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Review: Brett Anderson and the Paraorchestra at Factory International is ‘a joyful celebration of death’

The Suede frontman led the 'Death Songbook' at Factory International on Friday
Death Songbook Brett Anderson Paraorchestra

At Factory International on Friday, a towering funeral card loomed over the stage, a solemn tableau projecting the evocative phrase “Death Songbook”.

Not the most cheery opener – but that was the order of the day, with Brett Anderson and the Paraorchestra’s ‘Death Songbook’ exploring the raw and powerful emotions surrounding mortality.

The night promised to be a journey through the melancholy and euphoria of loss, with new takes on famous songs about death.

Brett Anderson and the Paraorchestra

Suspicions however were aroused, when the svelt figure of the superstar frontman of Suede, sauntered onto the stage, beaming a huge smile.

Maybe it wouldn’t be all doom and gloom?

After a brief, not too awkward silence,  an audience member shouted ‘play the song about death’ which lifted any initial nerves.

Everyone laughed and loosened up for an unexpected evening of joy.

“Well, we are going to get to that – eventually,” said Brett, chuckling.

The Death Songbook – Brett Anderson

But the truth is, despite the maudlin subject matter – this was a beautiful celebration of life.

The concert captured the essence of happiness amidst darkness, offering a moment of catharsis and connection for all in attendance.

It was extremely uplifting and joyous.

The audience was out of their seats and dancing, despite several warnings from security staff to return to their seats. These went completely unheeded.

They opened with a spooky spaced-out version of Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen, haunting flutes and soaring keys making for a strangely uplifting version of the dark classic. (I think even at one point there was a clap-along)

There was an urgency in the song, almost a pleading from the musicians and artist that life is to be celebrated, moments to be seized, chances to be taken.

There was very little darkness present in the auditorium.

A touch of Suede

Killing Moon was followed by a spine-tingling rendition of She Stills Leads Me On from Suede’s latest album, the haunting Autofiction of 2022.

Brett Anderson introduced this soul-stirring piece as a homage to his late mother, whose passing in the early 1990s coincided with the band’s ascent to fame.

With every word, Anderson poured his heart out, leaning into the mic with intense fervour, delivering the poignant lyrics with an intensity that left the audience on the edge of their seats, really feeling his emotion.

His vocal performances injected unique dark magic into Paraorchestra’s reimaginings, offering a hauntingly captivating listening experience.

The incredible Gwenno

Cornish songstress Gwenno graced the stage to join Brett in a mesmerising duet of the timeless pop standard “The End of the World.”

Clad in an elegant emerald green ensemble that perfectly complemented her enchanting vocals, Gwenno cast a spell over the audience with her lush and captivating performance.

If they had been rowdy for the first two numbers, they had been stilled by this sumptuous tune.

Following this ethereal performance, the atmosphere shifted dramatically as the powerhouse anthem Holes by Mercury Rev filled the air, commanding the attention of the audience and gripping them with its power.

Just when the audience thought they had experienced the pinnacle of the evening’s surprises, a thrilling twist unfolded as the cult classic Enjoy the Silence by Depeche Mode belted out.

Shedding the driving intensity of the original version, this rendition transformed into a spirited and somewhat chaotic campfire singalong.

It also included a ridiculously complicated ‘crowd participation’ vocal arrangement – that absolutely nobody understood, including half of the band on stage.

That’s not to say that everyone didn’t love giving it a go, despite shall we say ‘mixed’ results. The auditorium erupted in laughter as it completely fell apart.

And that was symptomatic of the gig, one of joy and love, rather than sadness and darkness.

The Death Songbook

Speaking before the gig, Brett said: “The Death Songbook was an idea Charles came up with during the bleak days of lockdown.

“As soon as he suggested it, I was sold. I loved the idea of curating a suite of songs about loss, sadness and regret.

“I’ve always found happy songs depressing, it’s been the murkier themes that have somehow sounded more joyous to me.

“Songs about doubt and fear and grief confront feelings we all struggle with, so to know that we are not alone in that fight can be quietly life-affirming.”

The gig captured that essence, of happiness in misery, in darkness and songs about pain.

Sound and set up

A word for the sound and set up – The stage was alive with a carnival of sound as the musicians, under the guidance of leader Charles Hazlewood, conjured up an almost fairground-like atmosphere.

At the heart of it all was Hazlewood’s mesmerizing Wurlitzer organ, its distorted tones weaving a disorientating fairground around the audience.

Let by the organ, the haunting melodies of the viola and cello, the rhythmic plucking of the double bass, the skittering beats of jazz drums, and the delicate chimes of the metallophone all added to the party.

In a departure from the typical rock and roll spectacle, the stage was adorned with an array of instruments more commonly associated with folk and classical music.

Yet, despite the change up from traditional rock aesthetics, Brett Anderson, seasoned by decades of leading a formidable guitar band, couldn’t resist the urge to throw a few shapes and dance. And why not?

Amidst a sea of adoring fans sporting Suede shirts, Anderson injected a hint of his trademark energy into the performance, eliciting cheers from the partisan audience.

Cover songs to finish

The back end of the show concluded with a stripped-back version of Jaques Brel’s ‘My Death’, which has been covered by both Scott Walker and David Bowie.

It was Brett and an acoustic guitar, as compared to Walker’s booming big band arrangements. Despite this, it lacked none of the urgency and power of Walker’s cover.

The final song was a cover of the joyous, celebratory Black – It’s a Wonderful Life.

The song and performance hint at brighter possibilities, and the potential for an incredible life. Brett’s vocals are tender, complemented by the warm embrace of the strings and flute section of the orchestra.

Within the performance, there is a palpable sentiment of emergence from darkness, a collective acknowledgement of resilience and the value found in the present moment.

It’s as though the song becomes a declaration of triumph over adversity, a celebration of the journey from despair to hopefulness.

It’s a wonderful note to finish on before a rousing encore of Killing Moon sends us off grounded, but optimistic for the future.


Killing Moon – Echo and the Bunnymen Cover

She still Leads Me On – Suede

Unsung – Brett Anderson

The End of The World

Holes – Mercury Rev Cover

Enjoy The Silence – Depeche Mode Cover

Brutal Love – The Death Songbook

He’s Dead – Suede

My Death – Jaques Brel Cover

It’s a Wonderful Life – Black cover

Killing Moon – Echo and the Bunnymen Cover Encore

You can see what else Factory International has planned by clicking here

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