Sunday, October 28, 2007

Vancouver 2007

After New Orleans I had five days in Vancouver. I spent a happy four hours on the Friday night co-hosting Gospel Train with Marc Lindy on Vancouver Co-op radio, playing old quartet favourites and enjoying the other guests, the Sojourners ( The Sojourners are a gospel ‘quartet’ of three (I can relate to that) with a blend of great richness: Marcus Moseley (a great singer, and director of 80-voice choir the Good Noise Vancouver Gospel Choir - who I first had the pleasure of meeting when I came to Canada back in 1999), Will Sanders and Ron Small - all African Americans with church backgrounds, now living in BC. They generally work with a rhythm section, but to hear them up close and a cappella, swapping solos was a treat.

The Sojourners live-to-air

As in previous years, my Vancouver workshops turned out really well. There were some outstanding improvisations, and some of the workshop group sang with me at the Sunday service at Canadian Peace Memorial Church. Thanks to all the repeat offenders and to the new chums for a profound and joyful weekend, and to Marc and Neil for organising things.
I also got to spend some time with two other Vancouver choral directors/composers: Brian Tate ( who until recently directed the Universal Gospel Choir ( the music minister at Peace Memorial, Neil Weisensel (

New Orleans 2007

Marianne and I went to New Orleans for two to see what’s going on. We stayed with the Director of the New Orleans Film Festival (and ex-Heavenbent member) Ali Duffey, and made contact with music historian Lynn Abbott, gospel singer John Lee, pianist Tom McDermott (all of whom emerged relatively unscathed from Katrina) and other friends. I even heard some music: trombone band Bonerama(
Ali took us on a ‘misery tour’ of the Lower Ninth Ward, one of the most Katrina-devestated areas, which, two years after the event, is still - devastated, bleak and discarded. 2031 Caffin Ave, where Mercy Seat Baptist Church once stood, and where its pastor Rev. Malcolm Collins preached and worked so vitally, is a vacant lot. Some concrete steps remain. Grass has grown where houses once stood. Piles of rubble, the odd trailer home, FEMA codes spray-painted on decrepit houses tell of animals found within and deaths…

Lower ninth ward

I finally caught up with my friend Pam Landrum, gospel singer and member of a distinguished church dynasty. She and her some Rev. Jermaine and her two grandchildren spent three days in the Superdome and were evacuated to Houston. When she returned six weeks later, she trawled through the remains of her house, and fled from an alligator in the bedroom. The house was later demolished, but she’s now back in in New Orleans looking for work and trying to find a school for her grandchildren. Even before Katrina, work was scarce and schools were scarcer. Rents have doubled or tripled, and no help is forthcoming. It’s not over, and the prevailing mood, even in the historically upbeat French Quarter is one of frustration and bitterness.
Read The Great Deluge by Douglas Brinkley for the whole ghastly story.(

Good news: Ebenezer MBC (a church for which I have great fondness - the new pastor is Rev. Jermaine Landrum) is back, rebuilt after being trashed by Katrina:

Chicago 2007

On our first night in Chicago, we went to a rehearsal of the Voices of Power choir, resident at the Greater True Light BC out on Chicago’s west side. As soon as we walked in we knew we’d arrived somewhere. These guys rocked, the singers backed up by members of the Heavenly King Juniors on bass, guitar and drums, with Lakeisha Lockett from the Douglas Singers on keys. Talk about intense. Even their junior choir would strip the rust off your soul.

Voices of Power Junior choir rehearsal

The next night we were encouraged, nay forced to sing at the Evangel Assemblies of God prayer meeting, by the very articulate and smart Pastor Ray Berryhill (Chester’s cousin).
We also took time to visit the Center For Black Music Research at Columbia College (, where we spent a couple of hours watching footage from the ‘60s-’70s TV show Jubilee Showcase: the Davis Sisters, the Caravans, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Norfleet Brothers, the Highway QCs and so on - excellent. Marianne and I also found time for a performance by Golosi, the University of Chicago Russian Choir, 4 women, 4 men who sounded fantastic singing Russian folksongs in exquisite 4-6 part harmony. (
Saturday Oct 13, we were honoured to attend rehearsals of both the Heavenly King Juniors (website) and the Douglas Singers (, who work together. This mob don’t just go through the motions when rehearsing, it’s not just about the dots, it’s an opportunity to worship once again, and they sing with as much intensity and committment to 13 visitors as if they were singing to a full house. And I guess they’re practicing the preaching and showmanship aspects as well.
These guys can sing. I was gobsmacked by the Heavenly Kings’ Tory Lockett, the lead on Dr Jesus, blessed with a gorgeously rich tenor voice, and guitarist Adrian Wolford, also an intense singer. There are nine members in the group, so each song has a different vocal line-up, while the rhythm section remains constant.

