Helena has the combination of talent, good looks and determination necessary to succeed
Rosie Upton warmly recommends Helena
An artist who went down a storm at the Village Pump Festival a couple of weeks ago confesses that she is only now after years of struggling as a folk singer and songwriter finding commercial success and getting airplay on Radio 2. Helena, who is based in Midsomer Norton, recently released a CD - Catalyst - and one of the tracks, If You Should Go (Stay) has become a firm favourite with listeners.
I spoke to her after her polished and thoroughly professional performance on Stage 2 where a packed audience had cheered and shouted for more long after she had left the stage. She told me that at last she was able to perform more of her own material and that things are looking good for the future with interest from some of the major music publishers and record companies.
Helena has the combination of talent, good looks and determination necessary to succeed in the music business, and seems to know where she is going. She is a diminutive figure with a mass of golden red hair and has great presence and charisma on stage.
She is also an accomplished guitarist who is not afraid to play hard-driving rhythms and is a singer with a mellow soulful voice that has the power to move. She is also a skilled songwriter who mixes heart on the sleeve folky ballards with equally thoughtful but less introspective material that could be described as pop or rock. One of the problems for me has always been in knowing exactly where to catagorise her.
Helena started out playing the folk clubs, has been very successful performing cover versions in pubs from Somerset to Suffolk.
Last year she told me that one of her ambitions was to give an evening performance on the Main Stage at the Village Pump. I'm afraid I was a little disparaging, with words to the effect of never; after all those spots are reserved for the likes of Bob Geldof or The Saw Doctors. It could be that I'll have to eat my words, and I've told her so.
At last people beyond the folk club and pub circuit are beginning to take notice. Don't take my word for it - catch up with Helena yourself.
There are moments during the album when you realise that this is what Madonna might sound like if she really was an exceptional singer
Previously uncertain whether Helena was a blues or folk singer, Charlie Dunlap is in no doubt after listening to her new CD
A few years ago, when I was writing the blues column, I had to search out Helena and call her to find out if she was a blues or folk singer: I'd heard conflicting reports. I decided then that she should be in Rosie's folk column.
Now Helena's got a brand new CD, Catalyst, and, guess what? It's neither blues nor folk. It rocks, and the category to file it under is, without a doubt, rock/pop.
But, let us make clear that it is not your bog-standard rock album, some sort of regurgitated Pat Benatar workout. A long way from it.
It is extremely varied, with 15 songs and a running time well over an hour, cruising through hard rock, funky jazz-soul, world-folk trance, Hendrixiana, country, techno-groove R&B, AOR ballad - a style for each song.
And yet it has a unity about it grounded in its perfect sound and in Helena's totally accomplished singing and luxuriant voice. There are moments during the album when you realise that this is what Madonna might sound like if she really was an exceptional singer. It is truly an impressive album, with Helena's songs just as noteworthy as her singing, all deserving of the sparkling arrangements and production.
[Helena is] that real rarity - a talent that stands head and shoulders above the rest
By Malcolm Morrison of the Daily Echo, Bournemouth
ACOUSTIC and folk-roots music, like so much else in life, has its spread of talent good, bad and indifferent.But sometimes, in this music medium where the mediocre cannot be hidden behind a wall of sound comes that real rarity - a talent that stands head and shoulders above the rest.Such a talent is making her first appearance at the D-roots Music club at the Blue Boar in Poole on Wednesday.
Helena - simply Helena - comes from deepest Somerset and is little known in this area. She is a singer, a songwriter and a guitarist and, to my mind, one of the best in the business.
Helena's voice is perhaps her greatest asset. The quality is rich and pure, deep and mellow, soulful and powerful. She delivers the words as if she means every one and sings each song as if it were just for you. Yet her rapport with her wider audience, whether it be in concert folk club or festival, is supreme. She will banter with the best of them and has unbelievably good hearing - a sotto voce remark made at the back of the room will often inspire an instant and witty response, to the immense delight of the crowd.
She is lively, bubbly, blonde and cheeky and an absolute professional.
Helena's own material covers a wide range, from soulful and personal ballads to out-and-out rockers. She is equally at home covering numbers from the '60s through to the present day, all accompanied by superb rhythm work on her guitar.
I suspect that much of Wednesday's concert will consist of original material, but you might expect to hear a sprinkling of songs from Alanis Morrisette, Suzanne Vega, Fleetwood Mac - and even Robbie Williams and REM!
It is almost impossible to label Helena's music. Her set covers many styles - rock, jazz, country, blues and folk. Whatever your taste in music, Helena will almost certainly satisfy it. I know it is a cliched phrase, but this really is an evening not to he missed.
.....one of Helena's proudest moments was playing on the main stage at the Glastonbury Festival.....
