We talk a lot about the joy of open doors, fresh opportunities and a sense of a new direction but we don’t always mention the joy that comes from closed doors. In the last month two doors have closed for me, one unexpectedly, the other was not surprising in the slightest. As with all beginnings and endings, there are mixed emotions and more questions than answers. Confusion is normal in these circumstances but once we have come to terms with the decision, it can be a great release to have one less option to think about.  

Although these closed doors have different outcomes for me, they have both given me a sense of relief and a “what now?” question with them. We live in a society that actively promotes open doors and Christianity also shares this positive outlook for opportunity. However, the Bible is also clear that closed doors are a positive movement in our lives. The provision of the brook and ravens dried up for Elijah, so he moved on to the next calling which was helping the widow at Zarephath. Elijah was taken into heaven which released Elisha into a ministry that was far more powerful than his mentor’s ministry. Paul was shipwrecked and landed up preaching in places that he never would have travelled to otherwise. Ruth was widowed at young age but landed up remarrying and running a successful business.  

So what can we learn from a closed door? Although it may be disappointing, it’s not always denial. God is simply removing the choices that aren’t profitable or helpful for where you are going next. He refines our vision by narrowing down the choices. I always think that it is quite exciting when a door closes as it means the Lord is preparing the way to a greater door, the door of opportunity. He is refocusing our attention on what he wants to do next, this could be something we have been praying about for a long time or a surprise from the Lord.  

The hardest part of this journey is the corridor of “in-between”. Sometimes we can stand in the corridor waiting for a long time before another door opens.  We are happy to receive an open door, but the waiting period between a closed door and the next one opening, is where our faith is tested. The “in-between” is the place where we most feel like we want to give up; the pressure of believing for more can push our faith to the limits. This is an important part of the process, the growth and depth our of faith is more valuable to the Lord than reaching our destination. If we are to go through the open door, we must have the strength, wisdom and character to steward what is on the other side of it. These qualities develop best in unsettled times as the uncertainly helps us to cling to the Lord and develop the deep roots needed to support the growth. The waiting time is not wasted or fruitless, but an adventure in developing ourselves and our relationship with God.  

So when encountering closed doors, it helps to remember that they are closed to protect us from bad decisions, wasting time and paths that weren’t meant for us. They also indicate that there is something much greater and more exciting waiting for us, and that the preparation time is essential. If we wait patiently, a new door will open and our greatest moments will arrive.

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Many moons ago I started writing a series of blogs about being a resilient artist but the time never seemed right to publish them. I even wrote out an idea for a business called Resilient Creative but life took over and the idea stayed in a notebook. Then the pandemic hit, the world turned upside down and changed the arts arena as we knew it. One evening I was chatting to my long time colleague and friend Rachael Forsyth about the state of the arts and we pondered on how we might recover as an industry. She mentioned some thoughts she was writing about, I mentioned the previous blogs and voilà, we had a book idea. 

If you’re struggling to get back into the rhythm of creating, then How To Be A Resilient Artist is for you. You may be looking to boost your creativity in some way, to find a new way of working or regain some areas of your art that have fallen apart. You’re not alone, many people go through a “wilderness” period with their creativity. It’s all part of the artistic journey. Life is full of difficult twists and turns; recession, divorce, death, illness, failed businesses and of course, the unforeseen pandemic. All of these situations are tough for anyone working in business, however the unpredictable nature of the creative industries can make this a lot tougher. For others it could be that boredom and lack of direction has brought you to a halt and you’re now not sure how to kick start your enjoyment of playing your instrument or picking up your paintbrushes. These “wilderness” periods can be confusing, disorientating and draining. They also give us the opportunity to assess where we’re going and what we want out of life and ultimately, our music. The trick is not to let the “wilderness” journey overwhelm you but redirect you. 

