Burt Bacharach sang it best “What The World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love” but it also needs… ART. Over the last few weeks we have seen unspeakable acts of evil on our British streets. As a nation we are no stranger to dealing with conflict; as a child I grew up in the era of IRA bombings and the Falklands and Gulf wars, my parents were born during the second world war and my grandparents were born into the horrors of the first world war. Each generation has seen conflict develop in new ways and now my children are growing up in a society where terror is on the street, in a pop concert and on the London Underground.
The New York Times reported that Britain was “reeling” from these attacks. I beg to differ. As a nation we may get knocked but we have an incredible way of picking ourselves up immediately and getting on with it. In the Blitz we made tea, but there is something we do better than that in a crisis: we make ART. Each crisis has seen this country produce art and music on a unprecedented scale. During World War Two music was used to rally troops and muster morale for those left at home. In the 80s Bob Geldof encouraged us to unite and bring famine relief through a charity single and the world’s first ever charity concert, Live Aid.
Two weeks ago, Manchester burst into song after a minute’s silence for the victims of the Ariana Grande concert bombing. Their song? Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis. I’m sure that Oasis had no idea how that song would be used when they recorded it. Yet their art united people in grief and solidarity when they needed comfort and strength. What does this show us? We need to produce more art that helps people overcome everyday challenges. When sing we become one, when we view a work of art we discuss its beauty and our response to it, whenwe watch a film or play we are drawn into someone’s world and have a better understanding of they tick. Art brings us together, fosters community, initiates discussion and brings understanding. Music has the prophetic ability to change atmospheres, communities and individuals.
Yesterday I watched the One Love Manchester concert, thousands of people united through music. On social media I observed that people of all generations were watching this concert, whether they knew who the acts were or not. A national act of defiance in the face of adversity. Though there was mourning for those we have lost, there was also joy that we have our freedom to express ourselves, a joy that was expressed through song.
In 1937 Picasso painted Guernica, it depicts the horror of the Nazi bombing of the town. Some say that its graphic nature makes it to gory to view, however, in the long term I would suggest that it has given us hope. It reminds us that we are not alone and that others understand what we are going through. It reminds us that they got through it and came out the other side. It’s also a warning to future generations not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to stand strong for freedom.
You may feel that your art has nothing to offer the world, but you never know how it will be used. We must learn to not let fear and lack of confidence stop us from creating. So go write a song, a poem, a play, a film, paint a picture, make a dress, carve a sculpture, write a novel, a blog, a manifesto and help someone who needs to know that they are not alone, whether it’s someone living now or in generations to come. Give them hope…
Well it seems a long time ago now, but last year I recorded some more vocals for Darren Hayman’s new project Thankful Villages Volume 2, the long awaited follow up album to Thankful Villages. You may remember that I sang on Darren’s Chants for Socialists album back in 2014 which was recorded at Kelmscott House in Hammersmith.
So…what is a thankful village? Well it’s a village where every soldier returned alive from World War I. This, when you think about the death toll during the first world war, is quite remarkable and to be celebrated. This is a very exciting project as it was supported by Arts Council England funding in a move to help preserve our history through music and art. In a world obsessed with filming everything on mobile phones and social media, history recorded through song and art seems quite refreshing.
Darren has collated well known, mysterious and often controversial stories from these UK hamlets, weaving a rich tapestry of history and intrigue from around our small island. He has been touring the UK over the the last few months, showcasing both the songs and also his beautiful artwork that was inspired by some of his visits to the thankful villages. I was lucky enough to be invited to sing the backing vocals on Wrigsley and I was also part of the choir on Arkholme. If you love British stories and folk music, check out this niche album! To hear Thankful Villages Volume 2 and download your copy, click here.
You go back to the spot where you last spoke to your friend. You stand there and wait. You know that they won’t appear, but each time you make a visit to this spot, you live in hope that you will be wrong. You plan out what you will wear, say and how the meeting goes. You’ve rehearsed the conversation over and over again to make sure it runs smoothly. Then one day without warning, this person is back and takes you by surprise; none of your carefully planned ideas run according to your plan. Eventually, you pluck up the courage to tell them that you’ve been counting the days since they left…
I once read a story about a woman during the 1940s, who went back to the spot where she had waved off her fiancé to war everyday until he returned. Despite their rocky relationship, this visit became a ritual to help keep his memory alive in her mind; she said that it gave her hope as she remembered those last moments with him before she saw him off to unknown peril. Every time she made a visit to that spot, the locals thought she was mad and that no good would come from this. For her, it helped to focus her mind on the good things of their relationship and not the bad. However, one day a military bus rolled into town and returned her fiancé; he wasn’t the same man who left and she was wasn’t the same woman anymore. He tells that the only thing that kept him going through the horror of war is the memory of the last time he saw her, and she reciprocates with her story. And as they say, the rest is history…
What fascinates me about this story is the determination to keep the dream alive. Time stopped still and couldn’t move on until this relationship was resumed. To experience these emotions, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic relationship, we can be separated from friends and family members and still feel the loss and then the elation of being reunited. There’s that moment where we wonder whether the other person will still feel the same way about us… or has time allowed them to change their mind? That’s the power of hope, it helps us believe that good things will come if we wait…
To hear the new single Twenty Eight Days, click here
My new single What Am I Meant To Do With This Love?
