Last week I was interviewed by Victoria Park Baptist Church in Bristol about my song Where Are You God? This was used as part of their online church service and helped to inspire their prayers for the coming week. They asked me some deep, soul searching questions such as “do you think any good can come out the pandemic?” and we explored my reasons for being so honest with how I felt about the current global crisis. You can see the interview below.
The title of my new song, Where Are You God? is no surprise to any of us given the current pandemic situation. The turmoil of our fragility and the feeling that God is generally silent in this era is something that has crossed most of our minds. This song was a bit of a surprise for me, I was reticent to write it as I was unsure that I could do justice to the topic. In fact, I told God that I wasn’t going to write it. I think you can tell who won this argument. The lyrics are the raw, awkward truth of how I saw things in that moment. But sometimes the raw, awkward truth is what we need to hear. The Psalms are full of unfettered emotion and passionate pleas for help, and in some senses the essence of this song lie in the same roots. Sometimes our prayers are cries that come from deep within us.
There are two videos: a lyric video and the second version contains photos that fans of my music sent in from their lockdown walks over the last year. The track is available from Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon and Bandcamp.
Where Are You God? Trapped by the storm of the sickness We hide inside our cosy worlds No end in sight of this tragedy That’s holding back our daily lives Our backs against the wall, we ask Where are you God? We need you flowing in our hearts We need you speaking in our dreams to us Where are you God? We need you growing in our hearts We need you moving in our lives today Where are you God? Trapped in a world of our making We try so hard to heal ourselves Plans without faith robbed our children The unbelief has left us blind Our backs against the wall, we ask Minds high, and hearts low How far will we go? Some truth and half lies How long till we cry ©2020 Words and music by Helen Sanderson White.
Support the arts and buy the single.
I always knew that I would be a songwriter and artist right from a very young age. And I think, if I’m honest with myself, I always knew that I probably wouldn’t have an easy life because of that calling to artistry and creativity. Artists generally experience life at a deeper emotional level than others, and this informs and guides our work. Our hearts gets broken and we pour the emotions into our work. But is there any other purpose to this?
Every artist dreams of profoundly connecting with their audience, being able to move someone is a great privilege, and if it helps them on their healing journey, even better. I learnt that the greatest way to connect with my audience was through compassion, if I understand what someone has been going through, I am then able to express these emotions better in my work.
A long time ago, I asked God why I was suffering so much in life. A series of devastating events had taken over my life, rejection, discrimination, abandonment, rape, domestic abuse, unemployment, debt, housing insecurity, divorce; it never seemed to stop. It was at this point, the Lord was clear with me that he didn’t make those things happen to me, but he allowed me to learn compassion and to soften my heart towards others in the process of dealing with these situations. Learning to be a better artist meant learning how others felt and walking the same path as them. If I wanted to connect with my audience on a deeper level, I had to experience that deeper level. I am not in anyway advocating going out and getting your heart broken to improve your work, but what I am saying is that there is more than one purpose in the pain.
But God does not leave things there in the ashes. He treats our lives as works of art. Whatever has been broken or stolen from us, is eventually restored to us. If we can walk with others and give them hope, we take them further than just identifying with their pain. God creates a beautiful story out of a desperate situation. Whether we have received restitution or are still waiting for it, the Lord always completes our story. Everything happens for his glory, so that he can reveal his love and compassion for us through our lives.
And this is why artists often go through more challenging times than others; we’re being prepared to create greater works that reach much further than we have gone before. We are to reflect the glory of God through our work. It is important to share the pain as well as the triumphs with our audiences. Christian life and also the artistic life, isn’t all successes and victories; often the best work is born out of painful journeys. Even if you’re not an artist, there is purpose in every life situation that you face. A failure sometimes has more value than a success because we gain so much through learning how to navigate through the disaster.
And by the way of example, I wrote You’re So Hard On Me when I was facing opposition as a single mother, I painted Walking Into The Light when I was emerging from the nightmare of domestic abuse and I wrote If That’s The Way when after a miscarriage. None of these projects were easy to create but they connected with my audience in a profound way and were cathartic for me as well.
So when your heart is broken, remember that there is purpose in the pain. You may not see it yet, but you might produce some of your best work and also help others along the way. We never fully know the impression that our work leaves on someone, but if we handle our creativity well, our calling to be an artist might just save someone’s life…
I just love it when a news headline brings the truth of a matter into sharp focus… Over the last nine months, the state of the arts and its significance in the British economy has been hotly debated. I’ve mentioned before the importance of the large contribution the arts sector brings both financially but also culturally to society. One headline caught my eye recently, Dolly Parton partly funded Moderna Covid vaccine research, partly because I wondered what her motivation for donating to such a cause was but also because the donation came not from the business sector, but the arts.
I find it ironic in a time when the arts sector feels abandoned by the government that a musician should make a financial gesture of this magnitude to a cause that is so pressing. Often the press portrays superstars as egotistical or fame-hungry, and I will admit that at first the cynical side of me wondered if this was a publicity stunt, however, Dolly’s reputation goes before her in this arena. What we know is that she loves to give back to as many charities and organisations as possible. Her impoverished childhood gave her a good understanding of caring and looking out for others; not only does she regularly donate but she has also set up her own charities. Her business acumen has put in her in position to to give to others, and it is evident from her philanthropy that she takes great delight in doing so.
