Once a long, long time ago, they were Colors Of LCGC and recorded for a Swedish gospel label. Now they're NU COLOURS and record for Polydor. George Luke spoke to the sanctified R&B stars.
Nu Colours have certainly made some headway in their objective to take gospel music to a higher level. A few years ago, the bigwigs at Polydor Records were begging their new signings to play down the "God thing" in interviews. Today, the same record company has given them the use of their executive boardroom for a press day - for the Christian media only! You don't need Scully and Mulder to tell you something's going on.
The long awaited follow up to 'Unlimited' - simply titled 'Nu Colours' - was released in September, again on Polydor's Wild Card label, and since 'Unlimited' the guys have grown considerably.
"We've matured," says new old member Priscilla Mae Jones. "You can't just sing gospel, you've got to know the business side of things as well. And along the years, we've had the chance to learn the business." "The maturity shows in our writing ability and our performances," adds Fazay Simpson. "We've been going a very long time and made a lot of mistakes in terms of our anxiety to get things right. Now we're much more relaxed; we're sure of what we're doing and we're confident in our approach to gospel music."
Between 'Unlimited' and the new album, the band have gone through a round of personnel-swapping, with old members Pat Knight and Carol Riley leaving and founder member Priscilla Mae Jones rejoining (now you know what I meant when I called her a "new old member"). "Pat and Carol are still doing a lot of singing," says lead man Lawrence Johnson. "We see them often; they're still in the gospel circuit, doing a lot of session work, and Pat's had a child. We wanted to change the band's sound, so we asked Priscilla to rejoin. But it was still a good vibe and we talk to them quite often."
The group's American following has been gaining momentum. Following a performance at the IAAAM (International Association of African American Music) awards ceremony, Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston became the latest fan club recruits, alongside long time member Stevie Wonder. "Fazay and I saw Whitney at an after party," remembers Priscilla. "She made time to speak to us and told us how great we were and how much she enjoyed us. 'Are you from the church?' she asked, and when we said yes, she went, 'I knew it!'" So will Nu Colours be guesting on Whitney's next album? A loud laugh rings around the boardroom. "You never know!"
"I think they (Americans) are still on a learning process with British music," says Lain Luther. "While we were there, a lot of people were like (American accent) 'Y'all sing from England?' They hear our English accents and wonder how we can sing like we do. But it's not about where you come from; it's about your experiences.
"As black people, no matter where you live you have the same kind of expressiveness, because we've all been through oppression and been downtrodden - we've passed through the same sort of things. We sing with the same kind of passion and zeal that they have. Plus, we're getting to a stage now where a lot of our artists are coming to the forefront, and they're beginning to realise that. They keep asking us if we're the new Soul II Soul or Loose Ends. We want to get to the stage where we have five or six acts that are really high profile. Then they'll realise that it's not just the odd group in England that's successful."
According to Fazay, keeping their spiritual lives in order goes higher up on their priority list the more the band's profile rises. "Prayer is something we have to do, because it destroys the yoke. And the thing is, when the Devil sees that you are dedicating your life to God and taking your craft seriously with God in mind, he puts more obstacles in your way and you have more distractions and you really have to pray. In most of the venues we go to, it's not a Christian audience; we're dealing with people who don't know Christ, so we definitely have to break that yoke and make sure that when we go to those audiences, we're focused and free."
"Because we have a positive message," Lain adds, "and because we're doing gospel, the Devil wouldn't like to see us get further and the more barriers we break down, the higher we get and the bigger the place is going to be, the more obstacles there are going to be there. Basically, the message of Christ is one he wouldn't want to get to a wider audience or a bigger marketplace, so the more focused we have to be and the more we need to live on our knees."
But, as almost anyone who's ever tried to spread the gospel on the dancefloor will tell you, sometimes the worst opposition comes from your own side. "It's not just older people," says Lawrence. "We get criticism from younger folks too, and we've been in church almost all our lives. To be honest, it doesn't have that much effect now.
"Obviously, you'd always prefer to have people supporting you - and on the whole, we do have a lot of folks who support us, not just with words but who go out and buy our records and support us in that way, as well as in prayer. Our families play a really important part in terms of supporting us. But I think if you look at all gospel artists -from the States to here - everyone's gone through this stage, so we're no different. If we didn't know God had told us to do this, we'd be worried a lot more. But because we know God has told us to do this, he's the most important thing to us."
And of course, there's the question of the J-word count in song lyrics. "I was going to say, a few people have approached us about our lyrical content," says Fazay. "It's good, because I enjoy explaining to them what we're talking about and most times, when I've come to the end of explaining, I find that they hadn't listened to the words and had just judged the music, and because they don't hear 'God' or 'Jesus Christ' in the song, they've assumed that it's not gospel music.
"But I was raised to believe that gospel means good news. And you have to sing with the anointing, because when you do that, it destroys that yoke. For us, gospel means good news, and a lot of our songs are about our experiences as Christians. As young Christians, we look at our relationship with God as a friendship, so we talk to him and tell him what we're going through. We also talk about what he's saying to us.
"Take the song 'Greater Love' for instance. A lot of people used to go, 'Is that gospel?', but sit and listen to the lyrics. To me they're so simple; the man that's not a Christian can understand them. And it's so refreshing when after your shows that one person comes up to you and says, 'You've helped re-adjust my life.' For us, we feel the victory in that."
Showing page 1 of 2