Darren Percival likes to describe his life and career as "a series of beautiful accidents".
There's been numerous on the 49-year-old's journey. There was his childhood discovery that he possessed an innate talent for singing, which led to stints working with James Morrison, Bobby McFerrin and eventually Jimmy Barnes, and the creation of his innovative Mr Percival show where he utilised his vast range to create music through vocal loops.
Then eventually there was Percival's breakthrough when he finished runner-up on season one of The Voice in 2012 under the tutelage of Keith Urban and released the No.3 ARIA album Happy Home.
Another more recent beautiful accident was the decision to pack up the family from their Noosa home in late 2019 and seek a new adventure in southern NSW. The family ended up settling in the historic Southern Highlands village of Berrima and Percival began teaching music again at the Australian National University, 15 years after his first stint at the Canberra institution.
However, Percival's latest career turn originates from a dark place, but the end result could be the most beautiful yet. Over the past three years Percival has lost four friends to suicide. Some had known struggles and had sought therapy, but others had kept their demons secret. Each death landed on Percival like a ton of bricks.
"There's nothing like getting a text from someone saying, 'Sorry to hear about so and so'," Percival says. "I'm at home with the kids trying to put them to bed, wash up and all those things and then you get a text like that. It's pivotal."
To cope with the anguish he felt, Percival turned to his piano and songs began to articulate his feelings. Unlike his typically positive and uplifting music, these songs were dark and brutally honest.
"I feel that grief is love that we can't do anything with," he says. "These people go and we've got all this love for them and we can't do anything with it, so I've decided to take the energy of that and turn it into this project."
What Percival also discovered during the writing of these songs was he'd never shared his personal battles with mental health.
"These songs kept pouring out and I started to realise a lot of the stuff I'd been through and worked through was coming out," he says. "I just haven't shared it. All the music I've made has always been the positive nature of my view, it wasn't about the struggle. It was, 'hey it's awesome here, I'm free and come and surf the rainbow with me.' But I never shared how I got to that place. It's important to. It was time for me to because I didn't know how to express it."
Three weeks ago Percival unveiled several of the songs during a performance at Sydney's State Theatre. The response was immediate. Many fans remained after the show to talk about mental health and Percival received numerous emails, too.
His mission to create conversations about mental health was working.
- Darren Percival performs at Tallagandra Hill on Saturday at 4.30pm and 6.30pm
- Lifeline 13 11 14
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