In the impressive setting that is Factory International’s Aviva Studios, the audience is treated to one of only two dates by Paraorchestra on its current run.

Paraorchestra is a collaboration of disabled and non-disabled musicians led by the effervescent Charles Hazlewood and star collaborators. Tonight, Suede’s frontman Brett Anderson and Gwenno are on vocal duties. They have just released the album Death Songbook which most of tonight’s set came from. This might not sound like a recipe for a good night’s entertainment but, as we know, sad songs say so much. In the hands of these performers, they certainly do.

First up was The Breath, a local duo. Lead singer Ríoghnach Connolly’s strong Irish accent belies the fact she’s been living in the area for more than 20 years. Guitarist Stuart McCallum added some effecting John Martin-style guitar atmospherics to complement Ríoghnach’s stunning vocals. Land Of My Other, from their third and latest album, is the pick of the tracks tonight.

“We’ve made a miserable record but we’re enthusiastic,” said the singer, summing up the band’s set. Although miserable might be a bit harsh. Lyrically, yes, but musically they’re bright and melodic.

There is much to like about Paraorchestra. Inclusivity is their watchword. They are joined onstage by a sign language interpreter. Strip away the noble reasons for their formation and at the heart of the project is great musicianship. This came to the fore throughout the night. They open with their version of Echo and the Bunnymen’s The Killing Moon. Their interpretation is so huge, with the orchestra projecting the dynamics of the song perfectly. Anderson’s impassioned vocals makes the song his own. Ian McCulloch’s is a big coat to fill but Anderson did it in style. It’s no surprise that the Bunnymen’s socials endorsed the song when it was recently released.

Anderson had the crowd up and out of their seats after one song and they remained there for the rest of the night. “Are there any Suede fans in tonight?” he asked to loud cheers. “Oh, two of you.” The fans were treated to several deep dives and classics from the band’s back catalogue along the way. Then on came Welsh/Cornish singer Gwenno, and it was hard to pick a favourite moment from a set that had so much to enjoy. The cover of Mercury Rev’s ‘Holes’ was a standout moment. The orchestra and singers rang every emotion out of the tune, including a flute motif running throughout.

It’s difficult to sum up what was a thoroughly entertaining night. Anderson’s description of the concept as a “bleak but life-affirmingly brilliant concept” is the perfect encapsulation. Catch them next time they open up the death songbook.

By Paul Clark

Main image: Paraorchestra at Aviva Studios – credit Jody Hartley