Singing bear Graham J went into shock after the suicide of his boyfriend and never thought he’d sing again.
The opera-trained singer met his partner Declan about ten years ago at Dublin’s OutHouse – the Irish city’s LGBTI resource and community centre.
Declan asked for Graham’s number during an event for bears and their admirers.
Graham explained what happened next: ‘I was very busy performing a lot of Bach at the time because I was a classical singer.
‘He messaged me everyday for a month to ask me out.
‘I eventually agreed to meet him at Panti Bar on the Saturday night. He turned up and we had a drink. He asked if he could kiss me.’
‘We were together ever since,’ he said.
They moved in together shortly after and were together for five years.
‘I couldn’t even speak’
In October 2013, Graham traveled to London for an audition with the English National Opera.
On 2 October, Declan sent Graham a text message saying he had a migraine and was going to go for a walk.
‘He often got migraines so I thought nothing of it,’ Graham said. ‘I rang several times that evening but got no answer. I assumed he’d gone to bed to sleep it off.’
But the next day, Graham received a phone call from the police.
Declan had taken his own life.
‘I was like a zombie going through the motions,’ Graham told Gay Star News. ‘I couldn’t even speak.’
As for why, Graham wasn’t completely sure.
‘There wasn’t a note,’ Graham said. ‘We had had a rough year.
‘Declan had lost his job and I had been ill with my heart again. When he took his life, everything was back on the up. He’d gotten a lecturing job and I’d returned to singing.
‘There were so many questions floating around my head. What did I miss? What could I have done?
‘My emotions were playing havoc. I’d no control over them,’ he said.
A turning point
Graham spent months in agony and ‘lost interest in everything’. He also canceled every upcoming gig and audition.
He said: ‘I had to cancel everything as I couldn’t rejuvenate my body to produce the sound. There is no forgiveness if you sing badly in classical music.’
He continued: ‘My voice is very tied to my emotions.
‘I’ve always felt instinctively drawn to melancholic music. If I’m in a bad mood, I can’t muster the psychological energy to sing.
‘How can I make people feel better if I’m suffering myself?’ he said.
A few months after the suicide, Declan’s old choir musical director got in touch with Graham.
Another member of the choir had taken their own life in that same year and the choir wanted to do something about it.
They decided to have a fundraising concert for a suicide charity and they wanted Graham to perform.
Graham said: ‘I was very unsure about this as I hadn’t even practised for months. Singers need constant daily practise to keep the voice alive.
‘My mother persuaded me to sing as it had always been Declan’s wish that I would perform with [Declan’s choir] Gloria,’ Graham said.
The singing bear performed Habanera Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ and Lascia ch’io pianga from Handel’s Rinaldo.
‘The hall was completely full,’ the singing bear said. ‘I received a standing ovation that lasted several minutes.’
The concert energized Graham, so he started getting back into singing.
Then a week or so after the concert, the singing bear met with Shay Hennessey from record label Crashed Records. Hennessey had a recording of the concert and played it back to Graham, so he could listen back to the crowd’s reaction.
He then said he’d like to work with Graham and asked what he’d like to do.
‘Before I could think, I told him I wanted to be a torch singer,’ Graham said. ‘I’d been sneaking in and out of cabaret, jazz and drag clubs for years to perform. The repertoire speaks to my soul.
‘I want to be the Adele for the LGBTI community.
‘That lead to many adventures which eventually brought me into contact with Steve Wardlaw,’ he said.
From there, Steve pulled some strings and got a booking for Graham to sing at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London’s west.
That show lead to Graham performing at many LGBTI festivals, including headlining his own show at Sitges Pride this year.
Graham J has a new album called Songs My Disco Taught Me, coming out 14 March next year. Last week, he released the first single from the album – a cover of the song Under Pressure.
You can also listen to a collection of his songs on his Spotify.