August 29, 2009: 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.
Wide ranging history
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 UKGospel.com 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 a consequence of that (and a still-maturing media industry), we continually have a new generation of players that have 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.
In some respects, that’s to be expected.
As everyone goes about promoting their own activity(ies), 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 UKGShop.com 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…