Death Songbook - The Fans' Perspective
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
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
When I heard of the Death Songbook project and found out the setlist, I knew It was going to be a special and emotional thing to hear and see. 'The Next Life' and 'He’s Dead' have always been such important Suede songs for me and I know they are to many Suede fans. Everyone of us have experienced loss in life and love. And to see Brett and hear his voice after such a long time... Just that alone made me emotional and anxious to hear the performances.
Personally recent years have been quite a rollercoaster and quite recently I thought I’d lose my mother to cerebral hemorrhage. It hit like a lightning bolt and I will never forget that day. The thought going through my head was: Not yet... Fortunately she pulled through and is doing well now.
So from the first notes of Death Songbook, it was clear to me that it would be a wonderfully cleansing, comforting and uplifting experience.
The standouts for me were 'My Death' (at this point tears and goosebumps taking turns), 'The Next Life', 'The End of The World' and 'Holes'. I hadn’t heard Nadine Shah before and her voice just blew me away. It’s so uniquely beautiful. Brett’s voice, I obviously love and will love forever and it worked so well with Nadine’s. The song choices suited Brett’s voice perfectly. Hopefully Brett and Nadine will work together again in the future. And the arrangements of the songs were all so amazing. Hadn’t heard of Paraorchestra either so that was another fantastic discovery. The sound they created suited the songs perfectly.
Needed a lot of ice-cream afterwards... So many emotions went through me... These beautiful and wonderful performances I was so lucky to witness. Thank you Brett and everyone involved in the Death Songbook project. Johanna Järvensivu, Finland
Death Songbook is the perfect sadness and melancholy to lift a mood. Hearing Brett speak about how sad songs actually make him happy was a moment that made me both gasp and chuckle because it’s so soul affirming to hear that someone else thinks the way you do. Especially when you’ve always felt like you’ve been labelled a glum, dark weirdo for being that way.
We know these songs; they were already familiar (or they were to many of us) but hearing them presented in this way heightens the emotions. Maybe it’s the effect of a year of isolation and worry and stress all combining to add to it but regardless, it’s all so heady and evocative. That wonderful orchestration and the new vocals have been playing around my head since first hearing it. I’ve heard and been moved by 'The Next Life' probably more than a thousand times and have always counted it among my Suede favourites. So I really wasn’t expecting to find myself in full-on tears at this version.
And don’t even get me started on Nadine Shah’s gorgeous, rich, deep voice. I’ve said it elsewhere and I’ll say it again: it’s the aural equivalent of eating a smooth chocolate truffle while rolling in yards of soft velvet. I really think we need to hear lots more of her duetting with Brett. And speaking of lots more, I sincerely hope that the whole of the group, Brett, Nadine, Charles and the orchestra add a few more songs to the repertoire and then give us some live shows when we’re finally freed from our pandemic shackles.
Shawndra Hayes-Budgen, UK
The first moment I heard about the Death Songbook project back in February, I could sense it would be something special. It was the hope and light that us fans had longed for. I saw the setlist and it was my decision whether I shared it with fans. I knew most fans would want to know and I felt by sharing it that it would feed their imagination and heighten excitement. That's exactly what it did.
Personally, I wasn't familiar with all the songs but I had time to explore them for myself. To hear them in their original form was an unexpected joy. And everything fell in to place as I found a connection with each song. I could envisage Brett singing each one and, as a complete work, I could appreciate its beauty. This was a poignant moment for me as I was now ready to immerse myself fully in Death Songbook.
In the moments leading up to the broadcast of Death Songbook, I felt a nervous excitement. To see Brett perform after all these months was momentous, emotional and somewhat overwhelming in a positive way.
From the first note of 'The Killing Moon' to the last note of 'My Death', I was captivated. I really loved hearing Brett, Charles and some of the Paraorchestra talk about Death Songbook. A project of unity with the aim of spreading joy to others whilst doing something you could tell each musician felt passionate about. Having read about the mutual respect Brett & Nadine shared about working with each other beforehand, only cemented their breathtaking performances. Brett's heavenly and mesmerising vocals blending perfectly with Nadine's powerful voice.
To take the theme of death and loss that everyone has experienced and can relate to in some way, and then to present it in such a beautiful way is incredible and really uplifting. My heart is full, my passion further burning with its flames reaching new heights and a renewed hope. I feel hope again.
Eternal thanks to Brett Anderson, Charles Hazlewood, Seb Rochford, Adrian Utley, Nadine Shah and the magnificent Paraorchestra. You have created something truly exquisite.
I know many fans would love an official release and we'd also love to experience it live in the future. Death Songbook is too good for the story to end here.
Samantha Hand, UK
Thank you to James Wong & Bozena Wojtas for screenshots.
If you loved Death Songbook and you're able to, you can donate to Paraorchestra, they have set up a Just Giving Page.
Paraorchestra is a registered charity and even a small donation can make a huge difference to them. Thank you.