Church Of Sound \\ How a London duo created an alternate place of worship

I’ve never been one for church, but I have been one for worship. For me – and I’m sure for many others – a live show is a place of communion. Shoulder-to-shoulder in our collective beliefs, we gather to show our admiration and respect to an artist. I’m aware of the complications of comparing fandom to religious followings, but in their most basic descriptions, they do share some similar ideas. It makes sense then, to demonstrate such devotion to a musician in a place of worship. At least, it does to Church Of Sound

Once a month at St James the Great in Clapton, East London, Church Of Sound – led by Lexus Blondin and Spence Martin – gather artists and audiences. They’ve harnessed a community who want to appreciate live music, good wax, and as Spence puts it, “break some bread and chat”.

Church of Sound, although free-spirited, has a formula. Doors open in the early evening to greet gig-goers with a home-cooked meal, often vegetarian, warm, and spiced. COS co-founder Lexus, who also runs venue-turned-label Total Refreshment Centre, provides a soundtrack for diners with new, nostalgic and obscure jazz.

Before getting too loose, it’s time to take a pew. A live band – normally a hyped up-and-coming ensemble such as Maisha, Collocutor (above) or a then-rising Yussef Kamaal or Moses Boyd (pictured top), would take centre-stage with two sets. The first, an interpretation of a vintage jazz album. The second, their own material. Music plays out in this ornate church, next to a busy, grey road, until the AM.

In the light of their first birthday, a Jazz FM award win, Worldwide FM residency and National news coverage, co-founder Spence tells us how it was a lack of rehearsal space for his band that sewed the idea for Church Of Sound. Spence reflects on an impactful twelve months with Jazz Standard before taking a Summer break.

\\ Tell us how Church of Sound come around?

I’ve been playing the church organ since I was six years old. There came a time when my band, Lunch Money, ran out of spaces to rehearse. It seemed only natural that these two parts of my life combined, so it came to be that I was regularly in a church playing, writing and listening to music that one would never usually hear in such spaces. Around two years ago Lex booked Lunch Money to play at Total Refreshment Centre and we got to talking about this very vague idea of a gig in a church space. Cut the following year of searching for the right spot and then convincing St James the Great and here we find ourselves.

“this is a new golden period for UK Jazz”

I’m no expert on the history of St James the Great, but for me they stand out as a beacon of how a community based church should work. One of the first times I came to visit, there was a large Ethiopian Coptic congregation doing their thing. The next time I went they were feeding the homeless and running a workshop on debt prevention. They have no barriers on who should be allowed through the doors – they exist to serve their community, not to be served by it. Shouts to Rosemia & Burnett Brown, the Reverend and the Treasurer respectively, for creating and nurturing such a wonderful collection of personalities and ideas. In 1973, St James chose to chop their main room in half – evidenced by the large breeze-block and glass wall that dominates one side of the Church – and converted the unused half into a centre for kids with special needs, The Huddleston Centre. How wicked is that?

\\ Outside of the great programming, venue and having an engaged audience, how else has COS became so successful?

Oof, that is a toughie; I think with any type of success there is always an element of the unfathomable and coincidental to it. In terms of our input to its success, we managed to create an environment in which people feel free to appreciate and share creativity without fear of reproach. The food at the start has been a really key element – taking a couple of hours at the start of every night to break some bread and chat, its great. You get time to listen some great records as well, usually courtesy of Lexus & Born Cheating.

Outside of our own input to the night’s current success – really we are just in the right place at the right time. The community is riding a wave of absolutely wonderful young musicians, many of whom have been mentored by great organisations like Tomorrow’s Warriors, who are just now coming of age. To us, they are right on the brink of international fame and recognition, and we’re just lucky enough to catch them before they blow.

“We’re looking into taking some of our shows to other parts of the country as well as looking at international dates”

Running parallel to this wealth of crazy musicians is a real depth of audience. The people just seem so up for it right now! Jazz seems to come and go from the public stage, from the late 60s with Don Rendell, Ian Carr and Ronnie Scott to the late 80s with the Jazz Dance club scene, it seems like this is a new golden period for UK Jazz.

\\ What’s been COS’ proudest moment to date?

We feel very proud that we’ve been lucky enough to lend a large and engaged platform to so many musicians both young and old. Beyond that we’ve also raised over £6000 for the St James the Great‘s Organ organ fund & somewhere in the region of £1000 for charities such as Calais Action and others.

\\ How have COS’ ambitions changed since the first show?

They haven’t really changed at all. We’re still just trying to put on the very best gigs that we can. Our format has remained more or less unchanged. We still prefer to keep the artists small time – as much fun as it is putting on bigger names, there’ just something more exciting and organic about doing it with your community. 

Regarding the event itself, we’re looking into taking some of our shows to other parts of the country as well as looking at international dates. Maybe a Church Of Sound tour, or Church Of Sound mobile disco!

\\ Where do you hope to be in another year’s time?

St James The Great will always be our base, London is our home but we are also looking at what is going on abroad, there are talents everywhere. Although we are lucky enough to have people asking to collaborate musically, I think we really have to look at what makes us who we are, before we work out how we can bring that outside St James.

Beyond that we’re slowly trying to develop various extra curricular ideas – we’re in the early stages of developing a mentoring programme, looking into getting funding of some sort and various other things in this vein. We are also sitting on a big pile of multi-tracks from the shows. These will see the light of day at some point. Watch this space!

Tweet @jazz_standard @Church_of_sound

JS | Tina Edwards

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