The Heavenly King Juniors

The rhythm section also backs up the Douglas Singers, a solid female ensemble of eight singers whose members also drop in and out depending on the song. Like the classic ensembles like the Caravans, each member seems to be a strong(= awe-inspiring/jaw-dropping/superb etc etc.) soloist.
Sunday we attend the Apostolic Faith Church ( (great choir, immersion baptism, piercing and headache-inducing yelling from the guest preacher, and some overt self-promotion from the pulpit - not what those of us who grew up Anglican expect) and Trinity United Church of Christ, one of the biggest churches in Chicago ( and home church for Delois Barrett Campbell, Mavis Staples and Barack Obama. Trinity has over 9000 members and a 300-voice sanctuary choir - however this very afrocentric church was without its choir on the day, and instead we had their male chorus (100 guys in evening dress) who were comparatively formal. And drowned by the three keyboards.
The final event for the tour was a concert honouring James Baldwin at the beautiful Alice Millar Chapel, Northwestern University, and featuring the university’s gospel choir, the Band of Angels and Walt Whitman’s Soul Children of Chicago ( The acoustics of the chapel favoured the Band of Angels (a cappella) more than the other choirs (big, with drums, bass and keys), and we performed well. However, in spite of messy sound, the Soul Children were…awe-inspiring. Ridiculously precise, stupendously funky, breath-takingly dynamic, etc etc. You can get a taste of them on youtube:
For a finale, director Whitman called the Aussies up to join the Soul Children for Go Tell It On The Mountain (on which he insisted I do a solo) and O Happy Day. Soloing (jamming actually) with the sheer force of the Soul Children and antiopodean interlopers grooving behind me was WILD - you don’t get much higher.

Soul Children of Gospel with WW & TB

At our end-of-tour dinner (at Grand Lux Café) we were joined by old friends Patrick Johnson (author of Appropriating Blackness ( and partner radio journalist Stephen Lewis, Janet Nettors-Austin (gospel and country singer, daughter of Dr James Nettors:, and COTGOS bass Scot Morris who just happened to be in town en route to Nashville. Way to go.
Thanks to Lakeisha Lockett, Jay Grossman, E. Patrick Johnson, Pastor Ray Berryhill, Suzanne Flandreau. And thanks to Rosie and the members of the Band of Angels for their trust and musicality.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Memphis October 2007

For the next two weeks I worked with a small contingent from the WA community choir Band of Angels, who asked me to take them on a tour of Black churches. (
Marianne and I both sang with the choir during the tour - I also got to direct them from time to time, as director Rosie Johnstone had her hands full with her son young Wyndham (who had his first birthday on tour in Chicago).
In Memphis we visited New Philadelphia MBC for their choir rehearsal - which doesn’t seem to be going so well that night - I guess it’s encouraging to know that choirs everywhere have similar issues and vagaries, and that a musical culture to which we look as a model is not immune to musical or organisational problems.
We went down to Helena, Arkansas for an afternoon of the Arkansas Blus Festival, which is OK if you like white guys noodling on electric guitars and mouth-harps. I found most of it pretty tedious (ie. reminds me of my own guitar-noodling), worthy at best, but not especially funky, except for a Black guitarist Li'l Dave Thompson ( who had a kick-ass band, and a young blue-suited busker who had a good groove.

Street guitarist, Arkansas Blues Festival

Barbecue,Helena, Arkansas

Hallelujah hair and fried oreos, Helena, Arkansas

Back in Memphis I met up with my good friend music historian Doug Seroff (Birmingham Boys, The Human Orchestra, Out Of Sight, Ragged But Right,producer of the wonderful Gospel Harmonettes of Demopolis recording - and his daughter Jole for a traditional breakfast (pancakes, grits, hash-browns etc.) at the Arcade Restaurant - we just griped about the decline of the a cappella quartet and acknowledged our own trajectory into curmudgeonlyness, nothing too deep.
A few days later I hooked up with another ring of music historians: Robert Gordon ( Can’t Be Satisfied - The Life and Times of Muddy Waters; It Came From Memphis;, Bruce Nemerov (co-author with Gordon of Lost Delta Found; engineer of the Gospel Harmonettes of Demopolis recording) and my former professor David Evans (Big Road Blues - at Quetzal (best coffee in Memphis, Aboriginal art on the wall). These guys have produced an immense body of great work(books, CDs, films) about blues, gospel and American roots music, and it was a pleasure to spend time with them.
I also met up with Australian chums now living in the USA: Ruth Sandy, currently studying theology in Memphis and the only white in the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church choir (, and my longtime buddy the gorgeous singer/songwriter Audrey Auld Mezera, now living in Nashville (

Stirling Singers, Bethlehem BC program

The Band of Angels were part of a Saturday evening program organised by my good friend Mae Barnes and held at Bethlehem MBC, October 6. Among the other groups were two great mixed quartets: the Sensational Clouds of Joy and the Stirling Singers. This was a really sweet program, typical of programs in the South - not showy, but humble and generous. The groups don’t have websites and you don’t see this stuff on YouTube.
Something was familiar about one of the Stirlings and it turned out to be Virgie Stirling, a lady I hadn’t seen for 15 years. Virgie and Mae were singing together in the Heavenly Travellers when I studied in Memphis in 1991, and I remembered fondly Virgie’s soulful version of Talk To The Man Upstairs. (In fact there’s a photo of her and Mae on the cover of my Move On Up book.) Then another lady I remembered well turned up to sing solo, the remarkable female baritone Louise Jefferson, who had also sung with the Heavenly Travellers. 13 children and 5 heart-surgeries haven’t slowed her down. To meet up with these ladies again was a treat, I tell you.
The program was wonderful, though as is the case these days, quartets will inevitably get well-intentioned (and sometimes skillful) but generally annoying help from any instrumentalists in the room. Unless a group specifically requests the musicians to “hold the music”, the drummer, organist etc. will ‘help them out’. And typically the instruments are louder than the group. (And due to the traditional layout of the older churches which has the choir in choir stalls beyond the alter, the only place to put the drums is on the floor down the front, where they always drown out the choir).
Sunday was a church marathon, starting with Bethlehem at 11, where again the Australians were asked to sing. After the service, we were given lunch in the church basement, a nice opportunity at last to talk to Mae and the other church folk. Virgie and Louise turned up after their own church services to see us again and I had a sublime moment or two harmonising over the plates of fried chicken and greens with Virgie and her husband on Talk To The Man Upstairs, and You Got to Move. After Bethlehem, we returned to New Philadelphia MBC for a get-together with the choir (Pastor Chester Berryhill, who claimed to not sing, really whipped it out on Just A Closer Walk With Thee), then it was off to MT Vernon BC ( to sing on their evening service, broadcast live. A big church with a showy band(these guys could play anything, and frequently did just that - nary a tune got by unscathed by their virtuoso grand-standing), their pastor is the genial Dr James Nettors, a close friend of Martin Luther King, who had been with Dr King when he was assassinated. There to sing two songs, we were asked for two encores. Even though there’s only 13 of us, we’re making a good sound.
Thanks to Mae Barnes, Pastor Chester Berryhill, Kym Nettors for your help.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

