My sons bought me a surprise birthday present; a ticket to Leonard Cohen’s latest London concert.  A wonderful gift since they know (only too well!) that I have been a Leonard Cohen fan since before they were born.

I have heard Leonard Cohen live before – three or four years ago when he was doing concerts to replenish the savings he lost when he retreated into a monastery for a few years and his manager spent all his money.  He was terrific then but in the back of my mind I knew he was only performing for us because of financial necessity.  This time it was different (for me if not for him) because I have read that his coffers have been successfully replenished and that now he is doing live concerts because he wants to.

He genuinely appeared to be enjoying himself.  He skipped onto the stage, sometimes doing an imitation of the Monty Python sketch about the Ministry of Funny Walks, he performed a total of 22 songs, plus five encores, for three hours at the age of 78 (he becomes 79 later this month).  He was humble and gracious throughout, cracking delightfully self-deprecating jokes.

He started by thanking us profusely for coming and assuring us that he wasn’t yet ready ‘to hang up his boxing gloves’ – long interruption for rapturous cheering and applause – then added, ‘but I know where the hook is’ – much laughter and more rapturous applause.  He often referred to his age knowing, as we all do, that performing at his age is unusual and a touch absurd.  For example, when he accompanied himself on a keyboard, he played a few simple notes to more rapturous applause and when we had recovered our decorum he asked, ‘Are you humouring me?’  We, of course, all laughed and cheered again.  He waited for the din to die down, and, apparently genuinely touched, bowed and said, ‘If so I accept your compassion. You sure know how to treat the elderly’.  More rapturous applause!  You get the drift?

Leonard Cohen has a reputation for being gloomy and, if this was ever so, he has definitely cheered up.  I have always appreciated his dead pan, self-deprecating humour.  I remember years ago hearing him being interviewed on the radio.  The interviewer asked him where he got his ideas from and Cohen said from everyday happenings.  The interviewer wanted to know more and asked if Cohen carried a note book in which to jot down ideas as they occurred to him.  Yes, Cohen said, he carried a note book. The interviewer, growing ever more excited, asked if Cohen could give an example of a recent entry.  Cohen reluctantly obliged (you could hear pages turning) and said, ‘Here’s a recent entry.  Got up at 7, had a pee, took my medication, ate some breakfast.’  The interviewer, clearly disappointed, said, ‘Is that all?  I expected something more creative.’  Cohen said, ‘Yep, that’s it.’

I haven’t mentioned the songs but I’m assuming that if you have read this far, you love them as I do.  All the favourite oldies were there – Bird on the Wire, Chelsea Hotel, Suzanne, Hallelujah, Dance Me To The End Of Love, I’m Your Man, First We Take Manhattan, Everybody Knows, Tower of Song – as well as some of the more recent ones – In My Secret Life, A Thousand Kisses Deep, Alexandra Leaving – and a couple from his newest CD, Old Ideas.  I could have sung along to all of them but resisted the temptation for the sake of people in neighbouring seats. Leonard Cohen’s voice sounded as good as ever, perhaps even better if such a thing is possible.  The band and backing singers were spectacularly good.

As you can tell, I could not fault a single thing – but then I know I’m hopelessly biased!  Mind you, I am not alone; I have read two ecstatic five-star reviews in different newspapers.

There were a couple of other things Leonard Cohen did that I very much liked.  Firstly, when singing a song he often sank to his knees and, amazingly, could rise up again, without putting a hand to the floor, singing faultlessly throughout the manoeuvre.  Secondly, during spectacular solo performances by members of the band and the three female singers, Cohen removed his trilby and stood with head bowed in homage to their expertise.  There was nothing brash, nothing boastful. Cohen came across as a gentleman genuinely grateful that we, not far short of 20,000 people, had all turned out to see him.

As we all left, humming Cohen songs with smiles on our faces, an army of men proceeded to dismantle all the equipment, presumably in a hurry to get to the next venue, Rotterdam in two days time.  Quite possibly that’s the last time I’ll get to see Leonard Cohen – neither he nor I can go on forever – and if that proves to be the case all I can say is that he went out with a bang (Closing Time actually).  Truly wonderful stuff.


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