The National Gospel Awards organised by the BGMAN and held on Saturday 18 November, 1995 at Shepherds Bush Empire, London attracted a veritable whose who of Britain's gospel scene. Fran Finn, in borrowed dress, was there.
"I must have at least one dress," I mutter as I root desperately through my wardrobe. Nope. I don't even have big hair as is fitting for these occasions, so that settles it. I'm not going...
Well, in a borrowed little black number and high heels, I narrowly passed the on-the-door glamour check and sneak in during Sue Rinaldi's soul rendition of "Servant King". The event was the first award ceremony of its kind to be organised by The Black Gospel Media Arts Network, a body which exists to promote 'Unity Through Creativity'.
In response to an apparent resurgence of gospel music in the American and UK music scene, the BGMAN aim to raise its profile yet further through these awards. There can be no doubt about the talent for gospel that exists in the UK and gospel roots can be traced in the music of countless top selling performers in the wider music scene. Juliet Fletcher, chairperson of the BGMAN, reminded me that even rap originated in the tradition of black church preaching. So, with a sympathy for the cause of the evening, I sat back and took it all in.
The evening was, as one would expect, an occasion packed with many of the best performers of gospel music around. Artists such as the Wades and Freddi Kofi took the stage for the first half, while Jamoke Faschola provided chirpy banter between songs to keep the punters amused.
The audience had been convincingly won over by the sound entertainment on offer and we were growing in enthusiasm by the minute. So much so that no one minded at all when it came to the giving of the first award and its recipient was nowhere to be found. In fact, when the person presenting the second award failed to appear, we cheerfully clapped and waited, waited and clapped. But, it has to be said, when awards number three and four met with a similar fate, I definitely spotted a few shuffling buttocks. Patience had waned a little.
However, all was not lost. In true showbiz style, the hosting band led by Bazil Meade played on and I was glad to be able to hear more of them than was planned. They tightly tripped off phrase after phrase of jazz and funk melodies and paved the way for some stunning performances from Nu Colours and the Sainsbury Choir Of The Year -The London Adventist Chorale. Despite this dazzling line up, however, the most rapturous applause, yelling and "Amen'ing went to an unscheduled performance by Doris Troy, who burst into a sung rendition of her presentation speech! (You had to hear it to believe it!)
That is, of course, until it was the turn of Yolanda Adams. By this time the hiccups were long forgotten and an invite to "do church" soon led the audience off into another gospel stratosphere.
The evening was unforgettable, certainly, and I was entertained for a good four and a half hours. I think, though, that there is a little confusion amongst listeners and performers about what gospel music actually is. I talked to Nu Colours about this and they defined any music that contained "good news" as being gospel music. Others consider it to be Christian music influenced by the heritage of black culture. I'm more inclined to the latter, but then it is clear that there is a huge cross over between "black" and "white" music, in its listeners and performers.
The final verdict? Encouragement is always a good thing where deserved and so I hope that the BGMAN will continue its endeavour to recognise the gifts and contributions of worthy artists.
Best UK Female Soloist - Dawn Thomas
Best UK Male Soloist - Junior Robinson
Best UK Contemporary Group -
Best Choir - The London
Best Rap/Reggae Group - Watchman
Best Songwriter - the Wades/Nicky Brown