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.

gmOn 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.

Half written songs, rejections, unshakeable belief and failed projects; it turns out that you’ve got to have guts to be an artist! Last week I had a conversation that sadly I’ve had over and over again in the last fifteen years…

Person: “so I hear you’re a musician”

Me: “yes that’s right”

Person: “so what do you do for a living?”

Me: SIGH…

IMG_3524You see no-one ever believes you when you say you’re a singer, musician, artist. People either think that I’m going through a phase and that I’ll get over it or that I have delusions of grandeur. But what if being an artist is just about wanting to create something beautiful and represent the world that you see around you? Art has many purposes: social comment, raising awareness, soothing emotions and trauma and “just because”.

But I’ve discovered that this isn’t for the faint hearted, its not just about singing, playing piano and painting a few nice pictures here and there.  I’ve found that to follow those artistic purposes involves painful honesty, boldness and courage. Earlier this week Adele, admitted that she didn’t think she could write another record and that the “25” album took much longer than she thought as the songwriting was difficult. The reality is that the creative process takes a piece of you and this is emotionally and physically exhausting.

Then there’s the practical side that no-one ever warns you about. Like all freelancers and business owners, I have to go out and find work opportunities and more often then not, if there aren’t any, I have to create them. Everyday I work as my own manager, promoter, booker, marketer, financier, administrator as well as composing and dreaming up new ideas. The launch of every new album, EP, single is a gut wrenching roller coaster ride of excitement and terror. Will the songs be well received? Will the project break even, let alone run into profit? Have I just released some terrible songs?

The exciting part of being an artist is that you get to be a pioneer! Artists are often called into uncharted areas where there is little creativity to shed light into darkness. We’re called to try new things, expressions, media to see where it will go. It’s risk taking – we put our hearts on our sleeves in order to encourage, enlighten, warn and protect. The downside of this can mean that we risk rejection, being misunderstood, loneliness and sometimes humiliation. The artist’s world is a brave one; it means going out on a limb.

Artistry also means accepting a Bohemian lifestyle. Artists choose a lifestyle that the world says is unconventional, different and not “normal”. We are called to think and see the world differently: to dream… Sometimes we choose to create when the mood takes us, other times we are forced to put pen to paper and hope that we can conjure the magic. We are often misunderstood as the creative force means working with ideas, notions and timetables that are different to what the world says is acceptable.

The whole package of artistry means being DARING in everything from self belief, to work, to lifestyle. It means daring to be different and knowing your own mind. You need to seek out others who will support you through all seasons, not just the good times and the successes. They may not always understand but they are the type of people who will support you no matter what. You got to have guts to be an artist…

Never, Never, Never Give Up…

Winston Churchill was right, never, never, never give up! The last few years have been a tough ride musically and I have wondered whether I should actually stay in music. I know that may come as a surprise to some of you as I’m not someone who publicly moans or talks about what’s going on behind the scenes. But finding work has been hard. It actually been difficult for about eight years since the recession started; my husband’s four redundancies in five years did not ease the problem either! I’ve put up with people telling me that my songs are irrelevant, that no-one wants to hear “a bird with a piano” and that singers like me are “two a-penny” and therefore I should work and perform for free. On top of that for every project that is successful, I have approximately four projects that fail. I don’t usually talk about that, but believe it or not everything works out with a fairytale ending. A lot of projects do just go “tits up” taking a large amount of money with them.

Fortunately I’ve had some solidarity from other music colleagues who have had exactly the same problem and we’ve kept each other going. At this point I would publicly like to thank a number of people who have listened to me whinge! Thanks to Nikki, Rachel, and Anya! LOVE YOU GUYS!

What people haven’t realised though is that I’m a feisty old bird and NOTHING keeps me down! If anything it only makes me more determined and drives me to keep going. The thought of leaving music behind killed me and especially as it I feel that it is something that God called me to; I left a very nice, secure career in HR fourteen years ago to do this full time. So I made a decision: the decision is that I’m never, never, never going to give up! As fans, your job is to hold me to that statement…

So what have I been doing over the last few months? I know many of you have been keen to hear news about new music… Well I can confirm that I have been writing a new album! It’s been lovely to have space to return to my first love: songwriting. The last EP (Sirens and Other Mysteries) was written in a bit of a rush, so I wanted to take my time with the next project and I’m currently still writing. It may take forever – Sorry!

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Earlier this week I headed down to Resound Media’s new studio in Gloucestershire to record a new single “Close That Door”that will be released later this year. Andy Baker is producing again and we had a great time working on the track. I can’t wait for you to hear it! I also got to a have cup of tea with the gorgeous Penny Lyon from Out of the Ashes afterwards – so that was a bonus!

So if you’re on the verge of giving up – DON’T! Keep going and don’t stop. It can only get better – right?!!! So to encourage you, here’s a photo of me recording me new single; it’s the stuff that dreams are made of…

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Last week Pharrell Williams was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey about his hit song “Happy”. She showed him a video montage of people around the world dancing to his song and enjoying the music he had created. The result was that Pharrell burst into tears! In a moment of encouragement Oprah said to him “It’s being used for something that’s greater than yourself…”

During the making of my Sirens and Other Mysteries EP there were a lot of personal setbacks and heartbreak that seemed to get in the way of writing and recording the project. I wrote the song If That’s The Way after I had a miscarriage, it wasn’t an easy song to write and I certainly didn’t think that I would ever be able to sing it in public. In fact, during rehearsals for the recording I sobbed everything time I went to open my mouth. I’d never had this situation with a song before and it worried me; could I actually be that honest with people and let them see my grief in public? Quite frankly I didn’t want to cry on stage in front of a lot of people!

As a consequence of this, I toyed with the idea of taking the song off the CD and right up to the last minute I still hadn’t committed to letting the song go public. Whenever I thought about emailing the producer to say “delete it!” I couldn’t quite do it, something was stopping me. What I didn’t know at the time was that it had the same potential to be used “for something greater than myself”; I just had to move out of the way so that other people could benefit from this. Since I released the song, and the video about it I’ve had an amazing and overwhelming reaction from people: something that I didn’t expect! So even though being honest about where I’m at is scary it was worth it in the end.