Questions? Oh I’ve got lots of them…
Do you seek an answer, do you miss a piece?
A few weeks ago I did my first concert after a long break. It was nine months since my previous gig and it felt strange to be preparing to perform again. Although, having sung in public since I was three years old, it was like greeting an old friend again. Even life punctuated by music must include periods of rest if the sound is to be of quality. Preparing for this concert was a real journey, I went through folder after folder of material looking for songs to perform. I started with rather a small list but by the end of the week, I had far more material than I had bargained for.
One of the songs that was really popular at the concert was Do You Seek An Answer from At Second Glance. It raised quite a reaction from the audience that was unanimous: life brings us more questions than answers. I wrote that song in 2008 in a period of my life that brought many questions as I watched both friends, family and myself go through difficult times. Prayers that were either unanswered or answered in a way that wasn’t expected, hopes dashed and resurrected, and situations that seemed unfair or unpredictable. Experience tells me that God allows us to walk through these seasons of unanswered questions to help our faith grow. He is far more interested in a relationship with us, than answering a shopping list of needs. It’s not that he doesn’t want to meet those needs (and in some way he always does), it’s that he wants us to get to know him and for our character to grow to be more like him. It’s the waiting with expectancy, the dwelling on his word and the realisation that he wants good things for us that brings us in line with his character and will. If we wait for God and watch him, we experience peace, hope, strength and God’s vision for the future. When we are anxious, we’re exhibiting the symptoms of mistrust and attempting to carry the situation in our own hands.
Where there’s hope, there’s peace…
A few days ago I was watching my son walk down the road to school. His gait always entertains me, it’s filled with joy and fun as he gallops off in every direction. He’s at that age where he has no inhibitions. On this particular day he was enamoured with the blossom: “look mum, blossom snow”. He danced under a tree that was shedding is blossom and in that moment, I realised why I love his little gallop so much: it is full of hope and expectancy. There he was, dancing in the petals enjoying spring. Maybe that’s how we should be during these times of questions and no answers, expectant and full of hope. Happy to accept that God will move when he is ready, holding onto the peace that only he can give. We’re not always meant to know the answers, but to trust that everything will come good in the end.
When we have faith then we’re strong…
To listen to Do You Seek An Answer, click here.
When I woke up yesterday, it was just a normal day. I got the kids ready for school, dropped them off and then drove to work. Work followed by tea, homework, baths, bedtime, piano teaching and THEN… by the end of the day I had released a new song. Yes that’s right, I just randomly released a single spontaneously, on a whim. That’s one of the joys of being an independent artist (believe me there aren’t many, but that is definitely a good thing).
Over the last two years, people have asked me to release some of my demos and live music so that they can hear how the process works. It’s funny, as artists, we often think that people always want the finished product; however, it seems that people like to to see what goes on behind the scenes. There’s something edgy and exciting about hearing a rough demo or a live performance. You can feel the energy and emotion that the writer originally intended, and hear how the song developed. Often the demo sounds vastly different than the actual song that is finally released. The reaction to Worn Out Shoes, a song I wrote with Adam Overton, was overwhelming. Despite the rawness of this recording, (I laugh in it and Adam apologises!), people went mad over it.
With this in mind, I’ve decided to release an EP called Sketchbook:The Demos which will be released later this year. The first single from this project is What Am I Meant To Do With This Love? You may remember that I recorded a video blog about this song in November 2015; it took me ten and a half years to write this song! Sounds weird but in artistic terms that’s normal. The amount of time and maturity needed to process the topic and create something you’re proud of can be a long event.
Releasing this single is a real kick up the arse for me. In March last year, I announced that I was pulling out of the music industry due to the fact that people stopped sodding well paying me. As romantic as it sounds, teaching music and making music for free ain’t gonna to happen: I have two kids and a mortgage. I have managed to partially to stay in the music on a part-time basis, however the threats of non-payment continue and recently an organisation cut my pay by 20 per cent and backdated it by four months. The arts are in big trouble. Only today I had a text from a friend in the arts industry to say that she was made redundant on the spot just two days before.
