I am so excited to get to interview international singer, Graham J, who will be making his US debut at The Laurie Beechman Theatre this January! Graham J is fast gaining an international reputation as one of the finest singer/songwriters of his generation. Acclaimed for his highly emotional interpretations, outstanding and unique vocals, and his eclectic mix of repertoire, his music is being played on stations throughout the UK, USA and Canada.
Of his NYC debut, Graham says while his music has universal appeal, it is written from the point of view of his life as a gay bear. He considers himself to be a torch singer. Graham J will present his one-night-only US debut at The Laurie Beechman Theatre on January 26 at 7pm. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a singer? This probably sounds a bit strange but my family tells me I was singing before I could talk. My parents say that I’d run up and down my cot all night singing. Much to their annoyance. When I got older I just new I wanted to sing. I liked that when I sang people paid attention to me. I suppose you can call it middle child syndrome. I was always fascinated by big personalities on screen and stage. Instinctively drawn to the theatricality and glamour of singers like Shirley Bassey, Liza Minelli, Sinatra and Tony Bennett. The same can be said of the great classical singers such as Callas, Sutherland and Pavarotti. I was spellbound by the way they’d tell a story and hold an audience in the palm of their hand. I always knew that this was what I wanted to do.
2. This January you are making your USA cabaret debut at The Laurie Beechman Theatre. What made now the right time to do this? Hubris? Stupidity? I’m only joking. It’s long been a dream of mine to perform on Broadway. When David Goodman from Bear World Media approached me with the idea of showcasing my music in the USA I jumped at the chance. He’s been an incredible champion of mine over the last year and a half. I felt that if he was willing to put his neck on the line for me I’d be foolish to say no. I’ve been having moderate success in Europe for the last few years. The BBC has been very good to me. I’ve been conducting a network tour for the last year. It’s now time to test myself in a bigger arena. The sophisticated NYC audience has long been both the cradle and graveyard for many artists. To paraphrase RuPaul they value "Charisma, Uniqueness and Talent." My music is quite unique as it blends various elements jazz, classical and pop. I’m also a big hairy white guy with a genre(ly) confused Diva trapped inside. It’s time to test my metal.
3. What are you most excited & nervous about with this premiere? I’m most excited about sharing my original music with a new audience. I’m also most nervous about this. My songs cover a wide variety of topics. They can be about love, war and everything in between. It’s always a terrifying thing for an artist to reveal their inner life. We want to be loved and respected but that also comes with the fear of rejection and criticism.
4. Since this is your first time performing in the US, what should people know about you before coming to see this show? My shows are an eclectic mix of repertoire. They incorporate my own original songs with a mix of standards, showtunes and reimagined pop songs. There’s always a slant or an unexpected twist. You never know what you’ll get. I also try to add humour to my show. You’ll laugh and cry and hopefully come away a lot happier. My voice is also a quite wide-ranging alto which allows me to play with lots of vocal colours and effects.
5. While your music is universal, you have said it is written from the viewpoint of being a gay bear. What is one song that you wrote that surprised you people related to? That’s a tough one. I’d say it’s a toss between "Love Lies Bleeding At My Feet" and "Always By Your Side." I wrote "Love Lies" in about twenty minutes. I was reading a lot of distressing headlines in the news and the song came to me. The morning it aired on radio in Ireland I received a beautiful e-mail from a Catholic Priest. He told me that he was really moved by the message of the song which is that we all have to love one another and put aside our differences. "Always" is a fragment from a musical I’ve started to write. It’s about Robbie Ross’s infatuation and unrequited love of Oscar Wilde. A lot of people both gay and straight, male and female have approached me about it. I suppose we all hanker after the one that never was.