UK - September 2007

Still reeling from the blow of having my runny cheese confiscated by airport security at Charles De Gaulle airport (take note, turophiliac jet-setters) we left London for the Norfolk countryside, where Marianne and I stayed with Jo and Richard Ludbrook - who cajoled us into singing in their choir at you know yet another cute 12th century church, St Johns, Rushford, with the promise of wearing robes. So there we were: the Sunday morning service, wearing red robes - looking unusually sacerdotal - and shuffling through reams of scores. There was barely a moment when we weren't singing: hymns, responses and a beautiful Christopher Tye anthem - until it was time for tea and biscuit with the vicar.
Back in London, I also caught up with two ex-band chums: Mike Fullarton and Steve Hemmens were the drummer and bassist respectively with MAMMAL back in 1970-71, and they're more fun to be with than ever.

Vous devez bougier - Paris, September 22-27

Inbetween cheeses, I ran a couple of workshops in the Paris suburb of Noisiel, under the auspices of the choir Croc Notes, and organised by my good friend Liz Strickland and her husband Albert Lecoanier. Luckily for me and for the 60 participants, I had great translaters (Albert and Alexandra) though I did attempt to make myself understood in French from time to time, and to my surprise, succeeded more or less.

Paris workshop

The participants were really responsive, the cheese was great, the whole Paris experience (once I’d learned how to order a coffee that wasn’t thin and redolent of rancid socks) was a delight.
Hearing a Byrd motet and movements from a Palestrina mass sung by the cathedral choir amid the gothic parallels of the beautiful Saint-Eustache was sublime. That kind of music is made for that kind of space (obviously) and seemed to float in the air, it’s focal point both near yet far beyond us. Choir director Lionel Cloarec was modest about the choir's abilities, but for me it was a heavenly experience.


As well as Albert and Lionel, we made other new friends, like vivacious singer/actor Josephine Varret who acted as our guide on a couple of occasions. Before leaving Australia, I had also made a connection via email with a woman in Paris called Laurie with whom I carried on a correspondance (in French). Laurie came to the workshop, and turned out to be a clothes designer and gospel singer/songwriter from Cameroun - and a great cook as we discovered later when she made us a great African meal at her place. Looking forward to next time in Paris.
Thanks Liz, Albert, Lionel, Alexandra, Laurie and Josephine for all your help.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Golden Gate Quartet

