The LCGC X Factor – 40 years on

For the next 12 months, one of Britain’s most famous gospel choirs, LCGC, will be celebrating their 40thanniversary.  Juliet Fletcher explores the history and legacy of this amazing group

Can you remember the shock, surprise and thrill when, for the first time, you saw that group of young Black people singing gospel on a new magazine-style TV series, by Black people on Black people, called Black on Black? Of course, in the first instance, I’m referring to the first televised performance of the London Community Gospel Choir — LCGC, as they more commonly became known. 

Yes, it really was 40 years ago! For younger readers, who might have been just a twinkle in your parents’ eyes, this is definitely a long walk down memory lane for your grandparents and, for those so blessed, even your great grandparents. As someone who had the privilege of witnessing the ‘LCGC Day of New Beginnings’, my aim is to recall some of my observations; share key facts; and offer some reasons why, in my view, this incredible group of talented individuals were able to thrive, survive and give us — our British Gospel scene — an internationally recognised and irrefutable musical legacy that was birthed out of our Windrush churches.

THE BEGINNING OF CHANGE
I remember, at the start of 2000, when I wrote an article for a special magazine that was marking the start of a new millennium, describing the 1980s as Britain’s ‘Golden Age’ of gospel. Channel 4, as the new independent fourth television channel launched in 1982, aimed to be the broadcaster that championed and represented the mix of multiculturalism, reflecting the Britain that had flourishing migrant communities across the major cities.

LCGC’s performance was exciting, with their visual vibrancy and fresh, authentic, harmonic sound. Although it wasn’t the first time a gospel choir had appeared on TV or had become well known in certain regions, LCGC’s rise in popularity came at a place and time that fitted a new outlook for Britain’s burgeoning Black Church community. It was the fact that the choir members came from different denominations and fellowships.

Unlike choirs that preceded them — namely, choirs from up North, including the first really successful, recorded Black gospel choir, Birmingham-based Majestic Singers of the New Testament Church Of God (mid 1970s); followed by The Challengers Gospel Choir and Merrybell Gospel Choir — both from Church Of God (Seventh Day); the Inspirational Choir, made up of members from Pentecostal First Born Church Of The Living God and COGIC (Church Of God In Christ) Mass Choir — LCGC’s first iteration was an amalgam of three choirs from different denominations and fellowships: New Testament Assembly (NTA), People’s Christian Fellowship (PCF) and Latter Rain Outpouring Revival (LROR). The four co-founders were John Francis (now Bishop of Ruach Ministries), Delroy Powell (now Administrative Bishop, NTA), Rev Bazil Meade MBE, and Lawrence Johnson (LROR).

LCGC signalled a new paradigm that would change how choirs could and would form and integrate with British pop culture.

Over these 40 years, LCGC became known as “Britain’s most celebrated choir”, staying accessible to a broad stream of entertainment, cultural and educational opportunities that have helped to embed the songs and music of our churches beyond their four walls.

Let me make this clear: LCGC were NOT alone in entering the influencing spheres of media, music, arts and culture. But they are arguably the only outfit to live there, to function exclusively there, seeking to create self-sustaining infrastructures, so they can ‘breathe under water’. It wasn’t like that from the very beginning, however. This was an unfolding vision that appeared more apparent the longer LCGC remained in that place of ‘calling’.

MISSION vs CALLING vs MAKING A LIVING
I remember attending the committee meetings held at Bazil and Andrea Meade’s home in East London. Everything was discussed very democratically, but when it came to decisions, the core team were in no doubt: whatever was going to be achieved had to be EXCELLENT; it had to be properly ORGANISED; and the Choir had to SHARE the Good News EVERYWHERE. I recall Bazil’s words at the time: “We must sing everywhere!” Indeed, the mantra was ‘Every hamlet, village, town and city’. This was their mission.

One of Bazil’s fondest stories that he’s repeated numerous times occurred when the Choir sang at a mass festival. As they stood in their dressing room, holding hands and praying, giving God thanks for their gift of music, and sharing, they were suddenly joined by other performers, including well-known musicians and singers. Afterwards, one artist expressed having never felt like that before, and said that in the future they would also have band prayers before going on stage to thank God for their musical gifts. Bazil said it spoke volumes to the Choir. Encounters like these shaped and motivated the Choir’s convictions to do what they do.

Before LCGC came on the scene, most choirs and musicians played for free or for basic expenses. However, as the demands increased upon LCGC, it was clear that liberties were being taken. The real and tangible value the Choir brought to every performance; members taking days and weeks of time out of their normal jobs; using up holidays and going back home with no compensation… it couldn’t continue. Negotiating became a new necessity. After all, payment was the norm for working in the music industry. There were many lessons LCGC had to endure, fighting for equity while countering prejudice, discrimination and outright racial abuse.

