News: Book on British Black Gospel: crash and burn – or eagles’ wings…?

British Black Gospel Cover Just took delivery of this book ‘British Black Gospel‘ a few of days ago.

It’s written by Steve Alexander Smith, a guy I know is majorly into his UK gospel history with a passion – and then some.

At first glance (I haven’t read all the way through it yet) the book traces the history of British gospel music and its impact on social, demographic and even parts of popular UK culture, taking in the history from the late 1800s to contemporary times.

It’s subtitled ‘The foundations of this vibrant UK sound’, so – quite naturally – it focuses more on events of the past in the runup to our contemporary times, with extensively researched and presented information, anecdotes and images.

This is history that is significant and hugely wide-ranging, taking in elements of American Historical events, slavery, the Caribbean Windrush generation and the emergence of the African influence.

It’s really good to see someone try to put those potentially disparate strands together in one volume.  I don’t feel sufficiently qualified to comment on how well Steve achieved that, but I find it a hugely welcome addition to charting the history of the UK gospel scene.

Crash and Burn

As you’ll no doubt have noticed by now I feel this book deserves more than my usual brief news blog entry.

I desperately hope it gets the attention and support it deserves from the demographic that inspired it, in addition to it becoming a useful guide for anyone else interested in the scene and its rich history…

But I fear it might crash and burn within the Black Christian community.

Let me explain.


In the short time I’ve been doing this thing, I’ve found that once every few years (it seems the clock  resets itself two or three times a decade) the UK gospel scene rediscovers some new kind of passion, focus or movement and – for want of a better phrase – reinvents itself.

And as an consequence of that (and a still-maturing media industry), we continually have a new generation of players that has little or no appreciation of the history, events or personalities that went before, resulting in interesting claims about projects, products and activities being ‘UK gospel’s first-ever whatever’.

I still find the number of new artists that don’t know about a group as significant to our contemporary history as Raymond & Co, erm, how shall I put this….?  Interesting.

Packaging History

In some respects, that’s to be expected.

As everyone goes about promoting their own activities, focus will invaribly be on the successful execution of that project.  There is little by way of resource – even inclination – to look beyond the moment.

But thankfully media and entertainment serve as a great time capsule – the US gospel industry is an excellent example of this at work.

And as the barriers to entry into the broadcast industry continue to lower, and more media-based organisations enter the marketplace, we’re beginning to see more publicly-based repositories recording for posterity.  The Uprise project is a brilliant example of a visual series that continues the capture the brilliance, enthusiasm and skill of the youth movement.

The problem of the past was that the curation and charting of the scene fell into the hands of a few enthusiasts with limited resources, academics and – as seems to quite often be the case  – people from outside of the culture and demographic that had a deep interest and passion for the movement.

Think 60s American Black music and BBC Radio 6 – lots of white people hugely passionate about Black music from Soul to Reggae to Jazz.

As in proper passionate.  Yougetme…?

So: Crash and burn?

Anyway, I digress.  One of the points I’m trying to make with this rambling thought process is that it’ll be interesting to see how well the book actually does within the Black marketplace.

Will it barely sell anything, or fly out of the bookstores…?  Time (and sales) will tell.


I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip or a hard sell on anyone.  I don’t work for the publisher or Steve Smith.  I just find this subject fascinating.

In fact, from what I see glancing through the book, Raymond & Co only get a very brief mention halfway through the book, and nothing in the ‘New Milennium’ part of it, a huge oversight in my view.

The group was one of the major success stories of the late 90s to early noughties, and – if this omission turns out to be genuine – then my thought will be that the book has ‘missed a bit’…

I’ll be happy to modify this statement if I find out I’m wrong about that.

Putting my money

Just so I can put my money where my mouth is, I’m going to see if I can put a few copies of the book on when it’s out later this month (September 2009), just to see how it does.

But don’t feel you have to buy it there.  I’ll try and add a list of bookshops to this blog as and when I find out.

So: crash and burn or eagles wings?  The publishers obviously feel there is money to be made in putting out a book like this, but how much of that will come from the gospel community investing in investigating their own history?

Like I said before, only time and sales will tell…

12 thoughts on “News: Book on British Black Gospel: crash and burn – or eagles’ wings…?

  1. I’ve always felt that in order to fully respect nd appreciate anything, you have to know your history first, whether music, film or an identity of ourselves. With stations such as Radio 6 & Jazz FM, the culture is looked at from the outsider’s perspective and yet still manage to be successful with it. Imagine if that same formula was used by people from within the culture/subculture? The product would be strong based on our history and would thrive long past a few years! I’ll definitely look into this book, it won’t have the answer to all our questions but will provide something for us to work with!


  2. Interesting review Yinka.

    I actually have a copy of the book also…and quite frankly, I liked it!

