NEW WINE in Woolwich, south London, is one of the UK’s most well-known black Pentecostal churches, and their profile went up a notch with the recent release of their latest album.
The Siege Is Over, a live recording, features great vocal performances and a guest appearance by Nigerian gospel star Nathaniel Bassey.
And the album is making waves, partly due to Lawrence Johnson. For the past 11 years, Johnson, 57, has served as New Wine’s music director.
A key creative force behind the album, he played a major role part in getting the singers to deliver some exceptional performances.
The songs on The Siege Is Over reflect the personal journey of New Wine church.
Johnson explains: “This album reflects all the things we’ve been through as a church, people have been divorced, have lost children, have been married and we lost two pastors.
“This album is based on real life. It’s a life worship album based on what we’ve been through in life, but focuses on God, who kept us in our various life situations.”
It was also important for Johnson that the album reflected the contributions of all the people in the New Wine music department, hence the name Sounds of New Wine (SONW).
“Sounds of New Wine is our sound team, our stage team, our choir, our musicians,” says Johnson.
“All of these components make SONW. There’s always a focus on singers, but without the other guys the music doesn’t function. Ours is a music album based on the team I look after.”
There is no doubting that Johnson’s experience in the world of gospel and the music business is second to none.
Raised in a Christian family, Johnson came to faith at the Latter Rain Outpouring Revival Church based in Hoxton, east London.
In the late 1970s and 1980s it was one of the highest-profile churches of its day, attracting members including Bazil Meade. Johnson directed the Latter Rain church choir which became renowned for its vocal excellence.
In 1981, Meade and Johnson joined forces with Delroy Powell and founded the London Community Gospel Choir (LCGC) – and he has never looked back. It was with LCGC that he got his first session gig, doing vocals for a soundtrack with Paul McCartney.
He travelled the world with LCGC, and then founded gospel soul group Nu Colours, who were signed to Polydor. Fans and music business professionals alike raved about the group.
When Whitney Houston heard them performing in the US, she wanted to manage them. Over the years Johnson has worked with numerous top artists including Tina Turner, Mary J Blige and Sam Smith.
For 10 years he served as vocal coach for pop group Westlife and worked with Simon Cowell, providing vocal training for The X Factor contestants and other artists signed to Syco Music.
He also worked on the hit films Four Weddings And A Funeral, Love Actually and Notting Hill.
Johnson also spearheaded fundraising songs for the victims of the Asian tsunami in 2004 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010.
Though he has experienced numerous career highs in the secular music business, he is honest enough to admit that he became spiritually cool.
“I lost focus thinking about money. I kinda lost my way in the middle period of my life,” he says.
“On reflection, because I grew up in church, I didn’t have any understanding of what my faith was. I was one of the first choir directors doing stuff.
“I realised I had a gift of directing but I thought it was just me and that I’m so hot. It took time for me to realise God is the one who opened doors.”
Of course Johnson is now back on track and, in recent months, Johnson has been getting new requests to work on major projects.
He’s accepting, but this time, he fully acknowledges that God is the author of all his good fortune. And he’s looking forward to running a new record label.
Johnson’s hope that The Siege Is Over is the success it deserves to be and serves as a reminder that God can and does help people no matter what life situation they face.
Visit soundsofnewwine.com for more information