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

 

 

It’s official: David Bowie is back in Aylesbury. But what on earth is he doing here? On Thursday, the town witnessed the unveiling of the new, long-awaited statue of Bowie by Andrew Sinclair which is situated in the Market Square. It’s an unusual move as Bowie wasn’t from Aylesbury, but in some senses his connection with the town is deeper than a residential address: his debut performance as Ziggy Stardust was at the town’s Friars Music Club during 1971 and 1972.

So why place a statue of a non-local musician in the centre of Aylesbury? In some senses, the Bowie statue is a small marker of a long history of music in the Vale. Friars was legendary for helping to launch many music careers, including The Police, Def Leppard, Howard Jones, Toyah Wilcox, Fleetwood Mac, Genesis and Marillion. The list goes on and on, and there isn’t enough space to list them all here! For twenty five years, the town forgot about it’s musical heritage. Friars closed its doors to the contemporary music scene in 1984 and apart from more commercial concerts at the Civic Centre, the music scene went quiet in Aylesbury. In 2009, the town woke up from its slumber and the Friars Music Club was reborn; interest from ardent fans and the closure of the Civic Centre meant that there was a hunger for music in the area.

I’m hoping that this is the beginning of something good for the Aylesbury music scene. One of the questions I have is, why not honour the musicians who are local? Most notable of all, would be Marillion, one of Aylesbury’s most famous exports. If the opening lyrics of their hit Kayleigh are to to believed, “Do you remember the cherry blossom in the market square?,” the town is embedded in their work. It would be good to see their music and local contribution being honoured. The Bowie statue puts the town on the map and further cultural exploits would make the area a music destination and bring in a new level of tourism and other musical activities.

If you’re local you may have seen the publicity stunt around the town yesterday. All over Aylesbury, the town boundary signs were changed to “Aylesbowie” to raise awareness of the launch of the statue, a gesture that made me and kids laugh a lot. It’s worked though as everyone is talking about it! One of children is hoping that the name change is permanent because it sounds more interesting!

The Bowie statue was controversial and created a lot of discussion locally. However we should be honoured that Bowie chose to premiere “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars” in the town and that we are part of pop music history. Maybe this could be the impetus Aylesbury needs to start taking its music heritage more seriously. It’s good to see the town’s music scene start to rise from the ashes and it’s time for more diversity of genre and new venues to spring up. Sometimes things have to die off for awhile so that they can be reborn in a new, stronger way.

You can watch the unveiling of the David Bowie statue here.

So it’s Sunday evening and I’m at a loose end. What’s a girl to do? Yep that’s right, sing in her pyjamas. I decided to try out some simple vocal looping and write a short song as a test for the TC-Helicon VoiceLive Touch 2. Enjoy Tomorrow’s Brighter...

Words and music – copyright 2017 Helen Sanderson-White.

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!

So enjoy my spontaneity, warts and all recording! Check out my new song: What Am I Meant To Do With This Love? and support my art. I’d love to hear from you about my work, you can contact me here.

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…

Half written songs, rejections, unshakeable belief and failed projects; it turns out that you’ve got to have guts to be an artist! Last week I had a conversation that sadly I’ve had over and over again in the last fifteen years…

Person: “so I hear you’re a musician”

Me: “yes that’s right”

Person: “so what do you do for a living?”

Me: SIGH…

IMG_3524You see no-one ever believes you when you say you’re a singer, musician, artist. People either think that I’m going through a phase and that I’ll get over it or that I have delusions of grandeur. But what if being an artist is just about wanting to create something beautiful and represent the world that you see around you? Art has many purposes: social comment, raising awareness, soothing emotions and trauma and “just because”.

But I’ve discovered that this isn’t for the faint hearted, its not just about singing, playing piano and painting a few nice pictures here and there.  I’ve found that to follow those artistic purposes involves painful honesty, boldness and courage. Earlier this week Adele, admitted that she didn’t think she could write another record and that the “25” album took much longer than she thought as the songwriting was difficult. The reality is that the creative process takes a piece of you and this is emotionally and physically exhausting.