    Forgive me, if my reply is slightly incoherent, I’m writing this on my blackberry, in the poorest of light conditions.

    It’s perhaps not for everyone. It is, as suggested by the title, a historical account of british gospel, and lives up to its description. It does appeal to a niche within a niche. And to be honest, without being stereotypical, is more likely to sell to a white audience, purely because I’m not sure how passionate british black individuals are passionate about their gospel music.
    But we cannot be critical of the content. I personally, haven’t seen anything like it on the market – and it’s a fair attempt to put everything together. I agree with the raymond and co statement, in that his new millennium section was brief, perhaps slightly less researched…but possibly more of an editorial decision than being ill informed.

    I’ll be interviewing him on the radio in October, and it will be interesting to hear, who exactly his target audience was. But if you are a gospel geek, it’s no JK Rowling, but certainly something for your collection, or at least your shelf.


  3. I’m not that into ‘History’ but the Gospel, well that’s a diff story 🙂 you wrote this blog with a passionate belief in what you wrote about, and for that you should be pleased with yourself. When I’ve read the book, I will certainly let you know my thought’s about it. Blessings


  4. I find myself agreeing with both Faith and Henry. I also find myself becoming less romantic about “our community” as I get older. I’ve just come back from another fantastic Greenbelt, where I witnessed another example of what they’re both talking about.

    At Greenbelt, I hosted two seminar sessions with a band from Israel called the Apples (check ’em out; they’re flippin’ fantastic). The second seminar was titled ‘Tracing the History of Funk’.

    Picture the scene: four Israeli blokes teaching a roomful of guys (and it was mostly guys) ranging in age from 11 to 60 about black music, tracing the sound all the way from West Africa pre-slavery to the countries slaves ended up in, and showing how a simple rhythm from West Africa can be found in everything from Salsa to Samba to Jazz, swing, bebop, soul and funk. And the only black people in the room were the MC (i.e. me) and one Brummie dude in the audience!

    Then on Tuesday morning, I arrive at the bus station at Cheltenham for my coach home, and this very tall Irish bloke greets me. Turns out he was in the audience. He talks very animatedly about the seminar, then shows me the vinyl record he bought from the band.

    Yes, it would be great if we as black people cherished our cultural artefacts enough to record them for posterity or support projects like Steve’s book. But for me right now, the important thing is that someone cares enough to do it – be they a BBC 6 Music producer or an Israeli funk band.


  5. Having said that, I also feel that the “short memory” thing is universal where Christian music is concerned (I even wrote an article about it once). I can remember Mike Rimmer spitting hairs once when he came across a young ccm artist who’d never heard of the Beatles!


  6. I’m about halfway through the book now.

    The first couple of paragraphs are great, and you might even find it inspirational (if you’re a history buff like me).

    Steve’s is not only a fan of the genre, he’s obviously keen on detail, and some of the initial reservations I had have been blown out of the water.

    About halfway through the book (where I am as I write this) it focuses on the personalities around at the time (70s to the 80s), and I find it’s not holding my attention as much as before.

    It’s nothing to do with Steve’s writing or the book itself, I’m just such a fan of the collective thought and mass movement within the scene that this level of attention to detail of the personalities slows it down too much for me.

    Having said that, the information is *invaluable*…

    At this rate, I’ll finish it by the weekend/early next week.

    I’ve already ordered a few copies for, which – when they arrive in the next week or so – will be available at

    I still think it’s a *great* book.

    I still hope the scene will support it.

    This is history that people *NEED TO KNOW*…


  7. Hi Yinka,
    Thankyou for putting away quality time to read and review my book.I am pleased that readers will be able to obtain and indulge in my work from your shop.I must also point all in the direction of my website which contains many interesting background details.Please remember that the book comes with a free CD of a broad spectrum of British Black Gospel sounds for instant download to IPODS.
    Blessings, and embrace the dream

    Steve Alexander Smith
    Author: British Black Gospel


  8. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for commenting, and WELL DONE ON THE BOOK. You’ve done an EXCEPTIONAL job, sir!!

    Like I said in the blog itself, I will be providing a list of places people can go to buy the book, so thanks for adding your website to it.

    You didn’t make it a link, so I shall do that for you 🙂

    More info on the book, Steve and much more, people:

    I’ve almost finished the book, and when I do I’ll be posting a review here, along with my thoughts on the CD.


  9. Time this thing hits the main streem and stop being in the backgroung on somebodys web sight that only 2% the british people know about let the mass know as i only found out about this book today


    1. Thanks for your comment.

      I understand (and agree) with your sentiment, but until Steve can get a mainstream distribution deal in place I think the best we can do is continue to promote the scene (and in this example, his book).

      Hopefully now that you’ve come across it, you’ll help spread the word too.

      I’m sure Steve will appreciate it…


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