I didn’t expect to be releasing this song; I wrote it seven years ago for a project that has been long abandoned. This song comes from a collection that I wrote in 2014 about the ins and outs relationships. Despite not releasing it, earlier this year I felt the compulsion to do so as it seemed to be important and that it might be useful to people. The song examines the dissatisfaction that comes from wanting everything you see in the hope that it will be fulfilling and mend an already broken relationship. It was a response to a situation I was seeing unfold in a friend’s life at the time of writing.
I’ve never performed this song, and it’s been sat on my Laptop hard drive for awhile. When I went looking for it, I had one of those moments that every artist dreads, I couldn’t find it! I’m meticulous about making sure everything is backed up so I was quite surprised that I couldn’t locate the Logic file. I did find an mp3 of the demo though, and when I listened to the recording, it sounded dated and it didn’t express the vibe of the song well. I’ve created a more contemporary arrangement for the track, and all I can say is that not being able to find the original file has been a happy accident! The new arrangement is a much better interpretation of the lyrics, and represents the topic matter more clearly.
Sometimes when we create something, and we must lay it down for a season until it is the right time to be released to the world. Prophesying always takes place long before the prophecy comes to fruition. Wait for the right time to release your work; this way it will be the most effective physically and spiritually. So however this is for, this is for you…
I’m Helen, I think I’m 4ft 11in, but my kids are convinced that I’ve shrunk. I’m often described as quirky and a bit mad due to my anarchic sense of humour. I studied Theology at London Bible College (now known as the London School of Theology), and music at Middlesex University (where I met my lovely friend Rachael Forsyth who write and performs with me). I’m a musician, artist and writer living in Buckinghamshire, and I’ve taught singing and piano to children and adults since 1996. I’m obsessed with creativity and I like to write songs and music, create abstract acrylic paintings, and spend hours thinking about blogs I might write.
Tell me a secret about yourself…
I once applied for a job with MI5 and got an interview! I didn’t go for the job in the end because the security checks took over 6 months to complete, and quite frankly I needed a job immediately so that I could buy cereal and ridiculous shoes.
When was your first performance?
When was three years old, I told my parents that I wanted to sing at church. I think they thought that once I had sung in public it would put me off, however I sang at an Easter meeting and that was the beginning of many performances! I was so small that they had to stand me on a stage so everyone could see me. I started to play the piano when I was five years old, and I wrote first (terrible) song when I was about six (I didn’t release it).
What’s your greatest creative achievement?
A music teacher once told me that I had no talent and that I should stop wasting everyone’s time, so in 2011 when my song Do You Seek An Answer reached number one in the New Christian Music chart (in both the UK and Europe, I might add), I was pleased that the teacher was wrong and that I’d stuck to my plan! I learnt that you shouldn’t ever let anyone define you or limit what you can achieve, only God can define who we are and the possibilities of what we are called to do.
Tell me about your influences…
Too many to mention! But probably Karen Carpenter, I do think her best work was her solo album which she recorded with Phil Ramone. We can hear the real Karen, an artist who has matured and found her own style. Unfortunately, it wasn’t released until 1997, fourteen years after her death so she never saw the public’s fantastic reaction to it.
A love of music by female singer-songwriters and finding that I had a voice of my own has greatly influenced my work. When I was 18, I fell in love with Alanis Morrisette’s lyric writing and that gave me the impetus and confidence to write my own songs. Her brutal honesty inspired me and her ability to make just about any word rhyme, makes laugh a lot!
Judith Owen is an amazing songwriter and musical interpreter. Some of her arrangements of well-known popular songs are incredible and she loves to take traditionally male genres and add a female spin to them. Julia Fordham is also an incredible performer and songwriter and knows how to take the listener on an emotional and musical journey. The two albums that she collaborated with Larry Klein are amazing and are well worth a listen.
What do you think is your mission in life?
Well, that’s a big question. It has taken me a long time to work out what I should spend my life doing. However, I feel that the Lord has called me to lead a creative lifestyle, and to be an example of how to foster the routine of creativity in everyday life. Artists have a mission to represent God’s love and truth in artistic and diverse ways. What we create today, can help someone find hope tomorrow.
If you want to find out more about my creative projects or join me in this journey, check out my Patreon page. You can join from as little as £2 a month.
Tell me a something I don’t know about you…
I was born with six fingers on one of my hands. The finger was deformed and had no bone in it, so it was removed. I always wonder what my piano playing would have been like if that extra finger had been viable! The again, it might not have made any difference at all…
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One of the questions that I most commonly get asked is “when will I be a proper musician/artist/writer?”. In the artistic arena there is no defining moment when this happens. Unlike a lot of other professions, artistry isn’t just a job, it’s tied in with our identity. It’s part of who we are as well as what we do. Our reasons to create go beyond salary and career prospects; we feel compelled to create, make and perform: to shine a light on the issues that we are passionate about. This desire bubbles up inside of us until we satisfy our need to create. The artistic spark within connects with the divine in order to channel the power of spiritual creativity.
Sometimes you have to see yourself as an artist so that you believe that you are one. If we believe that we are made in the image of God, and he is the master artist, then we must reflect the artistry back to him. David had to see himself as king long before he ever was king, and Abraham had to believe that he was the Father of Nations long before he was a father. Sometimes we have a sense of greatness within, but we don’t how or when that will be achieved in our lives. This calls us to trust that our sense of who we are will be filled during our life time.
