Glasgow Findlay Memorial Church, Saturday 20th February 2010 concert review by Tom Lennie

Ernie Haase & Signature Sound
Ernie Haase & Signature Sound

If it wasn't for Bill Gaither, Southern gospel vocal quartet Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, by their own confession, would be like hundreds of other gospel harmonizers languishing in the obscurity of Southern States' local church concerts. Instead, they are chart-topping international Southern gospel ambassadors. Before flying in to Glasgow they'd just completed concerts in the Faroe Islands, Netherlands, Sweden and Norway. Just days prior to embarking on this tour, Haase and team were in Los Angeles, their 'Dream On' album being up for a Grammy for Best Southern, Country Or Bluegrass Gospel Album Of The Year award. They didn't win, but it's only a matter of time.

Ernie Haase & Signature Sound have been going since 2002; prior to that for 10 years Ernie sang tenor with Southern gospel legends The Cathedrals. As part of the recent tour, the foursome had a date in each of London, Glasgow and Belfast (the latter venue was sold out six weeks in advance). The Glasgow concert took place in the beautiful 900-seater Findlay Memorial Church, which was pretty near full. Oddly, a large chunk of the audience comprised folk aged 50-plus (odd, because the Belfast audience was apparently noticeably younger, while in the Netherlands, most folk were under 35). From the very start to the very close of the two-hour set, Ernie and band were received with an impressively warm welcome. There were several standing ovations, and loads of cheering/hand-waving. Not at all surprising, for as many of us know, Bill Gaither has long set a standard of vocal excellence for any singer associated with him, and the quality of this quartet's output - often in four-part harmony - was outstanding. They had rehearsed their set to virtual perfection (though there was one minor slip), and they also made for constant visual entertainment - good looks and smart dress, ongoing stage moves and lots of antics to keep us all amused. And amused we were; for while they take their music and their message very seriously, they're not averse to goofing around! For British tastes their performance sometimes came over as a tad over-slick, while the perpetual smiles, looking into each other eyes when singing, and at times even petting each other clearly caused some discomfort in some parts of the audience. Yet, an obvious sincerity in their Christian beliefs was also apparent with tour promoter Trevor King admitting to me that in 30 years in the business, he had rarely if ever worked alongside such a genuine bunch of guys.

The group's sound is clearly the new, younger face of Southern gospel with snazzy contemporary material rather than the traditional country-derived songs of old. Indeed many old timers would recognise less than half the songs in the Signature Sound set as falling within the SG category. Instead, what we got were large doses of all round entertainment with a swathe of energetic, soul-tinged pop interspersed with flurries of jazz, a splash of doo-wop, several country-type ballads, a couple of slushy Christmas songs (totally out of place, I thought, not just in February, but anytime!), and a few pieces from their new project, 'Influenced', which saw them attempt 1940s-50s gospel radio tunes with a deliberate retro sound (old-fashioned radio-mics and suits to boot). This remarkable melee of styles and sounds kept the audience loving every minute. As to the actual songs performed, Ernie and his friends covered selections from the vast range of their repertoire including "Reason Enough" (the opener), "My Desire" (a solo by new-boy, Devin McGlammery, basically serving as his induction to the group), "My Heart Is A Chapel", "If You Know The Lord", and long-time Gaither favourites such as "Then Came The Morning", "Holy Highway" and "Oh, What A Saviour".

Albums and DVDs sold during the interval in their hundreds, with seemingly the entire throng happy to queue for autographs and photos. The February tour proved so popular that plans are already afoot to bring the team back to the UK before the year is out. And judging by the show of hands and the roar that went up when David Phelps was mentioned, his proposed summer 2010 UK concerts are going to be sell-outs. Music historians have still to adequately explain how the Homecoming Friends phenomenon has resulted in Southern gospel (in the Gaithers' newly minted and wildly eclectic version) moving far beyond America's Bible Belt to become a popular music form for the world's church goers. But, judging from this high-quality performance, Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, and the other slick young updaters of the SG tradition, make for a truly fine evening's family entertainment. CR

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