American gospel quartet Ernie Haase and Signature Sound gave an uplifting performance to a packed house in Clickimin on Wednesday night at the start of a tour which will take in Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast.
The internationally-acclaimed group sang their own distinctive versions of southern gospel music, often inviting the sell-out 1,000- strong audience to join in and leaving them, after nearly two hours of performing, with the refrain “Amen” ringing in their ears.
The four young men, all based in Nashville, engaged the appreciative audience straight away with their easy charm and impressed with their precise vocal harmonies.
Their singing, backed by musicians on piano, drums and bass guitar, was delivered with feeling and clarity of diction, making old favourites enjoyable and showcasing the talents of the four, whose voices ranged from tenor to bass.
Fronted by the charismatic Ernie Haase, they opened with My Heart is a Chapel and went on to a blues-y number about talking to the prophets of old. Their music veered from rock-sounding Swinging on the Golden Gate, with lots of action, and featuring the four clustered round two microphones, to slower more pensive numbers.
The songs chosen by the group, which besides former Cathedral Quartet tenor Haase includes lead singer tenor Devin McGlamery, baritone Doug Anderson and bass Ian Owens, draw heavily on the sounds of the 1940s and 50s, as the number I’ve got an Old-fashioned Love in my Heart showed. But they showed great versatility and at one point sang the Wonderful Grace of Jesus a-capella around one microphone, with musical director and virtuoso piano player Wayne Haun joining in.
Their energetic and polished performances gave an orginal and modern twist – helped by Haase’s silver suit and McGlamery’s pink shirt and spiky blond hair – to the timeless quality of the music.
And a special dimension was added by the music by newcomer to the group Owens’ remarkable bass voice. An ordained minister of diminutive stature who joined the group three weeks ago, he had the audience spellbound with his solo I Believe. His father and grandfather had also been bass gospel singers, he told the audience, and spoke briefly about the bad habit of glorifying our problems when we should glorify the solution. “We have a great big God, he is the solution.”
Haase also spoke briefly about the Bible message – we may have the lottery, he said, but on leaving this life we will have something better than any win. He later mentioned the Clickimin running track, urging people to encourage others as they go either faster or more slowly than they do.
But there was humour too. The group moved and sang and clowned around as old friends, Haase did an Elvis impression and joked at the end of the show: “We know God is not an American.”
And at times the evening was solemn. The news that Owens’ much-loved grandmother had passed away that morning and his rendition of The Old Rugged Cross, illuminated with blue light, were genuinely moving.
The evening ended with a slow, emphatic finale under white and yellow lights, communicating the message of Calvary.
The audience loved the show, which was non-profit making and organised by the Kairos charity, and had a chance to meet the group members in the interval, when CDs were sold (the group did brisk business) and autographs signed.
Also selling their first CD Sea of Life, which has already sold 2,500 copies, were the North Ness Boys, the support act who had opened the show.
The popular performers sang such favourites as Where Could I Go, using blues-y sounding harmonica to great effect. Ernie Haase and the Signature Sound normally perform without support, but made an exception due to the “community feel” of the gig.
The North Ness Boys said they were “delighted and privileged” to be included.
Altogether the audience had nearly three hours of music, a very satisfying night. Rosalind Griffiths