Death Songbook - The Fans' Perspective
Updated: Mar 18
Photographer: Kirsten McTernan
Did you manage to watch the Death Songbook performance over the weekend? It's all we're talking about right now at Insatiable HQ. If you haven't watched it, then you are about to experience something truly beautiful. If you're in the UK, you can watch the full performance here. If you're outside the UK, be assured the performance will be available to watch worldwide soon.
We want to celebrate Death Songbook and we thought there's no better way to do it than asking fans to share their thoughts with us.
Looking forward to Death Songbook gave me so much joy, yet nothing had prepared me for the actual performance being such a thing of pure magic. Loss and death and beauty can all live in the same moment I realise while hearing such treasured songs in phenomenal new renditions – ‘He’s Dead’, ‘Holes’ and ‘My Death’ especially sweeping me off my feet and moving me to tears, the fragility of life hammering its way in.
I feel this performance has worked as a beautiful reset. Listening to Death Songbook has given me a healthy dose of new perspective. It has felt like unwrapping the most wonderful gift and I couldn’t be any happier for it.
Loss has tried to define so many of us over the past year. But we won’t let it, with a project like Death Songbook helping us confront our losses and discover the beauty inside it.
I’d like to express the biggest thank you to Brett Anderson, Charles Hazlewood, Paraochestra, and special guests for creating a work of such incredible beauty.
Inge Klinkers, The Netherlands
The anticipation for this performance was immense – seeing Brett perform something new after what had seemed like forever. The set of tracks about death, loss and loneliness (way more uplifting than that sounds!) began with a cover of ‘The Killing Moon’ by Echo & The Bunnymen – such a classic that my nerves were jangling as it began, but it was an awesome version, with the orchestra sounding fantastic together and Brett’s vocals as marvellous as always. I particularly enjoyed the ending with Seb Rochford’s frenetic drums gradually fading and the note of the recorder lingering on.
Next came Brett’s solo song ‘Unsung’. I’ve always loved this song; I didn’t realise it was about losing his friend, so that makes it even more poignant. The third track was a cover of 'Nightporter' by Japan – the only song in the set that I’d not heard before. It was a beautiful, haunting version that suited Brett’s voice perfectly. Also lots of recorder action here from James Risdon, which pleased me; (Suede – if you need a recorder player for the tour, I was in the school Recorder Club for many years – just putting that out there…).
Track 4 was a cover of ‘The End of the World’ by Skeeter Davis, which was the first track to feature vocals from Nadine Shah – what a voice! Another brilliant rendition of a song that you think you know. And those hand bells – great touch! Then came ‘He’s Dead’ – I loved this, and the musicians clearly enjoyed rocking out! I enjoyed the 70s-sounding flute, and the delicious mess of the ending was a brilliant new take on the original Suede version. (Wonder if Brett was doing ‘the dance’ off camera??)
Track 6: ‘Wonderful Life’ by Black. I wasn’t sure I even liked this song, but it’s the track from Death Songbook that I’ve replayed the most. Brett seemed to really enjoy singing it, and it suited him really well (even the lyrics: “…and in my blue eyes…”).
‘The Next Life’ was as beautiful as ever. I really enjoyed how the whole orchestra played the tune that’s normally only heard on the piano. Also the fact that the strings were ‘singing’ the backing vocals – which I realised are the part that I normally sing along to rather than Brett’s main tune!
Then came ‘Holes’ by Mercury Rev – this was the song that we’d already heard, but seeing/hearing it played as part of the set was magical. I loved the way that Brett and Nadine’s vocals melted into each other. I particularly loved the line “How does that old song go?” passed between them so many times towards the end. Sublime.
Then came the final track – Jacques Brel’s ‘My Death’, which many of us are familiar with as David Bowie covered it. What a gorgeous ending, with just Brett accompanied by Adrian Utley on guitar. It was lovely to hear Brett talking about the project, process and how good it felt to perform again. It was also great hearing from Charles Hazlewood and the musicians about the challenges but also the elation of playing again as an ensemble. What an enjoyable set. Thank you so much to all involved.