I’ve spent decades trying to make good music. There were times where I felt that I had sold my soul to do that. As soon as organisations become involved with art, you lose your baby in both good and bad ways. The good being that many hands can make a song or the bad way, can mean that your music gets wrecked. I couldn’t handle being told what to write about anymore. I’ve never been able to fit into the traditional mould of “Christian Artist”, I consider myself to be an artist who happens to be a Christian. That’s not to say that my faith doesn’t inform and influence my art, however I feel it’s my calling to write on wider topics and explore what God wants to say. So what I’m very politely saying is… this is me. Deal with it!
On Christmas Day, the last thing I wanted to hear was that George Michael had died. In a year where we have lost so many well loved and exciting musicians, this seemed like the last straw. It’s no secret that I was a massive Wham fan when I was growing up, and that I followed his solo career closely. It’s taken me awhile to write a tribute to him, mainly because I just needed to go off and be a miserable git about the whole thing for awhile. My musings have led me to this realisation though: the press have often portrayed his life as tragic yet over the years I’ve garnered hope from his watching his life and career.
In the last month, I’ve pondered on what George’s legacy might be for artists and music makers in general. His artistic progression from bubblegum pop to jazz and dance, shows his ability to compose without limitations. I have wondered that if he had not died, where his art would take him next. Over the years I’ve had many an industry professional struggle with the fact that I produce music from a variety of genres; to them it’s not marketable and they “can’t work out who I am”, but in George’s case, it was his strength and give his career and work depth and credibility. Surely we want to see the artists we love grow and develop? So if George can do this, there’s possibility for the rest of us.
His courage and tenacity were demonstrated during the early 1990s, when he fought an industry that treated him unfairly. He stood up for what he believed in and was prepared to see it through whatever the consequences. It was a classic case of art and business colliding; where there is talent, there are people who want to capitalise on it. Though he did not win his court case, a precedent was set that encouraged other artists to speak out in a difficult industry where “fairness” isn’t high in the agenda. Through all of this he kept going. Even the incident in a Beverly Hills toilet didn’t hold him back; he turned a faux pas into a hit record.
After his death, we have also learnt of George’s spiritual development and philanthropy. For years I prayed that he would have an encounter with Jesus, and in the last few weeks we have learnt that he was in regular contact with Christians and that they would pray with him before shows. His financial generosity has shown us that he loved to help others and see them fulfil their dreams. He understood the responsibility that comes with wealth and the opportunities it creates to change lives. In the short time since his death, we have learnt more about George Michael as a person that we had in the previous thirty years.
I’m so glad that I had the opportunity of seeing George live in November 2006 at Earls Court on the Twenty Five Live tour. I discovered that his live performance was far greater than his recorded performances and that despite his protestations that he is not a natural performer, his performance was in fact mesmerising. Though George was generally shy of public life, and admitted that he lacked confidence about his music, his legacy proves that he was a man who grew and matured creatively, spiritually and emotionally. If we can learn anything from George’s life, it’s that we should throw off the past and keep moving forward, after all, it’s something that he did time and time again. Setbacks and knocks, don’t cripple us, they help to reinvent who we are and make us stronger.
To listen to my new song with Adam Overton, Worn Out Shoes, click here.
One thing about moving house is that forces you to get through all your things and have a clear out. I’ve been doing the same with my songwriting and music material recently. I was going through some files on my computer when I found this song that I wrote with Adam Overton on 21st November 2014. It was during my time of living in Oxford and part of great period of songwriting and composing, most of which I haven’t released (yet!). This a rough, live recording that we took at the end of our songwriting session; not bad for a morning’s work!
The song is called “Worn Out Shoes” and very much reflected the our life journeys at the time. One of the most exciting things about songwriting, is the first time you record and capture the song and listen back to your efforts. You know instantly whether it’s going to work or not. Two years on I still love this song, even though we didn’t quite know where we were going with it when we were recording it, there’s something about the melody, harmonies and rawness of the performance that is magical. Enjoy the live experience of capturing a newly written song…
Adam Overton – vocals and piano
Helen Sanderson-White – vocals
Words and music by Adam Overton and Helen Sanderson-White. Copyright 2014 Adam Overton and Helen Sanderson-White.
