I’ve been digging through my files recently, looking at unfinished projects and demos of unreleased songs. Some artists don’t share their demos and work in progress; however I think there’s great value in sharing my sketches and how they develop. Four years ago, I was involved with a project with the Buckinghamshire Archives commemorating the end of World War One in 2018. I wrote several songs but the one that was released as part of the project was Are You Coming Home? This song reflected on letters sent to soldiers from their families, and the eternal of question of whether they would return home safely.
There were so many different aspects of the war that I could have covered, but what really intrigued me was the change in workforce nationally. The First World War was the first opportunity women had to join the workplace and take an active role in industry for the war effort. Inspired by the idea that War Is Not For Women, I wrote a song looking at the social change and opposition that these women faced. Although they were serving their country doing dangerous yet essential work in the munitions factories or frontline medical services, they often faced criticism for leaving their domestic home roles. A debt is owed to these women, as a lot of the female workforce stopped working after the war, but they paved the way for future generations of women to have careers.
This was an unusual project for me; however, I enjoyed the historical backdrop as the research led to a new path of creativity. Often when writing songs, I look for enticing stories, and there were many interesting characters and tales from this period of history! Mostly with this topic, I wanted to honour the legacy that these women left behind. There are other songs that I am yet to record from this project, but for now here is War Is Not For Women.
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…
After five weeks of quarantine, the COVID-19 situation is no longer a surprise to the nation. We’re settling into new routines, ways of working and communicating, and accepting that life is going to be very different for the next few months at least. For some people life hasn’t changed at all: key workers are working harder than ever to keep essential services going, whilst others have found themselves unexpectedly unemployed. This has led many people to raise questions as to what this season in life may be all about…
For some time, I have felt that this is a season of rest and resetting. On an international scale, we’ve never had a period of time where so many nations have come to a halt all at the same time. We no longer need to travel to work, school or church. There are no social activities available to entertain us outside of our homes, and our travel footprint has been reduced to one trip a week to the supermarket. We now have to time to stop, think, reflect and enjoy where we are. There is no doubt that we will come out of this lockdown wanting different things in our lives, most importantly, a much simpler existence. The resting period is teaching us that there so many things in life that we don’t need: no non-essential items cluttering up daily living. Things that stop us being who we are, drain our energy, or divert our attention into needless causes.
This is also a period of incubation. New hobbies have been found, new business ideas developed and there is space for artistic and creative exploits. Even the way we work, shop and reach out to our families and friends has evolved. Technology is almost struggling to catch up with us. There is no doubt there will be an explosion of innovation and development from this period of lockdown. But all of these things emanate from rest. The space to be able to stop, think and relax in order to let the mind wander and create.
The reflection also helps us to let go of failures and hurts form the past. We have an opportunity to deal with the things that worry and hound us. If we let go of those things now, we will be fit and ready for a new season. Our “busyness” has stopped us from dealing with past issues and now is the time to be healing and forgiving ourselves and others. This truly is a time of divine reset, starting over and rebuilding from scratch. Forgiveness flows from resting in the knowledge that the past has gone, and resetting ourselves by letting go of the past. Forgiveness leads to a fresh start.
Air pollution is at an all time low for the first time in decades, probably even a century. The earth is recovering from the ordeal that we have put it through. One of my friends commented that “..while humanity struggles to breath with COVID-19, the earth can breath for the first time in years.” An unexpected positive side effect from the lockdown is that our environment is cleaner and safer than ever; humanity is being forced to let the world heal and flourish.
Although this period of time is frightening and frustrating in many ways, the outcome of resting and resetting life will benefit humanity long after this season is over. If you can take anything from this strange season of confinement, it’s the rediscovery of who you are, and the preparation for the next season ahead. A new season is loading, and this is merely the buffering while the season downloads. So rest ready for the reset.
