Hallelujah Video and my Hallelujah story

Here is a video I have made of Leonard singing Hallelujah using an audio file from the November 29th 2012 show in Montreal and using photos from only this song that I took at concerts in Ghent, Dublin, Montreal and Toronto in 2012.

When I am asked by people my favourite Leonard Cohen song and I answer with Hallelujah I sometimes get the reaction of raised eyebrows. It is sometimes conceived that answering with a major artists most well-known song as your favourite as a sign that you are not someone who has a great knowledge of the artist in question. I’d like to think while I don’t know everything about Leonard’s music that I do have a good knowledge of most of his work as a singer-songwriter.

So why Hallelujah? Well I will now attempt to answer that question. The first time I heard Hallelujah and indeed any of Leonard’s songs was the Jeff Buckley version of the song. It was August 23rd 2004 and almost midnight. I was listening to the radio, almost asleep when the DJ announced that as it was the 10th anniversary of the release of Jeff’s album Grace he would play his version of the song. I’ll never forget this moment as long as I live. I remember thinking how amazing the song was and it gave me goosebumps. While the DJ had said it was a cover he didn’t mention who the original singer and writer were so as soon as the song finished playing I picked up the phone and rang him and asked him. He said it is Leonard Cohen, adding knowing I was (and still am) a huge fan of soft rock that I would not like Leonard Cohen. I told him well I loved this song! For me at that time while I appreciated good lyrics the music was the most important, I had to enjoy the music before I could appreciate the lyrics. Hallelujah was the start of that scale changing for me and I now find myself drawn more and more to well written lyrics. Of course the music is still very important too.

I then made it my mission to get my hands on a copy of Leonard singing this song on CD. The DJ not a fan of Leonard’s refused to play his version for me. This proved a tricky mission. At the time I used to get most of my albums in either HMV or an on-line music store called CDWOW. CDWOW didn’t stock any Leonard Cohen albums at the time and while HMV did have some of Leonard’s albums it proved tricky getting one with this song on it. After a bit of searching I finally got my hands on a copy of The Essential Leonard Cohen in a HMV store. As soon as I got home I straight away listened to Hallelujah. On the first listen to Leonard singing this song I admit I was very taken aback as it is so different to Jeff’s version. I immediately listened to it again and something inside me clicked and I instantly felt I was listening to what in my opinion was the greatest song ever written and I still feel like this.

Trying to pinpoint exactly why I felt like this and still do is difficult as I’m not sure I even know the answer myself. I just knew that the lyrics and melody to my ears were just magical. I see Hallelujah as a conflict between religious beliefs and human desires. Trying to pick a favourite line from the song is impossible for me but two of my favourites are “Baby I have been here before I know this room, I’ve walked this floor” and “I did my best, it wasn’t much I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch”. I often quote these lines in conversation as well as many other lines from the work of Leonard.

After listening to Hallelujah on repeat a few times I went back to the start of the album and listened start to finish. How wrong that DJ proved to be. I instantly loved everything I was hearing and on that first listen the other song to really hit me was So Long Marianne. This song is very close in my affections to Hallelujah to this day. I couldn’t believe it had taken me around 27 years to discover Leonard Cohen and his music but maybe I wasn’t ready to discover him before this. I have mentioned to people that I discovered Leonard and his songs at a time in my life when I most needed it. I was going through a dark time and slowly listening every night to his songs I felt myself coming out the other side.

A few months after getting The Essential I finally found a copy of Various Positions in HMV and slowly starting adding all his CDs to my collection. When the 2008 world tour was announced the Dublin concerts were already sold out and I hadn’t yet discovered the Leonard Cohen Forum so put not having a ticket down to bad luck. I never have and never will use a ticket tout to get tickets to a concert. I’d signed up for notifications after this so I was finally able to witness the magic in 2009 for the first time. Hearing Hallelujah sang live for the first time was special moment for me. After the Lissadell concert in 2010 I was heart-broken to think I might never see Leonard live again so for the first time in my life I left Ireland and went alone to see him in Katowice, Poland and also to Las Vegas for the final two concerts of the tour. I’d never gone to see the same artist two nights in a row before but then Leonard isn’t like anyone to me.

When I met Leonard in Las Vegas I asked him to sign Hallelujah lyrics for me and on the plane home the following day while writing a review of the concerts I listened to Live in London on my mp3 player. As soon as Hallelujah came on I was in convulsions of tears. This song had literally changed my life forever. It had taken me 32 years to travel outside Ireland and had I never heard that song that day who knows what path my life would be on. Since seeing Leonard in Poland and Las Vegas I’ve also seen him in Belgium and of course the dream trip to Canada. Not only have I witnessed the magic of Leonard many times but have seen some wonderful places completely different to Ireland.  Of course when everyone and anyone started covering the song I would have heard it at a later date anyway but that doesn’t mean I would have been able to hear the magic underneath to same level as I had done with Jeff’s cover which inspired me to find the original and for me the best. That night started me on a wonderful adventure in terms of first and most importantly discovering Leonard and then discovering the Forum and through it and Facebook connecting with many other wonderful people, some now who are my closest friends. I say Hallelujah for the song and Hallelujah for Leonard Cohen.

