Listen to A Homely Blessing here.

At the end of 2021, Ruth Carlyle asked me to arrange one of her poems, A Homely Blessing, as a song for her new album. Excited by the challenge, I began work on creating a setting that was jazzy and inspired by popular music, knowing that this would be a departure from Ruth’s usual style. From an artistic perspective, this was a challenge in that the poem only has 3 stanzas, each with only 4 lines, however this gave room for greater scope with the harmonic progression and interpretation. This was an exciting composition project as it’s always a pleasure to collaborate with other artists. The recording features David Barton on the piano.

A Homely Blessing has been released today and the profits from this project will go towards the Faith in Action Homeless Project.

Ruth’s husband, Nic Carlyle, had the following to say about the project:

A Homely Blessing has been a special commission for Ruth and myself, for we have seen how important a sense of home is. We were very happy that Helen Sanderson White agreed to set Ruth’s words to music. Between 2011 and 2016, Ruth and I were both volunteers with a south London charity formed by local faith groups, Faith In Action Homelessness Project, who provided support to homeless and vulnerably housed people in the Merton Borough area. While Ruth acted as a trustee, I helped with the running of the showers and the laundry. Twice a week, in a local social hall, the group cooked a hot meal, with supplementary breakfasts and hot drinks, a warm social space, washing facilities and showers, a laundry service, as well as advice and referral services. For a few hours a week, something like basic home comforts were available to sixty to eighty people. For these people, home was something that had been lost along the way, ripped out of their lives, and now a struggle to regain. The second verse was something the group aimed for, the basics of food, shared together, extending a warm welcome, and finding friendship in a cruel, uncaring and unforgiving city. Ruth and I earnestly hope that home in all senses of the lyrics are found again within the lives of the people we met. It is to them we dedicate and sing this blessing, and any profits or donations go to Faith In Action Homelessness Project.

You can listen to the song here or make a donation to the Faith In Action Homeless Project here.

Like most composers and arrangers, Rachael Forsyth has dabbled in arranging in many different styles and genres. From, pop to classical, education books and beginner pieces, Rachael has worked across the spectrum of music. A few years ago, she approached me with an idea to arrange some of my music for jazz big band. The English Jazz Orchestra joined Rachael for the project and brought in their strings section from their sister orchestra; the concert took place in March 2019 in North London.

Perhaps the most notable of Rachael’s arrangements was “Without You”.  Scored for brass, woodwind and the rhythm section, she departs from the original upbeat pop song to create a slow burning jazz ballad. The listener is drawn into the world of the 1930s jazz club through her handling of the arrangement. The rhythmic lilt creates a dream-like sound scape and this reinterpretation of the piece frames the melody and lyrics beautifully and space is created to highlight the brass interjections which punctuate the syncopation. The trumpet and saxophone solos weave around the melody and add fresh improvisation.

Forsyth’s ability to create live music is fully demonstrated in this piece. She understands how to reinterpret a piece music into a different genre without losing the essence of the song and how to move the audience and take them on a journey. “Without You” scratches the surface of what she can do as an arranger.

Learn more about Rachael’s music here.

Praise from Liz Mitchell…

“I’ve followed the English Jazz Orchestra for sometime as they originate from my old Uni stomping ground in North London – so was surprised to find a string section front and centre when I arrived at the concert.

The strings added a very Noir style to the existing warm big band sound, conjuring images of 1930s bars, with men who should know better getting wrapped around the little finger of some dangerous, distinctly dressed femme fatale. That’s the power of music as I’m sure Helen Sanderson-White is a lovely lady and not a femme fatale at all. The song ‘Without You’ especially stood out as HSW introduced the song (originally a modern pop song) that had been transformed by long time EJO collaborator Rachel Forsyth. Gone was the modern production, replaced with lush saxophones and a gorgeous trumpet solo.

It was a great evening with some really unexpected moments! Strings and a big band work really well together! Who knew?”

Liz Mitchell, Saxophonist.