Jump up, shout and scream

A hip new generation of gospel acts is packing out British venues. Geoff Brown gets on his good foot and gets down for Jesus

Hezekiah Walker, leader of one of several rising young American gospel choirs, says that British audiences respond more readily to live gospel music than any other. As his previous live albums were recorded in the more recognised gospel hotbeds of Atlanta, his native New York, and Toronto, who are we to quibble? And so here we gather in the unsanctified vessel of the Wembley Conference Centre on a chilly Friday night.

As in secular R&B music, a new generation of gospel acts has suddenly appeared. Some, like Kirk Franklin, have animated their gospel message with hip hop and rap sounds, while others, like Walker and his huge choir, have been more conservative in their approach. In sections of the US music business, the belief is that, following Franklin's breakthrough into the mainstream, gospel music will grow in the same way that country music did after Garth Brooks' crossover success, particularly with the continuing sour publicity engendered by rap. Both the industry and the increasing African American middle class want this badly.

In the slowly filling Conference Centre foyer, three stalls attract browsers. One features the CDs, videos and official programme of tonight's star, another displays the videos and books of a remarkably prolific American author named Bishop TD Jakes (his titles include Manpower - Healing the Wounded Man Within, and - one for the ladies in the house - Sovereign Answers to Sensitive Situations in You). The third stall attracts the biggest cluster. The products here reflect the way American gospel has been going in the past 10 years. There are CDs by the Gospel Gangstas, with titles fashionably misspelt, and by one E Rock. There is a James Brown CD and a Jackson Family CD - young gospel acts, not pioneers of funk and pop-soul.

Talk is as loud and bubbly as you'll hear at any secular concert but with no swearing. Eventually, two men from gospel show specialists Peak Promotions make announcements, leading the audience into a brief chorus of "Blessed Be the Rock of My Salvation" (try imagining Harvey Goldsmith coaxing Stones fans into choruses of "Ruby Tuesday"...), which pretty much fixes the Hallelujah mood from the off. There is a prayer, some "modern" ballet, we pre-record three levels of applause for editing into the CD at a later date and then are invited to jump up, shout and scream.

The man two rows in front closes the hefty Bible he's been reading as members of Walker's choir file on stage, a stream of men and women of all shapes and sizes, all draped in loose, yellow and black cloaks. Skilled, rehearsed, polished, powerful, they rip through big gospel choral pieces singing of release, of finding "a new way of walking, a new way of talking."

Walker, done up tight in black suit and yellow tie, grows into the performance, first as choirmaster and then as "preacher". On stage, he is a gospel traditionalist, telling stories from the Bible, leavening message with get-down. "I may not be dressed up with clothes, but I am dressed up with righteousness," he says. "I came here to clap hands. I came here to dance... I feel a dance coming," and he does the gospel dance, body stiff and straight, feet twisting and wriggling in a blur of patent leather. Soloists from the choir aren't as immediately charismatic - not even Monique Walker, Hezekiah's wife, who sings "Try Christ" - but they all eventually "upset" the other women in the audience. As the band - which uses three drummers in rotation - pumps into the tough funk-gospel of "Free to Praise Him", the choir does gospel hand-jive, pushing hands at the ceiling three times, clapping once, then bending to do four handrolls at the floor. Pretty soon, the crowd is in sync.

Not for the first time, we're encouraged to look at our neighbour and say something positive. This time it's "We got the victory", also the title of a thumping funk piece that has the makings of a soccer stadium shaker.

As the Conference Centre empties, Walker's audience mixes with folk leaving Wembley Arena. They've just attended the Benny Hinn Miracle Service. The audiences mingle on the appropriately named Jubilee Line, heading south back into central London from Wembley, the carriages crammed Tokyo- style. A drunk squeezes on at Finchley Road. He is struck sober to find no one remotely inebriated at this hour and in this place, and wonders why, aloud. He is promptly evangelised

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture