Tyndale Thomas: giving good news through gospel and inspirational song
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“Manchester is diverse and, when you get diversity in music, it’s colourful and it’s life changing…Diversity gives people a chance. In Jamaica, there’s a pot called the Dutch pot. Everything goes into that pot…Manchester I would say is like the Dutch pot, and so all kinds of things go into the pot and the flavours are unique!”.
Tyndale is a singer and choir leader based in Manchester. Born to Jamaican parents, Tyndale and his family have played an important role in galvanising the British gospel scene, performing with influential groups such as the Challengers and the Merrybell Gospel Choir and directing choirs including Liverpool Harmonium, Preston One Voice Choir, and Voice Assembly. Tyndale is a prolific songwriter who writes many of the songs sung by his choirs and he is currently working on releasing a solo album which will showcase his signature inspirational style.
TYNDALE’S MUSICAL LIFE STORY
Tyndale was raised in a musical family. He was born in Birmingham to Jamaican parents. However, by the age of 2, his family had relocated to Manchester, where Tyndale would spend most of his life and career. As one of eight children, Tyndale grew up in a large, close-knit family. He honed his skills as a musician at home and in the church. Tyndale’s father was a Church of God Seventh Day minister, travelling around the country to set up churches, so he was deeply immersed in church life, and his siblings all had their own musical talents and supported Tyndale in nurturing his own. At just six years old, Tyndale was already conducting his family in song and demonstrating his natural talent for choir leadership.
“My whole family are musicians…There was 10 of us inside this house…My father used to play the guitar and my mum used to sing…My father was a songwriter as well. He used to write a song a day…and released an album before I was born…We had all the instruments you could think of, just there in the house. I was the only one who never had formal lessons, but that was OK because the rest of my family [had] lessons and they passed on what they learnt to me!…I was fortunate because my parents understood about music and the importance of music in one’s life. They gave us every opportunity to find out what music was…I was brought up with the belief that nothing was impossible, that everything was possible…In my house, we were music!”.
In addition to gospel, Tyndale grew up listening to a wide range of music, including reggae, soca, rock, rhythm and blues, and classical music. This was partly because his own family had broad musical interests and also because of the diversity of the musicians he was hearing and playing with in churches and other contexts around Manchester.
“Because my parents were from a Jamaican background, I had reggae, soca and everything like that as a grounding, but we also really liked Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and all kinds of stuff so it was quite a mixture…Then I also had the classical grounding…because I was actually in the orchestra at school…I played the violin…In the church, there was American gospel, but we used to play music with all kinds of people and they had various different styles…So my music comes from everywhere, because I would say that my family is like the United Nations! Music came to me from every side of the world”.
“Gospel means good news, it’s a positive message. It’s music with rhythm and movement. They go hand-in-hand. [Gospel] isn’t just about your voice, it’s [about] every part of your body, it’s a holistic kind of thing…The stuff that I do, you might not say that it’s definitely ‘gospel’. It might sound African, it could sound like a mixture of different styles of music. That’s why I like the word ‘inspirational’”.
As Tyndale and his family started writing their own music, they set up a contemporary gospel group, the Challengers. This innovative group, which was one of the first contemporary British gospel artists, transgressed many of the expectations and boundaries placed on gospel and, rather than imitating the traditional American genre, they forged their own unique style based on the mixture of musics that influenced their lives.
“The Challengers was an interesting breakthrough…It came about because, inside the church, we had a young people’s group and they were called the Faithful Youth Challengers and so we thought that was a bit long so we cut it down to the Challengers…Our philosophy was that music should always be shared with everybody. It’s like, if you’ve got a good restaurant, everyone needs to taste the food that’s there! We performed at different kind of places that a gospel group wouldn’t go to. For instance, we did the Fridge in Brixton which, at that time, was one of the biggest venues…We went to a place called All Souls Church in London and we hooked up with Roy Castle, Cliff Richard, Paul Jones, Fiona Hendley…So, it opened many doors”.
“The Challengers set down a challenge to the people to see that life is a challenge and the challenge to people is to see how we can make it in this world”.
From the Challengers, Tyndale’s sister, Genevieve, formed the Merrybell Gospel Choir, which brought together singers from their family network of churches in Manchester, Birmingham and elsewhere and became one of the largest gospel choirs in the UK. Tyndale sang with the choir and, after Genevieve became pregnant, she asked Tyndale to take over the leadership. The choir’s first live gig was on Walter’s Weekly on BBC Radio 4 and they went on to perform in many prestigious contexts. They played big arenas like the NEC with R&B icon Stevie Wonder and the rock band Foreigner and they also completed an international tour to the USA under their own steam.
“In America, they thought that gospel just comes from there! We’d start a concert and the people would be thinking, ‘But they’re from England!’, and then, all of a sudden, they were in!”.
After the Challengers and the Merrybell Gospel Choir, Tyndale moved further into choir leadership, giving choral workshops and also directing choirs. He was appointed director of the Liverpool Philharmonic choir, which later became the Liverpool Harmonic, integrating a genuine gospel approach into a formerly classical choir.
“Somebody rang me one day and said, ‘The Liverpool Philharmonic have set up a gospel choir, which is the first of its kind in this country with classical music and a gospel choir, and you should go for it’. I didn’t think it was where I should be. But I said to myself, ‘Alright’…I wanted to test out if it was going to happen. If your musicality is from a gospel background, you don’t read music, you have to be the music. You have to be the book. So the first thing I did in the audition with the choir, because everyone had a book, I said, ‘Everybody put your books on the floor and I’m going to teach you the way I know it’s supposed to go’. And I got it…and I did it for 16 years!”.
“When Liverpool became Capital of Culture [in 2008], I was involved in the music…I had to put quite a few choirs together and direct them. One weird thing is I was stood here, the choir was there, and Ringo Starr was playing drums up in the air! It was a surreal moment. Liverpool has been very good to me, actually, although I’m from Manchester and they’re ‘rival’ cities! When I go to Liverpool, I just don’t talk football!”.
After the Liverpool Harmonic, Tyndale was asked to set up a choir in Preston called One Voice Choir. When Preston became a city in 2002, the choir performed for the Queen and Tyndale received an MBE as recognition of his contribution to music. Since the late 90s, Tyndale also started working with choirs in Germany after his brother, who had moved there, recommended him to lead a workshop. He leads choirs in Witten, near Dusseldorf, and also helps bring in the new year each year in Cologne.
“The whole [MBE] thing doesn’t make normal sense! You’re working in this thing and you’re not thinking of anything like that. I think the best thing about it was my mother was able to see inside the Palace. I think one of the things that West Indians are very passionate about is England, so my mum was able to go inside there and see what it was all about”.
“Gospel is massive in Germany. England doesn’t compare. There’s more choirs in Germany…In Witten, they have this thing where choirs take over the city and every venue has a choir inside it performing on the day. I went in to the beginning of that…We do workshops Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday we do a live recording of nine songs!”.
“When I go to Cologne, the choir is about 200, but there’s thousands of people there. I’ll tell you how weird it is. My name is unusual. Tyndale comes from a guy called William Tyndale. He helped to translate the Bible into English and he used to go to Cologne every single year and I got to Cologne every single year! He used to go to Cologne and they helped to hide him, but I’m not hiding in Cologne!”.
Since then, Tyndale has been working on various community music projects, such as Urban Voice and Rhythm of Life which both involved bringing the joy of music to thousands of children across the North West. He currently runs a choir in Manchester, Voice Assembly, and he is working on releasing a solo album, a follow-up to his previous output, Genesis (2003), which will showcase his original compositions and send out his message of “peace, hope and joy” to the world.
THE MEANINGS OF TYNDALE’S MUSIC
For Tyndale, music is something that is intrinsically ‘life changing’. He views music as a gift, and he talks about a process of giving and receiving music that underpins his work as a singer and a choir leader. He suggests that, when people come to sing, they can find “oneness” in music and this can bring people from all kinds of different backgrounds together. In his solo work, Tyndale shares his “inspirational” message, which can often include hard-hitting lyrics.
“When you hear a group of voices singing a song, when the voices come together, music is oneness. When a multitude of voices come together to sing, they become one and it can change their lives…When they come together, it defies logic!”.
“ Music, for me, is life…I think of music as a gift. You can learn music, but the essence of music is that it’s something that’s a gift. When I get songs, it’s a gift to me. The songs come to me as a gift, then I write them down, and then I realise them, and then they come back to me…One song I’ve written is called ‘Light a Candle’…That song, I wrote it on tour, I was inspired to say to the audience, ‘I think I’ll write a song now’. It was just me, the piano, and the audience, and that was the first time it happened like that…Usually, I would do it with choirs or something like that. But I just felt inspired to write a song. So, I asked someone to give me a heading and they said, ‘Light a Candle’. So I went, ‘Light a candle in the night/Let it burn like the morning light/Out of the dark into the light/Like a candle in the night’. That chorus was written in a concert”.
“Music can change dynamics…I’ve got a song called ‘Power’, it speaks about what I was seeing, because, at the time, the world was going crazy. You’d turn on your TV and it was just mad. It’s kind of funny because the last two years has been mad beyond words, but it was mad before! [My wife] Kadria’s parents are from Yemen and I’ve been to Yemen myself and I saw this news clip that said people there were eating grass to stay alive, so I wrote ‘Some are eating grass to stay alive but others are eating caviar’. Songs have all got their own power!”.
GOSPEL MUSIC IN MANCHESTER
Tyndale suggests that Manchester has served as the perfect spiritual home for his musical career, because its diversity has allowed and encouraged him to take a very open approach to gospel. Comparing it to a melting pot, he suggests that the city is more than a sum of its parts, with all the different musicians of Manchester contributing to its colourful tapestry.
“Manchester, it has a variety of music. There are a lot of talented people in Manchester, there always has been. Musically, it opened your eyes to all the styles of music. The people that we met were from different sides of Manchester so we were able to get a different taste of the vibrant city…Manchester is one of the centres of music. It’s got a rich heritage”.
“Music changes and it’s going to keep changing…What happens is, when you get a situation when mankind’s challenged, you can hear the music. When we get out of this situation that we’re in, you will see, because people will have to write differently because of what they’ve been through. The best music comes out of experience…Always, the best is yet to come”.
“FREEDOM” (SEE AUDIO)
Tyndale wrote this inspirational song drawing on the African roots of his Jamaican heritage. The song calls for hope, faith, emancipation and unity (“Freedom will come/Freedom from the heartache, the world will be as one”) and Tyndale has also written a version in Lingala. He says that the song is testament to his aim to communicate across countries and cultures using the common language of music.
“I wrote this song and I wanted to do it in another language. I went to a Congolese barber and the guy spoke Lingala so…he translated it for me and then, when I was in Germany, I met this family and I was trying to communicate with them and they told me they were from the Congo, so I sang them this song in Lingala and they understood what I was saying. That’s the power of music. They couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak German, but we still were in the same place and we communicated…The aim of music for me is I want to communicate no matter what language you speak. For some reason, I’ve been able to be in places where we couldn’t really talk properly, but I could communicate with music. I’m trying to develop a way of communicating that, even if we don’t talk the same language, we can still talk through the music”.
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Tyndale Thomas: giving good news through gospel and inspirational song
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