SOUNDS WRITE - Leonard Cohen

Legendary songwriter, performer, author and poet Leonard Cohen has had, for the most part of his lengthy career, something of a cult status, never really appealing to the masses, many of whom just didn’t really ‘get him’ or his music, believing (wrongly) that he was little more than a merchant of doom and gloom with his songs very likely to send the listener spiralling into a deep depression.

But that perception of Cohen has been completely turned on its head over the past two years when financial necessity (Cohen found that he had been duped out of several million dollars by a former manager/lover) meant that he was forced out of his on-stage retirement for a lengthy (and still ongoing) concert tour in order to recoup his losses.

This he has certainly succeeded in doing but at the same time, at the age of seventy-four, Cohen has gained himself a whole new audience, spanning every demographic, with his magnificent, truly uplifting shows that have been universally acclaimed, by both critics and fans alike, as amongst the very finest seen. The doubters have finally been won over, realising that Cohen’s music, especially when performed ‘live’, is in fact anything but a miserable experience and indeed, many thousands have left his shows on an exhilarating ‘high’. A Leonard Cohen concert is now just about the ‘hottest’ ticket around with the singer capable of selling out vast arenas in minutes, having now, in the twilight of his career, achieved genuine mass appeal, something that seemed most unlikely less than twenty-four months ago.

For fans who have admired Cohen for many a year, it is easy to be a little smug and wag their collective fingers in a “told you so” way to those who have only just ‘woken up and smelt the coffee’ with regard to finally recognising the brilliance of the man. And if anyone needs further evidence that Cohen has long been a musical treasure, they should check out the recently released 2CD & DVD of one of the singer/songwriters’ most revered performances at the Isle Of Wight Festival back in 1970. The Isle Of Wight Festival of that year was something of a glorious disaster with some 600,000 revellers in a field with barely enough facilities for 100,000. Cohen was one of the last acts to play, with the unenviable task of taking to the stage shortly after Jimi Hendrix’s slot during which the guitarist had set fire to the stage. By the time Cohen started his set at 4am, he was faced with a restless crowd and volatile atmosphere but his subsequent performance was remarkable for its poise, passion, zen-like calm, gently paternalistic attitude (he was already 35, twice the age of most of the audience) and the way in which it defused the tension that crackled in the air. Backed by a hand-picked band of musicians he called The Army and a trio of female vocalists, Cohen mesmerised the crowd with his early classics such as ‘Bird On A Wire’, So Long, Marianne’, Suzanne’ and ‘Famous Blue Raincoats’ as well as with his snatches of poetry between song anecdotes. Cohen never lets his grip slacken once over the 80 minutes he is on-stage, holding the audience firmly under his spell.

The DVD includes a beautiful film documentary from Academy Award winning director Murray Lerner and in addition has interviews with fellow festival performers including Judy Collins, Bob Johnston and Kris Kristofferson. Not only will this incredible CD & DVD package appeal to Cohen’s new, younger fans who will now get to witness for the first time this early career tour de force performance, it will also thrill all those who have been with him since the beginning and experienced this moment in Isle Of Wight history for themselves. And ‘Leonard Cohen Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970’ is a perfect reminder of why Cohen is still one of the most relevant and respected artists today.

There seems to be no limit to the amount of musical goodies that can still be unearthed from the vaults of the BBC and the newly released ‘Slade Live At The BBC’ (Salvo) 2CD set is a good case in point. It focuses on the group’s early career, drawing on material from the years 1969 through to 1972 when Slade metamorphosed from a bunch of West Midlands’ skinheads peddling their own brand of fairly hardish rock into all-conquering, chart-topping, long-haired, garishly clothed glam rockers.

It was a fascinating transition as on CD1’s ‘live in the studio recordings’ Slade come over as a competent, hard-working, earnest rock outfit with good but none too special compositions of their own and some fairly workman-like covers of songs by the likes of Traffic, Fairport Convention and even the Beatles but on CD2, which captures Slade in concert in 1972 when they were close to their peak, motoring along at breakneck speed, their performance was rebel-rousing and driven by the pneumatic drill-like shrill vocals of the charismatic Mr. Noddy Holder. There are superb renditions of their earliest and glorious glam anthems, ‘Coz I Luv You’ and ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now, which first revealed what were to become their signature miss-spelt song titles but it is the band’s energy that really grips you and despite this concert recording now being thirty-eight years old, it stands the test of time incredibly well. Although they were not without their knockers, when you look beyond their comic outfits and concentrate just solely on the music, it is easy to see how Slade were more than a little influential on a number of later bands, most notably Oasis.

Just around the same time (1972) that Slade were slipping into top gear and beginning to make an impact on the charts, another group, Roxy Music, were starting out on their own career path. Because they sported the outrageous outfits and wore make-up, Roxy Music were also bracketed as glam rockers when they first burst on the scene with their stunning debut single ‘Virginia Plain’ but Roxy was an altogether more sophisticated animal.

Formed by art school graduate and lead singer Bryan Ferry, Roxy Music had a unique sound that was an amalgam of avant-garde rock, new wave, electronica, early strains of punk and a good dollop of glam rock/pop. The resultant concoction of all these styles was oh so sophisticated and instantly appealed to the coolest cats on the street. Looking back now, Roxy were really pushing the musical boundaries, re-inventing the artistic and creative possibilities of rock and pop music and in many ways the group were way ahead of their time.

A new DVD entitled ‘More Than This: The Roxy Music Story’(Eagle Rock) traces the history of this most important and glamorous of bands but their story certainly deserves more time than the fiftysomething minutes of the main portion of the DVD that is actually an official release of a BBC documentary from last year. But the extras, in the form of additional interview material not seen when the documentary was first aired on TV together with three bonus live performances from London in 2006, does flesh out the DVD considerably.

The documentary features a wealth of wonderful archive footage of Roxy including their memorable early appearances on Top Of The Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test as well as interviews with past and present band members, ex managers and even the model, Kari-Ann Muller, who was on the cover of their first album. There’s a few too many other ‘talking heads’ though that pop-up in sound-bite form throughout the proceedings who don’t really add much value to the programme including celebrity fans Bono, Siouxsie Sioux, Duran Duran’s John Taylor and Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols but Nile Rodgers, renowned producer and the main man behind the disco dance outfit Chic, makes a valid contribution talking about Roxy’s influence on dance music. The real jewel in the crown however for Roxy fans on offer on this DVD are the tantalising shots of the reconvened original band members, including Brian Eno, in the studio again circa 2005, working on their eagerly anticipated but much delayed ‘comeback’ album which will be their first since 1982. When it finally comes out the new album certainly has a lot to match up to but, if any group are capable of living up to their own illustrious past then you would put good money on Roxy Music being the band to do so.

Comments (1)

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10:07pm Fri 12 Feb 10

chrisbaker says...

Leonard Cohen is of Jewish descent! The Western world has, throughout history, grossly maligned and denigrated Jewish people! Especially, controversially, so-called Xians! L.C. ia a warm, ironic, incredibly lyrical and profound poet, novelist and song-writer! When will we in the West; in the E.U. stop persecuting and misunderstanding the Jewish people because of our own self-righteous hypocrisy and mis-understandings?
Leonard Cohen is of Jewish descent! The Western world has, throughout history, grossly maligned and denigrated Jewish people! Especially, controversially, so-called Xians! L.C. ia a warm, ironic, incredibly lyrical and profound poet, novelist and song-writer! When will we in the West; in the E.U. stop persecuting and misunderstanding the Jewish people because of our own self-righteous hypocrisy and mis-understandings? chrisbaker
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