Three singers contemplate the ultimate subject: death “The Bardo, Epicurus and the Banshee” at Anywhere Festival

In 'The Bardo, Epicurus and the Banshee' three great singers contemplate the ultimate subject: death. Sharing three visions of the good death, ranging from the ethics of care to Irish keening and the sense that death is not the end, Pearly, Leah and Narelle weave spiritual, humanist and magical threads into a beautiful celebration of mortality.

Media Release PDF DOWNLOAD

Images at bottom of text

In ‘The Bardo, Epicurus and the Banshee’ three great singers contemplate the ultimate subject: death. Sharing three visions of the good death, ranging from the ethics of care to Irish keening and the sense that death is not the end, Pearly, Leah and Narelle weave spiritual, humanist and magical threads into a beautiful celebration of mortality.

Pearly Black, Leah Cotterell and Narelle McCoy are three of Brisbane’s most loved singers with a combined century of live performances between them. They are also women of significant intellectual heft and life experience who have stories and insights to share on a subject that all of us will be confronted with in time.

The sublime Pearly Black has a long history of philosophical contemplation in her performance of ecstatic and dark repertoires, from Madame Bone’s Brothel to gospel and art music projects. Pearly is also a practicing Buddhist with strong affiliations to the Langri Tangpa Buddhist Centre. Soulful jazz star Leah Cotterell is known for her dramatic flair and stylistic range. Her recent work has presented stories about her role as a mental health family carer inside a framework of beautiful songs and tender memories that balance grief. Narelle McCoy is made of music, being a multi-instrumentalist and classically trained soprano with a long career in theatre roles and recitals. Narelle’s PhD topic is Irish keening based on collected interviews with women who practice this ancient and private form of ritual singing.

‘The Bardo, Epicurus and The Banshee’ will deliver wonderful singing, thoughtful vignettes and hilarity in the face of the inevitable.

The Langri Tangpa Budhhist Centre 535 Old Cleveland Rd, Camp Hill QLD 4152 26 May 2019 at 3:30pm for 3:45pm Ticket price: $30
(strictly limited to 80 seats) Booking through
The Anywhere Festival ticketing links

Contact Leah Cotterell
P: 0432092936 E:



Media Kit: The Bardo, Epicurus and the Banshee


To Buddhists, death is not a mystery. The experience of death, intermediate state and rebirth is considered a vital experience that we can train for. Buddhists view death as a golden opportunity to achieve complete freedom through actualising compassion and wisdom. It is an opportunity for total love. I have always found songs of death oddly comforting. That may be because songs offer a safe space to explore deep and difficult experiences. The older I get, the more I am drawn to death songs that are full of love, rich experience and courage – songs that make us feel that we have lived well so it’s ok to go. If theBuddhists are right, and we do travel on to another life, then our best chance of travelling well is being at peace and full of love as we pass through that final door.

Song choice: Take it With Me

This is a song for grown-ups from master song-smith, Tom Waits. It is a view back down the span of a life full of precious moments. It holds a gentle finality. This performance was filmed in The Yarra Edge Theatre in Melbourne and is accompanied by the exquisite piano playing of Anthony Schulz.

Epicurus was the founder of a philosophical school in ancient Athens in 306 B.C.E. He held his classes in anarea known as ‘The Garden’. He was considered radical because his school was open to women and slaves. Epicurus argued that unhappiness was a creation of our minds, our irrational beliefs, fears and desires and that the greatest happiness was a state of tranquility. He rejected the Gods and argued that the fear of death was one of those irrational fears. Like Epicurus, I don’t fear death or the life beyond, but I do fear the weakness and sorrow of unresolved pain and suffering. Witnessing the deaths of my parents and two sisters has left me with a yearning for freedom from bodily distress and mental turmoil. Singingabout grief is a wonderful way to share what I’ve learned about compassion and the importance ofpersonal agency.

Song choice: Small Blessings

This is a song I wrote with Helen Russell (composer) and my friend Meg Kanowski in 1999. The lyrics are about recovery from times of trouble. The images in the montage are from my family collection. The recording is by Leah with Steve Russell (piano) and Qwired, arranged Helen Russell.

The banshee is a woman of the Irish faerie world whose wailing predicts a death. My research into the power of the female voice in keening, the death ritual, has led me to the West Coast of Ireland where I have chatted, sung and drank whiskey with many old women who are the gatekeepers of this ancient ritual. In Ireland to sing a keen is to summon up death and the keening is only performed in the presence of the corpse. I grew up in a very Irish family where Sunday nights saw friends and relatives gather round the piano to sing soul-stirring rebel songs or heart-breaking ballads. Music was also an essential part of funerals where the notion of waking the dead with food, drink and song was part of the ritual of farewell. This notion of supportive community in the cathartic rite of parting with a loved one has informed my view of dying and death. I want to go out on a tide of whiskey and song!

Contact Leah Cotterell
P: 0432092936 E:


Media Kit: The Bardo, Epicurus and the Banshee


Sophisticated, soulful and daring are all words that have been used to describe Pearly Black, a singer of unusual breadth and versatility. Over the past 25 years her eclectic repertoire has ranged over many genres from dark art-rock, Gospel and even disco, through to Flamenco, Latin and Bulgarian folklorica. Pearly developed her outstanding cabaret style in early 1990’s art- rock band, Madam Bones Brothel, in which she partnered with internationally renowned composer, John Rodgers. Since then she has featured in much of John’s commissioned work, such as his stunning score for Where the Heart Is for Expressions Dance Company (2010 & 2012). Pearly has also been a frequent star of Women in Voice, won a Matilda award for the cabaret Tom Waits for No Man, and is known for her soul singing in Tell Heaven All Star Gospel Revue.

In the 80s Leah found great success in cabaret and jazz, in the 90s she pursued degree studies, song writing and recording and post 2000 she has produced works showcasing her musical collaborations, securing partnerships with major festivals and significant arts funding. Leah is currently completing research for her Doctoral project, ‘The Singer’s Anatomy’ investigating the underlying processes of performance. Her long interest in community singing resulted in a combined choir performance, ‘Songs From Our Suburbs’ for Brisbane City Council’s Festival 2018 and her most recent artistic output is ‘The Pleasure of Sad Songs’, a performance that tells the story of her life as a carer for family members with serious mental illnesses. This work has been presented at major venues and is the subject of a ‘Conversations’ interview on ABC Radio National.

Narelle McCoy is an eminent educator, published writer, academic researcher and singer. She has also worked as an actor at La Boîte Theatre, featuring in musicals such as The Man from Muckinupin, Back to the Cremorne and Venetian Twins. Narelle is currently working on completing her PhD on Irish women’s keening or singing for the dead.