Little Death Orchestra
How was it for you?

The man behind Little Death Orchestra comes clean…

Michael Burdett, the composer of Little Death Orchestra's debut album, took the decision to gather a group of musicians and record an album of completely original compositions…

"To be honest, it had been so long since I had written music without a specific brief, that I had absolutely no idea whatsoever what would come out! Most of the music that I tend to listen to these days is music that I couldn't conceive of writing myself - early music and gothic voices are high on my playlist. As a nipper, growing up on John Martyn, Nick Drake, and anything big on melancholy gave me a lot of pleasure as well as fuelling my pubescent angst. During the 80s I watched the development of Julian Cope and Talk Talk with delight, Spirit of Eden certainly being my favourite album of that decade."

In fact, there is a strong connection between John Martyn and the later albums of Talk Talk, which had great appeal for Michael.

"I am not a great fan of most lyrics. Both John Martyn and Talk Talk's Mark Hollis strangled their voices to the point of obscurity using them as an added texture, rather than the focal point of the piece. I wouldn't be able to tell you any of the lyrics to Talk Talk's 'Laughing Stock', and it might even devalue it for me if I could. I just have to hear a chart record with the word 'baby' or some cheesy reference to lost, found or unrequited love, and I'm reaching for the on/off switch."

So how did you get started on the album?

"I decided to hide myself away for a year and write a dozen or so tracks, a bit like some other artists did back in the 70s - and so Little Death Orchestra was conceived."

Only it didn't take a year. From conception to finished product took a lot, lot longer - why was that?

"In the first place I had to find a location, secondly I had to learn to trust my ability to compose without images to help. Thirdly, it would appear that I had to go through some kind of miserablist composer breakdown. And then finally I had to write the bloody stuff!"

Talking of locations is it true that you secreted yourself in a cottage in Wales and had a studio installed?

"Yes, it was stunning, on the bank of a powerful river. As I've often said since, I went to Wales a successful composer and several years later returned to London a very good fisherman."

You didn't bring in the rest of the musicians until later on. How did you find the experience of writing in such solitude?

"There were many astonishing things which happened while I was alone in the studio, but one will always stick in my mind. Around the lowest point of writing I was having trouble completing one of the piano pieces, and I was taking part in every kind of delaying tactic known to the depressed man. I decided to rig up a Revox tape recorder and listen to some old quarter inch tapes, which I had collected over the years. One of these was a copy of Cello Song by Nick Drake, which had been in my collection for over twenty years. I'd never played it but I had always been enchanted by the fact that the box seemed to be inscribed in his own handwriting. As I put the tape on, instead of the familiar strains of one of my favourite tracks, what met my ears was an entirely different version of the song; a different sound to the guitar part, a darker approach with the cello, more percussion, and Nick's pure, sweet, unmistakable voice soaring over the top. I assume it predates the album version and it sounds much better to me as it's a beautiful rendition, and it excited me enough to help me finish my track."

Divine inspiration! That must have been an incredible moment.

"You're not kidding! Alone, in an idyllic, remote setting, putting on a tape and being the first person to hear this piece of music for over thirty years, I should coco! In fact, I'm sure the word divine would sum up the moment exactly. Now he was a man with good reason to be depressed. I mean, imagine having that melancholy genius and being pretty much ignored during your short life. I'm sure he would rest easier knowing that his work is now held in such high esteem; just for a while we thought we were French, the sixth track on Little Death Orchestra is dedicated to his memory.

So how would you categorise Little Death Orchestra's music?

"I'm really fed up with trying to do that! The album happened very naturally without thought for category or genre, and is extremely autobiographical. I firmly believe there are only 2 relevant categories - music you like and music you don't. However, if you are going to push me on this then it's contemporary; bizarre; powerful; and emotive, which in this particular instance is music I happen to like very much. In fact, if you want a new section in your record shops, let's call it 'cutting edge coffee table music' or 'uneasy listening' and have done with it.

Did I touch a raw nerve?

"Yes, sorry"

And finally, Michael, can we expect any more from Little Death Orchestra?

"A second album is underway as we speak, but I would be reluctant to release anything that I didn't believe was better, so who knows when it may appear"

All of us are knocked out by the album. Thanks for this exclusive interview.

"Thank you very much - I've enjoyed it."

Excerpt from interview by Carol Green.