Burt Bacharach sang it best “What The World Needs Now Is Love, Sweet Love” but it also needs… ART. Over the last few weeks we have seen unspeakable acts of evil on our British streets. As a nation we are no stranger to dealing with conflict; as a child I grew up in the era of IRA bombings and the Falklands and Gulf wars, my parents were born during the second world war and my grandparents were born into the horrors of the first world war. Each generation has seen conflict develop in new ways and now my children are growing up in a society where terror is on the street, in a pop concert and on the London Underground.

The New York Times reported that Britain was “reeling” from these attacks. I beg to differ. As a nation we may get knocked but we have an incredible way of picking ourselves up immediately and getting on with it. In the Blitz we made tea, but there is something we do better than that in a crisis: we make ART. Each crisis has seen this country produce art and music on a unprecedented scale. During World War Two music was used to rally troops and muster morale for those left at home. In the 80s Bob Geldof encouraged us to unite and bring famine relief through a charity single and the world’s first ever charity concert, Live Aid.

Two weeks ago, Manchester burst into song after a minute’s silence for the victims of the Ariana Grande concert bombing. Their song? Don’t Look Back In Anger by Oasis. I’m sure that Oasis had no idea how that song would be used when they recorded it. Yet their art united people in grief and solidarity when they needed comfort and strength. What does this show us? We need to produce more art that helps people overcome everyday challenges. When sing we become one, when we view a work of art we discuss its beauty and our response to it, whenwe watch a film or play we are drawn into someone’s world and have a better understanding of they tick. Art brings us together, fosters community, initiates discussion and brings understanding. Music has the prophetic ability to change atmospheres, communities and individuals.

Yesterday I watched the One Love Manchester concert, thousands of people united through music. On social media I observed that people of all generations were watching this concert, whether they knew who the acts were or not. A national act of defiance in the face of adversity. Though there was mourning for those we have lost, there was also joy that we have our freedom to express ourselves, a joy that was expressed through song.

In 1937 Picasso painted Guernica, it depicts the horror of the Nazi bombing of the town. Some say that its graphic nature makes it to gory to view, however, in the long term I would suggest that it has given us hope. It reminds us that we are not alone and that others understand what we are going through. It reminds us that they got through it and came out the other side. It’s also a warning to future generations not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to stand strong for freedom.

You may feel that your art has nothing to offer the world, but you never know how it will be used. We must learn to not let fear and lack of confidence stop us from creating. So go write a song, a poem, a play, a film, paint a picture, make a dress, carve a sculpture, write a novel, a blog, a manifesto and help someone who needs to know that they are not alone, whether it’s someone living now or in generations to come. Give them hope…

 

 

Listen to Twenty Eight Days

You go back to the spot where you last spoke to your friend. You stand there and wait. You know that they won’t appear, but each time you make a visit to this spot, you live in hope that you will be wrong. You plan out what you will wear, say and how the meeting goes. You’ve rehearsed the conversation over and over again to make sure it runs smoothly. Then one day without warning, this person is back and takes you by surprise; none of your carefully planned ideas run according to your plan. Eventually, you pluck up the courage to tell them that you’ve been counting the days since they left…

I once read a story about a woman during the 1940s, who went back to the spot where she had waved off her fiancé to war everyday until he returned. Despite their rocky relationship, this visit became a ritual to help keep his memory alive in her mind; she said that it gave her hope as she remembered those last moments with him before she saw him off to unknown peril. Every time she made a visit to that spot, the locals thought she was mad and that no good would come from this.  For her, it helped to focus her mind on the good things of their relationship and not the bad. However, one day a military bus rolled into town and returned her fiancé; he wasn’t the same man who left and she was wasn’t the same woman anymore. He tells that the only thing that kept him going through the horror of war is the memory of the last time he saw her, and she reciprocates with her story. And as they say, the rest is history…

What fascinates me about this story is the determination to keep the dream alive. Time stopped still and couldn’t move on until this relationship was resumed. To experience these emotions, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a romantic relationship, we can be separated from friends and family members and still feel the loss and then the elation of being reunited. There’s that moment where we wonder whether the other person will still feel the same way about us… or has time allowed them to change their mind? That’s the power of hope, it helps us believe that good things will come if we wait…

To hear the new single Twenty Eight Days, click here

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.

Helen sunDo 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…

IMG_2011I’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…

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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I often get asked about the stories behind the songs I write. Some of the songs are about my personal experience or based on the experience of others. I’m a real “people watcher” and I like to observe people about their everyday lives and that’s why you’ll see me in cafes a lot! This particular blog is a story that concerns my own experiences. Last year was a rough year for my husband and I; he was made redundant for the fourth time in five years and I had a miscarriage at the same time as this. It seemed like everything was going wrong, our finances and home were under threat again and the second baby we had longed for was gone. It all felt out of our control. A few weeks after the miscarriage, I went up to see my producer Andy Baker at Resound Media to discuss and look at new songs for an EP. We looked through the collection I had written and found five that worked really well together but we needed a sixth and nothing else from my collection seemed to fit. Andy suggested that we write something new together and he was aware of the situation that me and my husband we’re in. He asked me if I could describe the way I was feeling in one sentence, to which I replied “if that’s the way that it has to be” and so a song was born. One of things that I’ve learned over the years is that all experiences work for our good if we allow ourselves to learn from them or except that something might not be for us. I was very with angry with God over what had happened but resigned myself to the fact that he might have better plans than mine and although I didn’t know what they might be yet I still had to trust him. And this is reflected in the song lyrics “you see far beyond where I stand, and how it all fits in your plan”. I can’t say it was an easy song to write and poor Andy had to sit with me crying through most of our session! But it has yielded a song of my own experience that may be able to help others. I’m happy to report that I’m now twenty six weeks pregnant with another baby and that my husband has sorted out his job situation. It’s been a long road and has not been easy and there are still days when I worry that it’s going to happen all again, but that’s the challenge of faith, taking things one day at a time. You can hear the song “If That’s The Way” at www.reverbnation.com/helensandersonwhite