Sometimes kicking back is absolutely the right thing to do…
It might be just a tad too cold outside (don’t worry, summer’s on its way) or – in case you’re one of those really weird people that prefers the cold weather – I’ve got you covered (see what I did there..?)
Whatever your story is, here are four classic UK Gospel tunes to mellow you out. You’ll find links to other great songs in the series at the end of this entry.
New Direction Crew – ‘Young Girl’
To those in the know the album this was taken from, ‘In the Saviour’s Shadow’, is arguably one of the most underrated albums of its time (circa 2008).
Featuring several early gems from Stephen GP Abramsamadu (who has gone on to produce several modern classics for S.O.) ‘Young Girl’ was an excellent vehicle for Elizabeth’s voice riding over GP’s carefully arranged RnB/Hip-Hop hybrid.
Jahaziel – That’s What Friends Are For
Jahaziel’s ‘ready To Live’ album is regualrly cited as an #UKGospel classic for good reason.
The title was an antithetical reply to Biggie Smalls’ ‘Ready to Die’, and ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ is one of several popular hits from the project (others include ‘Power’ [another GP production] ‘In My Neigbourhood’ and ‘Ready to Live’)
The bilingual, collaborative ‘That’s What Friends Are For’ remains one of my favourites with its cool vibe, clear message and classic Jahaziel lyricism
London Community Gospel Choir – Sun in the Rain
I say this to anyone that’s willing to hear – this is one of my all-time favourite LCGC songs. It’s a pure feel-good, uplifting song that falls squarely in the ‘inspirational’ category and the world is all the better for its completely relatable lyrics.
This is top drawer, musical class.
Marsha Garrick – Hello
This was a big radio hit on London Gospel radio back in the day: four and a half minutes of perfect Gospel Pop like we rarely get in the scene.
It was (and arguably still is) a very usual sound for its time but a very welcome one at that – it’s songs like this that make the UK Gospel music scene one of the most interesting and diverse in the world.
I wrote this back in April 2016, with the original intention to have it coincide with the release of Michelle John’s EP, Paper Doll.
If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of Paper Doll, the answer is simple: it was never released.
I asked her a few years later why she didn’t go through with it and she cited two reasons, which – on giving it a bit of thought – I concluded were different sides of the same coin.
The first: shortly after recording was completed (but before the scheduled release), Michelle appeared in series 6 of The Voice UK (she eventually gave in after years of repeatedly being invited to appear on the show).
The second was because she was struck by that thing that plagues many creatives, akin to buyer’s remorse: she simply felt it wasn’t up to the standard she had set for herself.
That meant I had this great story about one of the women I’ve come to admire the most in the UK Gospel scene, not just for her vocal ability, but also for her positive outlook on life, vulnerability, disarming openness and bags of personable charm.
Michelle has since gone on to do some amazing things, but unfortunately it seems the world will probably never get to hear Paper Doll.
I had the opportunity to listen to some of the songs being recorded live in the studio, and this is the story of that evening.
Yinka Awojobi Content Development UKGospel.com
‘I know who he means…’
The Premises Studios, Hackney, East London. It’s about 7:45 pm.
I step indoors, out of the chilly spring night.
‘I’m here to see Michelle’.
The guy behind the reception counter stares back at me, blankly.
In my head I start to work out how best to describe Michelle John: songwriter. Artist. Arranger. Activist. Accomplished vocalist…
It’s unlikely any of those will help Reception Man, even though they’re an accurate selection of the many hats she wears. And she wears them extremely well.
Another guy I hadn’t noticed pipes up from behind the counter: ‘I know who he means. Come on, I’ll take you. It’s right at the top – bit odd to get to. You might get lost, mate..’.
While it doesn’t have the profile of Abbey Road Studios on the other side of town, The Premises is incredibly significant to those in the know, and sadly becoming one of the few key, heritage music studio spaces left in London.
Last time I was here I witnessed the making of something truly groundbreaking, the end product going down in UK Gospel music history as a true international milestone.
Back then Nicky Brown was on production duties with Janine, Chris, Gillian and Lisa, led by the indomitable Isaiah-RaymondDyer working out of one of The Premises’ smaller rooms.
What came out at the other end of that process were tracks that included a reworked version of Song in the Midnight (that’s what was being recorded the day I was in), making up Raymond & Co‘s seminal Playing Games album.
Professional Background Person
Unless you’ve been around the UK Gospel scene a fair while, chances are that – at best – you’re only vaguely aware of who Michelle John is.
There’s good reason for that: she’s a professional background person, featuring both as lead and backing vocalist, as well as an arranger for some of the best Gospel talent the UK has had to offer over the years, including London Community Gospel Choir and Noel Robinson‘s Nu Image.
