With Brett Anderson, Charles Hazlewood, and Paraorchestra, and featuring special guests Nadine Shah, Adrian Utley (Portishead) & Seb Rochford (Pulled By Magnets, Acoustic Ladyland, Sons Of Kemet)

Death Songbook will air on Sky Arts Freeview Channel 11 on Friday 26 November 9pm.

First broadcast online by BBC Cymru Wales 6th – 7th March 2021 as part of GŴYL 2021

Brett Anderson, Charles Hazlewood, and Paraorchestra are joined by guest vocalist Nadine Shah in Death Songbook, a one-off special performance of music by icons such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Skeeter Davis, Japan, David Bowie/Jacques Brel, and Suede. An exquisite songbook featuring delicate new versions of songs about death; the death of love and of loss, and transcendence.

This rich set – amplified by the diversity and virtuosity of Paraorchestra musicians in new arrangements by composer Charlotte Harding – was broadcasted online by BBC Cymru Wales across the weekend of 6th – 7th March 2021 as part of GŴYL 2021. Also featuring Arlo Parks, Cate Le Bon, and Tim Burgess listening party; Gŵyl 2021 was a free to watch online festival weekend of music, comedy, and conversation.

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

Filmed under the disquiet of the third COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, in the vast emptiness of the Donald Gordon stage, Wales Millennium Centre; Death Songbook 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.

“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

GŴYL 2021

Four of Wales’ best-loved festivals – Festival of Voice, FOCUS Wales, Other Voices Cardigan and Aberystwyth Comedy Festival – have joined forces in lockdown to create Gŵyl 2021; a free, online festival packed with unforgettable music and comedy, embracing diversity and dialogue. Filmed or recorded over recent months in Wales and internationally within Coronavirus guidelines, Gŵyl 2021 will be broadcast online on www.bbc.co.uk/gwyl2021 across the weekend of 6-7 March 2021.

Thanks to:

Thanks to the government’s Culture Recovery Fund Paraorchestra can continue to be #HereForCulture. We also give thanks for the continued support of our key funding partners, Arts Council England, The Mark Leonard Trust, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and Bristol City Council.


Kirsten McTernan