Nonetheless, as the demands increased and variable opportunities multiplied, it became clear that LCGC was developing into a well-oiled business entity. It was giving real opportunities for young people of faith to become professional artists — working and making a living, looking after their families, but above all leaving a mark of grace in people’s lives.

An outstanding contribution of LCGC over the years has been its consistent nurturing of individual talent of all types — from management, administration, teaching, technical, musicianship (both instrumental and vocal). The Choir helped to spawn professional careers and/or develop world-class status for many. Examples include female vocalist, Lavine Hudson, who became British Gospel’s first £1million record signing with Virgin Music; and Howard Francis, as a multi-talented creative, has written many songs for LCGC, including the iconic single, Fill My Cup, which made it into the UK music charts, and who has worked with established artists, like Mica Paris, Des’ree, Alesha Dixon, and Kiss FM’s DJ Swerve.  Other examples include band guitarist extraordinaire, Ronnie Jordan. He rose from LCGC to be known as a leading pioneer of a new sub-genre called acid jazz and, last but not least, Michelle John. She joined as a young teenager and excelled beyond singing lead. She has also worked with leading artists, including Eric Clapton, Annie Lennox (of Eurhythmics fame) and Samantha Mumba. Michelle also reached the finals of TV show, The Voice UK, and has spawned a successful (and long overdue) solo career to this present day.

Regardless of the ongoing tensions between mission/calling and commercialised engagement — experienced by all who have followed the path that LCGC has carved out — those of us who have eyes to see and ears to hear must admit we are standing upon the shoulders of the pioneers.

THE PIONEERS EVENT
On Saturday 12 November 2022, Lawrence Johnson saw the fruit of his labours after spending more than six months finding every original member of LCGC — a total of 120! Tooting NTA became the base for an extraordinary night of music, when 70 original members gathered with four of the early musicians and delivered an AMAZING night of original and most popular songs that made the Choir famous! I joined in with the packed-out audience, overwhelmed as we realised some of us hadn’t seen each other in 20-30 years. We acknowledged the mercy, lovingkindness and faithfulness of God. It was WOW!

THE X FACTORS THAT MADE 40 YEARS POSSIBLE
Although LCGC had to learn many lessons over the years, there is so much more that has enabled them to enjoy the longevity that holds firm today. As I reflect on their years, there are factors I’ve noted about LCGC (see panel), which hopefully will help to encourage you to take a step of faith — accompanied by works of diligence and commitment — to achieve a vision or a dream that blesses your family, community and/or the world!

LCGC is entering a new phase, as its main founder, Bazil Meade, steps back to allow his legacy to continue through his son, Leonn Meade, as Creative Director, and a new CEO, Lionel Thomas, who will run the business aspects, making sure the work of the organisation continues for generations to come.

Visit https://www.lcgc.org.uk and sign up for the latest news and events.

Can the lists below be put in boxes

Here are 10 factors I’ve identified with LCGC:

  1. Vision for reaching and blessing others
  2. Commitment and diligence to the vision
  3. Excellence and quality at every level, knowing your value
  4. Strategy for infrastructure
  5. Permanent base for operation 
  6. Developing and owning your own resources
  7. Building connection and community with supporters and fans
  8. Never giving up, while learning from your mistakes
  9. Mentoring others to learn, improve and giving leadership opportunities 
  10. Collaboration and partnership to invariably create more benefits

MORE FACTS ON LCGC’s 40 YEARS

The original band line-up: 

  • Howard Francis
  • Wayne Wilson
  • Wyman Baker
  • Dave Charles
  • Denis Barrett 
  • Ronnie Jordan 

My LCGC ‘Management Dream Team’: 

  • Andrea Encinas
  • Yvonne White
  • Tony Williams 

My four favourite LCGC foundations:

  • Family Feeling
  • Legacy
  • Building a Base
  • Commitment to Excellence

LIST OF KEY LCGC LIFE-CHANGING EVENTS 

Black on Black TV debut, 1982

LCGC launch concert at Kensington Temple, 1982

HM Queen Elizabeth II 60th Birthday Celebrations at the Royal Opera House, 2012

Bazil Meade honoured with an MBE, 2018

LCGC first tour of Sweden (in chartered plane), 1983

Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, July 1985

Tours to Africa, Turkey, Israel and Morocco with the British Council, 2001-2018

BBC Proms — first-ever Gospel Proms, 1998

Supporting George Michael at Wembley Stadium, 1982

Playing at Glastonbury, every Sunday through the 1990s

Theatre production of Mama, I Wanna Sing, 1995

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