Figurehead of UK gospel music scene whose family owned Islington church chronicles history in new book

Roy Francis.

Roy Francis. - Credit: Archant

A figurehead of UK gospel music has written a book chronicling the history of the scene through his experiences growing up in Islington as a child of the Windrush Generation.

Roy Francis was born in Jamaica and on November 5, 1957, aged seven, he arrived in a "dull and dark" London to join his parents.

His father, T G Francis, was a pioneer of the Black Pentecostal movement in London and founded The Church of God. It later became the Pentecostal Church of the Living God when the family bought an old chapel in White Lion Street - the first pentecostal church to own their own building (it is now, predictably, posh flats).

Before that people from the West Indian communities would gather in front rooms for prayer meetings, and Roy's family would hold their own in Berriman Road, Holloway.

"There would be about 20 people arriving after work and afterwards my mother would make refreshments," Roy told the Gazette. "They were also meeting places and for socialising. Crucially, people could get news from each other from back home. Some were unable to read or write so people would help them."

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When the community outgrew living rooms, services would be held on Sunday mornings in rented out church halls - once the smell of stale beer and rubbish had been cleared away from the previous night's parties.

Roy would accompany his father to services and play the accordion, before transitioning to the piano and becoming something of a boy wonder. Soon his father was getting calls from churches across the country asking him to play.

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Music was always a crucial part of the church, and the family, and in the early 1980s two-tone giants Madness got in touch after seeing Roy's youngest brother John Francis on Channel 4's gospel talent show Black on Black.

After initially turning down an invitation to record with the band, the Inspirational Choir of the Pentecostal First Born Church of the Living God - which Roy managed - sang backing vocals on Wings of a Dove, a number 2 hit.

"The rest, as they say, is history," Roy added. "With all the foot stomping of a gospel choir in those days it blew people away. They got a record deal and toured the world. "

Roy's book How to Make Gospel Music Work for You also gives tips for artists who want to carve out their own careers in an industry that has historically been tough to navigate.

"Because of technology anyone can now make an album or an EP and promote it on social media," he said. "I use my many years of experience to explain how to make a success of it. Nowadays the church community is a huge market. I've got an artist who sells 30,000 records and nobody has heard of him outside the church."

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