This book is designed to give you some hope that your setback is only a season and not a life sentence! Better times will come and eventually you will feel stronger from what you have learnt through this experience. There are plenty of ideas to get the creative juices going, and stories of how we overcame obstacles and found a new way to make things work. It’s always possible to recover from the pressure and regain a rhythm of working and performing. 

Whether you’re an amateur or a professional, this book has insights and tips on how to reinvigorate your creativity and regain your focus. Whatever season you are in, you can make a fresh start and discover the creativity within you. 

Well here’s the song I didn’t expect to release: Tomorrow’s Brighter. During the last four months of lockdown, we’ve all needed some hope to get through this very strange and unexpected season. I think the lyrics of this song sum up that everyday we are indeed moving forward to the end of lockdown and a day nearer to the end of the virus. Something to think about as we slowly press ahead…

Three years ago I wrote this song quickly one evening so that I could try out a new piece of software. It seemed quite catchy and lent itself to harmonies, so I landed up using it for a singing workshop I was leading a few months later. I didn’t imagine relasing it as a single. However at the beginning of the lockdown, I found a an a cappella recording of the song and started playing around with it and voilà, a new song!

Welcome to the cartoon version of me! I wanted to do something different for the video, something with a lighter tone than I had used before. A cartoon seemed the obvious way forward and I even got to create a cartoon version of me. An official date will be set soon, but as usual, you are the first to hear the song and see the video!

The song is available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music and many other places! Download the single here.

What do you do with a blank canvas? It’s been a long time since I started a painting without sketching the idea first, but this canvas has been calling out for a landscape scene, so I thought I’d just go for it. When I looked at the panoramic shape of the canvas I could see a sun setting over a flourishing hillside. I’ve always liked the idea that woodland has many colours throughout the seasons of the year, so the colour scheme came naturally.

There’s a freedom to being able to paint without sticking to a previous sketch. It’s also a little daunting as you realise that you don’t know where you’re going with it! I must admit that this approach meant that the painting took longer than anticipated, but eventually I got the result I was looking for. The longest part was choosing the colour scheme for the sun; after a few attempts I could see that it needed to be darker than the rest of the painting to get that feeling of “the sun going down”.

This painting sold before I even managed to advertise it! Probably the fastest selling piece for painting so far…

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So how many times in the last week have you thought “how will I ever get this done?” or “just give me a break” or “why are you so hard on me?”. Social media platforms show everyone’s perfect life with their perfect friends and family. But let’s be fair about this, most of what we see on social media is an edit of what it really happening in someone’s life. I think what gets me the most is the amount of judgement against each other’s life choices. We all do it from time to time without being aware of it. However, some people, through lack of understanding, can be quite condemning of situations that are different from their own. Our paths in life are all different and rightly so, we are unique, not one of us is the same, so how could we all walk the same path? 

If I’m totally honest, I became tired of other people’s expectations of me. We live in a society that can push motherhood towards perfection and disallows women to flourish outside of that role. Every women’s experience of motherhood is different and like a lot of women, single motherhood was never part of my plan, but it’s a thousand times better than the situation I was in before. We’ve seen the backlash to this movement in popular books such as “Why Mummy Drinks” by Gill Sims and the rise of social media stars such as Kristina Kuzmic, who celebrate their humanity by stating that it’s ok to not be a perfect mother. 

If anything, I wanted this song to point out that it’s ok to live our lives in a way that works for us. Being hard on other people doesn’t make them aspire to live differently, more over that they feel condemned by it. People thrive when they are loved and respected, not put down and judged. Positive attitudes bring hope to a situation, and encourage people to keep going when times are tough. And let’s face it, being a parent is never-ending hard work, full of challenges and rewards. 

So this song is a shout out to all the women making life happen. Those who work, parent, mentor, cook, clean, create, nurture, manage, plan, care and hold it all together for others. Those who rise to the challenge and and keep going no matter what. You rock!

You can download the mp3 from iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp. Or listen on Spotify and Apple Music. Remember, every time you buy music from an independent artist, you’re contributing resources for them to make more music in the future.