Starting A Gospel CD Library

I've often been asked by people who are new to Black gospel what recordings I'd recommend. There's no perfect anthology wherein every track is a knockout. I can think of many recordings (and there's a discography in A cappella - Rehearsing For Heaven), but I can't recommend one in particular, because not everyone's taste will be catered for in any one CD. So over the next few months I’ll talk about a few recordings and groups (available on CD) that I consider useful if you want to get deeper into Black gospel.
The Golden Gate Quartet: Travellin' Shoes (Bluebird 07863 - RCA Heritage Series 66063-2).
One of the many compilations. Pick any of the early 'Gates recordings and you can't go wrong (the Complete Recorded Works 1937-1943 are on four CDs on the Document label), but after the '50s, when they add a piano and move to Paris, they become formulaic, on record at least. Sorry.
The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet were one of the most popular and influential groups of the ‘30s and ‘40s, and still perform today, though no longer in this precise style, nor are they based in the USA but in Paris. Before the late ‘30s, the word ‘jubilee’ had previously been used to describe all Black religious singing groups, but it henceforth became synonymous with ‘rhythmic spiritual’, which is how the Gates described their vocal style. This was a style characterised by fast tempos, tight, recitative-like narrative leads, evenly-balanced harmonies, jazz syncopation and a percussive approach to each word.
The members on this CD (which has a cappella cuts from 1937-1939) areWilliam Langford (tenor), Henry Owens (tenor), Willie Johnson (baritone and leader), Orlandus Wilson (bass). The quartet started in the 1930s in a barbershop in Norfolk, Virginia, singing 'rhythmic spirituals' or 'jubilees' - light, joyous 'gospel' songs, which appealed to secular as well as church audiences. Previously the Norfolk Jubilee Quartet and others had paved the way, but the Gates brought in a bit of the Mills Brothers stylings (pseudo-instrumental breaks), Pentecostal rhythm and syncopation and an impeccable blend. Because of the light touch and popular appeal, they've sometimes been dismissed as having 'little distinctively Negroid content, being aimed mainly at the white market' (Godrich and Dixon: Blues and Gospel Records 1902-1942), but they didn't aim to push anyone's praise buttons, but to inform in an entertaining and dignified way.
Leader Johnson wanted every syllable to be percussive and rhythmic, and also used the word 'organophonic' to describe the sound he was aiming for. And he got it - the Gates are tight, and the blend is seamless and rich with light upper voices (Langford had a classic high tenor voice and a beautiful falsetto) and Johnson's mellow baritone which glues the sound together - at times he sounds like a harmonic of the bass voice, so tightly welded is he to Wilson's driving bass part. As Johnson said: “It was vocal percussion, it was just like a drum, but it had notes to it, it had lyrics to it, you see. and you had different beats, you had different accents. You would accent it here, accent it there, but what was done was done together... it was just plain percussion. Like a bunch of guys beating a tom-tom somewhere.” (Interview with Doug Seroff, January 1980. Gospel Arts Day booklet, Nashville, June 1989)
Their first recording 'Golden Gate Gospel Train' (they recorded 14 songs in two hours that day) came after a couple of years of touring, and it rocks - a churning railroad track rhythm, various imitations of trumpet and sound-effects, brief snatches of field-holler - with a kind of groove you can only call funk. (I hear this kind of groove too in the later quartet Heavenly Gospel Singers.) Even on more polite, less syncopated songs like Dorsey's 'Bedside of A Neighbour' (recorded at the same session), they maintain a solid forward hm-hm-boh hm-hm-boh momentum. There's a beautiful interplay too, on that song, in the final 'instrumental'verses, between the the lead ('trumpet') and Johnson's moaned interjections.
The third cut from the first session 'Job' alternates a fast syncopated and tense chorus, with a verse where the backing holds a wall of sound (a remarkably rich sound for three voices) behind Johnson - who sings a funkily rhyming narrative. Johnson has a great sense of phrasing and rhythm, snappy and syncopated, and not too far from rap for some commentators to have pointed to the Gates as rap’s progenitors. 'Noah' follows a similar pattern with an explosive chorus, a relatively meditative tag and narrative verse.
'Dipsy Doodle', 'My Walking Stick' and 'Stormy Weather' are secular items that could be the Mills Brothers, and there are also instances of exaggerated accents and character voices in 'Cheer The Weary Traveller' and 'Ol' Man Mose'. Moses makes another appearance in 'Go Down Moses', here called 'Way Down In Egypt Land', which starts like a university quartet: rubato solo and unison lines, with Wilson's bass prominent, expands into a slow call-and -response verse, then rocks out. 'Let That Liar Alone' contains four-line verses: each line features a different member.
'To The Rock' is actually 'Don't Want To Go There' (see Move On Up, pp 10-11 - quel surprise! I never noticed this before) - and this one has more of the funky syncopation, and a different structure involving a call-and-response verse. Man, this moves.
'I Looked Down The Road And I Wondered' is one of my favourites: it begins with another funky rolling rhythm, with a gently sorrowful lead, then introduces a falsetto parallel harmony to the lead (an unusual device in quartet), while baritone and bass keep rolling on intensely underneath. With the long notes held by the twin leads and the driving background, there's a rare tension and beauty.
The Golden Gate Quartet: Gospel Train (JSPCD 602).
This collection duplicates some of the cuts on Travellin' Shoes, contains one comedy recitation 'I Was Brave' and a couple of pop spirituals: 'Rock My Soul' and 'Saints Go Marching In'. (The latter is married to the old song 'Life Is Like A Mountain Railroad' over a clanka-lanka background.) It's maybe the better collection, though it doesn't contain 'I Looked Down The Road And I Wondered' or 'To The Rock' or 'Bedside of A Neighbour', but makes up for it by having 'This World is In A Bad Condition' (with bass solo verses), 'Behold The Bridegroom Cometh' (with it's fabulous 'jazz-band' break) and a beautifully-moaned 'Remember Me',(those three are in A cappella - Rehearsing For Heaven) and 'When They Ring The Golden Bells' (see Move On Up). 'Lord Am I Born To Die' is another slow and moving prayer, with lovely chordal shifts.
The titles are sometimes confusing: I've mentioned the obscurely-named 'To The Rock', and there's also 'My Lord is Waiting' which is really 'My Lord is Writing', 'Sampson' is actually 'My Soul Is A Witness' though they sing 'I'm another witness'.
There are a few Golden Gate Quartet compilations, but as I said, the ones to look for have the cuts from 1937-1950.


• After 21 years (a third of my life) of being at the helm of the Café of the Gate of Salvation, I’ve decided it’s time for someone else to have a turn. The choir has been so important in my life, the hackneyed term ‘life-changing’ doesn't begin to do justice to the history between us, the music, love and joy we’ve shared. It’s given me inspiration, fun and educated me in the many aspects of working with a choir. It’s been an essential part of my development as a composer and director.
It’s been a hard decision and feels like leaving home, but it also feels like a good time for me to resign and hand on the Avuncular Despot mantle - the choir sounds really strong at the moment, and there are so many members with the requisite skills to keep it rocking I know it will continue to grow. The choir has been doing gigs without me over the last few years when I’ve been unavailable, and they'll be performing at the Bellingen Global Carnival while I’m away, and doing some new material.
My last gig is at the Basement on September 20, – though I will continue to write and arrange songs for the Café. Thanks gang, it’s been an extraordinary and wonderful trip.

