Want to listen to something new? For the rest of August you can download “Close That Door” for free! Just click here to listen and download the song.
So it’s Sunday evening and I’m at a loose end. What’s a girl to do? Yep that’s right, sing in her pyjamas. I decided to try out some simple vocal looping and write a short song as a test for the TC-Helicon VoiceLive Touch 2. Enjoy Tomorrow’s Brighter...
Words and music – copyright 2017 Helen Sanderson-White.
So vinyl is hot right now (probably one thing that it shouldn’t be!). Over the last few years Aylesbury has seen it’s fair share of record and music retailers come and go, indicating the precarious nature of the music business in today’s climate. However, there’s a secret that the town is hiding… The Vicious Squirrel, based at Deco Audio. A few days ago, I took a trip to visit the record store in its new home since relocating from the town centre. Now based on the Gatehouse Industrial Estate (it took some finding as I didn’t know that it was inside Deco Audio!), the store boasts a dedicated warehouse space that houses vinyl from a wealth of genres and decades. There is also a floor of turntables and a repair workshop on site which tells you how serious they are about music – it’s a love affair and they are going to help you make your vinyl collection dream come true!
I was greeted on arrival and taken up the vinyl floor where I was offered a coffee to assist my browsing (if only I’d had more time!) which is great perk that other stores don’t offer. What I loved about this is that it’s record hunting for grown ups; time out from the kids and work to relive your childhood dreams whilst feeding your caffeine habit. The vinyl area is decorated with black walls that double as blackboards for the sales team to add on their favourite albums or record of the week recommendations. There’s even a vicious squirrel who watches over proceedings from his own top shelf… If you’re looking for new albums or old secondhand favourites, this store has got it all. The staff were knowledgeable and offered me advice on the best companies for reissues (and the worst too). I’ve since contacted them via social media and told them of my love of 80s Madonna and they’ve dug out some LPs for me to go and peruse. Attentive, good customer service is rare in this day.
My only bugbear is that their signage isn’t great, so it took a while to find the centre and it only opens three days a week. Give me records all day please! Notably I was the only woman perusing, which having worked in the music industry for decades I’m well used to, but come on ladies, get in on the seen! We know just as much as the boys!
The Vicious Squirrel have to some great events coming up in the near future. One that particularly caught my eye is the record fair from 30 August to 2 September, which quite frankly you all need to go and support! If you haven’t got a record player, why not??? Last night my evening was made perfect by George Benson and Pat Benatar whizzing around the turntable! The team also mentioned that they are keen to forge links with local bands and host album launches and music evenings. Aylesbury needs more opportunities for live music that extend past its established rock scene. They already have connections with Sweet Billy Pilgrim who originate from the town.
So would I go back to The Vicious Squirrel Records again? You betcha! I’m counting down the days! If you want to find out more information, The Vicious Squirrel.
Recently in an interview Bono said something that is very close to my heart. It’s something that I have been quite passionate about for a long time. It’s a reason to get out of bed, a reason to song-write and create, it’s a reason to be the person we were made to be as artists… It’s no secret that Bono has criticised Christian artists who only produce worship music, and that his own musical and creative journey started in a worship band that eventually morphed into the internationally renown U2. However his stand point is refreshing and challenging, “we don’t have to please God in any other way than to be brutally honest,” he said. And that’s what I love. The fact that I can be brutally honest in my songwriting.
Bono’s thought process goes further than that though; just because an artist is a Christian doesn’t mean that they can only produce worship music. He goes on to say that “Creation screams God’s name. So you don’t have to stick a sign on every tree.” And I agree with him. I always think it’s sad when artists are pigeonholed with the label “Christian” as the genre immediately limits their scope of work. We don’t need to mention Jesus in everything we do, we carry the fragrance of Jesus with us so his presence is always in our work.
Our music might help someone… Over the years, I’ve been encouraged by many a song that wasn’t Christian because I connected with it some way. This is usually because I could empathise with the topic because I was going through the same life experience. Our songs don’t always have to rejoice over happy endings, some of the best selling pop songs over the decades have been sad, yet the music-buying public lap it up as they need something to help them through their difficult times.
I am not a Christian artist. I refuse to be. I’m an artist who happens to be a Christian. What’s the difference? Well although I write the occasional worship song for church, I don’t feel that worship songs are my calling. I don’t feel the need to mention Jesus in every song I write; I believe that my art should be influenced by faith and that it needs to go much further than the walls of the church building. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who are called to compose worship music for church gatherings, and if that is what God has called them to then that’s great, but for me it’s not the be all and end all.
This route into artistry is often lonely though; artists who don’t tow the party line and stick to producing worship material are often overlooked by the Christian public. Churches in the UK don’t tend to support artists whose work moves beyond the church walls. We need to release artists into their callings and let them create the works that God has designed for them to do. There are far more opportunities for people to meet Jesus if we are honest about life experiences and allow those experiences to help others. And how much more will we learn about God if we dare to explore further than the praise and worship genre? Some of my greatest experiences of God have come through secular lyrics, the process of songwriting or going to concert. So take Bono’s challenge and dare to go further than praise and worship song in everything you do. You never know you might help someone…
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!