In 2016, singer-songwriter James Bradley took the plunge to leave his role as a manager in Tesco to pursue his music career full-time, swapping the supermarket aisles for the bars and venues of Northern Ireland.
Fulfilling lifelong ambitions
Two years later, James was flying high; a trip to Nashville saw him fulfil a lifelong ambition of playing The Bluebird and working with well-respected musicians on the scene, he released his debut album, ‘Bright Lights on Broadway’. The album featured a special track ‘Since You’re Not Around’, dedicated to his late brother.
“The unimaginable happened”
However, just a week after the album release, an unimaginable incident turned James’ life upside down. His eight-year-old son, Daniel, bolted out of a shop and straight across the road. In a devastating moment, Daniel was struck by a car and killed instantly. It took just eight seconds for James’ world to shatter.
“After Daniel was killed, everything just stopped. I couldn’t listen to music for two months; I didn’t pick up the guitar for four months.”
Daniel was severely autistic and non-verbal, but it didn’t weaken his love of music. “He’d sing the house down every day”, smiles James, “I would play the guitar, he’d strum it and we’d sing the alphabet or ‘1 ,2 ,3 ,4 , 5, Once I Caught A fish Alive’ together.
We communicated through music, and he taught me so much. You get caught up in life and bills and the everyday but, for someone like Daniel with autism, you have to stop and step into their world and think, ‘let’s let him teach me’. It gives you a whole new perspective on life.”
James met Keith Millar, Help Musicians’ Nation Manager for Northern Ireland, at a busking event in 2017 before Keith joined the charity. “When Daniel died, it was the first time that I heard about Help Musicians”, recalls James.
“It was a huge help”
Commenting on the first time James spoke to Keith in his Help Musicians role, he says, "it was lovely and coming from a place of not wanting help, I was realising that I had bills to pay and that I wasn’t able to move any further down the line; it takes time to deal with that kind of loss whilst trying to hold everything together and to be strong, it was very difficult.”
James reached out to Help Musicians and the charity offered him support to cope with the aftermath of the tragedy. He was already attending grief counselling sessions, so the charity was able to assist him in practical ways. “During that time Help Musicians helped me with financial support to help with the mortgage and bills whilst I couldn’t work, it was a huge help.”
When James held his album launch event in February 2019, he stopped the show to bring his daughters onstage and publicly thank Help Musicians for their support, he says, “It was lovely to see Keith in the crowd that night and to know that he’d helped me get there.”
Sadly, six months after Daniel’s passing, James faced another family setback, but he knew where to turn for support. “I got in touch with Keith again. I’d had to cancel all my gigs to deal with what had happened and to take care of the girls. Help Musicians gave us a respite grant which allowed us to go to Edinburgh at Christmas, just to get away and take a break.
“It was amazing, someone was giving us the chance to get away from all the noise and all the stress.”
What Help Musicians meant for James
Reflecting on his relationship with the charity, he says, “when Daniel died, I was taking it not even day-by-day but just an hour at a time. To look back today and realise what Help Musicians has done and for me and my family… I still have my house and I could pay my bills, not just when he died but right through the pandemic, it’ll not be forgotten.
I know it’s always there; if hardship comes again, it’s just a matter of asking for help. It’s making people aware of that, don’t be scared to ask. Help Musicians are like friends, like a safety net. It’s all about finding the support network and the likes of Help Musicians; it’s like sitting in a dark room, if you can’t find the light switch then you have to ask someone to help you find it.”
"Help Musicians are like friends, like a safety net."