• Just about to head off to Paris to run a couple of workshops (merci infiniment à la charmant Liz Strickland et son mari Albert, et aussi aux amis à Sydney qui ont m'aidé avec le français - bien que Albert va servir de l'interprète au stage), then after a week in London, it's off to Memphis and Chicago with 12 members from the Band of Angels, where we'll attend choir rehearsals, church services, quartet programs and perform at concerts in churches in Memphis and at Northwestern University in Chicago – where we'll also catch up with E. Patrick Johnson, who many of you know. Looking forward to that.
Then Marianne and I are going to New Orleans for a few days to scope it out post-Katrina. I'm happy to have just heard from my friend, the wonderful singer and director Pamela Landrum that my favourite church there, Ebenezer MBC, is operating again, and that her son, choir-director and singer Rev. Jermaine Landrum has taken over as pastor. (I'm grateful to them for, among other things, introducing a couple of great songs to me: Glad To Be In The Service, and Lily in the Valley)There are still other friends I haven't been able to locate since the disaster and I hope to find them.
After that, it's a few days in Vancouver running workshops, and enjoying the inestimable hospitality of my good friend Marc Lindy, the host and producer of Gospel Train, the public radio gospel show. (I get to appear on the show, too.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Singing in Samoa

The accomodation, Saleapaga

Going to church, Saleapaga, July 8

Fresh back from the first Singing in Samoa tour - which seemed to go exceedingly well. For eight days forty-four of us including a film crew, me and Marianne, and the admin team stayed at the wonderfully welcoming resort of FaoFao, in the village of Saleapaga on the south coast of Upolu.
(It’s not Club Med. It’s sleeping open-sided fales on the beach and cold showers, but then again it’s…sleeping in open fales on the beach. Roll out of bed and force yourself to trudge 6 metres to wallow or snorkel in the clear turquoise water, swan into the FaoFao dining room for a breakfast of paw paw, bananas, coconut, rice cooked in cocoa, etc etc. How can you work under these circumstances? It’s really living in a village for a week - as Jen Richardson, our dedicated tour manager says: it’s not a 5-star resort, but it’s a 5-star experience.)
After the traditionally weird flight schedule peculiar to Pacific Islands, (which saw us getting into Apia at 5.30 am,) we drove for another hour and a half to Faofao. After a morning nap and lunch, we were suddenly into it. We had a quick vocal session where we learned This Heart of Mine, which we almost immediately found ourselves obliged to perform at the welcoming ceremony in the afternoon. The ceremony involved the local matai (some very high-ranking chiefs), kava, some singing, some speeches in Samoan and the presentation of a large kava stick to Jen, symbolic of our being under the protection of the matai.
The next day we had a couple of sessions learning a Samoan hymn Fa’afetai O Le Atua from the choir-director at the local Congregational Church, Tapu, and a traditional African-American church song, The Fire Keeps on Burning (which I had arranged on the flight). That night was the fiafia (party/floorshow) where the locals (tiny kids, young hunks, old goddesses all in together) and old turned on a fabulous performance of dancing, singing, slap-dance, fire-dance, slit drums and computer rhythms), culminating in everyobody dancing together.
The next day being Sunday, after the traditional Sunday feast, we dressed in white and sang at the afternoon church service. In spite of the short preparation time, the group acquitted itself well, the congregation was generous in its response and the pastor Reverend Waia effusive in his acknowledgement.
The following day we got into a schedule of early morning yoga (I believe), two or three vocal sessions a day, with other sessions of drumming, basket-weaving, dancing, and yoga nidra in the afternoon. The evenings evolved into different events - a blackboard open-mic session, singing round a fire on the beach, or just drinking and yarning, Choir-director/ barman/drummer Tapu, was an excellent addition to the program, and taught us old Samoan songs every morning, I taught a few old gospel songs, two gorgeous local girls Nai and Sa taught the girls a dance. Everyone moved with exquisite languor.
Midway through the week, we took off to Apia for the day (via some waterfalls and stuff) where we drank coffee and shopped for lavalavas - and appeared on Samoan TV, singing a couple of songs at a welcoming ceremony put on for us by the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Commerce, Industry and Labour, the Hon Misa Telefoni MP and the Samoan Tourist Department. I’m still not sure what that was all about, though I had the impression Mr Telefoni liked to be in the limelight. But we got free food and a free cultural show, the highlight of which may have been a male dance in which 4 tattooed hunks threw huge axes at each other.
On the final night we had another fiafia, where the palagi showed off all they’d learned during the week to the matai, Rev, Waia and all, the FaoFao community dazzled is with more great singing and dancing, and then we all funked down to an odd assortment of disco hits.
Thanks to Jen, Tapu and the aimiable Koroseta and family, Nai, Sa and all at FaoFao, Thanks all the old chums and new friends for your enthusiasm and good spirits.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

one year older and deeper in debt

Rhythm Machine

I John Saw The Holy Number

Holy Day

Here's a pic or two from my 60th birthday party, held jointly with another Gemini honoree Stephanie Dowrick. The exceptional band included Peter Dasent and Mike Gubb (keys) Fane Flaws and Robert Taylor (guitars) Alex Hewetson (bass) and Warren Trout (drums) with Marianne Backhouse and Lisa Smith on vocals.
Thanks to the Heavenly Lights, the Café of the Gate of Salvation, Heather Lee and Kim Cunio for singing on the night, and thanks to the choir for buying me a new Fender P-bass…

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Tour Notes 2 - COTGOS in the rest of NZ