6. Your debut album is called Wild Is. Playing with the title, what is the wildest thing you've done both on stage & in your life thus far that made you go, "Whoa, that was crazy!"? Where to start? Is this a family friendly article? Lol! I suppose one of the maddest things I’ve ever done on stage belongs to my past as a classical singer. I used to sing as a guest soloist with the Belfast Bach Cantata Consort. My host/ the organiser held a very boozy lunch before we went on. She had us drinking gin and wine from very, very early. Let’s just say that I was very chilled by the time the performance came. I’ve listened to the recording, it was some of my best singing so it can’t have been that bad for me lol. In my personal life as an exercise in confidence building I took part in an erotic photoshoot. I was in various states of dress and undress throughout. The result of which has actually crossed over into my musical life. For the craic I recorded a dance version of Shirley Bassey’s "Never,Never,Never." If you search for it, you’ll see me sitting on a chair pretending to smoke a cigar while wearing a bowler hat and a leather chest harness. It’s very Liza.
7. Your music has been described as having a sense of mourning, loss and ultimately resolution. What do you mourn today? What has been your greatest loss? What is one of your resolutions for this New Year? I don’t think I’m any longer in a state of mourning as such. Obviously, we always reflect on the past and the what ifs and the what could and should have been. At present I’m the most positive and happy I’ve been in a long time. I’m living and singing my truth. My greatest loss was that of my partner Declan. He lost his battle with depression a few years ago. His death shook me to my core and made me look at my life. It made me finally decide to be true to myself. I decided to leave classical singing and move into Jazz and Cabaret. I decided all I wanted was to sing and to be happy. I’m an entertainer at heart and I want to make people forget their troubles for an hour or two. As for my resolutions, this year I’ve decided to teach myself the guitar. Heaven help the neighbours. They’ve already put up with hours of singing and piano.
8. Let's have some fun with two song titles off your debut album Wild Is. First, "Life on Mars." What is your vision of what "Life on Mars" is like? It’s very theatrical, dramatic and gets very high. Very Vaudevillian. I was inspired to tackle it after seeing Jessica Lange perform it in American Horror Story Freak Show. I was sitting up in bed the night it aired and thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
9. Another song on your album is "Into My Arms." If you could have anything come into your arms right now, what would hope it would be? I’m going to be a bit cheeky with this. If I could have anything I wanted I suppose it would have to be a multimillion dollar record deal. I’m technically an "indie" artist. I wear a lot of sequins, they cost a fortune!
10. Let's end this interview on looking towards the future. I read that you will be working on some new music to be released this year. What can you tell us about this new work? I’ve been very fortunate. The BBC asked me to record a song for a new documentary about how Irish music and musicians have influenced life in Liverpool. There’s an amazing cast of other performers including Elvis Costello, Christy Moore and Chris Hawkins. I’ve also busy writing a lot of new material. I’ve written a new love song called Déjà Vu. I’m very lucky to have a close group of very good friends. Two of them came over to a show I was doing in London. Afterwards we were drinking cocktails in a private members club in Soho. I was watching how they unconsciously checked in on each other. By the time I’d flown home to Dublin I’d written the song. It’s receiving its premiere at my show in the Laurie Beechman. There are also plenty of other new songs dealing with all sorts of topics. You’ll just have to come and listen.
Graham J. is fast gaining an international reputation as one of the finest singer/songwriters of his generation. Acclaimed for his highly emotional interpretations, outstanding and unique vocals and his eclectic mix of repertoire. His music is being played on stations throughout the UK, USA and Canada. Graham's first album Wild Is received much acclaim with four and five star reviews from magazines such as Maverick Magazine and Blues Matters.
On his debut album Wild Is...Graham explores elements of jazz, blues, classical and alternative contemporary. The avant-garde, almost vaudevillian, presentation underlies themes of evolution and transformation which define the work. The strictures of Graham's extensive operatic career as a rarely found tenore contraltino, though strongly acknowledged, are overthrown by his love of a broader breadth of influences including Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey and Karen Carpenter. A sense of mourning, loss and ultimately resolution permeate Graham's choice of repertoire echoing the work of truly indefinable characters like Rufus Wainright, Antony and the Johnsons, Bjork.
Graham was approached by BBC 6 Music and BBC Merseyside to record his own version of Ian Prowse’s "Does This Train Stop on Merseyside." This recording will feature as part of a new documentary about how Irish Artists have influenced musical life in Liverpool. Graham J’s performance will be featured alongside contributions from major musical artists including Elvis Costello, Christy Moore and Miles Hunt.
2018 will bring exciting new material to be released.