Earlier this month is was in an art shop and felt the prompted to buy a heart shaped canvas. I can’t say that it’s something I would normally go for but I bought it anyway. That same day, someone told me that they loved the bold colours in my previous work and that they would love to see more of that. Within 48 hours of that conversation, I painted the RAW HEART.

Amazingly this painted sold with less than hour. I’ve never sold a painting that quickly before, so it was a real blessing! What’s even more lovely, is that it was bought as a present for a birthday. I gave my heart away and someone gave it away as a gift – the love was passed on. Here’s a beautiful photo of RAW HEART and it’s new owner, Allie…

A few weeks ago I went to see the Amazing Grace film about the recording of the famous Aretha Franklin gospel album. Filmed and recorded in 1972, it is the only gospel recording that Aretha made after becoming a Grammy Award winner. Granted there are recordings of her leading worship as a teenager at her father’s Baptist church, but this is the only album she made with a Christian emphasis in her professional singing career. As a star she often talked her of faith in God and how it underpinned her life, let alone her career.

One of the issues that has distressed me over the years, is the constant criticism from some Christians who declare that she turned her back on God and the church in order to follow a musical path. My own experience is that the church often tries to keep musicians and artists within its walls should they try and do something that would lead them astray and destroy the reputation of the faith. Yet musicians and artists are visionaries who hear and see what God has placed within them. Aretha’s journey wasn’t so much about walking out of the church, but more about being sent by God into an industry that needed him. She was often described as shy and quiet, yet when she opened her mouth the passion and conviction poured out through her singing, a talent and drive that come from the strength of something much greater than her.  

This album celebrates Aretha’s personal testimony of her journey through a difficult life. A single mother by the time she was 13 years old, divorces, an abusive home life and the back drop of slavery and the civil rights movement all led her into a deeper relationship with God. However, while some Christians decry her fame and status as ungodly, there’s also the possibility that God put her into that position so that he could use her to help others. Aretha’s Amazing Grace album is the best selling gospel album of all time, beating her gospel rivals. Not bad for someone who made their name as a soul singer. 

What is also interesting about this album is the rawness of the occasion compared to other recordings of that era. It is reported that Aretha wanted to capture live worship as she knew it in her own church and present it to a wider audience who had no church background. The album allows us to hear Christians worshipping openly in a Baptist church in Los Angeles with a small congregation of both believers and non-believers. This album wasn’t about creating a studio atmosphere with great musical prowess, but about opening a window on praise and adoration of the Lord for those who had never experienced it. Aretha displays a dedication to take the church and God’s love out to the world rather than to wait for people broach the church door tentatively. As Christians, we are asked to take the message of God to our mission field, Aretha just does on a much grander scale using her status and platform to spread the gospel of Jesus. What is notable is that on the second night of the recording, the congregation doubled in size as word spread about the “free” Aretha concert. Even Mick Jagger makes an appearance in the crowd.

However, it isn’t just this album which makes Aretha’s legacy so unique. She was known for singing about women’s rights and independence, performing strong and powerful lyrics that women across the world identified with. Many of her songs became anthems for change and breakthrough; we’re all familiar with Respect and Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves and the powerful message that pervades these performances. 

While the some factions of the church may be mourning the loss of musicians who follow a different path, others are valuing the mission work that they are doing. The music business is one of the most uncharted industries when it comes to Christian missionaries. Aretha’s entry into this world meant the gospel was spread further. I’m not suggesting that all church musicians and artists should up and leave, more that the church should recognise their call and prophethood into an area that needs light and hope. Artists and musicians are called to carry the very heart of God into a world that needs help and this includes the entertainment industries. 

I know the church feels the need to protect creatives from sex, drugs and rock n roll, however in doing so, sometimes it stops people from fully fulfilling their calling. There needs to be an element of trust that God knows what he is doing. I’ve often been criticised for writing secular songs, however I do believe that this is what God has called me to do. One wonders if the church lets down artists, such as Aretha Franklin, by not supporting them more. Perhaps less stars would go off the rails if the church walked with them through their musical careers. I think what we can glean from Aretha’s life is that God used her powerfully and that her music touches the lives listeners around the world. Music is more than worship, some songs heal by the fact that we identify with the pain, others uplift when we feel down, or build community when we all sing together. Music has more than one role in life. 

Perhaps it is time for the church to let more creative people go and do what they do best and reap the harvest of music and art that comes from it. We’re not walking out of church, but walking into what God has called us to do.

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Where do the years go? Fifteen years ago on Saturday 5 June 2004, I released my first Album Conversations With The Heart. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but that album came into being by chance. I was studying for a music degree at the time and was writing bits and pieces in between that and music teaching. 

A friend of mine asked me to perform at New Eden Music Festival in Torquay in the summer of 2003 and after the performance I bumped into some old friends who were also recording their work. Those are lifetime friends, Peter and Debs Brazier. A quick conversation and a swap of contact details led to me sending Pete some home demos of my songs. Before I knew it was was standing in their dining room in Paignton, singing into a microphone. I faithfully trudged up and down from North London to Paignton with piano in the boot of my car for a weekend of recording many times over a period months until the project was finished. The whole project was made on the tiniest of budgets and a lot of tea from Debs! The artwork was created by Andrew Wainwright, a friend from music college.

The album launch took place on a very hot evening at St Margaret’s Church, Uxbridge and from memory we had about eighty people there. It wasn’t just me performing that night, Sheryl Anne Ashton also sang some solos and then joined me for some duets. It’s so great to be able to perform and make music with friends! 

