Do you often wonder why you’re in the valley sometimes? Why you’re in the same valley that you reckon, or maybe even believe, you’ve been there since the dawn of time; and the same valley that you’re certain and convinced that you’ll stay there until the day you pass? Do you often wonder why life isn’t going the way you thought it would be at this very moment, or why the whole world seems against you? You get the sense that fate, or destiny, or whatever deity or higher power that is up there (that you probably know for a fact is up there in the heavens floating about, but don’t really give the time of day, except for at Christmas or at Easter or at Ramadan or Hannukah or any other token religious festival and occasion) doesn’t care at all about you and your problems and your situations and your relationships with others, or your needs, or your wants and desires… otherwise he, or she, would be actively doing something, anything to create a positive change in your life. For the past umpteen years, it has seemed like you’re on your own, in the valley for eternity, with no one around you to keep you safe, or make you feel good, or make life worth living. So do you wonder why you’re seemingly stuck in the valley with no way out?
I mean, I have that very scary, questioning thought from time to time recently, especially right now in the middle of this unforeseen pandemic and this virus sweeping the globe- COVID-19 isn’t going to go away any time soon. For me I’m a Christian- I’m a believer in Jesus and I believe that God is going to mould the consequences of the pandemic for His glory and my good (and for all of our good!); so my world view and morals and values have been (and are and will continue to be) shaped by the very essence of who Jesus Christ and God are to me, and what the death and resurrection mean for me and how I navigate the plans that I believe Jesus has for me in this life. Yet I’m human just the same as you. So I don’t look at life through glasses that project sunshine and rainbows and horses and fluffy white bunny rabbits all the time. I’m a realist, and I see a pandemic grip so many countries, I see a global outbreak cripple so many economies, kill so many people, and force us all into a lockdown where jobs are lost and the only place where you can go for solace and normalcy is the big stores like Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and IGA (similar to stores like Walmart in the U.S.), as well as pharmacies and convenience stores- and even then there’s a part of going to the shops, that doesn’t feel like ‘normal’.
It’s really a situation where we have no control over, a situation where our comfort and our very way of life is shaken to our very core, and a situation where it really could go on for…a few more months and even a few more years, shudder to think, or at least until we have a vaccine ready to go. So when I see all of that happen within the span of a few months…I become worried, quite naturally. As humans we like to think that we’re kind and we’re caring and we are considerate to others…but when push comes to shove, in a time of famine and sickness- really the only people we think about is ourselves and our immediate family. Friends…not so much. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just how we are wired. Because in times of extreme stress, most likely the only thing we do in order to get through, is via self-preservation. I’d like to think that it is in these times that we act more neighbourly and be the hands and feet of Jesus; however I look around, and lo and behold I see others doing things for themselves and limiting our interaction with others until it is safe to do so. Surviving through each day, making it through to next week, struggling through life as much as we can til we get through to the other side, and then we can meet up with friends and have a life as normal as possible. But herein lies my point, which was further backed up by a sermon I saw last week online from Louie Giglio, one of my favourite preachers/inspirational speakers ever.
The sermon was the start of a new series called “The Glory In The Grind”, and what the essence of it was that in the midst of a pandemic, sometimes all we want to do is to want to get back to ‘normal’ and long for the days where we can do what we used to. Yet what Louie was highlighting to me about this very unique and delicate situation that we now find ourselves in, is that in the midst of suffering, in the midst of the ‘grind’, in the midst of the mundane and this upside down quarantine life that we have now found our way into- we can also find a silver lining, and things can be used to further God’s glory. There is indeed a way for God to be magnified in the madness, for our faith to shine through in the darkness, and for light to break through in the valley. What Louie was saying is that sometimes the valley is necessary for refinement of character and for the developing of our spiritual selves, and while we may not understand why we’re in the valley for so long, we do have a finite view of time, while God’s view is infinite. We do have a Saviour who is sovereign who knows all, while we don’t know all of the moving pieces of the puzzle called life. We may not know why we’re in the valley for a long time. But adversity and struggles- embracing them for what they are, knowing that yes we didn’t choose these circumstances, but nevertheless we’re in them and we need to know what we can learn from them; and finding a way with God through them will indeed make us stronger and better for the next crisis. That may need to be our mindset going forward as God makes a way for us out of this crisis. Just simply- surrender to God.
