I’ve been digging through my files recently, looking at unfinished projects and demos of unreleased songs. Some artists don’t share their demos and work in progress; however I think there’s great value in sharing my sketches and how they develop. Four years ago, I was involved with a project with the Buckinghamshire Archives commemorating the end of World War One in 2018. I wrote several songs but the one that was released as part of the project was Are You Coming Home? This song reflected on letters sent to soldiers from their families, and the eternal of question of whether they would return home safely.
There were so many different aspects of the war that I could have covered, but what really intrigued me was the change in workforce nationally. The First World War was the first opportunity women had to join the workplace and take an active role in industry for the war effort. Inspired by the idea that War Is Not For Women, I wrote a song looking at the social change and opposition that these women faced. Although they were serving their country doing dangerous yet essential work in the munitions factories or frontline medical services, they often faced criticism for leaving their domestic home roles. A debt is owed to these women, as a lot of the female workforce stopped working after the war, but they paved the way for future generations of women to have careers.
This was an unusual project for me; however, I enjoyed the historical backdrop as the research led to a new path of creativity. Often when writing songs, I look for enticing stories, and there were many interesting characters and tales from this period of history! Mostly with this topic, I wanted to honour the legacy that these women left behind. There are other songs that I am yet to record from this project, but for now here is War Is Not For Women.
All For Love is the last single commissioned by the Centre For Buckinghamshire Studies as part of The Great War Showcase that has been shown around the county throughout 2018 to mark the centenary of the end of the war. This song is based on the last words of Captain Francis Grenfell from Beaconsfield. He and his twin brother, Rivy both fought in World War One and were injured in combat. Rivy made it home, but sadly Francis died early on in the war.
On 25 May 1915, Francis endured a German chlorine gas attack and was also shot through the heart. His last words to his squadron were, “tell them I died happy, loving them all.” These words inspired this new song, they got me thinking about love and what that means. How far we will go for others and country? What will we sacrifice so that others can have freedom and peace? Would we die for freedom? Sobering thoughts that make me wonder if we take our freedom for granted.
Back in the autumn of 2015, I had an idea to research stories about special people from Buckinghamshire. I started out with good intentions, but as with all of these things, the twists and turns of life got in the way. At the beginning of this year, I began to think about what I might do with this project; the working title was Heroes of Buckinghamshire but it needed some good stories. Hadn’t got that far, when I noticed an advert from the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies on Twitter, asking for local artists, musicians, poets etc if they would like to submit works for the Centre’s World War One Centenary Celebrations this year. Within 24 hours, I’d signed up to write and create new material for their events this year.
Are You Coming Home? After visiting the Centre and speaking to the archivists, I was touched by the fact the men who left this county to fight for our freedom, were just ordinary people. In fact, many of the letters I read between soldiers and their families indicated that they were ordinary people with extraordinary stories and courage. Before war, they did ordinary jobs, going about their business with little indication of what they may face or may be expected of them in the future. For those left behind, the uncertainty and longing was palpable through these letters; their eternal hope was admirable. And really that’s where this new song begins… I wanted to chart the fact these were real people, whose absence created a gapping hole the lives of the people and towns they left behind.
If you’re local to the Buckinghamshire area, you’ll notice in the lyrics, the line that states
“you rang the bells in the church by the pond”
I was talking about Haddenham at this point. It’s village between Aylesbury and Thame. If you get chance to visit the village, go and check out the church by the pond!