And here I am these years on, still proudly an independent artist. I’ve had dalliances with record companies but I’ve never been made a sensible offer (just ridiculous ones!). Two albums, four EPs and lots of singles later. Still making music myself, still finding new ways to make it work. Here’s to the next fifteen years… 

What would you like to hear from me?

Join my angels here.

So this month I have created some artwork for my Guardian Angels (don’t fear if you support me on one of the other Angel tiers, something is winging it’s way to you!).

I’ve chosen the Bible verses Luke 12:28 and Psalm 141:2 and created images around those verses. I’ve always wanted to draw roses, but think I could until last night! So mission accomplished, and I may try out other flowers as well.

Enjoy!

For more info visit my Patreon (Helen’s Angels) site here.

The journey to becoming you is a lifetime process, and the same can be said about becoming a musician or artist. It’s an amble through trial and error, followed by readjustment and acceptance. If you can navigate through the pitfalls well and learn from them, then you can become more resilient and focused on what you are supposed to be doing. You have to learn not be to discouraged at each hurdle but to pick up the pieces and get going with your vision. And there’s the crux of being an artist… VISION. It gives us a reason to create, a message to deliver and a community to focus on. 

Very few creatives reach the pinnacle of their career with their first project; if they do reach the heady heights quickly, the harder they fall. If you gain access to a public platform, you need to be prepared to have a good message for your audience. You also need to have the character to bear the weight of the responsibility of speaking into situations that need wisdom, to give hope and not despair, to be positive when others are negative. Character develops under pressure, through perseverance, by overcoming obstacles and be willing to admit that we aren’t always right. If your character is weak, you will struggle to carry greatness and influence a world that is easily swayed. People are looking for a consistent, strong message that brings light into darkness; that type of maturity doesn’t develop overnight, it is born out of adversity and longevity. 

Often it’s in the seasons of “no” and “not yet” that we find out who we are. Like a seed planted under the soil, we grow in the dark seasons of our lives. The disappointments become fertiliser for our creative outlook. Even though the soil buries us, fresh green shoots spring up and bloom in the sunlight: something new is born. The tender shoots push the dirt away and reach out of the light. Those difficult seasons may seem to have no purpose but ultimately our personhood gets chiseled away by our experiences, and walking through fire helps refine and define our character. We are more than the sum of our experiences though, we are divinely created with a unique spirit, mind and purpose. We have a reason to be and a reason to do. 

Being an artist requires the gift of prophecy, to see what could be and call it into being. Most of us have been inspired by a song, book, or painting at some point in our lives, something that gives us vision and inspires us to be more, to push the boundaries. Each artist has spent time thinking about how to convey something new to their audience, using the opportunity to impart wisdom and infuse hope as part of their legacy to the world. It can be a lonely role, to move forward with a vision that others don’t yet see. It requires tenacity, perseverance and a willingness to sacrifice comforts to make the vision come to pass. You have to grow the vision and then give birth to it. 

So be encouraged wherever you are on your artistic journey, that the highs and lows are all part of the process of becoming who you are. You are becoming the artist that you want to be. A diversion doesn’t mean that you won’t reach your destination, it means you have something to learn along the way. The journey is often more important than the destination. Don’t be impressed with everything you see and hear, but work on being unique and find your own voice. No-one can be who you are. Rejoice in your uniqueness and work on your weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who support you but don’t pander you. Find your message and be the voice crying out in the wilderness. Speak change into a dying world and watch as your art makes a difference: a difference that only you can make. 

It’s a new season and it’s time for new things. I’ve been thinking about doing things differently and new goals. Over the last decade, a lot of my projects have been produced by other people, which I have loved and it’s been a great experience! However, I haven’t had chance to have creative control over my music for a long time, so my next project will be produced by me!  After writing songs for the Centre For Buckinghamshire Studies last year, it gave me taste for producing my own music again and having that creative control which can sometimes be lost in corporate production. I made a decision that I wanted to be able to involve my fan base and supporters in the actual creation of the music. In the past I’ve had a call out for stories for songs from fans and then created music from their ideas; this time, the songs are based on my experiences and will feature the backing vocals of others. Part of being an artist, is being able to let go of what we’re creating and let outside influences join in shaping those ideas without losing the original vision. 

The first song I’m working on is called Womankind which looks at the aspects and personhood of being female. I have strong female characters in my present and past that have influenced my life, and a story of my own that has led to who am I, and that really is where this song begins. My own experience of being female has balanced between  being resolutely strong and empathetically vulnerable. Like all women, I’ve played a variety of roles simultaneously: daughter, sister, aunt, mother, friend, lover, ex-wife, colleague, confidant and the list goes on… The role of women is often down-played and lost in society and I want to highlight the essential nature of what women provide and bring to our culture. This album will very much feature our contribution. 

One of the greatest gifts that we receive from God is knowing who we are and having the space and opportunity to explore and find that out throughout life. I am very proud to be a woman and believe that we should increase the volume of voice in our communities and push forward for as many opportunities as possible. If we have learnt anything from our female predecessors, it’s that tenacity, strength, and perseverance eventually open doors to equality and that we have the right to obtain the same roles and levels as our male counterparts. 

Over to you… I need as many women of all ages and backgrounds as possible to record themselves saying a set of words that I will incorporate into the song. You don’t need to sing the words, just speak them. Most mobile phones have recording devices on them, and all you need to do is recording yourself saying the words and then email the mp3 to me. It only takes about 5 minutes to record and your name will be listed on the album cover.  If you would like to be involved, please email me and I will send you the words to say. Also, if you have words based on your own experience that you want to incorporate into the song, that would be most welcome…