When it was announced that the biennial Leonard Cohen Event was to be held in Dublin for the first time in 2014 I was ecstatic and relished the chance to welcome our friends to Dublin knowing that the people on the organising committee would do a fine job.
I do confess to making an error with not having taken notes over the weekend thinking I would remember enough to fill reports for each individual day. However such was the packed programme and little sleep means some of the details have slipped my mind. I hope therefore to give one report in which I hope those who were there will appreciate it and those who weren’t can be given a flavour of what our weekend entailed. Following this report I will make posts of the photo highlights of the weekend.
Last December I received an email from Paula McCann, chairperson of the organising committee, asking me would I like to have photos exhibited at the Event along with Tony Crosbie, a fellow Irish citizen and fellow lover of photography. I replied it would be an honour and a first for me because I’d never exhibited my work before.
This exhibition allowed me and Tony to attend a special reception at the Canadian Embassy for Canadians attending the Event, Forum Moderators and performers at the Event. I was delighted to attend this reception by the Canadian Ambassador Loyola Hearn. We were well looked after, with some delicious fancy food canapés and wine to wash it down! Paula introduced the Ambassador and he spoke for a few minutes and I was very impressed with his speech. He spoke completely without notes about the links between Ireland and Canada and had some advice for visiting Canadians to look after their passports or they would be finding themselves back in the Embassy quicker than they could imagine!
After a lovely couple of hours chatting to old and new found friends we made our way to the Lansdowne Hotel for the official launch of the Event by Loyola Hearn, who made another off the cuff amazing speech! We were treated to a BBQ, an excellent layout of straw bales and little turf burners which created the most wonderful atmosphere. Music was supplied for the first couple of hours by The Irish House Party, who performed traditional Irish music, which was great for our visiting friends. Albert Noonan had created a DVD of his wonderful videos of Leonard’s concerts to supply the music for the rest of the night.
Already on the Thursday night I had a feeling that this weekend was going to be really special and one what will live in our memories for a long time to come. When we arrived at the hotel we registered and received our registration bags which contained a t-shirt, programme, pin from Leonard and a wristband to wear for the gatherings in Liberty Hall for quick identification purposes. There was a real piece of treasure awaiting us in the programme. Leonard being the class act he is, choose the programme of our Event to announce the name of his next album, Popular Problems, and that it will be released at the end of next month shortly after his 80th birthday. I can’t think of one other artist who treats his fans as well as Leonard does. Also in our programme was note from him saying he was happy we were gathering in this great country which has been so kind to him over the years and thanking us for our long journey.
Day 2 began with coffee in the Mansion House at 11am and a welcome by, Christy Burke the Lord Mayor of Dublin. While he was there, his second in command, the Deputy Lord Mayor, Larry O’Toole made the speech and it was followed by him and Paula singing a couple of verses of The Dublin Saunter. After a few minutes of chatting to friends Paula approached me and told me we were all going to sing So Long Marianne to the Lord Mayor. This song always gets a wonderful reception everywhere Leonard performs it but it is extra special here in Ireland so it brought back great memories when we all sang this in the Mansion House.
After some down time with friends after the Mansion House I made my way down to Liberty Hall and helped Albert Noonan with hanging our photos for the exhibition. I was very emotional seeing my work on display like this for the very first time. It really warmed my heart when I saw strangers come up and admire the photos. Support from friends is always brilliant but seeing people who don’t know me and think I have a talent is very special to me.
It was really exciting when I saw a reporter and crew from RTE arrive to interview participants and fans. RTE is our national broadcaster and it shows the high regard that Leonard is held in here that they would want to feature our Event on the main evening news. I enjoyed watching them interviewing Dermot Bolger in front of my photos and then while I was on duty checking wrist bands at the entrance to the theatre I was able to witness them at work interviewing people as they made their way into the venue.
Soon it was time for our four Event organisers, Paula McCann, Marie Nolan, Albert Noonan and Sheila O’Mahony to officially start proceedings. The first on the amazing list of talent was a five minute audio visual of Leonard at Lissadell by Yvonne Acheson. This was very enjoyable and brought back wonderful memories of the concert I still consider to be my favourite of all time. There was then a poetry reading and talk with Gerard Smyth and an interview of John MacKenna by Dermot Bolger. I do confess with between checking the door and the excitement of seeing my photos on display means I am drawing a blank while I try to remember what was being discussed here but I do remember enjoying it at the time. It was one of the reasons I held back writing this review until now in the hope the the fog would clear from my brain!
