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Graham J (Wild Is Launch) @ Sugar Club, Dublin


Following more than a year as an emerging live cabaret act, local Dublin singer Graham J. Norton took the Sugar Club’s center stage Wednesday evening to launch his debut album Wild Is.  Known simply as Graham J. to avoid confusion with TV personalities, this countertenor’s act arranges an eclectic mix of operatic, jazz, musical theatre, and pop genres, with original and covered work scattered throughout to create a thorough medley.

The swarthy showroom space of Leeson Street’s Sugar Club proved an ideal venue for this variety act.  Decked in velvet red curtains and fairy lights, the dimly lit stage hosted an ensemble band comprising the all-female Carolan Quartet on strings and the gentlemen of the Orpheus Blues, led by Norton’s keyboardist and collaborator Pawel Grudzien.  Together, the group struck an even balance between the polished composure of Norton’s classical past and the whimsical attitude of his recent musical forays.  Numbers like ‘Summertime’ found Norton riffing and flouting vocal feathers over swanky jazz arrangements while ‘Bring Him Home’ from Boublil and Schönberg’s Les Misérables saw him claiming brilliantly high registers in holy choirboy repose.  The Sugar Club’s clown-sized speakers often over-amplified the singer’s already powerful voice.  Still, the smooth sailing of the performance was left untainted, even when the group repeated a number in encore which they felt was imperfect earlier in the night.

Elucidated by brief banter with his audience throughout performance, the evening proved to be a hearing on Norton’s musical education and career, with Norton reflecting on his life’s ups and downs and where they’ve brought him today.  The somber energy of the traditional Irish ‘Black is the Colour’ revealed a great deal of sadness behind the singer’s experience; the boisterous ‘My Simple Wish’ painted a corresponding picture of joy.  Made up of family, friends, and fans old and new, the audience found themselves sharing the excitement of this pivotal moment in the singer’s path as he steps away from a classical career into a self-guided tour of creative ambition.  Such was evident when Norton and collaborator Grudzien performed the beginnings of a new piece they hope to submit to the Eurovision Song Contest in the future.  Whatever lies ahead for Graham J., he is sure to become a local favourite as his followers swarm to pack these entertaining cabaret evenings in the future. Joe Madsen