London Community Gospel Choir: London's most popular choir cut album with unexpected guests

Friday 1st March 2002

Britain's most popular gospel choir, the LONDON COMMUNITY GOSPEL CHOIR, return with a new album featuring some unexpected guests as George Luke found out.

London Community Gospel Choir
London Community Gospel Choir

Maintaining relationships with artists they work with is something the London Community Gospel Choir considers very important. "I think as artists, what we do is very spiritual and special - an expression of human emotion and feeling," says choir leader Bazil Meade. "When you get together with a fellow artist, bonds are created. For me, it's important to show there's some depth to meeting somebody who's sharing their artistic expression - their heart - with you. It also works well for us, because I like to invite these people to work with the choir when the opportunity arises."

One such opportunity arose during the making of the choir's new album, 'The Force Behind The Power', produced by Nicky Brown and featuring special guests Juliet Roberts and Carleen Anderson. "For me, it was important to have someone on board whom I have some kind of relationship with, and Juliet is someone I know very well; we've worked together in the past. Same with Carleen; we've worked with her on a number of occasions. They both tell people about the spiritual side to their lives; they're people who exercise faith and are quite comfortable with it."
The busy workloads of all involved made recording the album a very lengthy process. "Between our schedule and Nicky's, and studio availability, it was impossible to get us all together," says Bazil, "until it got to a point where I said: look, we're getting ready to go back on tour. We cannot go out there without a new product to sell. Whatever way we do it, we've got to get into the studio and complete this album.

"Half the album's made up of songs we've been performing for a while. When the audience go to the CD stand at the end of a performance, they want to buy music they've just heard - so we wanted to include a lot of our live performed songs on the CD. Some were written by a combination of Nicky Brown, Howard Francis and myself, and there are also old standards like James Cleveland's 'If I Can Hold Out'. There's a lot of variety on the album. Nicky and Juliet co-wrote 'He Loves Me Lots', a Latin groove. 'I've Found The Answer' is a song we've performed for years; we put a very famous Frankie Beverly and Maze bassline on it, and that worked very well. One of Jazz FM's DJs picked up on it and said it was very clever. They've been playing it quite a bit." The title track was a minor hit for Diana Ross a few years back. "We actually sang it with Diana on a Royal Variety Show and it just stuck with me from then on," says Bazil. "We've been performing it ever since. It's been slightly rearranged, but is easily recognisable as the same song."

In addition to their own recording and touring, the choir has ventured into the world music arena, doing concerts with Cameroonian sax legend Manu Dibango, and more recently singing with Algerian rai star Cheb Mami. "I just love world music," says Bazil. "I think it's fantastic. As a British group, we have so many influences here. It's all music that's authentic; the artists we've built relationships through this are all great people to work with. They've certainly touched my life in some way. And I love the music! If we can use it to carry our Christian message, why not?"

London Community Gospel Choir: London's most popular choir cut album with unexpected guests

One burning question fans have is: when are we going to see a photograph of the entire choir? The new album's credits have 63 vocalists listed - but only 25 are pictured! "You want to ask the choir that!" laughs Bazil. "It's just people's availability. The nature of the choir is that people are involved in other music groups, or in their own churches; they're free to do other things. It's just being able to have everybody available for a photoshoot- and that I've just not been able to achieve for the choir. Maybe it's something I should aim for!"

In 2002, Bazil hopes to spend time building his newly launched label, MVLS Records (named after his children: Marlon, Vernetta, Leonn and Stephanie), and expanding his schools work. "The schools project the British Gospel Arts Consortium has been running and has had a lovely response from the kids who've taken part in it," he says. "It's a great way to teach them about Christianity." The choir will also be touring Eastern Europe this year - but although many top US acts have enlisted their services, recognition by the American public is something that still evades them, though not something they lose sleep over.

"Until something concrete happens, I really am not bothered about it," says Bazil. "I'm happy to concentrate on what we're doing here and to get ourselves well established. Inasmuch as we've been around 20 years, it's pioneering work and we're still doing that now. Europe's just two hours away and it's virgin territory. People there love to hear gospel and would love to learn to sing it themselves. America's a different kettle of fish. The gospel music tradition's huge there. American's love their own and anything that doesn't sound American doesn't get a look in. I've always been aware of that, and I've not been fooled by - or drawn into - that hype that once you go to America, everything will be perfect."

"The schools project the British Gospel Arts Consortium has been running and has had a lovely response from the kids who've taken part in it. It's a great way to teach them about Christianity." 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 music editor for the black arts magazine Artrage and lives in London


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