But what does my philosophical musings and reflection have to do with my next artist that I’m going to be discussing- ‘up-and-coming’ British singer/songwriter and worship leader Philippa Hanna– who I reckon is going to be a future influencer very, very, very soon? Can Philippa’s life be examined, and the situations she’s found herself in over the years used to help us during COVID-19? Though a crisis of global proportions in the form of a virus isn’t really the same as a crisis of faith and identity in your teens and twenties (which Philippa had experienced to a certain extent!); the concept of giving God the glory in the midst of adversity and in the midst of our own personal struggles has been constant throughout since probably the dawn of time. See I don’t know if you know about this, but while all of use right now are struggling, in the midst of a widespread global catastrophe, it may bring you all comfort to know that Philippa at a very young age back in the day was enduring a different type of struggle. To know that she has now come through the other side, not the same as before, not ‘normal’, but a new kind of person with Jesus taking total control of her life- well it may or may not bring you comfort.
For me to even compare a global pandemic to Philippa’s faith and identity crisis may be simply trivialising the situation we’re in right now. Maybe subconsciously I am, and for that I’m sorry, because the last thing I want to do is to downplay the current crisis that we’re in- this virus kills, it’s very real, and it’s going to be a long road ahead for all of us. Sure trusting in God can comfort and reassure us that we’re going to be ok and that God’s got it all in His hands…but sometimes in the midst of calamity and chaos, we think that we’re all alone. Sure what we need to hear is that God is for us and is with us, but sometimes- in fact probably most of the time- what we want to hear and what we long to hear is that this other person X has gone through the same or a similar thing, and that they’ve come through the other side too, hence were going to be ok as well. Now Philippa hasn’t gone through a global pandemic (until now like the rest of us are experiencing!), so on the surface it would seem that what she has gone through in the past cannot be applicable to each of us. Yet I believe her story and her testimony is what we all need to hear, as we see the evidence of a God who moves, a God who loves, a God who saves and a God who heals and restores. Philippa’s testimony may not be as flash or grandiose as others, but her story is in fact real and authentic, and it is that testimony of a lost soul coming to Christ and coming out of the darkness and into the light; that I am sure will resonate with each and every one of you, as you lean on Him during these dark days.
Coming from a musical family in which her father was a musician and her mother was a school teacher, Philippa only had one goal in life and that was to be a musician like her dad. A singer and a songwriter- as her brother was in a band as well as her siblings. Yet the music industry is pretty tough and competitive; thus the numerous demos that Philippa sent off to label executives and music bigwigs just after Philippa had started writing songs in her teenage years were all rejected or ignored. Confidence was down, and if I were in that situation I’d turn to Jesus and the Bible for some words of wisdom and comfort. Yet Philippa wasn’t a believer yet, so to cope with the rejection, she turned to every type of solace she could find, inclusive of dropping out of school and staying at home for a period of 6 months straight, while also seeing healers and crystals. Life for Philippa only started to be much more worthwhile and much more satisfying after Jesus entered into the equation. Yet if you reckon that all I’m trying to do right here is to encourage you all to “believe in Jesus, and then all your problems will go away, including COVID-19”, well then I’m here to say that that isn’t the case. Jesus has said multiple times in the Bible that we will have trouble in this life when we follow Him, but to take heart, because He alone has overcome the world. And the same can be said for our situation in 2020 with lockdowns. Yes, it’s grim, and yes it is dire. But Jesus Christ is on the throne, and He reigns forever. That fact alone never changes. What can change though as a result of our faith in Jesus, is the way we view the situation. Do we see the world as half empty? Or half full? When Philippa trusted in God for her singing and songwriting career, nothing really fell into place straight away. I mean Philippa only recently became signed this year in 2020- so that’s around more than 15 years as a independent solo artist that hasn’t quite reached the levels of popularity and influence as maybe she would have liked. On many days, do you reckon Philippa would be angry at God and maybe even disappointed or perplexed at the road He’s guiding her down? I’m sure Philippa would’ve questioned a lot especially when things didn’t turn out good straight away. But God is God and His faithfulness is constant, and as we hang onto that in this time we can have peace. So as I speak about Philippa Hanna for a bit, and try to comfort you all from your own issues and troubles, let me reveal to you her testimony- spoken by her in words that I culd never paraphrase to the same great effect!- and remind you all that the God who has helped Philippa and has given her a reason to live, is the same God in control of this virus right now. It may not seem like it, but He is working!