Then there’s the practical side that no-one ever warns you about. Like all freelancers and business owners, I have to go out and find work opportunities and more often then not, if there aren’t any, I have to create them. Everyday I work as my own manager, promoter, booker, marketer, financier, administrator as well as composing and dreaming up new ideas. The launch of every new album, EP, single is a gut wrenching roller coaster ride of excitement and terror. Will the songs be well received? Will the project break even, let alone run into profit? Have I just released some terrible songs?

The exciting part of being an artist is that you get to be a pioneer! Artists are often called into uncharted areas where there is little creativity to shed light into darkness. We’re called to try new things, expressions, media to see where it will go. It’s risk taking – we put our hearts on our sleeves in order to encourage, enlighten, warn and protect. The downside of this can mean that we risk rejection, being misunderstood, loneliness and sometimes humiliation. The artist’s world is a brave one; it means going out on a limb.

Artistry also means accepting a Bohemian lifestyle. Artists choose a lifestyle that the world says is unconventional, different and not “normal”. We are called to think and see the world differently: to dream… Sometimes we choose to create when the mood takes us, other times we are forced to put pen to paper and hope that we can conjure the magic. We are often misunderstood as the creative force means working with ideas, notions and timetables that are different to what the world says is acceptable.

The whole package of artistry means being DARING in everything from self belief, to work, to lifestyle. It means daring to be different and knowing your own mind. You need to seek out others who will support you through all seasons, not just the good times and the successes. They may not always understand but they are the type of people who will support you no matter what. You got to have guts to be an artist…

When I was 17 I had a dream of how my songwriting career would pan out… I would live in London in a tiny bedsit, just me and my piano and spend my days writing beautiful songs whilst trying not to starve to death from crap pay and late night gigs. My days would be spent thinking up new ways to be bohemian, playing my Carpenters vinyl and reading trendy paperbacks. To some extent my student days were like this: I lived in a damp house with 3 friends and piano, I drank Cinzano and Jack Daniels (not together in the same glass, that would just be weird), listened to Sarah McLachlan and Sophie B Hawkins (showing my age now!) and bought clothes from Camden market.

However my life 20 years on is very different. I’m married with two children and although I lived in London for 11 years, I now live in the Home Counties in a sensible house that hasn’t seen any bohemian, artistic deaths. My songwriting techniques have changed over the years and I’ve learned to adapt as my situation changes particularly with motherhood and the demands of running a business. Nothing ever prepares you for these changes but here are the things that I have found interrupt my songwriting…

Blog photo sept 15

  • At the crucial lyric or harmony development stage, my 2 year old will always fill his nappy with something disgusting and demand a nappy change. Not only does it disrupt my creative flow, it completely and utterly kills the mood…
  • I stuff myself with food. Yep I write 8 bars and then immediately think that I deserve some sort of treat for 15 minutes of concentration. Hello treadmill!
  • Suddenly everyone wants to visit. My doorbell only ever rings when I’m working, yet no-one ever shows up when I’m watching TV or cleaning the sink.
  • The smell of burning food. I can’t tell you how many dinners I’ve ruined by “just having a few minutes on the piano” while its cooking. I always get into the song, forget the dinner and serve up something cremated with a side of “would you like to hear my new song?”. My family aren’t impressed.
  • My children join in… There’s nothing more distracting than my 7 year old daughter singing one of my songs in face or my 2 year old son banging the piano and pushing me out the way so he can have a go.
  • The piano is too messy. I can’t deal with untidiness in the area I want to be creative in. If it’s not tidy then I’m not writing. I’ve spent many hours procrastinating under the guise that  “I can’t possibly write unless the ambience is right!”.
  • I’ll just check Facebook, Twitter, my emails. LISTEN UP HELEN: NO-ONE EVER WROTE A SONG BY READING FACEBOOK.
  • I get lonely.
  • The spreadsheet of doom… or otherwise known as “The album song list”. This can either cripple or energise my composing. It’s either “Ooooh I’ve written 8 decent songs that could go on the album, let’s write a hit!” or “Great. 8 crap songs, let’s see if I can completely kill the album”.

