A much-welcomed message of unity in diversity was threaded through Tuesday night’s Gospel Prom at the Royal Albert Hall, which explored the many different styles of gospel through a rotation of assured performers, coming together to form one almighty UK Gospel Super Choir, conducted by each of their constituents conductors in turn.

Michelle Williams © BBC | Mark Allan
Michelle Williams
© BBC | Mark Allan

Michelle Williams, best known to most as one third of Destiny’s Child in their final incarnation, was the host for the evening, and set the tone with her lively, confident presentation. First to take the stage were Noel Robinson and Nu Image, accompanied by the Unversity Gospel Choir of the Year Mass Choir. After the energetic Freedom, they segued neatly into Rain, which was both beautifully plaintive while maintaining the high energy levels.

The only a cappella ensemble of the evening was London Adventist Chorale, showcasing their talents with conductor Ken Burton’s arrangement of Going Home. An adaptation of the Largo from Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony by his pupil William Arms Fisher, this was a marked contrast to the opening ensemble, which after some uncertainty with intonation at the opening settled to provide a moment of stillness and contemplation.

V9 Collective: Tehillah Daniel, YolanDa Brown, Israel J. Allen and Michelle Williams © BBC | Mark Allan
V9 Collective: Tehillah Daniel, YolanDa Brown, Israel J. Allen and Michelle Williams
© BBC | Mark Allan

Volney Morgan and New-Ye drove us forward again, bringing youthful spirit to Amazing God, penned by Morgan himself, though owing much to Stevie Wonder. It was wonderful to see young people so engaged with the music, though not surprising with the extremely talented and likeable Morgan at the helm. I’ll Be Thinking Of You was of a smoother nature, with YolanDa Brown on saxophone joining Israel J. Allen, Tehillah Daniel and the V9 Collective. Brown initially struggled to get into the piece, and Daniel unfortunately had to navigate problems with her microphone which her impressive counterpart Allen did not. Overall I felt a very strong connection between this and music I had heard at the Cartagena Music Festival, with V9 Collective particularly reminding me of Mamani Keita, Nana and Tanti Kouyaté. This feeling continued in Eko Ilé (Lagos My Home) full of African influence, Muyiwa with scarf casually around his neck, his laid-back appearance belying his intensity of purpose as he and Riversongz sang about returning home, interspersed with By the Rivers of Babyon, taking the longing for a homeland through the ages. Jambo was more urgent in its message of unity, with the choir waving white handkerchiefs, perhaps as a gesture of surrender, to Jesus, to peace, or both?

We were then joined by the final choir of the evening, the London Community Gospel Choir, for three songs, It’s Not Magic, Stand Up and We Are Not Ashamed. The first of these was somewhat held back by the weak intonation of Nathan Gardener as a soloist, which became even clearer when juxtaposed with Bazil Meade’s confident delivery in their best number, Stand Up. It also felt like we never quite got the best of Dawn Thomas Wallace, with only glimpses of the depth and power of her voice shining through in their final number.

Muyiwa & Riversongz © BBC | Mark Allan
Muyiwa & Riversongz
© BBC | Mark Allan

Karen Gibson was something of an unsung hero of the concert, providing conducting support to Nu Image, New-Ye and London Community Gospel Choir, as well as underpinning the superchoir. It would also be remiss not to mention the polished backing from Niji Adeleye and the band, who were equally as impressive in ensemble as the choirs. Unfortunately, the sound engineering didn’t quite match their talents, creating problems in balance that meant the choirs were at times lost amidst their charismatic leaders and the band. When in full voice, however, the sounds from all choirs was fantastic, and when they all came together the result was electric. Ken Burton’s leading of No Man Could Number was assured, as was its performance by singers perhaps not always used to singing without accompaniment, while Volney Morgan’s return for After All was infectiously energetic. Keep Moving raised the bar again, pairing the leadership of Bazil Meade with Israel J. Allen in funky style, before Noel Robinson took over for a more relaxed You Are My Saviour. Miyuwa’s setting of Psalm 89, Imela was absolutely fantastic, full of strong African rhythms.

Wrapping up the concert was a touching tribute to Andraé Crouch, beginning with Michelle Williams opening The Blood. This was admittedly the first time I had heard her outside of Destiny’s Child, and she seemed much more at home in the gospel environment. Bless the Lord and Take Me Back were again very polished and fine, but Soon and Very Soon was the perfect ending, bringing all these diverse groups together with a unified sound that felt instantly familiar. Ayo Oyerinde, who masterminded both this and the first Gospel Prom three years ago, deserves high praise for curating a night that celebrated all gospel music has to offer, including its ability to bring people together.