Here I am singing Sweet Harmony with The English Jazz Orchestra – ENJO live at St Luke’s Church, Enfield on 14 March 2019. I wrote this song in 2005 and Rachael Forsyth arranged it for big band and orchestra. More clips to follow soon!
Sometimes God likes to remind us how powerful He is. We think that we are too far gone, and that we have missed His plan for our lives. The situation seems impossible and we believe that nothing can change. Sometimes the vision He has given us for us lives seems so outlandish that we believe that it can never happen. We’re in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, we don’t know anyone who has the contacts to help us. Our perception of God becomes limited to what we can see.
And that’s when God likes to remind us that He hasn’t forgot us, that He can do anything and bring the most unlikely of people together. On Saturday night, the doorbell rang and on the other side of the door was the much expected Tesco delivery man. What wasn’t expected, was the conversation that ensued whilst he unpacked my food order. After apologising for being half an hour early, and me saying “oh that’s fine, I needed a break from editing a song”, we discovered that we both had something in common: MUSIC. Turns out that he’s a sound engineer and mixes and masters a lot of projects for the BBC and local radio. Somewhat downcast, he then said “I expect you’re wondering why I’m working for Tesco”, I replied, “not really, lots of people in the music industry have several jobs. Helps to pay the bills”. And at the point, he relaxed and his story came tumbling out…
Turns out he needed some encouragement and to hear that it’s ok to have multiple, different streams of income. He needed someone to say that they understood how hard the music industry can be and that he’s not alone. We talked about the seasonal nature of life and that low points can often to be a blessing as they lead us to make changes that create new seasons and creativity in our lives. I was rather surprised to be having this conversation on my doorstep; I hadn’t thought I’d be discussing this in my slippers whilst checking if my favourite crisps had been delivered but evidently it was a divine appointment which was beneficial for both of us.
What God was reminding me, is that He isn’t limited by our location or condition. He can bring two people together and make His will happen. Divine connections can happen in the strangest of places, and when we least expect it. He doesn’t need us to try and engineer these meetings, He’s got it all under control. Some of these encounters are short lived and serve to encourage us, while others have a lasting effect and are to bring us into opportunities and seasons of life. The important thing is to be prepared for the unexpected, we never know when God will want us to help someone or to be available to make something happen. Whilst He doesn’t need our help, He loves to partner with us so that we can see how powerful and great He is. It’s often in the smallest of details that we realise that God loves us and has a plan for our lives. Often what keeps life exciting, is the encounters that makes us say “I wasn’t expecting that…”
I’ve waited a long time to write this blog; seven years to be precise! Seven long years. We all have a dreams of things that we would like to do and sometimes we get the opportunity to do them. The saddest thing is when one of those dreams is struggling and no matter what we do, it doesn’t survive and eventually dies. It can be a game changer; it affects your perspective on life and can make you retreat from other opportunities for fear of getting hurt.
In 2012, I was offered the opportunity to perform my songs with a jazz orchestra. It was a dream gig, I’d waited all my life for it and I was going to make it happen! The early discussions went well, and I was ever hopeful that the concert would take place within six months. However, over time the project began to disappear, no matter what I did I couldn’t make it work. The dream concert was long gone, and my music career seemed to be dead. I asked God to put it right and bring the project to fruition, but nothing happened. Things went from bad to worse, my business collapsed, my marriage failed and my living arrangements were insecure again. I never knew that life could go so low so fast. It all changed in an instant.
Last year, my colleague and long standing friend, Rachael Forsyth, contacted me and asked if she could pitch the project to an orchestra again and also do the jazz arrangements of my songs. My initial reaction was that it wasn’t sure that I wanted to go through all the disappointment again, however, that thought of “if I don’t try, I’ll never know” crept in and I decided to be brave and give it a go. Over a period of six months we plodded through arrangements and emails, and we wondered if it would ever come together. At one point it actually looked as though the whole thing would fall apart again and Rachael and I prepared ourselves that it might not happen.
But that’s not the way God works. He specialises in bringing dead things back to life. After seven years of waiting, wondering, praying and hoping, I will be performing with the English Jazz Orchestra on Thursday 14 March. I can’t believe it’s taken this long, but those prayers that I prayed seven years ago are finally being answered. Just because something looks dead doesn’t mean that it is. Sometimes God waits so things are better, the timing is right and our character has developed enough for us to deal with it. Sometimes he removes things that are in the way or that will destroy the dream, so that when the dream buds, it can flourish and grow without being choked. Although this seems strange, all those things happened for my good. That part of my life died so that better, greater things could come. Sometimes God allows these things to happen so that he can realign us with his plan for our lives and also his timing (which is never our timing!).
In another strange twist of events, I received an email today saying that a song I sent to a DJ three years ago, is now being played on his podcast this month. I’d actually forgotten that I sent it off to the radio show! It’s like the song was waiting for right moment.
