It's a rare thing for urban gospel music to get any major attention in this country, given its narrow fan-base of God-fearing church people whose zeal for Jesus hasn't quite translated into growth for the struggling market. But with American platinum-pushers such as Donnie McClurkin, Mary Mary and Kirk Franklin topping the bill, you'd have expected one of the UK's first major gathering of gospel stars to be the catalyst that finally gives the genre its big break.
Admittedly, the promotion wasn't great and being downsized from a Butlins weekender to two nights at the teeny IndigO2 had to hurt, but after a lively display of everything from meditative ballads to krumping stompers, this festival has proved that the scene is on the rise.
Roger Samuels initiated the proceedings, and his soothing acoustic music set the precedent for Friday, which was largely attended by a mature black crowd accustomed to the idiosyncrasies of church life – so at times, hands were raised in reverence, and the occasional "Amen" reverberated around the room. A similar performance from Mark Beswick and Power Praise followed Samuels, before the eclectic Muyiwa and Riversongz appeared.
But when Bishop John Francis and his ginormous choir took to the stage, he enlivened the crowd with a mix of hymns and Nigerian traditionals that got people jumping in the aisles.
Soon after, McClurkin hit the stage, which strobed with the flash of 100 camera phones attesting to his gob-smacking popularity. It's no wonder – the 48-year-old's ability to flow between the theatrical and the sombre is mesmerising.
Saturday's vibe was the flipside, attended by the kind of young folk you'd find at a grime rave on any good day. Unfortunately, Brit acts Four Kornerz and Raymond and Co were rushed on stage before the official start time of 7.30pm, but when Mary Mary took to the stage, their soaring vocals and glossy display warranted the hype.
Still, the very best was reserved until the end, and, despite the controversy that surrounds Franklin's brand of gospel – which dabbles heavily in the secular – he offered an explosive set, with his dancing reminiscent of Michael Jackson and Prince before they hit the big 40. "We're trying to show the world God's people aren't dead!" barked the glorified producer at one point – and once the crowd started to mosh violently after soaking up nearly two hours of frantic jams, there was no doubt that gospel is alive and kicking.Reuse content