This is an article that I wrote for a magazine back in January 2012. It was never published, so rather than waste it, I thought I would publish it here…
There’s always great excitement in my house over the latest remastered album. Even though I may already own the album in a different format, I will rush out to buy the new edition and run home expectantly to enjoy the pure, fresh, clean sound. For those of you not in the in the know, in a nutshell “mastering” is the process of removing any unwanted noise from a recording and making all the tracks the same level of volume and equalisation. The days of a crackly record or the sound of the musician or singer turning the page on the recording are long gone. Mastering is process of refinement and attention to detail, often resulting in the mastering engineer going over the project again and again. For one of my projects I sat in the studio with the mastering engineer as he poured over the material; he could hear things that I couldn’t, such as the sound me knocking the music stand during the vocal recording. A tiny, small sound but it could have spoiled the enjoyment of the song. There were other elements we decided to keep in the recording to keep it authentic and real; less perfect more accessible. A live, unfettered element to the music helps build rapport with the audience.
This got me thinking about way life refines us. The challenges of life can leave us with scars and wounds. Little hurts that we pick up and carry along the way can allow us to become blemished and blinkered, and will ultimately hinder us and lead us away from the person that God wants us to be.
The process of healing and letting go of the past is very much like being “remastered”. As we hand over our emotional wounds to God, he wipes away the scar from our life recording. The process of forgiveness allows us to be refined and become pleasing before God. The actual action of believing that God can cleanse us leads to healing and restoration. The faith of the Centurion in Matthew 8 is testament to the action of “believing” that God wants us to be whole. He didn’t even feel worthy to have Jesus in his house, yet he knew that Jesus could wipe away suffering by one word. And just with a touch a button the sound of me knocking music stand was wiped from the recording…
But what about the hurts that continually plague us? Does this mean that we healed? These are the wounds that God wants to use for his glory. The healing is continuous and a constant reminder. In mastering terms, these are the sounds and noises that the engineer chooses to leave in the recording. Although God heals these hurts, he then provides us with opportunities to show to others our humanity. I had an experience a few years ago at work that really knocked my confidence, not just in my musical ability but also as a person. It affected every part of my life and made me question my worth. It took me a long time to allow God to heal my wounds, and every day I still have to ask for his help with my confidence. But what I have found is that it is in our weakness where His glory is most visible; as we turn to God for help we become more like him. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul tells us that God is perfectly able to use us in our weakness, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It’s these weaknesses that make us real and give us the ability to help other people who are going through the same situation. These are the noises that God keeps in our life recording. They help to shape us and build our relationship with Him.
Although I enjoyed my remastered album, I bet there are still quite a few sound impurities that I can’t hear on the recording. There will always be some sounds that shouldn’t be there and other noises that make the track real and interesting. That’s the reality of life; there will always be something that we need to leave with God for His attention. We’re not ready for perfection yet, but we are working our way towards eternity with God when we will be truly remastered.
Do you remember when Mike and the Mechanics sang Over My Shoulder? I used to sing along to that song in bedroom, standing on my bed, yelling into a hairbrush. I was eighteen at the time. Twenty one years on, nothing has changed, except now I repeat the same performance with my eight year daughter. One the sad things about the song is that it is full of regret and hankering after the past. I was driving to work the other day when this song came on the radio and it got me thinking the consequences of looking back when we should be concentrating on the future. At the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked back and she turned into a pillar of salt. She was told not to, but a fleeting moment of curiosity ended her life. I don’t do regret, it’s a lens that distorts the reality of the future. It leads to nothing and makes us focus on our failures.
If we constantly have our eyes on the rear view mirror, we repeat the cycle of who we were and not what we could become. Time allows to move forward but never back. We are given a gift of moving forward and it’s up to us to choose how we react. We can meet the future with hope and expectation or with fear and sadness. Even when we pass through seasons that are not what we want, every day moves us closer to something much better… even when we don’t feel that way. When Alanis Morissette sang “the only way out is through”, she hit the nail on the head. Sometimes we have to grit our teeth and believe that there are better things on the other side of the season.
A few months ago I hit a wall with the whole music thing. Everything I had built up came crashing down and try as I might I could not rebuild it. Truth be told, I was too knackered and broken to fix it. Years of being a freelancer, performer, teacher, composer and everything else had worn me down. I kept looking in the rear view mirror and what I had lost and wondering whether there was any point continuing in music. But the law of life is that as something dies, something else is born and new shoots begin to sprout. Things are already moving on and I’m getting back some of the music opportunities that I lost a long time ago. I have opportunity to reinvent my music and in turn myself. Life constantly evolves and we should take every opportunity to grow and develop.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s don’t look back over your shoulder, face the future and reinvent yourself. Reinvent yourself…