Michelle now occupies that rare space dreamed of by many but actually lived out by few – she’s one of the UK mainstream music industry’s go-to support vocalists for many international names you’ll recognise including Will Young, Annie Lennox, Eric Clapton and Joss Stone.
She’s in London for less than a week, having just returned from South East Asia a few days ago.
After this recording session she’s off to New York in 3 days’ time as part of Joss Stone‘s current international tour. As usual, her schedule is jam-packed.
Hang in the Studio
Michelle and I have been meaning to do the ‘come hang with me in the studio’ thing quite literally for years, but we could never make our diaries work.
Sometime later in the evening when our conversation gets round to that fact, she says, in a quite matter-of-fact, yet philosophical way: ‘nothing before its time’.
It’s a reflection of how zen she’s become in recent months, wearing years of life’s pain on her sleeve, but somehow mostly transcending it.
Like the rest of us, Michelle has her down days, but in the main she’s on the up and up.
Paper Doll – Highs and Lows
Anyone following her on social media will be familiar with her life’s highs and lows: from growing up in Peckham, South East London to the struggles of single parenthood, to personal fears and insecurities, to insight into the hard work, and – it has to be said – glamour of working across the globe.
A lot of that informs the life stories going into her second solo recording, Paper Doll, scheduled for an August 2016 release.
The studio she booked out is on the topmost floor, and Second Reception Man was right: I’d have got hopelessly lost if I’d attempted to come up on my own.
The room has a cosy, warm glow. Most of the illumination comes from a couple of spotlights embedded in the ceiling, with backlit buttons, switches and faders on the mixing desk adding to what already feels like the laid-back ambience of a Jazz club.
Michelle is standing over the desk, in deep conversation with the mixing engineer. She catches me out of the corner of her eye, comes over, gives me an exceedingly warm, familiar hug before heading back to the desk.
It’s quite obvious from watching her work that she’s one of those creative types who is absolutely clear on how she wants her narrative conveyed through her craft.
She’s also completely unfazed by the sheer physical dominance of a studio setup, with the myriad options that high-end studio equipment, people and possibilities present.
The telling of her story is paramount, and absolutely everything in the room is nothing more than a tool for her to tell it the way she needs it told.
She’s in complete control. As in: in control of everything – a solid steel fist under a sweet-looking velvet glove…
The sound engineer may know about the technical stuff: the faders and buttons, and the musicians their instruments, but there’s no doubt who’s in charge around here.
Michelle puts her hat on. It’s some kind of trendy, mini bowler thing.
Someone says it’s her ‘studio hat’ and she laughs in response, but a couple of seconds later I completely get what they mean – donning the hat seems to make her already businesslike focus dial up a few more notches, as the music playback begins.
She turns round, looks at me and does that apologetic thing many creatives do when they’re about to share a work in progress: ‘these are just guide vocals, Yinka..’
I sink into a deep leather sofa and take in my surroundings: on backing vocals in the recording room on the other side of the glass are a few faces I recognise…
Wayne Ellington (great vocalist in his own right and Michelle‘s former colleague from their Noel Robinson & Nu Image days), Faye Simpson (from another seminal 90s group, Nu Colours), Samantha Smith (whom I don’t know) and – from the new generation of vocally fantastic artists – Christina Matovu.
Pain in the Project
I take in the songs on playback and it doesn’t take long to spot a running theme here: there’s a lot of pain in this project.
But there’s also strength and several shades of hope: from tangible reassuring hope, to hope borne of a longed-for resolution and freedom from current situations.
And there’s hope that springs from the intangible optimism powered by the decision of personal determination: the choice to make a better life.
Michelle John’s Life
Paper Doll is the true story of Michelle John‘s life in song, an unflinching narrative of relationship reality and the challenges it can sometimes bring.
From the struggles, joys and aspirations of single motherhood on ‘To Raise A Man‘ to the feeling of helplessness and being trapped on ‘I’m Alone‘, to the despair of the aftermath of a strained relationship on ‘How Can I Trust You Again‘, and the beginnings of renewed hope on ‘I Found Me‘
And while these song titles broadly suggest powerlessness, the opposite actually holds true: sometimes you can only move on in life when you truly acknowledge the scars of hurt life has dealt you, and become completely comfortable talking about what you’ve learned, as opposed to the damange they’ve inflicted – there’s a freedom that comes with that level of openness…
SuggestingPaper Doll is some kind of self-pity project is to miss the point entirely: this is Michelle John in her own words: honest and deep, painfully vulnerable, her life writ large from her personal perspective, and – most importantly – she’s finding the power in her pain.
