Every singer wants to find their voice. But for Minchinhampton-based filmmaker Jonathan Brough, the journey has been a particularly poignant one.
He has just released a new song and accompanying video on his Facebook channel, telling the story of how – following a catastrophic illness – he spent six months in hospital without being able to utter a sound.
His musical venture is the latest in an astonishing array of achievements Jonathan has notched up since becoming paralysed from the neck down and fully reliant on a ventilator to breathe for him. Those achievements include gaining a first-class honours degree in media arts; making films about his disability; and raising thousands of pounds for charity by taking part in wheelchair races.
And now, the latest – performing and recording a song he has co-written:
“A few years ago, I started writing poetry and got very into it. I found it therapeutic and a way of expressing myself. After lockdown, I started trying to turn poetry into music by writing a song.”
Jonathan – who now needs 24-hour care – mentioned his lyric-writing to one of his nurses.
“We were jamming at the time, doing some music. I said to him, ‘What if you put a melody to my poetry?’ He played a few chords and said, ‘How does this sound?’’
And a song was born.
Despite its feel-good, upbeat tone, the subject couldn’t be more difficult. The words partly describe a desperately dark time – 16 years ago – when Jonathan was 18. Embarking on a gap-year before starting a marine biology course at Swansea, he’d flown to Canada to learn how to become a ski instructor. Having the time of his life – ‘I loved every second’ – the last thing he remembers is leaving the slopes one night, feeling unwell. The next day, he woke up in hospital, dangerously ill with meningitis.
“I was petrified – I didn’t know what was going on. I then spent six months where I couldn’t speak at all. At first, all I could do was blink once for yes and twice for no.”
Since then, although still paralysed and in a wheelchair, Jonathan has refused to be held back. Singing – extremely challenging on a ventilator – is his new passion.
“At first, it was almost impossible; it wore me out. But, in a way, it’s a kind of physio, and doing it has strengthened my lungs.”
Jonathan has even performed live at open-mic sessions at Stroud Brewery.
“It was hard physically but also hard emotionally – I choked up at one point. But my voice has got stronger. And I’ve now got a new ventilator that allows me to trigger some of my breaths myself, which makes it easier.”
As well as raising money for causes such as NHS charities to thank those who have supported him, Jonathan is determined to show that even the most severe disabilities don’t have to hold you back.
“It’s not the disability that defines you,’ he says, ‘but who you are, and the way you approach life. When it gets tough, pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and go out fighting.”
You can find Jonathan and his music at https://youtu.be/nJjBUTND0qA