Israel & New Breed
- Live in London
Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. Capacity of a couple of thousand. As beautiful from the inside as the outside. Spot the 5 white people in the queue. No strip searching. No bag searching. No limits on photography (just a "no flash please"), just a small one on illegal recordings:
If you're caught making a sound or video recording of the concert, your camera will be confiscated. Hold on. No, you can keep your camera. We will confiscate your tape and use it for our radio shows!
As we enter, the Hill City Mass Choir are singing a couple of well known worship songs with a gospel flavour. Despite a low early attendance – Ali worries as there is no one sitting in front of us, prompting her cause for concern being picked out to give her testimony on stage and talk about "christians" again – the choir give their everything and set the enthusiastic mood for the rest of the night. Turns out this was only their warmup…
Then we're urged to silence even as people are still coming in, as upcoming hot UK gospel artists Four Kornerz are about to perform. As we're all in a good mood and they're dressed with style, we give them a big cheer and enjoy their gig. Imagine Outkast singing about their love for God instead of you and your girl in your caddy, and you get the idea. The balance wasn't quite right yet (as with Outkast, I could hardly understand the lyrics), but the musicians were great, and yes, the dress sense was
The compere of the night was Muyiwa of Premier Christian Radio – if you're interested in gospel or any chilled RnB soul music (that sings about a slightly different kind of love than Usher) then it's a good listen from 11pm onwards. He also performed with his backing singers to keep us entertained, but they lacked the energy of the previous two acts. They had humour though. HCMC came back for a few more songs now with the whole audience joining in – the night was organised by House on the Rock for their 10th anniversary, and both the choir and most of the audience were members. We were more than happy to be part of their celebrations!
It's Israel's first performance in the UK (save the one in Birmingham the night before) and he must have been well surprised to get so much enthousiasm from the audience (congregation?). The opening act was a seemingly endless medley of his "greatest hits", his funkiest songs and just one big happy feast of recognition and praise and dance. Let's just say I was happy I brought a bottle of water!
For Nikki: I recognized Another Level; Who Is Like The Lord; Trading My Sorrows; Again I Say Rejoice; New Season; and highlight All Around.
And then I lost track of what happened. It involved lots of amazing solo performances of both band and singers. Whereas I'd expected a few more people, Israel worked with only one singer per part(!) but all so competent that the four of them sounded like 5 million Rev choirs together. After all the hype and funk and dance and oh yes gospel – cue Lord You Are Good – the reflective moment couldn't have come at a better time.
So yes, suddenly Mr Houghton was left on stage by himself (though not after the synth dude helped him sort out his keyboard) to tell us the story of his life. Cue lots of borderline cheesy humour – but who cares? we're having a great time! Also cue lots of audience cheering for recognizing themselves and a rendition of One Love as his Jamaican heritage is being welcomed by the island descendants in the audience.
Eventually, he got to his point and the second half of the concert. Again, my mind wandered off (in the first half it was just me being delirious with all the excitement, this time it was just taking the chance for contemplation) so I'm gonna guess and say Israel was going through some psalms and spontaneous worship. All by himself. By the time I woke up from my deep thoughts, the rest had rejoined him on stage for the finale.
I should say grand finale. I just checked with Ali and Rich and indeed Friend of God was the song to start the dance towards the end. By this time Israel's guitar was working properly as well, and he got to showcase another talent whilst the crew lead us through song. But the London talent got a shot as well, when during Alpha and Omega the band went mute and the hall was filled by the chanting and worship of 3,000 great singers at the height of their worship feast. Now there must have been 2 or 3 more songs here including an encore (after the audience kept on repeating their ooh-ooh-oohs for one song) but the final showpiece of gospel extravaganza was Not Forgotten – some kind of Arabic melody and breakbeat mixture, aka Ali's favourite song.
It's hard to compare a gospel concert to any other, and even within its own genre, this concert was unique. I've seen LCGC (London Community Gospel Choir) perform twice, and they're always engaging, and quality. But in this case I felt part of the concert. The concert was great because I was there (if that makes sense at all?) and took part.
Okay I'll try and explain. I've had the same feeling after seeing Lauryn Hill live ages ago at Pinkpop Festival; Manu Chao 4 years ago at Lowlands Festival (Me Gustas Tu had just been a big hit in the Netherlands); Basement Jaxx last year at the Carling Academy. These artists, and Israel last weekend, seem to welcome you to their ground, their home, and ask you to join in and party with them. I think Lauryn Hill only sang one of her own songs – the rest was just a big DJ hip hop music battle – yet I wasn't disappointed. Israel cut quite a few of his songs short, but I didn't care because it was my party too.
For the untrained spirits or souls there might have been too much worship and praise in this concert. Actually, it was just one massive praise and worship session! But that's what gospel stands for, so it's what you would expect from such an event. Even so, there was so much musical talent and so much energy from both the stage and the audience that there should have been enough to enjoy as long as you accept being welcome.