So what better than a vaccine where the research has been funded by the proceeds of music! Where someone people are driven by greed, Dolly has used her platform to influence and help others for good. I would even go as far to say that the Lord put her in a position to help others in this very time of need. God always knows the desires of people’s hearts and the timing needed to bring peace; he knows how to make it all work for our good, he is never late but right on time. It’s a wake up call to all of us as to what our motives our for creating art, and what we want to people to take from our creations. It’s about putting others first and then taking the opportunity to give back. And it seems for Dolly that working 9 to 5, made a way to fund a vaccine…
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.
Tomorrow’s Brighter – my new single. Plus check out the cartoon version of me!
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.
We all go through times when we feel as though we’re not achieving very much. We continually show up, put in the hours, the effort, the thought, and yet nothing seems to grow or change. In my own life, I’ve been through a long period of working very hard and seeing very little in terms of results or progression. If anything, a lot of my work has been met with opposition and setbacks, however, after a lot of reflection I’ve always come to the conclusion that it is better to keep going. If it makes me happy then it is worth it!
Earlier this year, I was given a prophetic word from a woman I don’t know. She told me that she could see that my artistic work had grown in a way that I couldn’t see, despite the setbacks and problems she could see growth and life. She described seeing plants that became “tall trees” and was encouraging me to understand that even though I couldn’t see the influence my artistic output was having, it was indeed having an effect far wider than I can see. And that’s what this new song Tall Trees is all about…
We have an idea, a plan, a vision, but the daily grind of bringing that idea to pass can make us lose sight of the vision at large. Sometimes people don’t support the vision we have or don’t see it as necessary for helping others. They cannot understand that God might want to work in a way that is outside of their understanding or world view. It’s in these times that we need to focus on what God has said to us and keep going.
I’ve found over the years that I have questioned whether I understood God’s plan correctly. Did I get it wrong or mishear what he said? However, it’s the gentle encouragements that the input is making a difference that have kept me going. The unexpected emails or social media comments that take me by surprise; little hidden gems that remind me that I am doing the right thing. It’s important to keep chipping away at the task, as small things add up to make a big difference. We often think we know how God will bring a vision or idea to pass, but in reality God does things outside of our own understanding and perspective. That doesn’t mean that it will be less than we expect, the Lord always gives more than we hope for, but he is also interested in the journey to the destination as it helps us become more like him.
Strong, tall trees don’t grow overnight and deep roots grow in the dark soil. It’s the same when we’re building with God, it can take years of toiling away before we see fruit of what he showed us years before. Although the process can be disheartening and gruelling, the end result is worth it. The difficult and challenging seasons are designed to give a us a great story to share with others. I wrote Tall Trees as a reminder to myself to keep moving with the word that God gave me many years ago. It’s a challenge to myself to keep being creative and faithful to God. So don’t be afraid to keep moving forward and make the next chapter of your story…
Listen and buy the song here
Sometimes you look back at a song and realise that you have been trying to tell yourself something for a long time. A situation you need to put right, something that you need to do, someone or something that is doing you no good that you need to let go of or even congratulating yourself because you have done really well. Little fragments of our inner thoughts seep into our work and ferment while we are unaware.
As a songwriter, I always want to write music that moves people with lyrics that make them think. That’s always been my goal, to give people a song that is valuable to them and that they can hold onto. Lyrics and music can be so intrinsically linked that they can move us on a spiritual level. Every artist wants to connect with their audience, but if you can share something in common from experience you have a much deeper connection.
Recently I found this video clip of comedy actor Jim Carrey talking about his other passion in life, art. I was really intrigued by something he says about the path of creative discovery:
“You really don’t know what a sculpture or a painting totally means, you think you do. Most of the time I start out with a plan and then in like a year later I’ll realise that the painting what I needed to know about myself before.”
Sometimes when we create, we start by giving our audience a message but more often than not, we we find out something about ourselves. Six years ago I wrote the song Close That Door, I was actually writing about two different situations that two of my friends were finding themselves in. None of it was pretty and they both had come to the end of themselves and needed to close the door on those situations. What I didn’t know at the time was that I was actually prophesying to myself about something that needed to happen in my own life. I need to close a door, a chapter, a lifestyle and move on into new things. As I was going through the season of transition and change, one of my closest friends pointed out that I had already told myself that this new season was coming and to let go of the old so that I could embrace the new things ahead of me. That was a bit of a shocker at the time! But now I understand it was coming from a place of being led by God into a new season. He likes to prepare us before he makes changes, it’s part of his promise to always be with us.
“What I needed to know about myself before…” Life is a constant journey of growing, reflecting, making mistakes, celebrating victories but we learn so much about ourselves by contemplating on where we are and how we are dealing with our current moment. Jim acknowledges that his art is therapeutic and helps him process his emotions and experiences, but also that each piece of work contains part of him and his life journey. There are so many different ways that God can speak to us and this really is just scratching the surface of what artists, musicians, and writers channel through their creations. What I’m trying to say is that art isn’t just for an audience, it helps the artist hear what they need to know…
A few weeks ago I performed at a house concert in Aylesbury. We had a full house as it sold out! They were such a lovely crowd of people from all over Buckinghamshire. I really enjoy these concerts as there is a lot of interaction from the audience; it’s an intimate gig as the audience only had ten people in it! As well as hearing the stories behind the songs, people ask me questions and talk about how the songs make them feel. That’s such a privilege for an artist; a real opportunity to find out how people are reacting to my work. I also played some of my new songs: it’s always nerve-wracking playing a song in public for the first time as you’re never sure if people will like it. You learn very quickly whether a song is hitting the spot or whether it needs work! Of course, I sang some of the old favourites as well and everyone joined in.
If you’re interested in me performing at a house concert or event, please email me.