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.
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!
To listen to my new song with Adam Overton, Worn Out Shoes, click here.
One thing about moving house is that forces you to get through all your things and have a clear out. I’ve been doing the same with my songwriting and music material recently. I was going through some files on my computer when I found this song that I wrote with Adam Overton on 21st November 2014. It was during my time of living in Oxford and part of great period of songwriting and composing, most of which I haven’t released (yet!). This a rough, live recording that we took at the end of our songwriting session; not bad for a morning’s work!
The song is called “Worn Out Shoes” and very much reflected the our life journeys at the time. One of the most exciting things about songwriting, is the first time you record and capture the song and listen back to your efforts. You know instantly whether it’s going to work or not. Two years on I still love this song, even though we didn’t quite know where we were going with it when we were recording it, there’s something about the melody, harmonies and rawness of the performance that is magical. Enjoy the live experience of capturing a newly written song…
Adam Overton – vocals and piano
Helen Sanderson-White – vocals
Words and music by Adam Overton and Helen Sanderson-White. Copyright 2014 Adam Overton and Helen Sanderson-White.
This is an article that I wrote for a magazine back in January 2012. It was never published, so rather than waste it, I thought I would publish it here…
There’s always great excitement in my house over the latest remastered album. Even though I may already own the album in a different format, I will rush out to buy the new edition and run home expectantly to enjoy the pure, fresh, clean sound. For those of you not in the in the know, in a nutshell “mastering” is the process of removing any unwanted noise from a recording and making all the tracks the same level of volume and equalisation. The days of a crackly record or the sound of the musician or singer turning the page on the recording are long gone. Mastering is process of refinement and attention to detail, often resulting in the mastering engineer going over the project again and again. For one of my projects I sat in the studio with the mastering engineer as he poured over the material; he could hear things that I couldn’t, such as the sound me knocking the music stand during the vocal recording. A tiny, small sound but it could have spoiled the enjoyment of the song. There were other elements we decided to keep in the recording to keep it authentic and real; less perfect more accessible. A live, unfettered element to the music helps build rapport with the audience.
This got me thinking about way life refines us. The challenges of life can leave us with scars and wounds. Little hurts that we pick up and carry along the way can allow us to become blemished and blinkered, and will ultimately hinder us and lead us away from the person that God wants us to be.
The process of healing and letting go of the past is very much like being “remastered”. As we hand over our emotional wounds to God, he wipes away the scar from our life recording. The process of forgiveness allows us to be refined and become pleasing before God. The actual action of believing that God can cleanse us leads to healing and restoration. The faith of the Centurion in Matthew 8 is testament to the action of “believing” that God wants us to be whole. He didn’t even feel worthy to have Jesus in his house, yet he knew that Jesus could wipe away suffering by one word. And just with a touch a button the sound of me knocking music stand was wiped from the recording…
But what about the hurts that continually plague us? Does this mean that we healed? These are the wounds that God wants to use for his glory. The healing is continuous and a constant reminder. In mastering terms, these are the sounds and noises that the engineer chooses to leave in the recording. Although God heals these hurts, he then provides us with opportunities to show to others our humanity. I had an experience a few years ago at work that really knocked my confidence, not just in my musical ability but also as a person. It affected every part of my life and made me question my worth. It took me a long time to allow God to heal my wounds, and every day I still have to ask for his help with my confidence. But what I have found is that it is in our weakness where His glory is most visible; as we turn to God for help we become more like him. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 Paul tells us that God is perfectly able to use us in our weakness, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It’s these weaknesses that make us real and give us the ability to help other people who are going through the same situation. These are the noises that God keeps in our life recording. They help to shape us and build our relationship with Him.
Although I enjoyed my remastered album, I bet there are still quite a few sound impurities that I can’t hear on the recording. There will always be some sounds that shouldn’t be there and other noises that make the track real and interesting. That’s the reality of life; there will always be something that we need to leave with God for His attention. We’re not ready for perfection yet, but we are working our way towards eternity with God when we will be truly remastered.