Tell Your Story Yourself
The session still has a while to go, but there’s a break and we resume our conversation – I share my thoughts on how personal the songs are, and wonder about her thoughts around making so much of this public.
Her reply is telling: ‘when so many people have told a version of what your story is, you might as well tell it yourself’.
She says this without suggestion of much bitterness. However there’s a quiet determination that suggests there are a few records that need setting straight.
I decide not to push for more details on Paper Doll‘s narrative, even though I’m curious to find out more about the cast of characters in these true-life stories.
But: the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t really serve much purpose beyond satisfying a crude tabloid need… Besides, the title says it all: the protagonist in this story is the doll, not the other characters in her life.
I have a feeling that – as personal as some of the incidents being recounted are – they are all too familiar for all too many people, both within and outside the church.
And even if it’s for that reason alone, Michelle John‘s Paper Doll is one to look forward to...
Sometimes kicking back is absolutely the right thing to do…
Perhaps you’re in the middle of a particularly stressful life moment – or maybe you’re badly in need of some time out from a decidedly knotty Rubik’s cube of a problem currently getting the better of you.
Maybe you want to chill out just because (and: why not..?)
Whatever your story, here are four classic UK Gospel tunes to mellow your troubled soul.
Earmark Collective ‘Bear the Mark’
Five years ago almost to the month (the video was uploaded to YouTube in June 2014) Earmark Collective dropped this solid, solid, solid block of a song.
‘Bear the Mark‘ landed with an infectious, jazzy breakbeat that perfectly complemented its hooky, smooth vocals.
The formula perfectly underpinned Triple O‘s inspired flow, while (bless the Lord for this one) the video completely did the song justice.
Talk about great vibes to soothe the troubled soul…
Raymond & Co – Crazy Faith
Taken from 2003’s seminal ‘Playing Games‘ album, this Linslee Campbell-produced gem is all sorts of flawless: from Chris Gordon‘s heartfelt lead to the tight arrangement of the deft backing vocals from Gillan Nembhard, Janine Dyer and Lisa Allen, this has ‘cool summer breeze’ all over it.
Lots of songs have been called instant classics. This is one of the few that actually deserves the definition.
Rio Young – Music featuring Da Fellowship
I first came across this song as part of Da Fellowship‘s debut (and, as far as I know, only) single. In the intervening years (this was uploaded to YouTube in January 2010) it’s been re-presented to the world as a Rio Young song.
Its superlative mellow groove belies Rio‘s stories of the harsh realities of life and living, told both observationally and in the first person.
It’s one of my all-time favourite UK Gospel non-Gospel ‘Gospel’ songs, and – once again – a great video for its time.
Nathan Prime – Knowing You
I only discovered the video to this awesome RnB classic exactly 20 days ago. I’m sure that’s partly because even though it was released around 2002, the video was only uploaded to YouTube in 2016.
Anyway, regardless of how or why it took so long, it’s another one of those songs that’s almost universally considered a genuine UK gospel classic, and for good reason: lush musicianship, best-in-class arrangement, Nathan’s sweet, undeniable vocals and lyrics that will please even the most ardent of Gospel music purists.
So, there you go: four great songs to lower the blood pressure, calm the spirit and send you – hopefully perfectly refreshed and renewed – back on your merry way.
Go back out into the world and conquer. You’ve got this.
Joshua Luke Smith is a wordsmith packed with ammo. As a poet, rapper, and producer he creates from the mandate to ‘Speak Into The Chaos’
Joshua has a unique perspective on the world from both education and experience. After being Born in London, and raised in Pakistan, he ultimately settled in Bath, UK near where he graduated from Bath Spa University.
His childhood of consuming Nas, The Roots and Fugees meshes with current sounds of Stormzy and Bon Iver to inform the songs coming out of the studio in Joshua’s attic.
He’s been lauded in Complex and featured on BBC Radio 1. Spring 2018 will include his TED Talk being released, a US and EU tour and his first US label release on Residence Music
Midé is a London-based singer/songwriter with a uniquely soulful voice who has a real passion for live music.
Midé has an amazing way of connecting with a listener. There is always a welcome ease about the way he delivers any note, from originals to a cover. You only need to hear him cover “Bob Marley – Is this love” to enjoy all the subtle nuances from Blues to Smooth soul to soft rock.
If you’re a fan of John Mayer, Jason Mraz, Emeli Sande, Ed Sheeran or even Bob Dylan; you will absolutely enjoy watching and listening to Midé
The debate around whether Christian artists should create exclusively evangelical (or at least overtly Christian) content is unlikely to be resolved this side of heaven.