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…
It’s a new season and it’s time for new things. I’ve been thinking about doing things differently and new goals. Over the last decade, a lot of my projects have been produced by other people, which I have loved and it’s been a great experience! However, I haven’t had chance to have creative control over my music for a long time, so my next project will be produced by me!After writing songs for the Centre For Buckinghamshire Studies last year, it gave me taste for producing my own music again and having that creative control which can sometimes be lost in corporate production. I made a decision that I wanted to be able to involve my fan base and supporters in the actual creation of the music. In the past I’ve had a call out for stories for songs from fans and then created music from their ideas; this time, the songs are based on my experiences and will feature the backing vocals of others. Part of being an artist, is being able to let go of what we’re creating and let outside influences join in shaping those ideas without losing the original vision.
The first song I’m working on is called Womankind which looks at the aspects and personhood of being female. I have strong female characters in my present and past that have influenced my life, and a story of my own that has led to who am I, and that really is where this song begins. My own experience of being female has balanced betweenbeing resolutely strong and empathetically vulnerable. Like all women, I’ve played a variety of roles simultaneously: daughter, sister, aunt, mother, friend, lover, ex-wife, colleague, confidant and the list goes on… The role of women is often down-played and lost in society and I want to highlight the essential nature of what women provide and bring to our culture. This album will very much feature our contribution.
One of the greatest gifts that we receive from God is knowing who we are and having the space and opportunity to explore and find that out throughout life. I am very proud to be a woman and believe that we should increase the volume of voice in our communities and push forward for as many opportunities as possible. If we have learnt anything from our female predecessors, it’s that tenacity, strength, and perseverance eventually open doors to equality and that we have the right to obtain the same roles and levels as our male counterparts.
Over to you… I need as many women of all ages and backgrounds as possible to record themselves saying a set of words that I will incorporate into the song. You don’t need to sing the words, just speak them. Most mobile phones have recording devices on them, and all you need to do is recording yourself saying the words and then email the mp3 to me. It only takes about 5 minutes to record and your name will be listed on the album cover.If you would like to be involved, please email me and I will send you the words to say. Also, if you have words based on your own experience that you want to incorporate into the song, that would be most welcome…
A friend recently challenged me to write more about the reality of being an artist. And to be honest this is something that I dread, cause no-one likes a whiner… Often that’s how artist lives come across, but the reality is that being an artist is HARD. It is not for the faint-hearted, or the fame hungry. It requires commitment, huge personal cost and you lose friends along the way. But that’s where music fans come in, they are committed, altruistic and are prepared to dream with the artist. They are often the backbone of the artists’s work and career, they provide support encouragement and resources. So here are five things you need to know about being a music fan:
You mean the world to the artist. Yes really you do. You are part of the songwriter’s journey and they are thinking about what they want to convey to you when they are writing a new song. Every time you comment on a social media post, buy a CD or download a single, read a blog or share their music with someone new, you support the artist in ways you cannot imagine. When a songwriter shares new music with her fan base, it brings the music to life. So don’t forget to share the artist’s work, buy the music and tell your mates about it.
Artists love it when you interact with them. It helps them to know when their music is reaching people and who it is impacting. They love it when you get involved with music and are part of the creative process; it can be inspirational and add new dimensions to the work. We’re so lucky with social media that we can do this quite easily and regularly. At some point in their careers, most artists will experience loneliness and depression, especially when writing a new project. It can be a solitary time when you’re working away on a song or on the road touring. Over the years I’ve become great friends with some of my long term fans; they are the ones who know about the latest project before anyone else. Some of them have even suggested subjects for me to write about it. Thanks to technology and social media, the era of the inaccessible artist is long gone – get interacting!
Buying the artist’s music is a game changer. Yes, I know artists aren’t meant to talk about money. However, the sum goes like this: no money = no music. Sad but true. It costs a lot of money to write, record and produce music and most artists pay for it out of their own pockets at great personal cost. Sadly in the current era, music doesn’t sell as most people listen to it for free on Youtube or stream it through platforms such as Apple Music or Spotify. These platforms are good in terms of getting music out to a broader audience, however they pay peanuts, far less than the single actually being downloaded directly from the artist. It’s a costly business and can mean that a lot of artists live below the poverty line in order to support their work. Buying a single, CD, T shirt or supporting their crowdfunding campaign makes all the difference.