“I think the impulse to get on stage came when I started writing songs…I was 13 when my dad bought me a keyboard and some basic recording gear. Once I started writing, I realised I was passionate about the songs and wanted to get them heard. If I didn’t sing them, no one was ever going to hear them…I used to watch MTV [during when I was rejected] and see people living their dreams. I thought there was no way I was going to do that…it was as though I was being led towards them [my Christian friends], led to ask questions. It was almost irresistible and wouldn’t go away. I had this glimmer of hope inside me…it was actually a worship event [that I was invited to]. I’d never heard of such a thing. It was completely new to me. But a guy about my dad’s age, with a guitar, was leading and I immediately felt affection for him because he reminded me of my dad. He started to sing songs about Jesus and it really impacted me. I felt overwhelmed. Everything I’d been dealing with began to come to the surface. So I started to pray.
“I asked God to prove to me that he was real and to help me start my life over. From that moment, things changed. There was a peace pursuing me, to a point where I thought there is no turning back from this. It felt like the people around me started to go on that journey with me and before I knew it, this was a full-time ministry.
“You can’t help but talk about what has just happened to you. When you’ve been at rock bottom, in the darkest place, of course you want to share whatever it is that has helped you. Faith has transformed my life and if there is any chance you think it could transform yours, you have nothing to lose by just tasting and seeing, saying a little prayer and seeing where it leads you…”
Philippa Hanna’s interview with Woman Alive
I’m from a music background, not a church background. My dad is a musician, and raised me in music and we used to go to shows and watch them together. My mum’s a school teacher and she was always very open minded about faith but we weren’t a church-going family. I hit some really bumpy times in my teen years, which isn’t uncommon, and there were some issues I had with self esteem. As a little kid I’d been bullied at school, and that affected my confidence going into secondary education.
I made a bit of a mess of my school years and didn’t do very well academically. The only thing I wanted to do was music, that was my only passion, so I left school with a view to go to college and study music, but after a couple of months I began to suffer with anxiety and it was really debilitating, I couldn’t leave the house, and so I had to drop out.
I think the anxiety came from the big change of going into full-time education after bunking off most of school, but also from some of the big questions I had about life. Why are we here? What’s life all about? Where do we come from? All these existential questions led me to seeking some answers. I went on a journey looking for the meaning of life, and bought lots of books and crystals, I went to see healers…and somewhere in the midst of that I moved out of home to pursue music as a career. I was really struggling and in an unhappy relationship.
I hit my most desperate point when I was about 19, and that’s when I met some Christian musicians and was impressed by their zeal for life and was very jealous of the peace that they had. I was such a worried and anxious person, so I was envious of their certainty. I put it down to their personality or upbringing, I didn’t think it was because of their faith, but I was interested and went along to a couple of events. Eventually I went to what I thought was a concert but was actually a worship meeting in a church. It was very humble, just one person leading on a guitar, but as we sang songs about Jesus I felt the words prickle in my heart. It was all about casting your burdens onto Jesus and laying them down, and I had a moment where I just thought, wow, if this is real, then I want this. I want to start my life over, I’d love to be a new creation. I was looking at the words on the screen and thought if this is true, then it’s what I need. So I prayed the only way I knew how to, silently in my head, and said “God, if this is real, if you’re really there, and I can have a new life then I gladly give you this one.”
That started a chain reaction of coincidences and chance meetings with other Christians, and I really felt I was being guided. It was quite supernatural, and the following day I picked up my Bible and started reading it. I’d read some of it before and thought it was a load of nonsense, but after having prayed that prayer it began to make sense; it felt as if it was directly speaking to me and changing me.
Philippa Hanna’s interview with Christian Today
You may reckon that Philippa’s story isn’t that special. You may believe there are other artists out there with much more bigger transformations that what Philippa has quietly gone through. But herin lies the point. That probably 9 times out of 10, the subtle, unassuming stories which go under the radar are perhaps much more of a testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness than any other story. Because anyone can tell a story with unbelievable elements. It’s quite another thing to tell a story that is relatable to the community and the world on a personal level. And that is what I believe Philippa has done through her music since she has become a Christian. Sure it’s nice to listen right now to a pop song with a catchy beat and sometimes has questionable and vapid lyrics- because sometimes all we can do is dance and tap our feet and not really caring about the lyrics; but how much more would it benefit us in the long run to listen to the vulnerable, honest, emotional, personal, compelling and powerful anthems by more of the underrated artists- the artists who don’t receive the recognition for whatever reason? This is where I believe Philippa come sin with her inspiring and hopeful songs. She may not be popular, and she also may not be influential s of now. But that’s ok. Because in this pandemic that we’re still in called COVID-19, it is I reckon Philippa’s music that will be one of many that will comfort and provide hope, as we lean on each other and on God in order to come out of the tunnel relatively unscathed.