I had good intentions to update this rant every couple of days, but couldn’t get to it before now, due to the vagaries of the NZ tour. Which has all gone brilliantly, and we owe a debt of thanks to our team who worked so tirelessly to get 34 people over the ditch and onstage, and to get buns on pews - see below. (I didn’t realise the magnitude of the undertaking until a few days in...)
After a day off in Auckland, we headed south in our hired coach. We received another standing ovation at the slightly formal WEL Arts Centre at Waikato University, Hamilton, and after the show were treated to an impromptu and hilarious performance by male quartet Glory 4 - thanks, Matt, Mike, Peter and Derek - and thanks to Heather Kerr for all her help.
Then a gig-less day on the coach travelling to Napier, via Rotorua where most members hit the cultural performance at Wahakarewarewa, (and did an impromptu ‘How I Got Over’ at the village) then soaked in the Polynesian Spa.
We had great audience and a wonderful performance the following night in Napier; we invited some disadvantaged sectors of the community to attend for free and were even joined on stage by a member of the audience from the Hophepa community for the encores. Thanks to Fane Flaws for the amp, and to Zahira for on-site organsation. The choir did a spot of partying on at WindSock afterwards where the excellent Tropical Downbeat Orchestra were funking down.
Next day back on the coach to Masterton (with a stopover at Norsewood for everyone to stock up on woolies); we squeezed into the foyer of Arrow FM to do a couple of songs live to air, courtesy of my dopplegänger Michael Wilson, followed by a very well-received gig at the St Lukes Union Church.
Last day of the road trip: coach from Masterton to Wellington, where the weather was beautiful. Worth mentioning because some of us know that a miserable day in Wellington pretty much re-defines ‘miserable’, but we were sensationally lucky with the weather the whole trip. A great performance at St Andrews on the Terrace on the Saturday night (thanks to Elizabeth Crayford for biz and Bill Lake for the amp), and another wonderful gig there on the Sunday afternoon.
By now we’re losing a few members: some like Jo, Lisa, Rohan, Ruth, Carol and Stephen Clarke could only make it this far due to other commitments, and sadly, a death in the family meant Frank had to go home at this point. Plus Marianne has lost her voice, and a few others have colds and are nursing their vocal folds. So for Sunday we rejig the repertoire a bit, and it seems to work, though it's not the excuse I thought it would be to fit some gnarly guitar solos into the act. As it is, I have to explain to a sceptical audience that 'a capella' originally meant 'features distorted Fender Strat'.

South Island

Happily Chris and Mike are able to join us for the South Island, so we’re back to 5 basses (though at full strength we have 9). After a day off in Wellington (and an excellent choir dinner at Ernesto’s), we fly to Nelson on Tuesday. After settling in to our downtown motel, we walk to the Victory Primary School, where we’re warmly welcomed by about 100 kids. We sing a few songs to them and teach them ‘The Storm is Passing over’ in two parts, get into two opposing teams and have a sing-off. That evening we have a sensational gig at the Nelson Cathedral, which is packed with chums from the choirs in the area like Mosaic and the Golden Bay choir. Thanks to Janet Matheson and Dana Rose for biz.
Fly to Christchurch on Wednesday. we stay at the YMCA, just over the road from our venue for the last two nights of the tour, the Great Hall in the Arts Centre. Another good gig that night, (though it was difficult to hear each other onstage, and the front-of-house sound wasn’t as good as other gigs - we fixed that the next night), thanks to Lee Lawrence and the Muse, and all the local choirs (like my friends Lisa Tui and Bright On Vibes, and Helen Charlton and the Global Choir) who spread the word. Dynes sings what is usually a duet with Lisa, ‘Save The Planet’ as a solo with the entire alto section standing in for Lisa in the coda.
The final night - no-one bothered saving their voices any longer (though Marianne is sadly still out of action) and all were supremely focussed and energetic. The high point for me has been Willy singing ‘The Heart of Jesus’, but there have been many wonderful moments: the audiences all loved Karen singing ‘Be Grateful’, Lucy on ‘Reign in Jerusalem’ and Lisa on pretty much everything. And thanks to Al Park of Al’s Bar for the loan of the amp.
The post-tour party starts at Dux de Lux with the COTGOSCARS, with Alison as MC - but you don’t need to know who won Best Buns on Tour, Best High Note, etc etc. What happens over the rainbow stays over the rainbow.


the choir team: Nicolle and Stephanie K for publicity, Lucy for itinerary book design, Steve and Sue for lighting and staging, Gary and Chris for sound, Marianne, Karen, Stephanie K, Jo, Gary, Sacha, Tracey and Gary for overseeing individual gigs, Peter Hammond for financial advice, banking and printing, Frank and Trish for financial wrangling on the road, Karen and Patrick for repertoire supervision, Alison for yoga and shiatsu, Stephen Clarke and Rob Maxwell Jones for stepping in to sing bass with us at the last minute, and thanks especially to Marianne whose vision and dedication (and sheer number of hours of work over 5 months) as tour manager - though that label doesn’t adequately convey the the number of tasks involved - ensured a smooth and fun trip for everyone.
And as always thanks to the choir for not only your voices and spirit but for your helpfulness and thoughtfulness and for the fresh ideas and input into the performances. I can’t believe it’s over.
And to all the members who couldn’t make it, we missed you: Alice, Sara, Sarah, Holly, Leanne, Tracey Case, Chris Fung, Andy, Arek, Peter Hammond, Peter Mackie, Russell,

Thanks to ground crews: Wendy, Isha, Sharon, Dave and Louise; Heather and Jenny; Zahira, Joel and Eli; Barbara; Elizabeth, Andrew, Penny, Jessica, Kristyn, Norman; Janet and Dana; Lee, the Muse, Helen, Ali, Dorien and Jocinta and to all the NZ choirs that spread the word: Heaven Bent, Jubilation, One Voice, Sister Shout, Bright On Vibes, Global Choir, Mosaic, Jessica’s choir at Golden Bay.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tour Notes 1 - Cafe of the Gate of Salvation in Auckland