We must set aside other people’s views on who we are and what we do. To not be defined by the atmosphere and clamour around us. Someone else’s opinion can leave an imprint of a false belief on our identity, which can become a barrier to our artistic output. How many times have we believed that we’re not good enough to create? When imposter syndrome sets in, it steals our vision and denies our personhood. We can fall into the trap of needing to be ratified, commended and accepted by the creative community, rather than being able to do those things for ourselves. The best artists are those who have a sense of self coupled with independence; they are more likely to take risks and try new ideas whilst maintaining their integrity.
Creative insecurity is driven by fear, in particular fear of opinion and failure. Mistakes and failures although painful can lead to being a better artist, they develop our character and help build a stronger resolve in us through wisdom and experience. Public and peer critique can also have benefits if we learn to filter out what isn’t necessary, and act on what is good.
We can be under the illusion that money determines whether we are an artist or not. Yet some of the of greatest musicians died in poverty, case in point Handel who died penniless and largely unknown for his work. The Messiah was only a success after his death, and it written during a time when his friends supported him financially. Money is good for helping us create and access resources, but it can pollute our work if we are driven by financial gain.
Creativity is a calling. There is a responsibility in everything we do that we represent and share the truth in an honourable way. Lots of people can create but those who accept the calling to “disturb the peace” and highlight different issues to the world through art have an undeniable vocation and position in society. The world needs those artists who undertake a journey of discovery and exploration for the sake of educating and helping others. They are the risk-takers, the pioneers, and mothers and fathers of new movements.
It doesn’t matter whether you started being creative from the time you were small or if you find your stride during retirement. The artist DNA is part of you from the beginning; it comes to life at the right time to offer you healing, fulfilment and also bring hope to others. The truth is, you’re an artist from the moment you are born, from the moment you create, from the moment that idea germinates in your mind. You’re an artist from the moment you take that first breath…
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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…
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…
Here I am singing Sweet Harmony with The English Jazz Orchestra – ENJO live at St Luke’s Church, Enfield on 14 March 2019. I wrote this song in 2005 and Rachael Forsyth arranged it for big band and orchestra. More clips to follow soon!
All For Love is the last single commissioned by the Centre For Buckinghamshire Studies as part of The Great War Showcase that has been shown around the county throughout 2018 to mark the centenary of the end of the war. This song is based on the last words of Captain Francis Grenfell from Beaconsfield. He and his twin brother, Rivy both fought in World War One and were injured in combat. Rivy made it home, but sadly Francis died early on in the war.
On 25 May 1915, Francis endured a German chlorine gas attack and was also shot through the heart. His last words to his squadron were, “tell them I died happy, loving them all.” These words inspired this new song, they got me thinking about love and what that means. How far we will go for others and country? What will we sacrifice so that others can have freedom and peace? Would we die for freedom? Sobering thoughts that make me wonder if we take our freedom for granted.
Yesterday I hit a wall with the lyrics for a new song. I stared at the same piece of paper for two hours. I played the same part for two hours. NOTHING. Typically the week before I’d written 90% of the song and then got stuck on the last two lines. For many songwriters, this is the point that is “make or break” as to whether a song will be finished or not. I played the song over and over in the hope that something would materialise, but no. In the end I did a Facebook Live session about my frustration (you can watch it here) and it turns out that many of you have been through the same frustrations.
There seems to be a perception that songwriters just write a hit song in ten minutes and its complete. In reality, there’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind each song. There’s more than an element of truth in the saying 10% inspiration, 90% perspiration. Often with lyrics, the version that lands up in the published domain will have had umpteen rewrites and edits to get to the final product.
So a morning was wasted. Or was it? It’s in these times of perceived lack of growth that our giftings really develop. We learn perseverance, tenacity, patience; all good fertilizers for creativity and art. We learn how to how practise our gifting: we can have all the talent in the world but if we don’t practise songwriting, our talent will never grow and flourish. We look for new ways of doing things, we try new techniques and we seek to understand the purpose of the barren season. We also learn to make the most of what we’ve got; I got two hours of piano practise out of my wasted lyrics session. That’s two hours of practise that I hadn’t planned but happened anyway.
So how did I break out of this lyrical dead end? A change of scene always helps; I went for a drive and a walk and cleared my mind of all the clutter. I pondered on what the song was really about… Had I conveyed the theme adequately in the current lyrics? Was there more that I needed to say? I also have several notebooks and cloud storage with ideas for songs which I plundered through looking for inspiration. Sometimes something that I scribbled down three years ago has relevance for the current song topic, so it’s worthwhile keeping old ideas for future projects. A couple of days later I wrote down a random idea that turned out to be the missing lyrics. Once the pressure was removed from the situation, there were the words waiting for me.
What I’m trying to say here is that all experiences whether bad or good can lead to growth and development. It’s the ability to keep going through barren seasons that lead us to have expertise in our field and the tenacity to deal with whatever our craft throws at us. Although we may want to quit and have an easy life, we gain more from continuing and seeing the task through. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about the “daily pages” where she writes down everything on her mind each day. I can’t say that I’ve ever had the time to do this, but I can see the value in practising a creative art form daily. If you are in the habit of writing, then you are more likely to prioritise it, and it becomes part of your daily or weekly routine. The same is true for any art form or project that you’re working on. So as I said in my Facebook live video, don’t quit, keep going, deal with where you are, find a way to make it work and the rest will follow.
You can listen to the new song You’re So Hard On Mehere.
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!