Though most of the music I have listened to in the past on a frequent basis have been from artists and bands from the U.S.; Philippa’s unique and creative music that infuses many different genres together such as gospel, soul, pop, folk and sometimes acoustic material, has made me marvel at and wonder at the sounds coming out of Great Britain. Considering that Delirious?, one of my favourite bands ever, and Rend Collective, one of the most unique and refreshing bands in a long time, have originated from the land mass near the English Channel (not to mention mainstream acts such as U2, Phil Collins, Ed Sheeran, Robbie Williams, Jess Glynne and Little Mix); the least that quality artists originating from the UK and surrounding areas should do…is to make me interested in music from that area. And to my enjoyment, Philippa’s songs are honest, lyrically relevant, and her craftsmanship is as good as anyone else out there. I first heard Philippa’s music when I saw the music video in 2011 of “I Am Amazing” and from there I always have taken an interest in her music. With “I Am Amazing” being an empowerment pop anthem which speaks to the truth of our identity in Christ being the only thing we need in this life, Philippa eloquently reminds us of the ever-present truth that ‘…I am amazing, in spite of what I can see, when I look at myself wishing I could be anyone other than me, cause I was created with everything I could ever need, so I’m not gonna change, I’m gonna stay just the way God made me…’, and reassures us that our Maker and our Father in heaven loves us just the way we are- so we truly have no reason to be afraid.
One of the most heart-warming and poignant albums that Philippa has ever released would have to be her 2013 project Through The Woods. Earning a special place in my heart and that was the first album from Philippa that I had ever heard- it was then that I realised (probably subconsciously) that songs can indeed be sung about Jesus, God, faith and other elements of spirituality in a covert, non-intrusive way. This is what Philippa’s market was back then, before she signed to worship label Integrity Music- writing music for the mainstream market, with a spiritual slant. And the result is probably one of my favourite albums of this past decade. One of my absolute favourite songs from Philippa is the lead single from Through The Woods titled “Lighthouse”, which I first heard the song through the visually stunning and heartfelt music video, from which you can see Philippa singing along the beach as she declares that Jesus is the lighthouse that we should follow (in this analogy we are like boats!). Through The Woods overall invokes in us moods and feelings because of the imagery and metaphors that Philippa employs; and one such metaphor of Jesus being the lighthouse in this song is used because of what the lighthouse does. Reminding me of how a lighthouse guides ships and boats to safety, and how God is like that in that He is our rock, shelter and safety, and the One we look to when things go wrong; we are met with a country style tune laden with banjos and guitar like instruments, as Philippa immediately draws us in by the left-field genre that is not usually employed by many pop artists. Philippa’s vocals are sublime too as she sings about how the lighthouse sends ‘…the stars out, when darkness falls around me, and I feel not good enough, but You light me up…’. Though the song can be viewed from a mainstream perspective, and it could be viewed that one could be singing about a friend or spouse; it is through Philippa’s strong faith that we know that she is singing about Jesus. Inspiring, uplifting, and motivating for us, “Lighthouse” encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus as the perfector and helper, and as our Saviour; while the track also is a great melody presented in an album, and also in a discography, layered with brilliant musical arrangements and superb lyrical gems and treasures.
It’s been a while since I have heard in an album that challenges my way of thinking and turns everything I know on its head, and Through The Woods is so confronting, and with motifs, imagery and other techniques to create lyrical masterpieces; it is clear that Through The Woods has excelled my expectations in every way- the songs are so different and each bring me on a different musical journey and experience into the human condition and what God has in store for us. “Stars Will Fall” sits up and begs to be taken noticed of, with the track reminding me of the Irish folk melodies, with fiddles, woodwind instruments, bagpipes and a pulsating drum beat, as well as something similar to a Lord of The Rings soundtrack anthem. As Philippa presents to us 3 minutes of abandonment and wonder; we are challenged to go on a journey with God into the unknown, and to trust Him no matter how scary it seems. Trust is a huge issue in the world today, and “Stars Will Fall” is the perfect backdrop for us to be more proactive and take action, just like the disciples that took up their cross and followed Jesus in the New Testament. As I am confronted by the bold lyrics ‘…far from the thing that we know, leave behind all of our silver and gold…’, the words of Jesus saying ‘follow Me’ take on a whole new significance. “Cherry Coloured Coat” is another album highlight in my own opinion, and reminds us about the fairytale of Red Riding Hood and how she had the red cloak to protect her and her family from the wolf- and also that in this world, there are dangers that we all need protection from. In the same way, God shields and protects us from the dangers of this world with His coat that is called Jesus. Some may dismiss these fables from teaching us anything, but if we look deeper, maybe it can be seen that God tells u the most important truths from the most unexpected places. With light acoustics and a banjo, Philippa has intrigued me once again with this track.