After a short interval we were treated to some really funny poetry by The Poetry Divas. One of their poems, called Flaming for Leonard, borrowed some of Leonard’s song titles and lyrics and had us all in stitches laughing. The final part of the Spoken Word was an interview with Lief Bodnarchuk by Tony Clayton-Lea. I was really looking forward to this because Lief worked with Leonard on all the tours from 2008-2013 as a guitar technician for Mitch Watkins and Javier Mas. Having read Lief’s book No Ideas I didn’t really hear anything I didn’t already know but I never tire of hearing about life on the road with Leonard and it was good hearing Lief explain how he got the gig with Leonard through having worked with the band Ash. Tony Clayton-Lea was a great interviewer and credit to him for trying his best to try and get some gossip on Leonard. It wasn’t forthcoming though. One thing in common with the people close to Leonard is their loyalty and it is a trait that I greatly admire.
After a very successful opening afternoon and break for dinner it was time for the first of the three concerts of singers and musicians from Ireland and abroad. Opening musical proceedings was a Meath man Gerry Tully. I must admit I was very apprehensive about how I would take the live music. Those who know me know I am not generally a fan of other people performing Leonard’s songs with few exceptions including Judy Collins and those who have collaborated with Leonard or indeed performed with him. However I have to say that attitude has being changed after what can only be described as an amazing weekend of outstanding performances starting with Gerry!
His opening song was Who By Fire and I was immediately impressed. His set also included Suzanne, I’m Your Man, Tower of Song and Hallelujah. The first of many Hallelujah’s we were to hear over the weekend but he did the song, and indeed all the songs justice. I have to say though it was his powerful rendition of Raglan Road that was my favourite of his performances. It gave me goosebumps and got a great cheer from the entire audience after. This song has special significance because our Event Chairperson Paula is the niece of the late, great Luke Kelly. The story of how Gerry came to be performing is actually very funny. Paula accompanied a friend to what she thought was going to be TR Dallas gig and was wondering was it him for the first few songs until he did a Leonard Cohen cover. After the gig she went up to him and said “You are not TR Dallas, so who are you?” And went on to explain about the Event and asked would he like to be one of the performers!
Our second performance on this night was by a Canadian woman, Patricia O’Callaghan and her band. I am not sure I can find a good enough adjective to describe how incredible this performance was. I think my thought I had after sums it up. If Leonard Cohen songs are going to be covered this is how it should be done. Patricia is a classically trained singer and it showed in her outstanding performances of songs such as The Window, Alexandra Leaving and what was my absolute favourite rendition of Hallelujah all weekend. I loved when she sang Dance Me To The End of Love interspersing English and Spanish and the English and French for Suzanne.
After the music ended and we were all having the post concert craic I had the pleasure of speaking with both Gerry and Patricia and thanking them for their amazing sets. Our first full day had been a resounding success and after the wonderful previous day this weekend was shaping up to be one of the most memorable of my entire life. The excitement of this day was not yet over though. RTE had initially being making their news report for their Six One News but due to other breaking news they had to move it to the Nine News instead. I was misinformed that the Event wasn’t shown and then told it was, so confused when we got back to our accommodation I checked it on my laptop and discovered not only was it shown but my photos were used as the main backdrop while the newscaster introduced the story and were shown a few times during the actual report too. Not only that but Mandy my friend and travelling companion to many of my Leonard adventures was interviewed and got a moment on air. It made for a lovely Closing Time for Day 2 of our Event.
Day 3 began with a Hidden Secrets History walking tour of Dublin with Tina Robinson. First on the agenda was a tram journey to the first point of interest St. Michan’s Church which dates back to 1095 and has crypts with containing mummified remains. It was interesting hearing the history of the families of those in the crypts and the tour guide at the church was an impressionable fellow with his hand signals for what happened people who were too long or had got on the wrong side of the law! While most of the approximately 70 strong group took up the option of seeing the crypts, I preferred to stay where it was bright and the ground was even. I may visit again when there are less people around. Unfortunately due to time restraints I had to leave the tour at this point so to have time for lunch before heading back down to Liberty Hall for the afternoon events where I was again on the door checking wrist bands. I explained this to Tina and thanked her for what I had already seen.
The afternoon session this day was the Open Mic with fans performing Leonard’s songs and hosted by Darby, one of the Forum moderators. Proceedings were opened with a comedy sketch by Michael Wolkind. He was hilarious and part of his sketch was to give away some Leonard Cohen t-shirts to some lucky people in the audience. The first singer to perform was Don Cummer, partner to Paula, and his first song was his own version of Memories with added lyrics and story of how he first met Paula, four years previously at the Event when it was held in Krakow in 2010. I had heard this before but it was great to hear it again. He also performed a great version of Sisters of Mercy.