A friend recently challenged me to write more about the reality of being an artist. And to be honest this is something that I dread, cause no-one likes a whiner… Often that’s how artist lives come across, but the reality is that being an artist is HARD. It is not for the faint-hearted, or the fame hungry. It requires commitment, huge personal cost and you lose friends along the way. But that’s where music fans come in, they are committed, altruistic and are prepared to dream with the artist. They are often the backbone of the artists’s work and career, they provide support encouragement and resources. So here are five things you need to know about being a music fan:
You mean the world to the artist. Yes really you do. You are part of the songwriter’s journey and they are thinking about what they want to convey to you when they are writing a new song. Every time you comment on a social media post, buy a CD or download a single, read a blog or share their music with someone new, you support the artist in ways you cannot imagine. When a songwriter shares new music with her fan base, it brings the music to life. So don’t forget to share the artist’s work, buy the music and tell your mates about it.
Artists love it when you interact with them. It helps them to know when their music is reaching people and who it is impacting. They love it when you get involved with music and are part of the creative process; it can be inspirational and add new dimensions to the work. We’re so lucky with social media that we can do this quite easily and regularly. At some point in their careers, most artists will experience loneliness and depression, especially when writing a new project. It can be a solitary time when you’re working away on a song or on the road touring. Over the years I’ve become great friends with some of my long term fans; they are the ones who know about the latest project before anyone else. Some of them have even suggested subjects for me to write about it. Thanks to technology and social media, the era of the inaccessible artist is long gone – get interacting!
Buying the artist’s music is a game changer. Yes, I know artists aren’t meant to talk about money. However, the sum goes like this: no money = no music. Sad but true. It costs a lot of money to write, record and produce music and most artists pay for it out of their own pockets at great personal cost. Sadly in the current era, music doesn’t sell as most people listen to it for free on Youtube or stream it through platforms such as Apple Music or Spotify. These platforms are good in terms of getting music out to a broader audience, however they pay peanuts, far less than the single actually being downloaded directly from the artist. It’s a costly business and can mean that a lot of artists live below the poverty line in order to support their work. Buying a single, CD, T shirt or supporting their crowdfunding campaign makes all the difference.
Your RSVP is a confidence booster. Turning up to a concert, interview or Facebook Live makes it all worth while. Releasing new music takes guts. Mosts artists are nervous about new projects, they’ve poured their heart and soul into it but they’ve no idea how it will be received. When you turn up to an event, you’re giving your seal of support and approval. A fan’s interaction can be make or break for a project or even a career. Booking agents look for acts that have an active, attentive fan base, who will turn up to concerts and bring crowd with them. RSVPing and be there, makes all the difference…
Sing! Dance! Enjoy! We make the music, the art, the shows for YOU. Enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the artist and the music. Enjoy the recordings, the live shows and the interviews. Enjoy every moment of it; life is too short not to enjoy each other’s gifts and talents. Thank you for all support, the music and the future!
Artists Have Big Mouths… And we have a responsibility to speak out about issues that concern others as well as ourselves. Art is about creating something beautiful, but sometimes it can also be about reflecting the ugliness, injustice, unfairness or the fractured nature of the world. An artist should represent the world as they see it. It’s about using our gifts to help others as well as entertaining.
I’m always looking for new and creative ways to use art to promote causes or make a statement in the public arena. Back in May of this year, I was asked, along with a group of other artists, to create some art for a political protest that would highlight the differences in the gender pay gap for ministers in the Baptist Union. The project was presented to the Baptist Council at the beginning of November and was installed in secret before the meeting started so that no-one knew that it was on the agenda. The art installation was a response to a survey of salaries and benefits across the national ministerial spectrum.
All the artists were asked to create a leaf in any medium or style that represented one of the respondents from the survey: I was given the profile of a senior male minister on full benefits and salary. None of the artists knew what what the rest of the team were creating; this meant that each leaf was unique and distinct from the others, highlighting our individuality and the uniqueness the Lord has given each of us. The project was well received and provoked conversation about how to further the study and conversation of equality within ministry. Each member of the council got to take a leaf home with them to remind them of the discussion.
It’s been an interesting and challenging project and not one that I would have have naturally gravitated to, but it’s allowed me to explore art in another arena and make art that speaks out for other people. Initially I found the protest element intimidating because of the possibility of rejection. However once I got past that I could see the true value of the project. It’s taken me outside of my comfort zone and made me think about other ways to use art writing, and music in society. Who knows where it will lead? I’ll keep protesting… the creative way.
All For Love is the last single commissioned by the Centre For Buckinghamshire Studies as part of The Great War Showcase that has been shown around the county throughout 2018 to mark the centenary of the end of the war. This song is based on the last words of Captain Francis Grenfell from Beaconsfield. He and his twin brother, Rivy both fought in World War One and were injured in combat. Rivy made it home, but sadly Francis died early on in the war.
On 25 May 1915, Francis endured a German chlorine gas attack and was also shot through the heart. His last words to his squadron were, “tell them I died happy, loving them all.” These words inspired this new song, they got me thinking about love and what that means. How far we will go for others and country? What will we sacrifice so that others can have freedom and peace? Would we die for freedom? Sobering thoughts that make me wonder if we take our freedom for granted.
Helen’s Heroes of Buckinghamshire Tour
Helen will be performing at the Great War Buckinghamshire Showcase (in association with Centre of Buckinghamshire Studies) as part of her “Heroes of Buckinghamshire” tour.
Date: Saturday 13 October. Time TBC.
Venue: Christ the Cornerstone, 300 Saxon Gate, Milton Keynes MK9 2ES