Download the single here

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Where do the years go? Fifteen years ago on Saturday 5 June 2004, I released my first Album Conversations With The Heart. It seems like a lifetime ago now, but that album came into being by chance. I was studying for a music degree at the time and was writing bits and pieces in between that and music teaching. 

A friend of mine asked me to perform at New Eden Music Festival in Torquay in the summer of 2003 and after the performance I bumped into some old friends who were also recording their work. Those are lifetime friends, Peter and Debs Brazier. A quick conversation and a swap of contact details led to me sending Pete some home demos of my songs. Before I knew it was was standing in their dining room in Paignton, singing into a microphone. I faithfully trudged up and down from North London to Paignton with piano in the boot of my car for a weekend of recording many times over a period months until the project was finished. The whole project was made on the tiniest of budgets and a lot of tea from Debs! The artwork was created by Andrew Wainwright, a friend from music college.

The album launch took place on a very hot evening at St Margaret’s Church, Uxbridge and from memory we had about eighty people there. It wasn’t just me performing that night, Sheryl Anne Ashton also sang some solos and then joined me for some duets. It’s so great to be able to perform and make music with friends! 

And here I am these years on, still proudly an independent artist. I’ve had dalliances with record companies but I’ve never been made a sensible offer (just ridiculous ones!). Two albums, four EPs and lots of singles later. Still making music myself, still finding new ways to make it work. Here’s to the next fifteen years… 

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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.

I’ve waited a long time to write this blog; seven years to be precise! Seven long years. We all have a dreams of things that we would like to do and sometimes we get the opportunity to do them. The saddest thing is when one of those dreams is struggling and no matter what we do, it doesn’t survive and eventually dies. It can be a game changer; it affects your perspective on life and can make you retreat from other opportunities for fear of getting hurt.

In 2012, I was offered the opportunity to perform my songs with a jazz orchestra. It was a dream gig, I’d waited all my life for it and I was going to make it happen! The early discussions went well, and I was ever hopeful that the concert would take place within six months. However, over time the project began to disappear, no matter what I did I couldn’t make it work. The dream concert was long gone, and my music career seemed to be dead. I asked God to put it right and bring the project to fruition, but nothing happened. Things went from bad to worse, my business collapsed, my marriage failed and my living arrangements were insecure again. I never knew that life could go so low so fast. It all changed in an instant.

Last year, my colleague and long standing friend, Rachael Forsyth, contacted me and asked if she could pitch the project to an orchestra again and also do the jazz arrangements of my songs. My initial reaction was that it wasn’t sure that I wanted to go through all the disappointment again, however, that thought of “if I don’t try, I’ll never know” crept in and I decided to be brave and give it a go. Over a period of six months we plodded through arrangements and emails, and we wondered if it would ever come together. At one point it actually looked as though the whole thing would fall apart again and Rachael and I prepared ourselves that it might not happen.

But that’s not the way God works. He specialises in bringing dead things back to life. After seven years of waiting, wondering, praying and hoping, I will be performing with the English Jazz Orchestra on Thursday 14 March. I can’t believe it’s taken this long, but those prayers that I prayed seven years ago are finally being answered. Just because something looks dead doesn’t mean that it is. Sometimes God waits so things are better, the timing is right and our character has developed enough for us to deal with it. Sometimes he removes things that are in the way or that will destroy the dream, so that when the dream buds, it can flourish and grow without being choked. Although this seems strange, all those things happened for my good. That part of my life died so that better, greater things could come. Sometimes God allows these things to happen so that he can realign us with his plan for our lives and also his timing (which is never our timing!).

In another strange twist of events, I received an email today saying that a song I sent to a DJ three years ago, is now being played on his podcast this month. I’d actually forgotten that I sent it off to the radio show! It’s like the song was waiting for right moment.

So I hope you can join me for this amazing evening St Lukes Church in Enfield with the English Jazz Orchestra (ENJO)! Tickets are available here