It has been said that it takes a crisis for people to see what they truly value. Never has this been more evident in our generation than through the COVID-19 crisis. The national lockdown may have brought people to a stand still but also to a place of deep introspection on personal and national level. We are continually in awe at the NHS response to coronavirus, and as a nation, I think we can see how deeply passionate we are about keeping our uniquely funded National Health Service. In the past key workers have been treated with a lack of respect, however, their true value has now been seen: the least have become the greatest. 

We’ve also realised how complicated our lives have become and discovered that simplicity can lead to contentment. The fact we can’t go out or see our families and friends has lead us to rethink what is important in our lives. We’ve discovered that the internet is not luxury but a necessity in life; everything from schooling, work, business, and relationships has been diverted into online formats. I do believe that something good comes out of every situation. Sometimes it takes us a long time to see it but something good always pushes the ashes. In our crisis situation, a new world order is forming and to be fair, it is long overdue. 

The lockdown has hit the arts sector hard; most arts practitioners are self employed and the work has dried up overnight. The government has put together a package for self employed workers who currently are unable to work and the arts community has come together to support each other and provide new ways of connecting people together for projects. There has been a mixed reaction to this government deal, but to be fair an offer of financial help is better than no offer at all, even if it doesn’t come as quickly as we would like it to. I also speak from a very different point of view, in the last 13 years, I have had two major low points where my business collapsed and the circumstances that surrounded these low points were totally out of my control. There was no government help, no union support and a lot of colleagues fled. For me, the good that came out of it was a resigned resilience and I learnt who was really for me. It left me with a small but extremely committed group of friends and colleagues which is better than what I had before. If you’re going to work in the arts, you need to be resilient, focused and flexible. 

It was during these low points that I began to pray that things would change in the self employed and arts sectors. I do believe that the crisis we are currently in lead us to a new way of working and will also open the door for artists and musicians to campaign for a better working conditions and deals. The plight of artists has been publicly acknowledged and this platform will help to campaign for better working conditions and employment deals in the future. 

The necessity for the arts and its role in society has been brought to people’s attention during the lockdown. How many of us has listened to some music, read a book or watch a film or TV show during this time? Yep all of us. Without the arts, life would be dull, lack colour and also insight. Not only are the arts part of our entertainment, but they are also essential for good mental health, understanding concepts and culture, and provoking thought and conversation. The arts are often seen as frivolous and expendable, however they need to be protected for their philosophical and spiritual values. At some point everyday, we reach for something creative to inspire and motivate us. 

In recent years, the financial and management sides of the creative industry have been abused and ripped apart. Much of this is being exposed and brought to light; we’ve watched as major figures have fallen from grace and organisations have collapsed. Artists have had to work for free, and I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been asked to perform for free or to give my music away. Creative enterprises have been devalued to zero. Maybe this period of introspection will bring a realisation that this can’t continue; we have to build an industry that is sustainable and fair for artists. There’s an opportunity to raise up pioneers who are passionate about encouraging and developing a wide range of genres disciplines and creating new platforms. Whatever we feel about this dark season, it won’t last forever. The temporary cessation is harmful to the arts industry in the short term, but in the long term it could actually bring about good for creatives. 

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.

You can download the song Are You Coming Home? here

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!

Don’t forget to download Are You Coming Home? here

 

 

We’ve all been there: stuck in a rut, frustrated, can’t produce anything new. Our creativity diminishes and we fear that we’ll never produce anything new or good again. There are two things you can do in this situation: firstly, rest. I can not emphasise how important it is for creative people to rest. A few years ago, I was told by a record executive that you have to keep going and produce new work all the time. “People always want something new to consume” he said. And that’s where I switched off. It is true that as an artist you need to keep some momentum, it’s also true that if you don’t stop you will burn out and lose your passion for creating music altogether. That is a far worse state to be in than just taking a few months off. The whole idea of producing for consumption does not appeal either. Art should be revered not consumed.

Secondly, do something new. Be brave and try something completely different that takes you out of comfort zone. Just because the route you were on has come to an end, doesn’t mean it’s the end of your creativity. Sometimes we need time to recalibrate between creative seasons. We change as people, which also means the way we think and do things has to grow with us. What we perceive as an ending, is actually the beginning of a something new.

So what did I do when my creative energy came to a grinding halt? Well I did eventually take my own advice and have a rest. It took some doing, I was convinced that I needed to keep going but in reality it just wasn’t possible. And you know what? I actually enjoyed having a break! I watched films, saw friends and did things that I normally don’t get time to do. And then.. I started to listen to all the music I love and remember why I fell in love with music in the first place. It’s important to remember that you get one life; spend it well, with the people who are important to you and doing the things that make you happy. Success can be measured in many ways, but it can also lead you to search for things that ultimately become meaningless in the course of life. You’ll make better art if you learn to enjoy life and get your priorities in order.

I also changed the way I write songs. I used to spend hours at the piano working at the magical moment when music and lyrics come together. I decided to write songs by just singing without the piano and seeing what happens; this meant that I could write anywhere. Then I went back to creating backing tracks and top-lining, something that I haven’t done in a long time. I gave myself small creative challenges, such as writing a short song in thirty minutes and recording it using vocal loops, (you can hear the song here). The return to simplicity helped free up my creativity and took the pressure off. Bravery came calling and I decided to release an EP of my demos (I still can’t believe I’ve let you hear them!) so that listeners could experience the live, raw element of songwriting (you can hear the EP here).

I also decided, after a lot of soul searching, to change the way fans can support my work. In the new year I will be launching Helen’s Angels which is a VIP club that fans can join and receive new music, videos, merchandise each month. More details about this will follow in 2018.

So what I’m saying is that there comes a time for all us when we have to throw our net over the other side of the boat and see what happens. It’s a game of trust that will lead to self-development. In letting go, we can gain new skills and experiences. So if you’re stuck in a rut, try something new!