Maxine Brooks tells Andrew Stone about helping people get it together
BBC ONE’S Saturday evening music show All Together Now is the 100-1 shot worth singing about. Eager vocalists stand centre stage in front of 100 music experts and performers, hoping that their song will get the panel on their feet and joining in. The more who jump up, the closer the singer will get to the £50,000 prize on offer in the final tonight (3 March).
It sounds straightforward. It would seem that all the contestant has to do is pick a good, singalong song. But, as the head of the judging panel, Spice Girl Geri Horner, has explained, it is more complicated than that.
‘Everyone in “the 100” has their own checklist,’ she said before the series aired, ‘so it’s finding that one thing that will appeal to all of us.’
Fellow member of ‘the 100’ Maxine Brooks agrees: ‘I’m looking for something unique,’ she tells me. ‘I’m not looking for a mimic of another singer. I also want the performer to execute their singing well. I’ll stand up if they show they’re connecting with what they’re singing.’
Maxine reveals that in the pre-recorded final the contestants raise their game to make it the best show in the six-part series.
Maxine, who is the leader of Birmingham Community Gospel Choir and the pastor of a church in the city, also explains how recordings for the programme took an unexpected turn.
‘What was beautiful was the private, quiet ministry I had during breaks in the recordings,’ she says. ‘I found that some of the other judges were drawn to me, regardless of their lifestyle and thoughts. Because they knew I was a pastor, they spoke to me about faith and asked questions.
‘Sometimes they would say they weren’t certain if God is real, and I would say that he is! But I didn’t push any conversation or make them feel uncomfortable. I just wanted them to know that God loves them.
‘I was happy to pray with them if they wanted me to. A couple of them did, so we went into a private corner. I prayed in a way that didn’t draw attention to us, so I had my eyes open as though we were having a little conversation.
‘In a secular environment, it was a beautiful experience that I wasn’t expecting at all, but I believe that, by going on the programme, I was being sent by God to people who had never been prayed for before.’
Maxine’s experience in the music industry, which began when she was a teenager and has included working with bands such as UB40 and Soul II Soul, has been influenced by her faith.
‘I have to say that the whole of my musical career has been a result of God’s grace,’ she asserts, as she recalls hanging around recording studios with friends when not at school. Among those friends were a group of lads who were forming a band called Musical Youth. In 1982 they secured a record deal to release the single ‘Pass the Dutchie’ and invited the teenage Maxine to sing lead vocals.
‘I said that I wouldn’t because I sang for God,’ she remembers. ‘I wouldn’t sing about weed, because that was what dutchie was.’
Instead, one of the band members, Dennis Seaton, sang the vocals and the song went on to become a No 1 hit in the UK and in many other countries. However, Maxine was never sorry about the decision she made.
‘I didn’t regret it at the time and I still don’t for a moment,’ she says. ‘My determination was that God was going to make a way for me, and I can see now that he has. I’ve had much more success than I could ever have thought of. The memory of Musical Youth is just that, a memory, whereas right now I am actively progressing in my Christian faith and values.’
That progress is being made through Maxine’s work in her church and with the choir she formed in 2005 as part of a community project.
‘When the choir sings, it is an act of worship,’ she tells me, and when I question the difference between singing gospel as worship to God and singing, for example, backing vocals for UB40, Maxine is clear about how they differ.
‘When you sing secular music it is for the now, for the present,’ she says. ‘But when you sing gospel and inspirational songs for the Lord, you get something back – there’s a change in atmosphere.
‘It’s life-changing, because you feel you’re praising the Lord and connecting with him.’
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