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  • Writer's pictureJO'B

Paraorchestra with Brett Anderson, Nadine Shah, Charles Hazlewood & Gwenno present Death Songbook, Roundhouse, 24th April 2024

Updated: May 5

If you know me, you may disagree, but I think I have a pretty sunny disposition. Ok, I have issues with depression which can be hard work for those around me at times. And I am, as christened by my oldest Uni friends, the “spoilt only child”, so not great when things don’t quite go my way. And I don’t cope with change as well as I might. (Ok, I am a fucking nightmare). But despite all that, I am still a pretty happy, clappy, chappie.


So, why do I love music that is so the opposite of that? Joy Division, a fair bit of Goth, Moz at his most desolate, Leonard Cohen, Mark Eitzel…it’s a long list of music that you would struggle to call “cheery”. Tonight is no exception. We are at the Roundhouse to see a show entitled “Death Songbook”. I think it’s fair to say, this is not one for the Steps and ABBA fans out there.


This is a set put together by the Paraorchestra and Brett Anderson from Suede. The Paraorchestra are led by Charles Hazlewood and feature some 80 disabled and non-disabled musicians, with about 15-20 in the band tonight. They blend artforms, genres, and technology to create large-scale music projects that challenge ideas of what an orchestra can and should be. Excellent.

They started playing this set last year, a collection of cult classics about death, loss, and transcendence. It’s an anthology of tracks by Echo & The Bunnymen, Skeeter Davis. Japan, Mercury Rev, Black, Suede, Brett Anderson’s solo songs, Depeche Mode and Jacques Brel.


I bump into our friend Simon, a music industry veteran and obsessive music fan. If Simon is here, it will be a good gig. We don’t get to catch up as he is meeting friends and Mrs JO'B and I put the need for food over the support band. He is a busy man and good to his mam, so spends a lot of time back in the North East. But I make a note that I just sort a gig where we are both there and grab a beer. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music. And excellent taste in shoes. Always a good combination.


We catch the end of the support band, Faker Villain. I am sure they are good and the crowd like them but it’s jazz meets whale noise to me. Not my cup of char.


The gig is in the round and seated, which works well. It’s all very civilised, appropriate for a more formal set up with classical musicians on stage instead of the usual noisy indie music oiks. We are sat to the left of the stage and have a great view of Brett side on.


They kick off with The Killing Moon, and it’s true to the original, but the drums are jazzier, more insistent than the Bunnymen’s. Brett’s voice suits it well. I bet Mac must hate someone singing it as well (or better?).


They then pelt straight into Suede’s She Still Leads Me On, from their last album. About Brett’s mum, it’s a belter, and has the crowd cheering and the Suede obsessives are gesticulating wildly. The seated format doesn’t really work for such upbeat songs.


Fortunately, the set quickly takes a more funereal pace, with Japan’s Nightporter. It’s a song I never thought I would see live - I got into Japan way after they split up and David Sylvian, their hermit like singer doesn’t tour much and demurs from playing their stuff. A shame as it’s such a beautiful song. Inspired by Erik Satie, it’s hard to comprehend at the height of New Romantics, Japan released this as a single. Their record company must have been baffled by them. Semi-waltz’s about death and loss were not exactly chart material. The version tonight is great, and you feel transported to some German cabaret club.


A Brett solo track and Suede’s The Next Life follow, and whilst both are fab, it feels a little too much like it’s Brett’s gig rather than the band’s gig. Don’t get me wrong, The Next Life in particular is a favourite. I just wonder what it would feel like if five of the 12 songs were not Brett tracks? And the Suede fans, God love them, are very enthusiastic during these songs, possibly to the exclusion of the more casual audience members. But who can blame them? If you are a dedicated fan, then this is a huge and over-exciting treat.


It’s timely that Brett is joined onstage by Gwenno and Nadine Shah across the next few tracks, to make the show less focussed on him. He's generous in sharing the stage for Skeeter Davis’ The End Of The World, Mercury Rev’s Holes and Depeche Mode’s Enjoy The Silence. Gwenno provides a more gentle and complementary voice to Brett’s, whereas whilst Nadine’s voice is amazing, it doesn’t quite gel with Brett’s - it feels like she is singing to a different track. I love Nadine, but I don’t think this worked at all, which is a shame.


Charles speaks before their rendition of Enjoy The Silence, explaining how the orchestra works, their drive and passion for inclusivity. He’s great and endearing, though he tries to teach everyone a vocal line to Enjoy The Silence that I swear is the wrong way round. I know nothing though, but the audience’s attempts to sing the vocal line are pleasingly hilariously bad.


Then we are back to Brett solo, with a song he wrote with Charles especially for the project, Brutal Lover (with some very wonky piano, which is kind of cool), followed by Suede’s He’s Dead, which is rousing, even has the crowd standing up! Suede have a long history of great b-sides and this is one of their finest. Brett’s more composed Ian Curtis dance kicks in and the crowd are now VERY excited. Brett gives a cheeky wink and acknowledges that that’s what they really came for.


Then it’s just Brett and the guitarist for a stripped down, dramatic version of Jacques Brel's My Death, that has everyone back in their seats and mesmerised. It’s brilliant. Then the show finishes with Black’s Wonderful Life. It takes a strong song to survive being used in an advert for Standard Life and also for Cadbury’s Strollers and still have gravitas and meaning. This track manages to cling onto its dignity, and the version tonight is fabulous.


They come back on, but don’t have any other songs, so repeat The Killing Moon, which is huge but unnecessary. I’d have gone and left the crowd wanting. We head for the tube, leaving before the end, sated and happy. Not really the emotions you expect to have after an evening of songs about death.

Massive shout out to the BSL signer who enthusiastically interprets each song to the side of the stage, she is amazing.

And whilst the Suede and Brett songs were cool, I would love to have heard him sing Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt, Bowie's Rock'n'Roll Suicide and Joy Division's Decades would have been cool. Maybe next time. All that said, the best songs of the night were She Still Leads Me On and He's Dead, so it's probably just fine as it is.

Stay safe, and if you enjoyed this, please subscribe (see link below), x


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