“Sharks” then gives us an acoustic ballad sung from God’s perspective and is about self-harm; people cutting themselves maybe due to depression or feeling let down by the world. Sharks in this song is a metaphor for the troubles that people may feel like is suffocating them; and though the song may feel morbid, the chorus in which Philippa sings that God ‘…would move the Earth to take away the pain you’re going through, I would even die for you…’ gives us hope and assurance that He is in each of our corners and backs us 100%, no matter what. While the electric guitar comes out in “Hollywood”, as Philippa tells us that life isn’t like the movies in Hollywood, and that romances and love is messy and complicated. Though not directly about Jesus, this blues and soul inspired track does delve into the misconceptions of love, and the conclusion is that in real life, we ought to try to be proactive and discerning in our relationships, and it is implied that with God, everything is possible. What I’ve also found throughout the years is that even though Philippa excels at writing about everyday issues, she has also tried her hand at the ‘story-song’, something that Matthew West is relatively known for nowadays, and has brilliantly shone in this aspect of songwriting also. “New For Old” is another story song, and as Philippa tells the story how an old man that is probably the owner of a shop in London, is able to restore antique pieces and bring them back to their original value or maybe even more (reminding me of the parable of the pearl for some reason), it’s hard not to feel emotional when Philippa tugs at my heart strings. Christ values us and sees us the same or maybe even more than the old man in the song, and as Philippa sings out ‘…nothing’s worthless to the One who sees the gold…’; I am proud and honoured to be seen by God as beautiful and worth more than anything in this world!
While “Apples” and “Fire”, with simple and unassuming song titles, are lyrically and musically brilliant melodies- and serve as the backbone for the themes presented in this album. With the banjo, keyboards and the glockenspiel playing a massive part in “Apples”, Philippa sings about someone who is fooled into eating a poisoned apple (remind anyone of these two examples- Snow White, and Adam & Eve?). About how when we’re not grounded in and sure of what we believe, we begin to believe and become susceptible to all of the things the world has to offer (a.k.a. the poisoned apples); Philippa’s creativity and clever use of imagery contrasts the poisoned apple in the first verse with the golden apple in the second verse, implying that Jesus is the apple in the 2nd verse. When we become more and more like Jesus and soak in his presence daily, we will be more whole. Just like Philippa has explained in the song, our hearts should not be shared with any person until we are sure of our identity in Jesus Christ; and the clever technique of using both the Bible and a well-known fairy-tale to grab inspiration from makes this song a standout. Reminding me that any version of love in this world is not as pure as Jesus Christ’s which is an unconditional and unending love; “Fire” expounds upon this theme as it shows us that we need to lose control and surrender all to Jesus so that we can be one with Him and love Him completely. This song can be read in many ways. If it is read from a relationship way, the song speaks about a love-hate relationship and how in many ways it is very unhealthy and harmful to be in a relationship where there is only giving on your part, and not much on their part. Yet this hand clapper and guitar centred song can also take the view of a Christian standpoint, and thus, we are met with something much more meaningful and inspiring. God’s love certainly is like a fire- it is not always safe, but it is powerful and can engulf us and possess us like never ever before. Though when we enter into a relationship with God, our earthly life is not guaranteed- people will definitely persecute us for our beliefs, but once we know that our life will be with Christ for eternity after death, then choosing permanent enjoyment and life over temporary suffering seems like not such a scary thing.
Even though Through The Woods was Philippa’s breakthrough album in that it was the project that gained her the most success and recognition in the UK and beyond; that doesn’t mean that Philippa’s songs pre-2013 are any less inspiring and poignant. Early on in Philippa Hanna’s professional career, Philippa released 3 albums (Watching Me in 2007, Taste in 2009 and Out Of The Blue in 2011), and even though Philippa never released any of the songs from these albums as singles; a number of these tracks still impact and stir at the soul. Watching Me overall is a worship album, and as a debut project is pretty high quality; as Philippa presents to us personal standouts like the powerful title track, the groovy “One Truth”, the synth driven compelling and poignant “New Song”, the prayerful “Your Will Be Done” and the comforting piano ballad “Love Divine”. It’s an independent record and that’s probably why the album hadn’t (and still hasn’t) had much success on the charts (and perhaps the reason why Through The Woods charted was due to Philippa’s experience as an artist and her touring with Lionel Richie in 2012!); yet Watching Me is still a part of Philippa’s story and a solid debut at that.
