Review: The Kingdom Choir, York Barbican, Wednesday, May 8

ON May 19 last year, The Kingdom Choir sang Stand By Me to a global television audience of 1.9 billion at the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Almost a year later, sparkling Karen Gibson’s gospel choir were playing to not quite such a large gathering at York Barbican.

“We’ve had an incredible journey since then; it’s been a wonderful ride,” said Karen. “Thrilling. Exciting. Sometimes overwhelming.”

Such exposure brought The Kingdom Choir a record deal and debut album with Sony Music and the chance to play “York City”, as Karen so delightfully put it, conjuring images of Gibson’s power-lunged musical forces taking on Jon Parkin, Jordan Burrow and co at Bootham Crescent, and out-performing them no doubt!

A percussionist and keyboard player were already in post as founder, conductor, powerhouse director Karen Gibson and her 16 singers – 12 women in yellow, gold, white and grey, four men in sharpest suits – assembled to sing The Lord’s Prayer amid a respectful hush.

Gibson has gathered singers with roots in Jamaica, Guyana and Ghana, as well as Britain, and such diversity was represented in a set list that looked to Africa, to America and even to Coldplay, whose anthem Fix You so suited a gospel swell.

A medley tribute to the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, was an early high point, prompting one of several inspirational speeches from Gibson.

Almost all of her choir took at least one solo spot, adding to the pleasure of hearing such spectacular voices, and when they came together, in Labi Siffre’s Something Inside So Strong, for example, the impact was all the stronger still.

Karen Gibson wants to spread the gospel message, the power, the spiritual surge and physical benefit of singing, and she took great pleasure in introducing the York Light Youth Choir, run by brother and sister musical directors, conductor Ellie Melvin, 18, and keyboardist Sam, 16. Lean On Me was a particular hit, and how they enjoyed then joining The Kingdom Choir in song, their faces a picture of wide-eyed delight.

Gibson despaired at music being removed from school curricula, urging parents to still give their children every opportunity. You want to be part of her kingdom, you really do, for it is a better place for all.

Inevitably, she made mention of the Royal birth, bringing The Kingdom Choir’s Harry and Meghan story up to date with a lullaby called simply Lullaby for new-born Archie.

We all went off to sweet dreams of our own, exhilarated by the positivity, the harmony and the harmonies of the gospel according to Karen Gibson.

Charles Hutchinson