Our monthly Gospel and Soul singing courtyard event is featuring on the BBC’s Songs of Praise this Sunday 9 October. Lucy talks about our relationship with the Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir and why we created Soul at Saint James.
It’s great that our monthly Gospel and Soul singing courtyard event is featuring on the BBC’s Songs of Praise this Sunday.
St James’s Piccadilly and the fabulous Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir go back a long way. We first worked together around 8 or 9 years ago, when we began a Gospel Eucharist once a month on a Sunday evening. After many conversations, many services, concerts and gigs over the years, we wondered about a free, open-to-all festival of joy and soul every month outside in the courtyard. Soul at Saint James was born and celebrated its first anniversary in August 2022.
We think that it’s easier for people to join in something in the courtyard than having to come into the church building: the courtyard is a public space between the street and the church that means it’s easier to wander in and find a place here. So Soul at Saint James is deliberately outside the church building and the themes of the music and poetry are universal: Unity, Joy, Pride, Forgiveness, Justice. Some brilliant spoken word artists have performed as part of the event: Solomon O.B., Zena Edwards, Sophia Thakur too, evoking every possible emotion from the crowd gathered in the sunshine. Partnerships have formed with Wandsworth Prison (Soul at Saint James is broadcast over the prison radio) and the inspirational Choir with No Name were a guest choir this summer.
BBC Breakfast featured Soul at Saint James back in August 2021 and now we are part of the Songs of Praise programme for Black History Month 2022.
Street food is always available and the open public invitation to everyone to learn some of the songs and sing along has proved an indispensable part of the event. It is life affirming, inclusive and infectiously joyful. Just last week, I found myself (with full arm actions and singing at the top of my voice) joining in with hundreds of strangers in the courtyard singing the fabulous Marvyn Gaye hit ‘Aint no mountain high enough’.
During lockdowns, Soul at Saint James made a series of films involving music, spoken word and conversation. One of these was made as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd. This film was called ‘Courage’ and is well worth watching.
So many in our society are going through really tough times suffering discrimination, division, injustice and huge anxiety about the cost of living. Soul at Saint James is an open, free and a warm invitation to come and find your voice to sing a better world into being. Because we do really believe that there isn’t any mountain too high, no valley too low, no river too wide to keep human beings from the love and joy that is ours when we sing that world into view – together – in harmony with all creation.
Sean Fletcher is in London to investigate how gospel music, with roots in the 19th-century hymnals of people of African-Caribbean descent, helps shape life and faith in the UK.
At the royal unveiling of a monument commemorating the Windrush generation at London’s Waterloo Station, we meet a passenger who arrived here in 1948 onboard the famous ship. Sean experiences the sights, sounds and excitement of Soul at St James’s, a monthly gospel singing workshop and choir performance with a mission to spread faith and joy. He also meets an internationally renowned blind steel drum player to hear about the importance of the instrument to Trinidadian culture and the significance of his Christian faith.
With music from LSO St Luke’s, Trinity Baptist Church in Croydon and Kensington Temple alongside a performance from Mica Paris.