They came, heard the choir sing and presented us with a script of what the advert would be about, and their ideas," recalls Simon. "We were able to put some ideas forward, too. What they wanted was a 'street party' atmosphere. It was fun; they got quite a few ads out of the shoot we did that day." And his thoughts on the product they were selling? "If God wants to bless me with a Merc, I'm going to take it! And so would a lot of other people, I'm sure. Why should Christians be less well-off than people of the world?"

For a self-produced, self-financed effort, 'My Steps Are Chosen' has achieved quite a lot: it's been Record Of The Week on Premier Radio and had a great deal of media coverage. "I know God's opening doors," says Simon. "It's just a matter of time until the album's released elsewhere."

But it's been a rough ride getting to where it is - and a huge learning experience. "I really can't see any advantages in self-production and distribution, except that you're forced to learn how the business side of the industry works. You have to learn about distribution. You have to learn about publishing. You have to learn about all those things you normally stay away from. Normally, you just want to be an artist and be creative, but you're forced to learn about the business side of things. It's hard; if one can get onto a reputable label, it's easier. They'd obviously be able to get the CD into places you wouldn't.

Nothing is going to deter Simon from his mission, and he's busy planning for the year ahead. "We'll be doing another CD next year, and hopefully we'll go on tour. My style of gospel music is slightly different: I wouldn't say I was just traditional, because a lot of the stuff I write has a commercial flavour to it. I do feel you have to try and reach everybody. That's why 'My Steps Are Ordered' had both up tempo and traditional stuff on it. The next album will reflect that also." CR

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.
About George Luke
George Luke is a London-based journo who's been writing for Cross Rhythms since CR16 (when we called him George Duke).


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