Joolz Green, UK
Death Songbook may easily be one of the highlights of the year in terms of music already, thanks to the compelling amount of talent from Brett Anderson, the members of the Paraorchestra and of course, the maestro Charles Hazlewood. This beautiful concert was so well directed and produced, by a bodywork of professionals who took all the best to bring not only a very healthy environment (in the midst of a pandemic) to the performers, but also to the viewers as well! Songs like 'The Killing Moon', 'He's Dead', 'The Next Life', 'Unsung' and most of all, 'My Death', really take off through such a marvellous documentary that taught us that, in Brett's own words, "it's really nice to have something to do!". Miguel Quero from The Rocker's Corner, Venezuela. Check out Miguel's blog here.
'Wonderful Life' was - wonderful. 'He’s Dead' was just - wow. I thought that was my highlight, but then 'My Death'. No words. Ironically without the orchestra and Brett having to read the lyrics. It has to have a proper release one day, doesn’t it? Off to listen again.
He said “lovely” a lot in the little interviews between songs. It really was lovely to see him performing again though. Sigh.
Juliet Eckford, New Zealand
Starting off with 'The Killing Moon'. Really set the tone for the Death songbook.
The Paraorchestra being driven by a spectacular groove set out by the drummer and Brett’s vocals really shining.
The highlight for me came up next. I’ve always liked 'Unsung'. It sounds like it’s got so much space but without sounding empty, so to put an orchestra with it could have made it sound too inflated but no, the arrangement was perfect and dare I say better than the original.
What surprised me the most was the version of 'The Next Life'. Opening with the Celeste and given a very ethereal feel and then the drums join in turning the song into a beautiful waltz that after 100’s of listens to the original, I never really realised it was a waltz!
Simon Kinsler, UK
Death Songbook, apart from being a beautifully made production, felt like the beginning of a new era. It gave me a feeling of hope and rejuvenation.
I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful new arrangements of beloved songs, and as both a Suede and Sylvian fan, for many years, it was very emotional for me to hear Brett’s approach to 'Nightporter'. It’s a song I’ve heard hundreds of times. It really got a completely new meaning and that is something I never thought was possible. Thank you Brett and everyone involved in the production.
Michal Kadari, Israel
I've always worried about that Nick Hornby bit from High Fidelity:
"What came first, the music or the misery? Did I listen to music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to music? Do all those records turn you into a melancholy person? People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands - literally thousands - of songs about broken hearts and pain and misery and loss. The unhappiest people I know, romantically speaking, are the ones who like pop music the most; and I don't know whether pop music has caused this unhappiness, but I do know that they've been listening to the sad songs longer than they've been living the unhappy lives."
Death Songbook shows that up for the bollocks it is. It's not that music makes you miserable, it offers you a language to talk with your grief. It gives you a map that guides you through your pain.
Pop music fans aren't more miserable, we've just got a better understanding of the topography of loss. We know what we're going through.
A few days after my Mum died - I can't say how many, because who ever can count those mornings - Mike Read played 'Seasons In The Sun'. That right-wing light entertainer doing the Coco Pops and school run slot accidentally managed to give me something none of the kind words and sad faces had managed. A third-hand gift from Jacques Brel that wasn't trying to chivvy me up, or take my mind off things, but just rhymed. In a time when everything had become unfamiliar, it was something that I recognised.
Through the songs, there was a theme beyond death: if you don't feel loss, or even celebrate loss, how can you say that you valued what you had? I suppose, on paper, it might have sounded like a bit of a wallow at the end of a year watching an ever upticking death count. It might have got Nick Hornby nodding that this somehow just proves his point. But it wasn't, was it? In the midst of life, we are in death. And in the midst of Death Songbook, there was so much life. Simon Budgen, UK