Artists from all over Europe play at Dutch festival.
Celebrating a decade of event organization, Christian Artists brought 18 (count 'em!) international acts to the heart of Rotterdam for a five-hour music spectacular. With such an ambitious line-up the 1500 plus fans who gathered weren't going to be treated to too many rock bands (they would simply take too long to set up) and the maximum of a three-song set is hardly conducive to audience involvement. But considering these limitations this low-key Gala conclusively proved two things, one, the international quality of gospel performers away from the US of A (only George Hamilton IV represented the States), and two, how easily a sympathetic audience could switch from pop to symphonic playing to jazz to mime and back to pop without a hint of culture shock.
After Disciple - an offshoot of Holland's Continental Singers had offered a middle-of-the-road praise opener, and Jean-Pierre Rudolph had showed that his fiddle could still produce rollocking reels without Rodney Cordner aiding and abetting, Claude and Julia Pyan sang French gospel songs, impeccably to backing tapes though I found them a little steeped in hand wringing melodrama. Then came the first highlight, Spain's Adolfo Rivero, who brought a twin-necked guitar onto stage from which sped swirling cascades of ethereal beauty. His playing, at times with an almost sitar-like quality, ebbed around the hall and drew rapt applause at the close. Adolfo was followed by the most underrated singer/songwriter in Britain. Caroline Bonnet sang as beautifully as ever, a haunting ballad about breaking through the clouds of loneliness was exceptional ("Through the tears and through the pain, you're my sunshine after the rain.") But performing as a solo, despite some exceptional keyboard work, lessened Caroline's impact. Dutch mime artist Bill Angel did a charming routine about an ice-cream seller and the first third of the show closed with Martyn Joseph singing the anthemic "I Will Follow" and his haunting evocation of the Hillsborough tragedy "An Aching And A Longing" with the first real passion demonstrated so far.
Part two kicked off with another highlight, Himlavasen going through "Chicken Wire" and "Time Will Tell" with choreographed pzazz, their funky jazzy instrumentals finally bringing the rather sleepy audience to life. A hard act to follow but Maja Elliot did it superbly. With Debussey and jazz she captivated the audience with her dazzling, fluid musicianship. She was followed by Holland's Debbie Lee whose ballads-to-backing-tapes could have been a big bore but was rescued by a quite sensational voice. Debbie's searing version of Leslie Phillips' "You're The Light Of My Life" was surely as good as the original though her other numbers were duller MOR plods. Next up was Ernesto Arrendell who did a virtuoso percussion routine getting more rhythm effects in five minutes than most drummers manage in 30 years of gigging and ending with a breathtaking conga solo. Ernesto was followed by Geoffrey Stevenson who did his mime on The Creation to rapt attention and then John Pantry pulled off a surprise hit. His rock gospel opener, always a mistake with backing tapes, was luke warm but when he sang two beautiful Christocentric ballads from his latest album, transparent sincerity and a very tangible sense of ministry flowed from the stage. The audience were visibly warmed and encouraged.
After Himlavasen opened up Part 3 and Leen and Ria La Rivière had spoken about the visions for Continental Sound/Christian Artists, George Hamilton IV brought his lugubrious MOR country vocal chords to work on simple songs of devotion. An exceptional concert pianist Daniel Wayenberg was next followed up by Norway's Jan Groth whose acoustic rock had grit and passion but who spent too long in spoken preambles. Dancer Sandy Coe (UK) danced delightfully to Larry Norman's "Hard Luck And Bad News" and the show, often muted and low key thankfully reached a discernable climax. Charlotte Hoglund (Sweden) is a star, a singer with that indefinable charisma which captivates an audience. With merely a keyboard player for accompaniment her elfin beauty and her bittersweet voice recalled a younger Amy Grant while as she transformed the stolid crowd into a swaying mass singing along with "Only Love Is The Answer" or sitting spellbound to her tale of pavement café melodrama and hope "You Are My Friend" few observers were left in any doubt that here was a singer for whom international success beckoned.
Overall, the Gospel Gala had overcome the wheel-'em-on, wheel-'em'off
limitations rather well. There was (thankfully) no miming and not too
many backing tapes. And though the evening cried out for a couple of
rock bands there was enough solid creativity with the occasional
glimpse of something rare to make the evening a warmly enjoyable