In the meantime I thought it’ll be interesting to launch this new series examining what actually happens when people who profess the Christian faith actually record music that – to coin a phrase – doesn’t ‘have Jesus in every line…’
I don’t claim to have any answers – if anything I find I’ve ended up with more questions as I ponder this issue.
But one thought I keep returning to is this:
If we Christians were a bit more accommodating of our creatives who – by the very nature of what they do – bare more of their thoughts and souls than the rest of us are naturally inclined to, then perhaps many of them won’t opt to ‘go secular’.
If we’re being honest it’s fair to say we’re constantly pushing (perhaps the word should be ‘stifling’) our artists by being tacitly prescriptive and cornering them into a ‘either/or’ choice regarding the flavour of their art.
Quite often – arguably more often than we’d probably care to admit – life is grey.
Surely it makes more sense to let the gifted use their gift to articulate this experience…?
Samm essentially found his love for music and learned to play instruments in his church pastored by his father, where he developed his abilities further.
Alongside gospel artists Helen Baylor, Fred Hammond, Israel Houghton and Alvin Slaughter, Henshaw is said to have spent his childhood devouring mainstream pop music, from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to Usher and N*Sync.
Henshaw pinpoints his biggest vocal inspirations as D’Angelo, Paolo Nutini, Lauryn Hill as well finding songwriting inspiration in Grammy award winner Frank Ocean.
Born and raised in south London, UK, Jake began playing drums at the age of 3 and during his school years taught himself to play piano and bass guitar.
By the age of 16 he had completed his grade 8 drums at Trinity College London, and had begun teaching the instrument.
At 19, whilst studying marketing at university, Jake had begun to make a living as a part-time session musician playing drums and bass on various jazz and rock records for a variety of international artists, including the Grammy-award winning Duffy.
Marketing manager by day, songwriter and session musician by night, Jake began working with artists such as Cynthia Erivo, Gabrielle, and boy band Blue.
The UKGospel shop closed down a few years ago – and ever since then the CDs in the store have been sitting in their storage boxes, wondering what will happen next…
Well, as an experiment to see whether it’s worth re-opening the shop, a few CDs will be added to this page throughout March 2018. If there are enough sales I might actually consider reactivating the whole thing.
What’s In Store, Then…?
There are quite a few from back in the day from Praise & Worship to Hip-Hop and RnB, but for now I’m only bringing out the classics (it is throwback Thursday after all). Throughout the month I’ll add a few more to the store and – depending how sales go, continue – or stop again.
The store has the classics:
Raymond & Co – Playing Games
Number in stock – 2 CDs
Price – £6.99
Postage – free to any UK address
Faith Child – IllumiNATION
Number in Stock – 10 CDs
Price – £6.99
Postage – free to any UK address
Sammy G & Jimmy James – Dublit
Number in Stock – 10 CDs
Price – £6.99
Postage – free to any UK address
Four Kornerz – Soulectric
Number in Stock – 3 CDs
Price – £5.99
Postage – free to any UK address
Second class post
Free delivery to anywhere in the UK
New to nearly new (many are still in their cellophane wrapping, depending on how they were supplied in the first place)
How to Order your CDs
Send an email to info at UKGospel dot com and I’ll send you a PayPal request and send the CDs out. Simple!
After releasing two albums several years ago, he branched out into theatre about nine years ago, and ‘Love, Sax and All That Jazz’ was born – and it’s been playing to capacity, often sell-out audiences here in the UK and abroad ever since.
New dates have now been announced for 2018. International performances include venues in Antigua, Grenada and St Kitts & Nevis. As the time of writing UK dates include E5 Church in Bristol.
Kandid with Lady T
If podcasts are your thing there’s good news for you, too: Lady T is recording series 2 of her no-holds-barred, nothing-off-limits Kandid Podcast. Catch up with earlier episodes here.
A brand new podcast series launched last week, too. Funmi from Save Our Socials and Tina from Kingdom Politics (pictured in this post’s lead image) describe the #Scripture Podcast as:
‘Your sophisticatedly ratchet Word delivery system. It’s posh meets urban, truthful & candid discussions. A LOT of humour mixed with a little tough love – everyday topics with an everlasting God’.
If you haven’t caught up with the new UKGVoiceNote series then you’ve obviously missed out on the incredible work that Loretta and Bianca Rose are doing with IAIMA
If you’re an artist and haven’t heard of IAIMA, do your career and ministry a huge favour and get yourself down to their website right away.
IAIMA is described as an ‘ultimate resource for independent music artists’. The team has created diverse content in the form of videos, articles & podcasts, where both artists and industry experts share their insight and experiences to help you move forward.