Taste followed and is more ‘mainstream-y’, as Philippa explores many relatable topics such as questioning the worthiness of our love to a significant other (“He’ll Love Me”), admitting that we are never fully the finished product and are work in progresses (“Work In Progress”), asking God (or a friend) to guide us the way to go in life (“Where Do I Go?”), as well as reassuring us all that everything will be alright in the end (“Alright”). Philippa even dives deep into her testimony, vividly describing how she’s changing her mind from sorcery to God (“Changing My Mind”), and relays that what you see with her is what you get (“Predictable”). Musically, Taste is overall driven by the piano, and though this album also isn’t as popular, there are indeed plenty of gems and treasures to find and dwell upon. Philippa also has released the EP Out Of The Blue prior to Through The Woods– recorded live at Steelworks Studio. Spanning 7 tracks long, and with every track driven by the acoustic guitar, we are met with reworkings of Philippa’s personal favourites from her first two albums, as well as exclusive tracks such as “I Am Amazing” (rerecorded into a full fledge studio version, and the first song I’ve ever heard from Philippa), “Happy In My Skin”, and “Raggedy Doll”- the former being a no-nonsense declaratory empowering anthem where Philippa proclaims that she is happy the way she is, inclusive of flaws and everything else that makes her unique; and the latter being a song of unconditional love that we as humans sing towards dolls and such that we make ourselves- and is indeed a snapshot of the love that Jesus Christ has for us. Inspiring and hopeful, as well as impacting and encouraging; Philippa’s discography is one to savour and sit upon, as we are met with song after song based upon or inspired by this road we’re all walking on called life, and are encouraged to live life to the full and surrender to the One who made each one of us.
“…the reality of the music industry, even the Christian music industry, anything creative, anything where you put yourself out there in a picture, a blog, anything where you share part of yourself with strangers – there are always going to be levels of warmth rising to feverish fandom, levels of rejection leading to abuse. There’s everything there. It’s easy to begin to value yourself based on these responses, so it’s almost a daily discipline to say my worth doesn’t come from other people’s evaluation of me but from who God says I am and, ultimately, what I am doing is a service to Him. Sometimes you can get wrapped up in how many people liked this video or wondering why it hasn’t gone viral yet. Whenever you are dealing with those human things, I think it’s a good discipline to keep going back to God’s Word and remembering that I am just here to share something. It’s not my job to control who likes it or how people feel about it, just to share it in love. Really the rest is in God’s hands…”
Yet if we’ve thought and believed that Watching Me, Taste, Out Of The Blue and of course Through The Woods is where Philippa is at her brilliant best as a singer and as a songwriter…well things only go up and up here- as we find more encouragement to make it through yet another quarantine day. “Arrow”, the lead single from 2016’s Speed Of Light, is a fresh, revitalising ball of energy to listen to, as we are blessed to hear a pop song, and the spiritual sequel to “I Am Amazing”. As Philippa fervently relays to us that trying to fit into the crowd is futile, that ‘…I am an arrow, I was made to fly, I am an arrow, rushing through the sky, with Your will behind me, I’m completely alive…’; we are presented with the notion that God made each of us uniquely like how each bow and arrow acts differently with each and every archer. I don’t know what it is about this song, but I think about the TV show Arrow when I listen to this hopeful anthem- and just like how Oliver Queen uses his arrows for any different purposes, so too does God use each of us for many different purposes. While we all may believe that we aren’t important in this world, I reckon a dose of this song will persuade us to think otherwise, letting us instead remember what we each have to offer the world. While a song for this time and situation is “Even Now”. One of Philippa’s promotional singles from 2015 in preparation for the release of Speed Of Light in 2016, the song still stands true and gives us comfort 5 years later in 2020. The God that was in 2015 when Philippa wrote this song of brokenness and hope, is still the same God today- and as we cry out to Jesus Christ, asking Him to keep us safe in these uncertain times, let us repeat these powerful words of Philippa, remembering that ‘…even now in the fear and the falling, even now in the crying and crawling, when the weight of the world brings me to the ground; even now in the deepest canyon, even now where there are no answers, You alone are the hope in my darkest hour, so I trust You even now…’. And as Philippa herself has mentioned, sometimes when we cry out to God and ask the question of ‘why’, perhaps receiving the answer isn’t what we actually need. Maybe what we need is comfort and the knowledge that God is with us, no matter what happens- “…“Even Now” was written from a place of brokenness. This year has been a testing one for me, and for many of the people I love. I realised, we each have moments when it seems our world is falling apart, sometimes without warning. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘why’. For those of us who believe in God it’s easy to wonder where He is in those moments. It’s easy to feel deafened by the silence. The one thing I know is that my faith gives me peace in the most awful of circumstances. And something in my Spirit changes when I choose to have faith and to believe in God’s goodness through those times…”