Being brought up in a musical family has certainly left its mark on Helena
The Chilcompton-based singer/songwriter and musician comes from a family of four who all learnt the piano from a young age.
But unlike most children, Helena found that lessons and practice were not a chore.
"My mother played the flute and she met my dad in an orchestra where he was the trumpeter.
"I played the piano and was also given a ukelele when I was six.
"From there I progressed to guitar when I was eight and since then it's been my main instrument.
"My dad also plays lots of guitar and I took to it very quickly."
In her youth, Helena had many musical influences from a range of genres but confesses to being completely intrigued when she saw an edition of Top Of The Pops which featured both Ian Dury and Kate Bush.
"They were the most unusual people on there," she says, "they really stood out from the crowd."
Helena's first public performances were as part of the family concerts she was involved with, during which she would also perform solo pieces. Then, at the age of just 16, Helena played her first paid-for gig at a local cricket club. The performance was with her old guitar teacher as part of a duet. Helena soon joined a band after someone "fell in love" with her voice and, just a couple of months later, she began doing her first recordings and gigging regularly.
Born in London, Helena moved to Holcombe as a young girl with her family because of her father's job.
And she has never moved from the area since, feeling quite at home and settled in Chilcompton.
"I'm a homebird, really," she says. But that doesn't detract the musician from touring all over the country and even playing abroad on many occasions. And one of Helena's proudest moments was playing on the main stage at the Glastonbury Festival in 1995.
As a performer she has been described as lively and spirited with a powerful tongue-in-cheek audience control. She has a soulful and rich voice but plays hard-hitting guitar driven by influences of rock, jazz and blues, as well as ballads. Helena added: "I like to have a laugh with the audience. "But most of all I want to move people and I definately want to keep on playing."
Helena's...new album has a much rockier, edgier feel than her previous work - and she hopes it will transform her image
By Susie Weldon
Helena can't go for more than a week without singing. She's sung ever since she was two or three, and for nearly 20 of her 35 years she's been performing in pubs and folk clubs around the country."It's just the joy of singing." says the Somerset-based singer/guitarist in her husky, smoker's voice. "I don't know if it's ego. I don't think so; it's like my soul is withering if I don't sing."
We're in her Somerset cottage, drinking coffee and discussing the release of her seventh solo album, Catalyst, which Helena (Madonna-style, she prefers to use just one name) hopes will finally launch her into the big time.
Like Helena herself, her home is a state of transition. One half is a lively creative jumble of colourful rugs and bright wooden ornaments, while the other half is currently undergoing major building work as she extends into the cottage next door.
Helena's personal transition is all about her music. Her new album has a much rockier, edgier feel than her previous work - and she hopes it will transform her image from a folk babe into a rock chick.
"It's the best thing I've ever done and, yes, I'm excited and scared and all sorts," she admits candidly.
Despite the early hour (11am is early for musicians, she says), she is glamourous in a tight, low-cut black top, tousled blonde hair and dangly earrings. Helena made her name on the folk circuit partly because "that's where someone like me could be listened to" and partly because she has a voice particularly suited to the kind of soulful ballads found in the folk tradition. But although she's built a loyal fan base throughout the West Country - and has also performed before thousands on Glastonbury's main stage - she felt that her folk-singer label told just half the story.
"I've been waiting for this album for years. Two or three years ago I started writing songs that had a much rockier, punchier feel," she says. "Catalyst is a sort of rock pop album with blues, folk and jazz influences. And one or two that are still basically me and the guitar and quite sweet songs."
Included among the "sweet songs" are Fairy Tale, a dreamy, lyrical ballad, and Second Time Around, plaintive and haunting and well suited to Helena's rich, mellow voice. In contrast, Contradiction is definitely a rock song with its thumping beat while Demons Cry gets your feet tapping with its dancy pop sound and techno feel.
The change of musical direction coincides with changes in her voice. "I used to have quite a pure, sweet voice but looking back I wasn't singing blues and rock with any conviction," she says thoughtfully. "Now my voice has much more raw edge, more depth, and it's got deeper." This is partly due to the battering her voice took in her 20s when she was singing 18 gigs a month, and partly to maturity. "You've got to get older, become more experienced..." her voice trails off and she looks at the cigarette in her hand before adding with a rueful laugh: "And it's because of too much smoking."
One of the joys of Helena's songs is that her lyrics actually mean something - although they tend to concentrate on life's darker moments ("it's harder to write when you're happy!"). It's something her fans clearly respond to. "Only the other week someone came up to me and said 'that song you've just sung - you've obviously been through what I've just been through'." Another fan, Doreen, who has cancer, and her children have adopted one of Helena's songs as a family theme song. "The song is actually about being frightened at the start of a new relationship," explains Helena, "but for Doreen and her kids, this song is about what they're going through. Now, every time I sing the song, it's about Doreen for me too."