Brett Anderson, Charles Hazlewood, and Paraorchestra plus special guest vocalist in an exquisite anthology of music by icons such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Skeeter Davis, Japan, David Bowie/Jacques Brel, Depeche Mode, and Suede.

First broadcast online by BBC Cymru in March 2021 at GŴYL 2021 with guest vocalist Nadine Shah, Paraorchestra’s Death Songbook premiered live at Wales Millennium Centre with guest vocalist Gwenno as part of Llais on Saturday 29 October 2022.

A small orchestra perform in a circle on stage, looking out from back of stage to a large empty auditorium. Front frame left a female cellist plays music on a stand in front of her. Front frame right another cello. A male and femalk vocalist can be seen on the other side of the circle. Lighting is warm.

This rich set – amplified by the diversity and virtuosity of Paraorchestra musicians in new arrangements by composer Charlotte Harding – features delicate new versions of songs about death, the death of love, of loss, and ultimately of transcendence. It reminds us that music is our greatest friend in bleak times; inviting us to crouch around a candle and meet our sorrow head-on, comforting, nourishing, and uplifting.

Watch the trailer for the 2021 broadcast, which also featured Nadine Shah:

Originally recorded and filmed at Wales Millennium Centre under the disquiet of the third COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, Death Songbook returned to the Donald Gordon stage for this very special live performance.

A stage with images projected behind. A white male wearing a long dark coat sings into a microphone. An organ, piano and percussion in the background.
A stage. A white male left in jeans and a shirt sings into a microphone. A white female, left, in a black dress a visible pregnancy stand in front of another. Their images are projected on a screemn behind with a vintage telephone dial. Percussion, guitar and string players also on stage.
On stage. Taken from behind a woman plays cello, another on violin, another on percussion. Abstract patterns projected onto the wall
A young white male plays bass clarinet on stage.
On stage. A black man plays flute. Microphones and music stands in the foreground.
A young white female plays violin. Stage lighting hues of blue.
A white male in his 50s dressed in black plays electric guitar
Harriet Riley, a white woman with short blonde hair, smiles and holds a pair of percussion mallets above her head as if applauding
A young white male plays double bass. Stage speakers in the foreground
A music stand with a set list. Blurred microphone in the foreground in hues of purple and blue.
A white male, Brett Anderson, sings emphatically, mouth open wide, into a microphone. In the foreground a white male, blurred, plays a red piano.
A white female in a black dress visibly pregnant sings into a microphone. Stage lighting in hues of blue. In the foreground a white male, out of focus also sings.
A white male in his 50s with an impressive moustache plays an organ on stage. He wears a navy jacket and a bright shirt. Microphones, music stands and lights are nearby.
On stage. men and women play cello, double bass, violin and percussion. A white male sings into a microphone.
Brett Anderson, a white man in his fifties wearing a black shirt closes his eyes as he sings into a microphone. A music stand in the foreground.

(Image Gallery: Death Songbook at Llais, Wales Millennium Centre, 2022. Photography credit Kirsten McTernan)

Death Songbook was broadcasted online by BBC Cymru Wales across the weekend of 6th – 7th March 2021 as part of GŴYL 2021 When Brett Anderson, Charles Hazlewood, and Paraorchestra were joined by guest vocalist Nadine Shah plus Adrian Utley (Portishead) & Seb Rochford (Pulled By Magnets, Acoustic Ladyland, Sons Of Kemet)

It received its television premiere on Sky Arts on Friday 26 November 2021.

In a journey through the melancholy and euphoria of loss, Death Songbook embraces a predominantly acoustic set – contrary to Paraorchestra’s bold, loud, and typically electronically influenced or amplified output – celebrating a multiplicity of song styles and song writing, moods and textures, through an unusual combination of instruments, for a spectral, ethereal soundscape. Ancient instruments like Dulcimer, handbells and recorders sit aside Wurlitzer piano, alto flute and heavily processed vibraphone; creating warmth, depth, space – and comfort.

It couldn’t be more 2021 if it tried…Indie anthems were given a classical twist; Echo and the Bunnymen’s Killing Moon and David Bowie’s My Death were delivered with heart-wrenching beauty. Anderson’s own The Next Life (written about the death of his mother) was as haunting as they come, while Suede B-side He’s Dead was delivered with Britpop swagger. Anderson leaned into the mic like he was at a sold-out Knebworth, rather than an empty theatre”

The Telegraph

“It has been pure unmitigated joy putting Death Songbook together with Brett and Paraorchestra, if that isn’t a contradiction! I am British after all, and I’d say melancholia is our defining national characteristic: British people feel comfort in melancholy. Songs about death, the death of love, loss, anxiety, loneliness, they make us feel transcendent – and in a period of global anxiety, that’s a real balm.” Charles Hazlewood

A small orchestra perform in a circle on stage, looking out from back of stage to a large empty auditorium. Front frame left a female cellist plays music on a stand in front of her. Front frame right another cello. A male and femalk vocalist can be seen on the other side of the circle. Lighting is warm.

(Images from Death Songbook recording for GŴYL 2021. Credit Kirsten McTernan)

“This was such a joyous project to happen amidst the gloom of January. I’d loved Nadine’s work since I heard Fool and she and I had spoken about doing something together for ages as had me and Charles who I had also greatly admired from afar. For this all to happen against the odds with those wonderful musicians from Paraorchestra, plus the talents of Adrian Utley and Seb Rochford, was just so lovely” Brett Anderson on Death Songbook 2021

About Llais:

Llais is Cardiff’s annual international arts festival inspired by the instrument that connects us all – the voice.

With a mixture of free and ticketed events, Llais presents a programme of adventurous live music, thought-provoking performance and playful experiences for everyone to explore.

Not confined by genre or artform, Llais celebrates internationally acclaimed artists through to the creativity on our doorstep, transforming Wales Millennium Centre into a festival site like no other.



Kirsten McTernan