Yes, yesterday was a truly marvellous day - moreso for some than for others, but I'll come to that later.
John and I drove into London from Gloucester, and by some miracle arrived at the Barbican car park without losing our way once. We made our way to Camden Town by tube, and had time to wander round the market and soak up some of the atmosphere there before heading off to the Green Note Cafe, where many old friends were already gathered though it was still before 12 o'clock. Thanks to Padma and Diane for finding such an excellent venue. We took the whole place over for the afternoon, and the food was as good as the company
Soon after we arrived, Pete sneaked onto the stage hoping nobody would notice and began an excellent set of Cohen tunes. He played the first few straight off without a break, and then got very embarrassed when he finally paused for breath and we all applauded. You really don't need to be so bashful, Pete, you're good!
Unfortunately, we had to leave before the end of Pete's set, as we had timed entry tickets to visit the travelling exhibition of the Terracotta Warriors from the tomb of the first chinese Emperor. Yes - that's right. We left! We missed meeting Leonard Cohen in order to see a load of clay statues!
Brief pause while I regain my composure
We rejoined the others (the lucky b....s) at the Barbican in time for the pre-show talk. This was billed as Philip Glass and Leonard Cohen in conversation, and I was not sure whether that meant in conversation with each other or with the audience. In the event, it was neither, or both, depending on how you looked at it. There was a journalist (whose name I unfortunately didn't catch) who acted as a sort of interviewer/facilitator and did an excellent job. I have since learned from a posting by richardrj on anothe thread that his name was John L Walters. The three of them arrived on stage to a standing ovation. I bet that doesn't happen often at pre-show talks! I wonder if Leonard knew that most of it was for him. I hope he did. He was wearing a silver-grey suit with a paler shirt and no tie, and he sat for almost the whole time with his hands clasped between his knees, reminding me of nothing so much as an errant schoolboy called to the headmaster's study.
John Walters asked intelligent questions that allowed Philip and Leonard to talk about the genesis of the piece then invited questions from the floor. I felt rather sorry for Philip Glass then. All the questions except one were for Leonard, and he fielded them with his usual blend of wit and charm, though after several questions had been posed in the evident belief that he was now a Bhuddist he did state quite categorically that he is not interested in bhuddism per se, that he only became a monk in order to be close to Roshi on appropriate terms, and that he already has a perfectly good religion thank you very much. (There were a couple of empty seats in front of us for the actual performance. I hope he didn't offend anyone, but if he did, I would think it was their problem rather than his.) Let me see, what else can I remember? I know he said he hoped to be touring next year, but then, he said that last year too. He was asked to recite 'A Thousand Kisses Deep' and obliged with three or four verses to great applause (he said he wouldn't subject us to the full 80 verses). It transpired that as part of the creation process for this work, Leonard had recorded the whole of the Book of Longing onto 4 CDs so that Philip could pick the bits he wanted for the performance at his leisure. One questioner asked if there was any chance that these could be made available commercially, and Leonard quipped "yes, if Philip will provide an arpeggioed background". He probably meant this as a polite "no", but I wonder if he could be persuaded to change his mind? Judging by the audience reaction, there would be a ready market for them. They also mentioned that they have already been discussing the possibility of setting parts of Beautiful Losers to music. We probably shouldn't hold our breath, as the current project was six years in gestation, but it's a mouthwatering prospect for the future. At one point Philip mentioned having had a bad review in London, and Leonard countered with the terrible review he got after the Isle of Wight festival, when one person wrote that "Leonard Cohen is a boring old drone, and should go the f... back to Canada where he belongs." This was met with embarrassed titters from the audience, who would have loved to show their solidarity with Leonard, but what could we do? Applause is generally taken as agreement! John Walters, bless him, came to our rescue by commenting that this must have been an all time low for british journalism, and this we could (and did) cheer vociferously. The discussion ended all too soon, and the trio left the stage, again to a standing ovation.
I approached the main performance with some uncertainty. We had met Anne from Canada on her way to the Green Note Cafe just as we were leaving. She had told us (was that a hint of a shudder in your voice, Anne, I was not sure at the time and am even less so now) that this was "modern" music, so I was a little concerned that we were in for an evening of dissonance and caterwauling. Far from it! The piece was tuneful, not to say lyrical in parts, with some very powerful settings, particularly of 'Puppets' and 'A Thousand Kisses Deep'. I liked the instrumental solos, which were each associated with a recorded reading by Leonard. I particularly liked the clarinet one, which followed Leonard's reading of 'Not a Jew'. I was less sure about the one on the double bass, but as this was one of the few occasions when people were moved to break the taboo on applauding during the course of a 'serious' piece of music, I take it I was in a minority there. The singers were excellent, and I particularly liked the way they moved about the stage and interacted with each other physically as well as vocally. Just before the piece started, a slight figure in a silver-grey suit emerged from backstage and took an end of row seat towards the rear of the auditorium apparently unnoticed by most people (he had a minder with him, so no lucky concert-goer got to sit next to the Master!). The piece ended to generous applause as the performers took their bows, but this became a standing ovation when Leonard himself was brought onto the stage, and it continued for some time. I'm not saying that the piece did not deserve every bit of the applause that it got, but I think people were just so very pleased to see Leonard out and about again.
We were unfortunately unable so hang around long after the end of the performance, as we had a long drive back to Gloucester, but I think I heard one person say that they would have been happier if it had been Leonard up there singing his own songs. (Please forgive me if I misunderstood, or if I am misrepresenting you.) Of course we would all have loved it if it had been Leonard, but we knew when we booked that it would not be, and I think it is unkind to criticise a piece for not being something it never set out to be. For me, it was a very affirming experience to hear Leonard's words so powerfully expressed by others in such a very different medium, and I hope that a recording of this piece will soon be available, as I would love to hear it again.