Lynden David Hall’s Voice Was An Ark For UK Soul Sermons 🌹

Words: Jesse Bernard

In his last interview with Ras Kwame on BBC Radio 1Xtra in 2004, Lynden David Hall said, “Regardless of the madness of our lives, we still do have moments that are special and treasured.” This came a year after his brief cameo in the widely-loved rom-com, Love Actually, and was also the year he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma disease. Even though his future was far from certain at this point, Lynden moved with hope and never took for granted the blessings life had afforded him.

Lynden David Hall isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think of the BRIT School alumni that have gone on to become a star. When his debut album, Medicine 4 My Pain, was released in 1997 on Cooltempo, Hall would ignite a neo-soul movement long forgotten about on British soil. By this point, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo and Maxwell had already cornered that market within the States but twelve years on from Lynden’s untimely passing—as a new soul movement in the UK has emerged—his influence couldn’t be more pronounced.

At the time of its release, Medicine 4 My Pain was considered the seminal soul album—Ronnie Herel described it as a “landmark album for UK black music.” You could hear the cool smoothness of Al Green and the sonic sensibilities of D’Angelo, which allowed him to deliver just the right tone and melody, at the right time. Sonically, it wasn’t the kind of R&B expected to chart in the UK but Trevor Nelson, who signed the then-21 year old, saw in him, both Green and D’Angelo. I often used to wonder whether the D’Angelo comparisons crippled Hall more than they identified what pocket of music he sat in, but with both growing up in gospel choirs, how could they not share similarities?

On songs such as “Crescent Moon”, Hall croons so poetically where he sings, “I know that I’m a man but I would turn into a woman, just to satisfy your every demand.” He didn’t have the frame of a Ginuwine—nor a D’Angelo for that matter—but he sung with the presence of a reverend, like Al Green, who was almost spiritual in the way he carried a melody. You have to imagine that prior to the release of Medicine 4 My Pain, young Lynden was already looking up to D’Angelo who, himself, was only 21 at the time of the release of his debut album, Brown Sugar, an LP that was heavily inspired by Green.

With “There Goes My Sanity”, Lynden sings with a desperation and longing that evokes Marvin Gaye, particularly during his most melancholy period circa 1978’s Here, My Dear. At the time, Lynden David Hall struggled to cement a dominant presence within the UK’s pop space, competing with the likes of Fatboy Slim, Oasis and the Spice Girls. And despite there being a strong black British presence within music, this was still the ‘90s, and although he won a MOBO for Best Newcomer in 1998, mainstream audiences weren’t ready to accept him.

And we saw, in the 2000s, how British R&B had sorely lacked a presence, unless you were willing to scour the independent sections of record shops. That isn’t completely factual, however, as artists such as Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, and Katie Melua (the latter two also attended BRIT School) enjoyed success within the soulscape of music. Although there was the likes of Lemar, who quickly became pop, it was clear that the industry had a strong idea as to who was considered soul—and it wasn’t Hall, since he went independent due to low record sales.

If Omar was widely considered the father of British neo-soul, Lynden David Hall was its promising prince. The industry is far more friendly towards neo-soul these days; Fatima, Children Of Zeus, Yazmin Lacey, and Terri Walker are but a few names pushing the sound in 2018. But much like many other black music forms, neo-soul has had to fight for its own space and with a boom occurring in the States in recent years, it’s not hard to imagine that it would find its way back to the UK—not that it ever really left.

More than two decades on from the release of Medicine 4 My Pain, many lament those intimate, soul-led melodies that move through the body and into the spirit. They’re still here, of course, but with gospel-influenced artists having less of a stronghold within British R&B, voices such as Lynden David Hall—which was an ark for soul sermons—will be forever missed.

Posted on October 01, 2018