Your RSVP is a confidence booster. Turning up to a concert, interview or Facebook Live makes it all worth while. Releasing new music takes guts. Mosts artists are nervous about new projects, they’ve poured their heart and soul into it but they’ve no idea how it will be received. When you turn up to an event, you’re giving your seal of support and approval. A fan’s interaction can be make or break for a project or even a career. Booking agents look for acts that have an active, attentive fan base, who will turn up to concerts and bring crowd with them. RSVPing and be there, makes all the difference…
Sing! Dance! Enjoy! We make the music, the art, the shows for YOU. Enjoy the opportunity to learn more about the artist and the music. Enjoy the recordings, the live shows and the interviews. Enjoy every moment of it; life is too short not to enjoy each other’s gifts and talents. Thank you for all support, the music and the future!
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!
So here’s a new song that I started writing back in 2014. I finally finished it a few weeks ago after pondering over verse two for four years! I’m hoping it will be recorded on a new project and will be creating a demo of it soon. Im very excited as my Helen’s Angels Patreons are the first to hear this song – this is a world premiere folks!
I decided to go one further than the archetypal love triangle and write a love square! It’s about the interplay and regret between two couples and the history that they share.
I hope you like the song – I’d love to hear you thoughts on it.
We’ve all been there: stuck in a rut, frustrated, can’t produce anything new. Our creativity diminishes and we fear that we’ll never produce anything new or good again. There are two things you can do in this situation: firstly, rest. I can not emphasise how important it is for creative people to rest. A few years ago, I was told by a record executive that you have to keep going and produce new work all the time. “People always want something new to consume” he said. And that’s where I switched off. It is true that as an artist you need to keep some momentum, it’s also true that if you don’t stop you will burn out and lose your passion for creating music altogether. That is a far worse state to be in than just taking a few months off. The whole idea of producing for consumption does not appeal either. Art should be revered not consumed.
Secondly, do something new. Be brave and try something completely different that takes you out of comfort zone. Just because the route you were on has come to an end, doesn’t mean it’s the end of your creativity. Sometimes we need time to recalibrate between creative seasons. We change as people, which also means the way we think and do things has to grow with us. What we perceive as an ending, is actually the beginning of a something new.
So what did I do when my creative energy came to a grinding halt? Well I did eventually take my own advice and have a rest. It took some doing, I was convinced that I needed to keep going but in reality it just wasn’t possible. And you know what? I actually enjoyed having a break! I watched films, saw friends and did things that I normally don’t get time to do. And then.. I started to listen to all the music I love and remember why I fell in love with music in the first place. It’s important to remember that you get one life; spend it well, with the people who are important to you and doing the things that make you happy. Success can be measured in many ways, but it can also lead you to search for things that ultimately become meaningless in the course of life. You’ll make better art if you learn to enjoy life and get your priorities in order.
I also changed the way I write songs. I used to spend hours at the piano working at the magical moment when music and lyrics come together. I decided to write songs by just singing without the piano and seeing what happens; this meant that I could write anywhere. Then I went back to creating backing tracks and top-lining, something that I haven’t done in a long time. I gave myself small creative challenges, such as writing a short song in thirty minutes and recording it using vocal loops, (you can hear the song here). The return to simplicity helped free up my creativity and took the pressure off. Bravery came calling and I decided to release an EP of my demos (I still can’t believe I’ve let you hear them!) so that listeners could experience the live, raw element of songwriting (you can hear the EP here).
I also decided, after a lot of soul searching, to change the way fans can support my work. In the new year I will be launching Helen’s Angels which is a VIP club that fans can join and receive new music, videos, merchandise each month. More details about this will follow in 2018.
So what I’m saying is that there comes a time for all us when we have to throw our net over the other side of the boat and see what happens. It’s a game of trust that will lead to self-development. In letting go, we can gain new skills and experiences. So if you’re stuck in a rut, try something new!