To sing the gospel greats is a feat that not all can do. It requires passion and true understanding of how to communicate the soul of the music.
Brisbane-based gospel ensemble Tell Heaven is a group that performs and delivers the gospel greats with passion, love and soul-touching moments. The group has a diverse set of members that only aids their ability to deliver the gospel in a beautiful and soul-inspiring way.
You’re band is a gospel ensemble; what was the inspiration behind creating this band?
[Helen Russell] Well, first I guess I should make it clear that we’re not pushing any religious barrows. We play this music because we love it; this music has been one of the building blocks of rock & roll and everything that has followed.
What is it about performing gospel songs that you most enjoy?
It is deep and passionate music and often very joyful.
Who are some of your gospel heros?
Tell Heaven is named after a song performed by the Staples Family singers; they are definitely one of our favourites. But we don’t just cover the African American end, we also like hillbilly gospel, for instance the Louvin Brothers.
Tell us a bit more about the band members… who else is involved?
Everyone in the band is involved in projects of varying musical kinds. Leah Cotterell has been well known as a jazz singer and also in the folk scene. Pearly Black has sung in all kinds of bands from indie to flamenco. Jamie Clark, who is someone I’ve been playing jazz (and many other things) with for the past 25 years, is currently immersed in the blue-grass world with his band The Company. People who follow blues and rockabilly will know Coojee Timms from bands like Big Kitty and the Scaredy Cats and the Mojo Webb Band. Our drummer, Kym Ambrose, is also a vibraphonist and has a band that plays Brazilian music called The View From Madeleine’s Couch.
Gospel style music has a certain sound to it, how have you made it out own?
We’re all students of historical musical styles and have been interested in and technically able to emulate them, but we’re definitely bringing our own sound to it as well. A lot of it hinges on the vocal harmonies, which is a large part of the appeal for audiences.
You’ll be playing the Brisbane Jazz Club in July; what are you looking forward to the performing there?
We have lots of old favourites in our repertoire but we always try a couple of new things. We’re branching out into what we like to call ‘secular gospel’, songs with a spiritual theme but not necessarily mentioning God. We have a few originals that fall into this category. The Jazz Club is a wonderful venue for us, not least because of their sound engineer, Mark Smith. When you’re performing vocal harmonies it’s very important to have a sympathetic and able soundie.
What can the audience expect from this performance?
This is a very long-lived band, we’ve been a band for more than 15 years. However, for a number of reasons, including the fact that we have not often all lived in the same city, we only perform once or twice a year. So our gigs are always a bit of a party, with old friends getting together.
Would you consider touring interstate?
We would love to tour anywhere, but a six-piece band that mostly doesn’t play originals and is also a non-religious gospel band is a little hard to market! Although we did play a gig at the Tanks Theatre in Cairns a few years back.
What has been the most memorable experience you’ve had on stage during the 14 years Tell Heaven have been performing?
I think our most memorable gig would have to be a concert we were part of at St Mary’s South Brisbane in 2009 when the Catholic church was working to kick Father Peter Kennedy and his congregation out of the beautiful, old building. It was a wonderful community event to be involved in and we had our performance filmed for our DVD, ‘White Stone Chapel’.
Does the band have plans to release an EP or album?
No plans, we all have so many other projects going. Tell Heaven is like a family get-together. That said, we’d love to get some things down for posterity some time soon.
Tell Heaven play the Brisbane Jazz Club 22 July.