Singer songwriter James Bradley, 36, from Maghera recently quit a successful role in retail management to follow his passion and pursue a career in music. The decision came after his emotional tribute to brother Alex, who took his own life at just 19 years of age, became a viral sensation with over 31.5k views currently online.
Passionate campaigner for mental health and autism awareness, James Bradley, has spoken of his delight after his song Since You’re Not Around became a viral hit, receiving widespread praise for opening the dialogue on preventing suicide.
Penned as a tribute to his younger brother Alex, who tragically took his own life at just 19 years of age, James says he is overwhelmed that his song has been hailed for speaking to people on all levels who may have experienced loss and are going through a dark time.
Alex tragically took his own life when James was only 23, shortly after the birth of James’ eldest daughter Lucy, whom Alex was godfather to.
“I was always so jealous of Alex - he had a fantastic job as an electrician, a beautiful girlfriend; we were fantastic brothers and sisters - and he had a gorgeous newly born goddaughter. Myself and Janice (his wife) were settling down and excited about starting our lives together and in the course of a few hours everything just broke.
“It is incredible how you can be sitting one moment with a fantastic little family thinking everything is just perfect, and within 24 hours everything can change.”
James penned his tribute to Alex years later.
“I was going through a hard time myself when I wrote this song, between work and my son Daniel getting diagnosed with non-verbal autism.
“I was feeling like I couldn’t cope. To write it down on paper was a fantastic feeling - it was like coming out of a counselling session. It was great to get those feelings off my chest.
“It’s a song about loss, but the message is that our loved ones are never too far away, they are happy, and they walk behind you and keep you safe. That is how I look on it. Alex might not be around - but in a sense he is always around. Especially through great memories together and pictures.
“I think that is why this song connects with people who have experienced any sort of loss - anyone can relate to it whether you are going through the loss of a loved one, or even the loss of a really close pet. Everyone can connect to it.
“One song can have so many different interpretations for so many different people, but to have people connect emotionally to my music is just amazing, an amazing feeling. It is just lovely to think I might be helping even just one person with that song - to have 25,000 is an incredible feeling.”
Speaking of the daunting task of producing such an emotional song, James explains: “It didn’t really hit home until I was standing in the recording studio.
“To actually stand and sing it with people around you for the first time, was very moving. It was quite hard to do, that’s why there is a lot of emotion within the video and there is a lot of emotion the song. But I’m glad I did it.”
In addition to going through the tragic death of his brother when he was just 23, James recognised feelings of depression himself when his son was diagnosed with non-verbal autism on his third birthday. It followed a lengthy battle for an official diagnosis.
A passionate advocate for mental health awareness and autism awareness, James speaks strongly about the importance of speaking out if you are struggling. “You cannot be afraid to ask for help. I think that is something linked to men’s suicides which are outnumbered by four to one females here. Men have this perception that they have to be the ‘John Wayne’ strong and silent type and not show emotion or talk. We need to ask people if they are okay and get them to talk. Social media has stopped us from speaking. We take pictures, we post what we are doing but we don’t actually have that chance to have a proper conversation or say how we are feeling.”
Speaking from personal experience, James realises how difficult it can be to seek help for the first time. Speaking to somebody you don’t know for the first time is the hardest first step but the easiest thing you will ever do. These people are trained in what they do and will help get you out of the dark side. At the end of the day, you have to talk, you have to cry, you have to get the emotions off your chest.
“It is definitely what helped me. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was suicidal, I was depressed, I was down, I was anxious - I was convinced my son wasn’t ‘perfect.’ Which is ridiculous - he is perfect. Music is my escapism and my way to connect with others.”
James, whose son Daniel was diagnosed with non-verbal autism on his third birthday, campaigns tirelessly for better awareness in Northern Ireland.
But James and Janice, who are parents to Lucy (12), Emily (8), Daniel (7), and Katy (6), had to fight for a diagnosis.
“It was a matter of constantly ringing paediatricians and chasing everything up. We have to push and fight for him.
“Finally on Daniel’s third birthday in May 2013, he finally received his formal diagnosis of non-verbal autism. It was a very hard day, and whilst Janice took it as a good thing as now we could move forward, it suddenly really hit home for me.”
James believes more needs done to help people understand autism in Northern Ireland.
“Because of my own experience, I can look at a child and almost immediately know if that child is autistic, but that is because myself and my wife are now so clued into it. I think acceptance is a very different thing.
“Whilst Janice accepted it straight away, I couldn’t, I had to go to counselling and Alex’s suicide all came to the front again.
“In terms of the general public and acceptance there is a general degree of realisation of autism, but if you are not familiar with it you might stereotype - which is wrong as autism is such a big spectrum.
James has raised over £3000 during his Autism Awareness evenings, where he performs in local locations such as the Burnavon in Cookstown.
He also teaches guitar to children, including those with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.
If you would like to get in touch with James Bradley to arrange guitar lessons or to stay up to date with his local performances, contact James om Facebook.
Suicide is preventable. If you or someone you know is struggling, get help by contacting the Samaritans at 116 123 (UK) or 116 123 (ROI). The Samaritans is free to call and available 24 hours a day.