It's a relief, after months of planning, to be on the road with the choir at last. Everyone's in good spirits, glad to have two weeks to think of nothing other than singing and cuisine (cheese-and-onion sandwiches, feijoas) but we do think of the choir members who, for various reasons, are unable to be with us, and thank them for their support.
We started our NZ tour with two highly encouraging gigs in Auckland last weekend. The first was on Saturday night, at the Baptist Tabernacle in upper Queen St, a beautiful columnated edifice with great sound, hospitable staff and an enthusiastic audience which included old chums and collaborators Louise Britzman, Clive Cockburn, Arthur Baysting, Nick Bollinger, Jeni Little, Terry Gardiner and my friends in the Auckland community choir scene: Heaven Bent, Jubilation, One Voice and Sister Shout.
The second gig was at St Pauls in Devonport, another beautiful venue (with the outstandingly helpful pastor Sherri Weinberg) with a similar audience that featured Rick Bryant, Fiona Samuel, Marilyn Waring, Debby Harwood, Barton Price and many more local choir members. If anything it was a more focussed performance, if the standing ovation was anything to go by.
Our soundman for these gigs was Rikki Morris, a former APRA Silver Scroll winner and legend of the New Zealand music scene - we played in the Crocodiles together (with Barton) back in 1981, and it was a pleasure to work with him again. Thanks Rikki.
Everyone seems to think that Willy's version of Our Father in Maori (O Matua) is a standout, I agree - and have to commend all our soloists for really whipping it out. I'm enjoying playing tremolo-heavy guitar on Pray On, I Won't Be Back and Lift Me Up and am loving the choir's sound.
Thanks to Wendy Moore and all who helped - it's great to here and to feel the choir, loosed from their lives back in Sydney, swing into action.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Caught up in preparing for two trips to New Zealand: one this week, when I go to Wellington and Auckland to work with various choirs('Sister Shout' on Waiheke, 'Heaven Bent' and 'One Voice' in Auckland) and do some promo for the second trip, which is of course the choir's tour of NZ in just over a month's time - but I've still managed to spend time writing music and making a couple of demos…just getting in some practice at the recording side of things before flinging myself into finishing the long-overdue CD with Peter Dasent. Meanwhile the choir is rehearsing diligently and Marianne is racking up the good karma in her role as the choir's tour manager…

• Tim Finn kindly gives me a nod on his new Imaginary Kingdom CD - I did some vocal arrangements for some songs of Tim's a few years ago, and while the fleshed out arrangements haven't ended up on the album, he's used their bones on Still The Song, So Precious and Show Yourself.

• And thanks to Nick Prater for including an arrangement of mine, Get Away Jordan in his new songbook Everytime I Feel The Spirit (more songs for community choirs and voice workshops). SATB scores with working notes for a range of spirituals, gospel songs, originals and other traditional songs. For more info contact Nick(who lives in Devon in the UK) via:

Friday, February 02, 2007

Cafe of the Gate of Salvation to tour New Zealand April 2007


Sat April 14 AUCKLAND
8 pm Performance at Baptist Tabernacle, 429 Queen St

Sun April 15 AUCKLAND
2 pm Afternoon performance at St Pauls, Devonport

Tues April 17 HAMILTON
8 pm Performance at WEL Trust Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato

Thurs April 19 NAPIER
8 pm Performance at St Pauls Presbyterian Church, Tennyson St, Napier

Fri April 20 MASTERTON
8 pm Performance at St Lukes Union Church, cnr Worksop Rd and Queen St

8 pm Performance at St Andrews on the Terrace, 30 the Terrace
(This concert will be recorded and broadcast for Radio National Concert FM)

1 pm Afternoon performance at St Andrews

Tues April 24 NELSON
8 pm Performance at Nelson Cathedral, Trafalgar Square

8 pm Performance at Great Hall, Christchurch Arts Centre

8 pm Performance at Great Hall, Christchurch Arts Centre

All bookings through TicketMaster ( o8oo 111 999)
except Hamilton, which is through TicketDirect Waikato
( —
Tickets: $25/$20 (Booking fees apply)

Check me out!

Lounge Quintet

The Lounge Quintet featuring Stuart Davis is performing at Eastside Arts in Paddington (395 Oxford St) on Saturday night February 17th. Their repertoire will include a couple of my arrangements, one of which will be the absurd Born To Be Wild, and I'm looking forward to that. See you there.
It's only $15/10 conc. Bookings 9331 2646 or

Summersong 2007 report

• Of course, there was, as fun and funky as always, SUMMERSONG, where I got to play a lot of electric guitar and bass, torture my classes with Beach Boys (God Only Knows), Palestrina (O Bone Jesu) and the Gospel Writers (Oh My Lordy), and hang out with inspiring chums, old and new. As well as teaching two a cappella classes, I ran a short session on song arranging, and ran a men’s chorus every day (the latter sang Fire Down Yonder and Thapelo). And you know, this is one of the most fun events on the planet - surf, tea-tree lake, 3 square meals a day and wall to wall music with people as fun as Kristina Olsen - thanks to Alison, Kristina, Pamela and Troy, Te Ua, Luciano, Carl and everyone - hope to see you all next year. (You can see a phonecam snippet of one of the a cappella classes singing Oh My Lordy on Te Ua’s MySpace:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

What I've been listening to…

Mourning the late James Brown - the greatest performer I've ever seen, up (close and sweaty at a club in Takapuna in 1979) by keeping Cold Sweat (the seven and a half minute version), There Was A Time, I Can't Stand Myself and Prisoner of Love etc. on permanent rotation.