There were lots of other great performers including a stunning performance from Claudia of Take This Waltz and I especially enjoyed Henning, another of our Forum moderators putting to music to some of Leonard’s poetry rather than just singing covers. At this stage the lack of sleep was starting to make me dizzy so I had to go get fresh air and coffee so had to miss the last couple of performers of the Open Mic. It was another successful afternoon.
For our concert on the Saturday we had one band, Jack Healy and The Van Diemens. Up to this point the music had being mellow and gentle. This was about to change with a full on rock performance. This was welcome to my weary body and it energised me! This concert was covers of what Jack called the holy trinity of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Nick Cave. I confess to knowing little of Caves music and less of Waits. However I really enjoyed Jack and The Van Diemens interpretations of all the songs. Highlights of Leonard’s songs for me included Tower of Song and a wonderful solo version of Anthem. Someone commented after, that this is what Leonard’s songs would sound like if they were covered by Nick Cave! I thought that a very good description. I also really enjoyed his Cave covers, Are You the One that I’ve Been Waiting For and Mercy Seat. Jack Healy is an excellent front man so I was amazed when talking to him after he says he usually is the bass player in any his bands. He told us a great story during the concert about how Mary Coughlan, a well-known Irish singer attended a Leonard Cohen concert with her daughter. After the concert she asked her daughter what she thought. Her daughters reply was it was like going to mass and having the mass said by Jesus!
Day 4 began with a viewing of Leonard’s last concert of the 2013 tour in Auckland. To have the chance to witness this concert was so special to me. The viewing was in Screen Cinema so we had a nice big screen and surround sound for the music. Leonard’s production manager, Ed Sanders, put this DVD together for us and it must be stated the fine job that he did. Such was the quality we found ourselves forgetting it was in a cinema we were watching this and every now and then there was spontaneous clapping at the end of songs. What I especially enjoyed was seeing close ups of the band and moments I normally don’t see at the concerts when more often than not my eyes are on Leonard unless it is during an actual solo! During Alexandra Leaving the DVD stopped. It turned out that while we were engrossed in the concert, outside a thunderstorm raged and played havoc with the cinema systems for a couple of minutes. I explained to Jarkko after that the DVD player just couldn’t handle the beauty of Sharon’s voice and sure there is a crack in everything.
It was all too soon time for our final concert of the weekend in Liberty Hall. On this night we had Tír Na nÓg, and closing out the Event Ali & the Thieves. However before the music we listened to the organisers of the two Events for 2016 speak of what we can expect in their cities. First we heard from Dr. Kim Solez and Mallory Chipman who spoke about Edmonton in Canada and then from Wybe and Willy Lageveen speaking about Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
Tír Na nÓg are an Irish duo, Leo O’Kelly and Sonny Condell who have been performing together since the late 1960’s. This should suggest I would be familiar with them but no, I wasn’t. In a break with tradition over the weekend they did their own music with only one Cohen cover, True Love Leaves No Traces. I absolutely love this song but hate what Phil Spector did to Leonard’s beautiful lyrics with his so called Wall of Sound. So hearing a stripped back version by accomplished singers was great. I also enjoyed hearing their own songs and I must say I will be paying them more attention in the future!
After a short interval our final performance began with Ali and her band playing what she calls Leonard Cohen Koans. I am not experienced enough to explain that properly so I am borrowing the description from our programme: “Leonard Cohen Koans is a meditation on the man behind the myth through his poetry, prose and song.” It incorporated Ali telling interesting stories and then her and the band performing their own versions of Leonard’s songs. I already knew the amazing voice Ali had having seen her perform at our fan dinner in New York last year. This was even better though. I especially loved the introduction to Avalanche. She spoke of how a man sees a tiger and starts running and the tiger follows. The man grabs a root vine and flings himself over the edge of a crevice. The tiger is still above him and when he looks down he sees another tiger. Then two mice, one black, one white start gnaw at the top of the vine. From the corner of his eye he saw a luscious wild strawberry and holding the vine with one hand he reached out with the other hand. Ali then started singing the song. Other highlights were If It Be Your Will and Lady Midnight which was our last song of the night and indeed the whole weekend!
To end proceedings Jarkko Arjatsalo and Michael Wolkind went on stage to thank our wonderful organisers, presenting Paula with flowers and giving them all a voucher for a meal in a restaurant to convey our thanks for the amazing weekend we just had. I always knew this would be a special weekend and it proved to be even better than I could have imagined. I enjoyed a couple of drinks in the company of everyone at the post craic in the bar of the Liberty Hall Theatre and saying goodbye to old and new friends was hard but we know we will all meet again. It is so long for now but not forever. Thank you so much to all the people who made this weekend possible.
Gwen Langford 2014