Have a listen to Loretta’s voice note for more details
Curated music your thing? Point your ears at the newest list from Jermaine at the Sound Doctrine: following his debut, gamers-inspired’ Spotify #GameFace playlist, #Halflight was made specifically for those late nights when you want the music to reflect your mellow mood.
Events and Seminars
I remember when Noel Robinson started this Kingdom Worship Movement ‘Renewal’ journey with a simple but powerful dream: to create a platform for Christians to actively join together across musical and racial lines, celebrating and learning from each other in worship, teaching, seminars and workshops. Incredible to think that was a decade ago.
Snatcha released ‘Reign’ with several eye catching versions of the cover.
It’s a clever combination of an old time Nigerian chorus set to a deceptively mellow but catchy rhythm which will either spark sweet nostalgia or introduce you to your new favourite Afrobeats track. Either way it’s a win-win.
As a matter of fact, seeing as you can also get it as a free download (or you can pay whatever you want to), technically it’s really a ‘win-win-win’
Smooflow & Kaeydan – ‘God Is Calling’
Kaeydan is 6. That’s probably all I need to say on that. Six years old, and he’s been doing this for a while. 6 years old. I know.
I’ve been listening to this father-and-son release on my phone for a while now, and it should be out soon. More details on FEROmedia on Twitter
Sianny – U R My Strength
Sianny’s ‘Yahweh’ was one of my favourite UK Gospel releases for 2017 so it’s good to know that there’s still more to come from her via her management team, headed by Adrian J Moore.
Faithful is new from Ted and came out last week. It features a range of UK artists including Noel Robinson, Muyiwa, Jacy Mai and Ian Oakley and is produced by Goz Iam who has a rock solid production track record. Get it on your favourite digital store.
‘B Loved‘ is an atmospheric, Trap-infused song, liberally underpinned with great words of encouragement.
It should be widely available by the end of January – and you neeeeeeed to check it out.
More Great News
And the great news doesn’t stop there. There’s a lot of brilliant activity on the boundaries of the music sphere: Philippa Hanna (photo at top of this entry) started an excellent ‘Inspiration 365’ vlog series at the beginning of the month.
One of my favourite sites to launch last year was Kingdom Culture, and exactly a year after their debut they’ve launched the KCMix Android app, bringing mixtapes, releases, reviews, music videos interviews and the latest on the scene as a whole.
B POSITIVE CHOIR releases their debut single to encourage blood donation and support sickle-cell sufferers
Following their TV debut at MOBO’s 2017 Awards, B Positive Choir today (11 December 2017) announced the release of their first single “Rise Up”, a commendable cover of the Andra Day original (which itself already has 19 million views on YouTube).
With lead vocals by the MOBO Gospel category winner, Lurine Cato, the release aims to encourage more people to be counted as blood donors.
B Positive, a 60-strong choir of individuals from across England, who live with Sickle Cell disease, their families, friends and supporters, are harnessing the power of music to motivate a new generation to become blood donors.
The choir was formed in partnership with NHS Blood and Transplant with the mission to highlight the urgent need for new donors in order to help those who require frequent blood transfusions, including those with Sickle Cell disease.
B Positive’s performance of “Rise Up” will be shown as part of a MOBO Awards 2017 special on BET (Black Entertainment Television) tonight at 10pm. Proceeds from the single will go to NHS Sickle Cell wards, so by downloading “Rise Up”, you are also helping to support their life changing work.
Choir Master, Colin Anderson says: “Over the last year 900,000 people have given up their time to help patients in need. But we need more new donors. Every day, we need 6,000 donations to continue saving lives.
We need life-saving blood from new donors of all backgrounds to provide the closest matches for all communities. We are particularly looking for younger people and black communities to come forward”
Following on from last year’s award winning “Represent” campaign, MOBO and NHS Blood Transplant are proud to continue their partnership and help spread the message to a wider audience.
MOBO CEO and Founder, Kanya King MBE says “We are proud to work with NHS Blood and Transplant on the “B Positive” campaign and use our platform to help recruit new donors. We were honoured to be able to provide B Positive Choir with their television debut, and it’s amazing to see the response they’ve received. We have had so many positive messages of support and love for the song – and consequently have made it available for download”
NHS Blood and Transplant urgently need 200,000 new blood donors each year in order to help provide those who need it with the best care possible. One donation takes an hour and can save up to three lives.
Rise Up and Be Counted: Give Blood, Save Lives
For B Positive updates and to follow their journey, including behind the scenes footage, case studies, performances and to download “Rise Up” please go to www.blood.co.uk/bpositive
To register to give blood visit www.blood.co.uk or download the app by searching NHS Give Blood