As a believer, Philippa hasn’t really recorded an overt song of faith- yet all that changes with the vertical worship themed somewhat cliché and radio friendly pop tune “Run To You”, where Philippa ardently highlights her need to run to Jesus as ‘…You’re the One that I put my hope in, You’re the hope for the heart that’s broken…’; while Philippa also admits her innate desire and need for God, and that He is enough for her at all times in “Enough”. In these worship songs of late that Philippa has written and recorded, Jesus’ name isn’t mentioned at all- thus songs could be interpreted as spiritual, or as sung to a friend or a significant other. Throughout my time listening to a wider array of music, I’ve read comments about Christian artists being ridiculed for a lack of ‘Jesus’ in their songs, simply because they feel like they want to reach another untapped market that aren’t as readily acceptable of Jesus and His teachings- thus the need for the ‘you’ in their songs. People on the internet claim that these artists should sing about Jesus all the time because that’s what you do…but in the case of Philippa and her faith, these songs are a return to her roots while also respecting her fans that have found her along the way that may not share her same beliefs. “Enough” and “Run To You” provide enough for the Christian fan to love, as well as enough for the non-believer to be quietly interested in more areas of faith and the Kingdom realm of Heaven. Radio friendly pop songs “Let You Lead”, “Perfectly” and “Love You” are also standouts in my own opinion, as Philippa continues to blend mainstream pop and faith elements together beautifully; and earnestly sings about trusting God even in the midst of the unknown (“Let You Lead”), trusting the notion that Jesus is perfect even though our lives are seemingly still a mess (“Perfectly”), and about wholeheartedly loving our significant others and/or God at all times (“Love You”). Philippa also exquisitely covers the eclectic and vibrant worship anthem “It Is Well”, originally penned by Kristene DiMarco, with themes and lyrics similar to the ageless and timeless classic hymn; and she also delivers a haunting, mysterious and enthralling duet with Kevin Max titled “Embers”, highlighting a broken marriage longing to be remade whole, and asking God to put back together what has been broken and shattered.
“Off The Wagon”, the lead single from Come Back Fighting in 2017, represents a subtle stylistic genre shift to the country genre, as Philippa ardently relays to us in this southern country/pop piano led tune that until Jesus comes back to earth, as people we need to carry on this life, on the road that Jesus has us on, and also asking our friends to help us along the way, asking them ‘…if I fall off the wagon, won’t you put me right back on?…’. “Do the Unthinkable”, though confronting and at times uncomfortable, is actually needed in today’s society, as Philippa reminds us all in this rock song that ‘…every hero is shaking inside, so when you feel like you’re losing your mind, and when the fear takes you over, just do the unthinkable, do the unthinkable, when you’re staring in the mirror from the other side, you’ll see someone with unlimited potential, and when the fear takes you over, just do the unthinkable, do the unthinkable…’; while the bouncy, electronic, poppy “Let ‘Em Fly” encourages us to lay all of our worries and our hopes and dreams at the foot of Jesus and surrendering totally to Him, knowing that He is in control and that He alone will give our dreams back to us in His own timing.
The gritty and passionate title track, where Philippa delivers probably one of her most inspiring songs yet, deals with the determination that we all should have, and speaks about the fight that we’re all in right now- against ourselves and against our own vices and demons, as Philippa inspires us to rise above our difficulties and be the best version of ourselves that we could ever be; while “Getting On With Life” is another story song similar to “New For Old”, and is driven by the acoustic guitar, as Philippa delves into the complexities of life and reminds us all that ‘…we’re all just getting on with living, going into battles nobody sees us fight, yeah, we’re all just getting on with living, so try to be forgiving when we don’t see eye to eye, we’re all just getting on with life…’. Yet for me I believe one of Philippa’s most heartfelt and most inspiring songs of late is “The Hero”- a 3 minute pop tune dealing with our own complexities and insecurities, as we are presented with the concept of realising that we don’t have to be the hero all the time- that we don’t have to have it all together as well. Sometimes it’s ok to cry, to admit that we need help, and that’s exactly what this song is. A refuge, a safe haven for those struggling, and a prayer to God, asking Him to shoulder the burdens that we unnecessarily carry. While Philippa isn’t preachy at all here, she covertly and skilfully reminds us of Someone bigger than ourselves, One that we can cry out to in confidence and surety, as we remember that ‘…you don’t have to be the hero, you don’t have to have the world all figured out, everybody needs saving, everybody needs saving sometimes, so lay it down and hand it over, in the middle of the fight, you’re not alone…’. And having also signed to Integrity Music within this past year, Philippa has also recently unveiled her brand-new worship single “My Hope Is In The Blood” (which strangely sounds like a Hillsong song!), and it does remain to be seem whether she’ll just be releasing worship albums from now on, as Integrity Music is a Christian worship label- it’s great if that’s the case, as I love worship songs, but for others who aren’t Christians and are hoping for another Through The Woods; well the jury is still out on that one!