And then there are all the other things: accounts, emails, promotion and of course writing blogs! So I’m off to write a song…

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!

IMG_3208

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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A few weekends ago I had the pleasure of taking my 5 year old daughter to the CD shop to buy her first ever CD; I’d been looking forward this rite of passage ever since she was born. She wanted to buy an Olly Murs album and although my husband was less than enthusiastic about her choice, we decided to make it a family trip.  When I was about the same age, my Dad took me to the record bar in Boots, Margate to buy first ever single. It was “I Just Called to Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder and I still have it. I have lots of happy memories of going record shopping with my Dad; buying Wham and the Greatest Hits of the year cassettes and LPs. However my daughter’s trip was short lived: we walked into HMV and the first thing she asked was “why are some of the shelves empty?” I had to explain to her that HMV was closing down and that there are no more large CD chains in this country. It made me sad that this will be her first and probably last trip to buy a CD; something that she should be able to do all the time.

 

The enormity of the shop closure didn’t seem to faze and her and as soon as she found the CD she wanted she was happy. This got me thinking about how the industry has changed and how new ways of working of developed. I do feel that the current phase of buying everything on the internet has robbed us of some tangible life events, such as buying our first album. The town I live in lost its HMV over a year ago; oh the irony of being a musician and living in a town where there are no CD shops!

 

The electronic market has robbed us of the ability to go and browse in a music shop. One of my friends still goes to London at the weekend to spend some quality time browsing the aisles and finding new artists. I really miss doing the same! I’d spend hours choosing CDs based on the genre and artwork alone. I would have never of heard of some artists without taking a risk on unknown music and buying their albums. I’ve also discovered new artists through having discussions with fellow shoppers. Could we lose some of our community by purchasing everything on line?

 

So how have things changed? Are there advantages? Remember the days of the listening pod at the back of the music shop? The internet has become a giant listening pod for new music; you just need to know where to find it. My friends and I try to recommend new music to each other as often as possible; I always check out iTunes free “Single of the Week”. People no longer buy stacks of CDs in the way that they used to, they tend use sites like Spotify to stream free music or pay the monthly subscription for longer listening hours. There has been a change in the way that people feel about supporting acts; fans often want to make a difference to the artist’s career and be involved in some of the background activities such as promotion, making a video, or helping to put together a tour. Many artists have moved towards asking fans to pledge money towards a particular campaign rather than just asking them to buy a CD. Fans feel they’ve helped and have some ownership in the artist’s work. Crowd-funding sites have sprung up across the internet and a newspaper recently dubbed the phenomenon as “Be Your Own Dragon”, referring to the BBC Dragon’s Den programme. I’ve also recently moved into the area of crowd-funding; I released a campaign to help me promote Christian music through making a music video (you can find it at http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/helensandersonwhite/helen-sanderson-whites-new-promotional-push ).

 

Some small music chains have survived: Rough Trade has always prided itself on supporting independent artists. They deliberately set out to be different and host new artist evenings where the acts do a short performance; they’re bringing back intimate, live performance. And curiously, Fopp are still going despite being owned by the same group as HMV! There are also independent shops across the country that have fought to stay open, so do pop in and say “hello” they always love to talk about music! People are tired of the bland, corporate store and want something more personal and home-grown. Is it time to “reclaim” our music community and bring back live music and an interest in the arts through independent stores? Although this may be the last time my daughter goes to HMV, she may well get her first trip to a new kind of independent, arts-supporting music store in the future…