Live Review: Gospel Brunch

21 March 2016 | 3:40 pm | Annelise Ball

"The festival director herself, Natalie Lidgerwood, works the pews handing out Pope Joan's brunch boxes like a flight attendant."

A crowd of mostly over-50s hipsters gather at Brunswick Uniting Church sipping free coffees before Gospel Brunch kicks off day five of the Brunswick Music Festival. Dressed appropriately for church in a suit and tie, DJ Peter Miles (PBS) reverently spins Mahalia Jackson tunes behind a sick set of decks. Miles gives a sobering-but-inspirational lesson on the influence of African Americans throughout the history of popular music, beginning sadly in the slavery era with the singing of spirituals in church, the only place slaves could congregate at that time.

After festival staff announce the pending logistical exercise of dispersing Pope Joan's catered brunch boxes to punters seated in the pews, Sweet Mona's Choir begin with This May Be The Last Time. Deep bass and baritone voices boom out from the male Mona's contingent — who all look super-cute in perky fedoras — standing under the stained glass windows. The vintage-dressed ladies standing among them add the higher and sweeter notes. One distinguished-looking Mona offers a beautiful tribute to the Wurundjeri people by paying his respects in his own language, before the choir launches into I'm Working On A Building. The festival director herself, Natalie Lidgerwood, works the pews handing out Pope Joan's brunch boxes like a flight attendant. Punters spread a delicious tuna-and-mustard mix onto small, toasted baguettes as Sweet Mona's Choir carries on with the solemn Moses ("...Moses don't let King Pharaoh overtake you"). After I'll Be Satisfied, Sweet Mona's Choir persuade all to sing and clap along to Well, Well, Well. After some initial embarrassment, the crowd soon whoops along.  

With slightly less pizzazz than their predecessors, Brunswick Community Gospel Choir perform a short set of spirituals. A full-choir, jazz-hand demo takes last song Trouble In My Way out in style. Sweet Mona's Choir return to tell sad tales about gospel choirs The Swan Silvertones and Fisk Jubilee Singers who, despite their popularity and success, still endured ugly levels of racial discrimination. Things get easier and lighter with the mesmerising Ooh Child, sung in beautiful, rising harmonies with one powerfully voiced contralto belting out stunning, improvised vocals. Finishing with more crowd involvement in The Welcome Table, Sweet Mona's Choir end the Gospel Brunch leaving all feeling physically and spiritually nourished.