5 Images, 5 Magical Nights

July 23rd 2009 The O2 Dublin Ireland

 

31st July 2010 Lissadell House Sligo Ireland

 

October 4th 2010 The Spodek Arena Katowice Poland

 

10th December 2010 The Colosseum Caesars Palace Las Vegas US

 

11th December 2010 The Colosseum Caesars Palace Las Vegas US

All photos:

© Gwen Langford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos: Leonard Cohen, Katowice

All photos

© Gwen Langford

Review: Leonard Cohen, Katowice Poland 04/10/10

A question I asked myself as I headed to see Leonard Cohen in concert in Katowice, Poland was can perfection be beaten? Having witnessed the most amazing concert of my life when he played Lissadell House in Sligo earlier this year I did wonder how or if this concert could compare. While I don’t think the Lissadell House gig will ever be topped this concert came very close for a number of special reasons.

I only decided to go to this concert after that amazing night in Sligo so when I went to purchase my ticket my choices were limited. I had the option of a cheap downstairs ticket at the rear of the venue of the top level price in the front row of the balcony. I decided to buy the balcony ticket as at least I’d have a clear view of the stage. However fate was looking down on me as I’d only just taken my seat when some fellow fans that I had met before the concert presented me with a spare ticket for the forth row from the front!Such was my excitement for this concert for once I didn’t notice the starting times or finishing times of either half though I do know that Cohen and his fantastic band delivered to us over 3.5 hours of excellence as is per usual. Having being at Lissadell House and having watched numerous videos of  this tour on You Tube I was aware of most of the songs to expect and when we would be treated to them. While in some intances this can be an irritant in this case it only heightened my excitement as I listened to each fantastic song after another knowing that more favourites awaited me.

Cohen and his band started with Dance me to the end of Love with other early songs including The Future and a wonderful performance of one of my favourites Bird on the Wire. The arrangement on this song is so different to the original but is beautiful and so relaxing to listen to.

Also performed in this first half were two of the new song The Darkness and Born in Chains. Although both of these are excellent songs the later would be my preference. This song only premiered on the tour in July but it is fast becoming a fan favourite.

Every song sounded amazing and the solos provided by various band members were sublime and we wanted each song to go on and on. At many moments during the concert I felt my eyes well up at the beauty of it all. It should be noted while us avid fans did miss Sharon Robinson who is absent while she recovers from being ill,  The Webb Sisters did an excellent job in her absence where their vocals were impeccable.

In what felt like no time at all Cohen was introducing the band and we were at the intermission. While we moved to the front to chat and relax I had the pleasure of shaking hands with The Webb Sisters father Graham Webb.

It was then time for the second half of the concert. I absolutely love the second half of Cohen concerts as my two favourite songs Hallelujah and So Long Marianne are performed during this half. Hallelujah will always be my concert highlight but it had stiff competition for what was to come in this second half.

Opening the second half with the excellent Tower of Song Cohen looked very relaxed and happy to be performing for us. This was followed by the imensely popular Suzanne which up until recently was the most covered of all Cohen songs. It has being well overtaken in recent years by Hallelujah where most of these covers in my opinon should be consigned to the garbage bin as these people are not fit to sing what is in my opinion the greatest song ever written.

When Cohen left the stage at the end of Take this Waltz while the band finished the music to the song a group of us fans moved to the gangway leading to the stage. After the concert at Lissadell I felt compelled to thank Cohen in some way. I decided to get a huge Ireland flag and on it I wrote the message “Thank you Leonard and co for the magic and memories of Lissadell” in big black writing. At this moment I held up the flag for the band to see. It gave me a warm feeling to see them notice it and smile and point it out to each other. Once the music stopped we raced to the stage for So Long Marianne as this song is traditionally the most upbeat song at a Cohen concert. I draped my flag across the barrier in front of where Cohen would be and when he came back on stage he read it and a smile lit up his face. That moment will live in my heart forever and it made any anxieties I had about travelling alone to a foreign land to see him completely worth it.

It was an amazing feeling listening to So Long Marianne after this. Normally at Cohen concerts everyone sings along to this but the crowd here were somewhat reserved! I personally did sing along though and a few songs later I was singing along to Closing Time where Cohen noticed and smiled.

Personal satisfaction aside there were many highlights for everyone at this concert. I noticed many happy faces when Cohen performed Avalanche as he doesn’t perform this live very often. Other highlights included a stunning performance of Feels so Good the third of the new songs performed and possibly the best rendition I’ve seen of this song sofar. The ever brilliant Famous Blue Raincoat also must be mentioned along with the final song of the night Hey That’s no way to say Goodbye. Typical Cohen to end on an ironic song like this. I was very happy though as it is amongst my favourites and he doesn’t always perform it.

One of the many aspects that makes a Cohen concert so special is the wonderful band he has with him. We were treated to spectacular solos throughout including wind instruments from the super talented Dino Soldo and string solos from the legendary Javier Mas. In the words of Cohen himself The Webb Sisters are “angels fallen from heaven” and his musical director Roscoe Beck is the”pilgrim of perfection. Neil Larsen always brings tears to my eyes during his piano solo during Hallelujah. For Cohen to have long time friend Bob Metzger perform with himand with “master timekeeper” Raphael Bernardo Gayol keeping the beat it makes for a perfect combination and the respect between everyone on stage makes for a very special atmosphere which in all the concerts I attend I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Unfortunately for the fans this tour ends in December but Cohen himself promised a fan that he will be back. We live in hope that this does come to pass. He is due to head into studio to record his next studio album and if the songs premiered on this tour are an indicator of what is to come it is safe to say that over 40 years since his first album Cohen is still on top of his game when it comes to writing great music.