After working with such acts as Elton John and the Spice Girls, London's the KINGDOM CHOIR finally get to record an album in their own right. George Luke reports.
In their long career, London-based gospel aggregation the Kingdom Choir have sung with stars such as Elton John, Luther Vandross and the Spice Girls and for dignitaries such as Nelson Mandela. However, they've never had the opportunity to capture their vibrancy on record. Thankfully, that's all changed with the release of their debut album, 'Smile! It's A Brand New Day'. The album is being distributed by Integrity Music and profits from its sale will be given to Christian Aid, who worked in partnership with the choir to make the album.
"It wasn't a decision of mine to make the first album we did a partnership," says choir director Karen Gibson. "I was kind of driven into it. We did want to do an album before, but it just never came together. 10 years is a very long time in some people's eyes. But I think nothing before its time, and I'm very happy that this is our first project. So it was never meant to be like this; it wasn't anything deliberate. We were approached by Christian Aid and I'm very glad that they did."
With members drawn from all over the southeast of England, the Kingdom Choir have been part of the UK gospel scene in one form or other for over a decade. All the members have full time jobs; Karen herself is a music teacher in two north London girls' schools. The choir's beginnings can be traced back to the days when Radio 2 used to have a programme called Gospel Train, for which Noel Robinson was the music director.
"The programme used to go round to different churches and Noel would sometimes call me in to work with the choirs of some of the churches," Karen recalls. "From time to time, we decided to bring in singers we'd worked with previously. But then, after a while, the venues were not churches. They'd be places like Birmingham Town Hall, so we'd have to put a choir together. It wasn't really meant to become an entity, until the day we got a call from Songs Of Praise, saying, 'We hear you've got a choir - would you like to come on the programme?' We said, 'Yeah, that's great,' and they said, 'What's the choir's name?' And there was no name for the choir, because there was no choir! We'd simply been the Gospel Train's host choir. So the producer said, 'I think maybe you should get a name,' so overnight we became the Kingdom Choir."
Musically, songs on 'Smile!.' vary from straight-up gospel to a little salsa, some Celtic influences and even a bit of rock. The album was produced by Velroy Bailey, whose lengthy CV includes work with Westlife, Blue and Simply Red. For a choir that mainly focuses on worship, writing songs that dealt more with social issues was a bit of a challenge. "It is something that's new for us," says Karen, "because we write about God, or about service and worship. That's what we're used to. So this was something new. But it was a great thing to do.
"I would say that there's a mixture of both types of song on the album. We were asked to write songs that reflected, or were concerned with, issues of social injustice. You can see that in a song like 'Guardian Angel', which I think most reflects what Christian Aid does. You can see it too in 'Infinitely Perfect Jesus' and in 'Love's In Need of Love Today' - which isn't ours, but I love Stevie Wonder. I think he's fantastic and thought his song would really work on the album. You can also see it a bit in 'Oh How You Love Me'. So I'd say that some of the songs do reflect it quite well. But the choir does have a worship heart, and the writers in the choir are going to reflect that in their writing."
For Christian Aid, the launch of the album marks the start of a long relationship - not just with the choir, but with Britain's black Church as a whole. "Christian Aid came into being out of the efforts of the churches," says Ken Fuller of Christian Aid. "Today, the Church community includes black-majority churches, Pentecostal churches and Evangelical churches. And so it seems natural in terms of progression that Christian Aid should reach out to black churches. In that reaching out, this album was born. And what we see - the way Christian Aid has worked - is that links that are formed, whether overseas or in the UK, we see as a partnership, something we do, not necessarily as a one-off, that takes us towards the goal we seek, which is to deal with the problems we have in the world. If that means that over the next year or so we work together in bringing the album to the masses, then that's what we need to do. But certainly it's something that will go beyond where we are right now."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.