The Golden Eagles Gospel Singers (1937-1940) Complete Recordings (Eden ELE 4-200 - vinyl). A favourite of mine and an inspiration for the Amazing Grace Brothers - I haven't listened to it for years, but I rediscovered my fondness for their versions of He's My Rock (definitive), The Prodigal Son, When Death Comes Creeping In Your Room (= Hush) and A Warrior on the Battlefield. The group remains obscure, though we know one of the singers was Thelma Byrd and blues artist Hammie Nixon adds harmonica on four tracks. 5 women and 4 men appear in the photo, and there is some guitar on the first 6 tracks. If you can use the term 'primitive' without it sounding pejorative, this is primitive but far from unskilled - raw and casually fervent with a lovely lead and prominent bass line.
(You can find the Golden Eagles on Document Records 5377: - and listen to or download from the Emusic site -

Sun Gospel (BCD 16387 AH) - various artists, some white some black. A few years ago Len at Hounddog's Bop Shop (Victoria St Melbourne) insisted this was a mandatory purchase, and while not all of it's to my taste, there are some lovely items: the Southern Jubilee Singers' Forgive Me Lord, an unknown male quartet singing Working On A Building and Hank Williams' House of Gold sung gorgeously by some 'unknown chicks'. And of course a track from the Million Dollar Quartet: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

The Spooky Men’s Chorale (SPOOKY1) - Stephen Taberner's crew wryly shrug and grunt through a shedful of tunes, some original, some post-modern tips of the hard hat to pop classics like Satisfaction (riveting), some Georgian (the beautiful Shen Har Venahi), Kasey Chambers, the Beatles, the Front Lawn and more. Exceedingly droll and enjoyable.

My sojourn in Victoria

• Melbourne was - as always - hospitable and funky in the two weeks I recently spent there. I caught up with various old chums in the a cappella/roots music/choral worlds including Roger King and Therese Virtue from the Boite, Stephen Taberner and Tracey Miller; plus I got to hear several choirs, always an educational experience.
The Sweet Mona's performed brilliantly at their 10th Anniversary show, and I was impressed by the extent of their presence in the Ballarat community, encouraging singing, teaching singing, and organising their young childrens' choir the Mini-Monas. Their choral outreach includes getting me there to work with the choir and with 120 members of the community who came to a 2-hour workshop and then sang with me on the night. Thanks to Dani, Anna, Stella, Barry, Zach and Geoff and all of the SMs for looking after me so well, it was an honour.
Hurtling from Ballarat to Melbourne, I hit the South of the River Community Choir's CD launch just in time to be asked to join them on One Morning Soon, a treat for me though I suspect the lack of any kind of rehearsal mitigated against it being an overwhelming experience for anyone else. Their performance was great, good sound and energy, and I was honoured to be part of the program - thanks Annemarie and Debi for your generosity and good taste. Photos of the night are at:
After a series of workshops in Melbourne and Queenscliff, I finished my stint in Victoria singing some solos with the Melbourne Singers of Gospel in the Spiegeltent in Melbourne, and loved that - Phil Heuzenroeder and his 80+ voices are a warm and uplifting mob and sounded pretty thrilling. (A pleasure to hear Diana Wolfenden and her girls in the Gospel Belles at the same gig.) Thanks to Phil, Cora, Jelena, Sheira, Will and all.
I ran (notionally) two a cappella arranging workshops under the auspices of Community Music Victoria (a great organisation). I didn’t get as deeply into this as I’d hoped – partly because of time restraints, partly because I didn’t understand where the participants were at until too late. I gave them homework at the first session, and was amazed when we met the second night at the high level of skill and ideas they came back with. I outlined a lot of techniques, starting points and gospel devices, we sang some stuff and discussed a lot of ideas - and in having to articulate what it is I do in the arranging realm I got a lot out of it, and I hope the participants all got something useful. Thanks to Nerida, Christoph and Nimity for providing me with this opportunity.


My favourite event of ANY year is coming up:

January 17 - 23
Lake Ainsworth NSW

The faculty will be:
Tony Backhouse, Kristina Olsen, Richard Lawton, Kathryn Riding,
Steve Nugent, Karl Farren, Mandy Nolan, Gyan and Alison Pearl.

Tony will be leading 2 singing classes; Kristina will teach one Songwriting and one Slide Guitar class; Richard will teach one Performing Skills and one Vocal Techniques class; Mandy Nolan will be teaching us Comedy and Confidence (insight into one's overall performing approach, using comedy AND comic/humourous/ironical/satirical Songwriting); Steve Nugent will be teaching African percussion and dance; Karl Farren will be teaching two levels of Guitar class, one for complete beginners, and one for the next level up; Gyan will be one of several people who will co-teach Songwriting with Alison. The plan is to have Gyan, Tony, Richard & Mandy co-teach Songwriting with Alison. Kathryn Riding will again lead her Bodywork/breathwork/improvisation blend to keep us going for one intensive week.

The web site now has the Registration Form and the required Medical Form ready for you to download.
Please note that the only way to register is by posting a deposit to Alison Pearl along with the Registration and Medical Form.
Alison Pearl
PO Box 234 Mullumbimby 2482
02 66 845 570
0428 845 570