Writing 'What If': Zoe Wren
My new single What If, released on 16 December, was inspired by my experiences taking singing workshops into prisons with Sing Inside, and is raising money and awareness for this charity. Every penny made from sales will go straight to Sing Inside, and I'd like to tell you a bit more about the song and why I'm supporting Sing Inside.
I wrote my new single What If in almost as long as it takes to sing it through, which has pretty much never happened to me before as a songwriter. But I'd come back from a prison visit with Sing Inside, and was feeling the usual mix of emotional, uplifted, tired, hopeful and frustrated. Frustrated because there should be more of the kind of work that Sing Inside and other wonderful organisations do, and because there is so much that needs to be done to improve our prison system. But always inspired by the hard work and dedication of the Sing Inside team to work tirelessly towards positive social change.
I sometimes wish that everyone could come and experience a day of singing in a prison. There's something incredibly humanising, and humbling, about joining our voices together as one big choir, sharing an everyday chat over a cup of tea and biscuits, and sharing that feeling of pride and accomplishment after the end of day concert. Residents have said themselves that it's easy to forget we're in a prison. Well, sometimes - I'll always be able to picture a memorable moment when the choir leader, preparing everyone for the concert, said "Come on everyone, smile, let's look happy", and one man pointed out, politely and almost apologetically, "Well, we are in prison, miss!"
What If is about the possibility of a system and a society where we value people as human beings, and give them a real chance for rehabilitation, rather than locking them up and throwing away the key. Especially people that have been dealt the worst starting hands in life. What has always struck me when going on visits with Sing Inside, is how genuinely shocked the residents are that we care about them enough to come and do this - and I've been asked a few times by residents why I do this. It's a hard question to answer, but I think it's something to do with believing that everyone deserves a chance to try again, that everyone deserves to experience the joy of communal music making, and that maybe these two things could be linked.
The power of music to bridge boundaries and unite people may be a bit of a cliché but that doesn't make it any less true, and reading through the feedback and testimonials of residents makes that so clear. I think there's a reason that folk songs have been traditionally linked with social and political protest and that's because any group of people can join together and sing their simple melodies and lyrics. So I wrote What If as a simple song, one where I often get the audience to sing along with the chorus at gigs. It would mean a lot if you can download What If from Bandcamp, have a listen, and know that you're helping Sing Inside to spread joy and hope in a time when it is really needed.
Since the events of London Bridge last month, whenever I sing this song I think of Jack Merritt and Saskia Jones. I think not just of their tragic and senseless loss, but of what kind of legacy they'd want to leave. They devoted themselves to working towards a kinder and fairer justice system, and the tributes to both of them have indicated what incredible people they were. I can’t think of a better tribute than donating to causes that meant so much to them. Whether you can donate £2 or £20, do consider donating in memory of Jack here and Saskia here.