Do you remember when Mike and the Mechanics sang Over My Shoulder? I used to sing along to that song in bedroom, standing on my bed, yelling into a hairbrush. I was eighteen at the time. Twenty one years on, nothing has changed, except now I repeat the same performance with my eight year daughter. One the sad things about the song is that it is full of regret and hankering after the past. I was driving to work the other day when this song came on the radio and it got me thinking the consequences of looking back when we should be concentrating on the future. At the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife looked back and she turned into a pillar of salt. She was told not to, but a fleeting moment of curiosity ended her life. I don’t do regret, it’s a lens that distorts the reality of the future. It leads to nothing and makes us focus on our failures.
If we constantly have our eyes on the rear view mirror, we repeat the cycle of who we were and not what we could become. Time allows to move forward but never back. We are given a gift of moving forward and it’s up to us to choose how we react. We can meet the future with hope and expectation or with fear and sadness. Even when we pass through seasons that are not what we want, every day moves us closer to something much better… even when we don’t feel that way. When Alanis Morissette sang “the only way out is through”, she hit the nail on the head. Sometimes we have to grit our teeth and believe that there are better things on the other side of the season.
A few months ago I hit a wall with the whole music thing. Everything I had built up came crashing down and try as I might I could not rebuild it. Truth be told, I was too knackered and broken to fix it. Years of being a freelancer, performer, teacher, composer and everything else had worn me down. I kept looking in the rear view mirror and what I had lost and wondering whether there was any point continuing in music. But the law of life is that as something dies, something else is born and new shoots begin to sprout. Things are already moving on and I’m getting back some of the music opportunities that I lost a long time ago. I have opportunity to reinvent my music and in turn myself. Life constantly evolves and we should take every opportunity to grow and develop.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s don’t look back over your shoulder, face the future and reinvent yourself. Reinvent yourself…
Every now and then you get a glimmer of hope that things are progressing and moving on. It’s been twenty one months since my last music video (If That’s The Way) and quite frankly it’s high time I released some new material and a new video! Since the last music video, the road has been full of twists and turns and the view from this point in my career looks very different than it did three years ago. But every roller coaster ride has its ups and downs and I’ve learnt that what often looks like a bad thing can actually be a good thing. Bring on the good things!
Last month I went up to Sheffield to film a new music video for Close That Door and for a photo shoot for the single. A year ago this single wasn’t on the cards, a year ago I made a decision to leave the company that was promoting me and go it alone, a year ago I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to be doing anymore, a year ago I realised the business I had run for fourteen years needed to die and resurrect itself. As far as I was concerned, the curtain had come down and it was the end of the show. Twelve months can change everything. And a little trip to Sheffield has reminded me of that…
I’ve been working with Andrew Tregoning, who has directed and filmed three other projects for me over the last three years: not just music videos, but tour promos and Kickstarter campaigns, so he is used to working with my quirky, artistic ways! Joanna Ace did my hair and make-up for this project and made me look gorgeous! Close That Door is a retro sounding track so we’ve gone for a 60s theme for the video and storyline. We filmed at various locations across Sheffield, both indoors and outdoors. Why do I always choose outdoors?!?! It’s autumn, it’s cold at night and this was a night shoot! I’m a glutton for punishment. Who can forget that fateful photo shoot five years ago for At Second Glance, where I had to take my jeans off in the woods to get changed into another outfit…it was SNOWING at the time! All I can say is, I like to take risks…
Surrounding yourself with people who believe in what you are doing can be really encouraging! People who understand your vision for a project and can get on board with ideas and help things progress are invaluable. It was great to work with people who are as excited about the single as I am. If you’re struggling to give birth to your dream, find people to support you; not just work colleagues but friends too. Choose people who are prepared to stand with you and see you through to the other side even though they may not always understand.
So this time last year the journey looked bleak and I felt I had reached a dead end. In reality, one route was drying up so that I could begin on a new path in my artistic journey. A scene change in the play of life. There are still days when I haven’t a clue and the future seems obscure, but I have decided to enjoy the journey because who knows where tomorrow leads. But a new single beckons in 2016 and this new video has reignited a fire…