I’ve said before numerous times on numerous other blogs about other artists, that the artist and their life away from the spotlight, is probably just as important as- maybe even moreso, than their work on their songs and their time inside the spotlight. Philippa Hanna is no different. While she had released many compelling albums- even though she isn’t popular at the moment, not by any means at all; Philippa has toiled and toiled and worked hard to provide to us songs of hope and inspiration- and it even shows with her collaborations as well. Over the years, Philippa has released “Now To Jesus” (Abby Eaton), “Known” (Lily-Jo), “You’re Not Alone” (Empire Nation), “You Are Love” (Christians Against Poverty), “All Time High” (The Dunwells), “Luminescent” (Influxx), and “Wonder” (Twelve24); while Philippa also re-recorded covers of Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” and Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do”- each with altered lyrics to fit the mould of a typical worship song. Philippa has also unveiled a Christmas single called “The King Has Come”- an original composition that could also be easily sung at church on any other Sunday; while she also has debuted acoustic versions of unreleased songs on Youtube, inclusive of “Against The Odds”, “You’re Still God” and “Go Tell The World”. Also since 2018, Philippa has been actively posting inspirational words of encouragement every day as part of many new youtube series- Inspiration 365, and Amazing You- and that, my friends, is worth checking out if you want some words that will comfort and challenge you, as well as brighten up your day. And while Philippa is an advocate for Compassion International, as well as the author of two inspiring books (More and Following The Breadcrumbs); I reckon her crowning achievement would be touring with Lionel Richie in 2012, and Little Mix in 2016.
My songs have all come out of my faith journey, and so I’ve never had a professional agenda for it. In fact, because I’ve been trying to make it in the music industry since my teens, I had kind of let go of any hope of wanting to be a famous singer. I felt like the pursuit of that kind of career was destroying me; I had so much rejection and I thought I wasn’t cut out for it. So I started writing songs about my faith, and it felt completely natural. I started to be invited to sing, and one of the chaps that led me to church became my manager. He invested in an album that we made together, and that was the beginning.
The tours with mainstream artists have happened naturally too – as and when those opportunities have presented themselves I’ve prayed about them and said yes or no. But to be invited to have an audience of maybe 100,000 people over the course of a tour who aren’t church-goers is a no-brainer for me. We dream of being able to reach that many people with songs that are faith-inspired; it’s not my agenda to do that, but when the opportunity arises it feels like the right thing to do.
Philippa Hanna’s musical fanbase is sure to grow and perhaps exponentially so, after the release of “My Hope Is In The Blood”, given that Philippa is signed now. With tons of hit songs and heaps of honest, vulnerable and personal content that is insanely relevant for everyone, especially in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis; Philippa has presented to us songs from almost every genre (besides heavy metal and rap) making the experience of diving deep through her discography thoroughly enjoyable; deep and inspiring lyrics that can be listened to by people of all kinds of faiths, as well as oozing a bubbly personality through, making each melody fun and emotional to listen to; it’s hard for Philippa not to be more recognised. Personally, I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to Philippa’s music throughout the years, as each track doesn’t really have a downside. From songs like “Lighthouse”, “I Am Amazing”, “Arrow”, “Even Now”, “The Hero”, “Run To You” and “My Hope Is In The Blood”; what we get is hours and hours and hours of honest, transparent music that is sure to soften even the hardest of hearts. As we witness some of the most vulnerable and moving discographies I’ve heard in recent memory; I encourage you all to take a look at Philippa’s albums in the coming weeks and months. You won’t regret it! And check out the books written by Philippa as well! As Philippa has reminded us ever so eloquently in each of her songs; there is a hope beyond all comprehension and there is indeed a peace that passes all understanding. It is Jesus, and we can lean on Him during quarantine and even after quarantine. Well done Philippa, I can’t wait to hear what God has for you in the future!
Does Philippa Hanna make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song (other than “Lighthouse”, “I Am Amazing”, “Arrow”, “Even Now”, “The Hero”, “Run To You” and “My Hope Is In The Blood”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!