Feast of a ladies’ man
Leonard Cohen will be inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this fortnight. Kirstin Innes finds out about a very Scottish celebration of the man and his myths
There’s no particular reason why Glasgow poetry promoters Vital Synz are holding a Leonard Cohen Supper this fortnight. It’s not the great songwriter’s birthday, and he’s still, as far as we know, in rude health. He is being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on the Monday 10 March, but that seems to be entirely coincidental, too.
Yes, we said Leonard Cohen Supper. That’s your basic Burns Supper template, but with a completely different poet, and tea and oranges (‘Suzanne’’s sustenance of choice), rather than a haggis, piped in.
‘It’s a tongue-in-cheek celebration,’ says Donny O’Rourke, Scottish poet, broadcaster and Burns Supper host par excellence. ‘But that doesn’t mean some serious points won’t be made. We’ll be praising Lenny, of course, but also looking at some of the weirdnesses, contradictions and difficulties in his oeuvre too.’
While O’Rourke will be proposing a toast to Cohen’s Immortal Memory, and actor Stewart Ennis and former Bluebells the McCluskey Brothers will perform songs and poems from his forty-year career, don’t expect Liz Lochhead, who’s proposing a Toast To Lenny’s Lasses, to skip over the jet-black, often problematic, carnality at the heart of many of the lyrics. There will be screenings of rare archive performance footage, informal lectures on themes and motifs, and Cohen’s vegan dish and cocktails of choice for those interested in eating food and drinking wine.
Given the deep, almost devout reverence Cohen evokes in listeners worldwide, my next question for O’Rourke feels somewhat superfluous: why Cohen?
‘When I started out writing poetry and beginning to be published, I had no notion to be Hugh McDiarmid,’ he says. ‘My role model was Leonard Cohen, and those songs, his songs, I think, remain as good as any written at any stage in the history of songwriting.
‘The thing that makes a good Burns Supper is its tone. That tone has to be informed and respectful, but not po-faced or solemn; there must be wit and warmth and informality that can nonetheless create and sustain ritual and there’s something ritualistic about Cohen’s work in terms of his interests, his themes. Cohen is very much the rabbi, the bard, the European cabaret singer. And the spirit is important. We will hope, while having our tongues in our cheeks, to manage simultaneously to place our hands on our hearts. And we will celebrate him as he ought to be celebrated.’
Sing another song, boys.
Sloan’s, Glasgow, Thu 28 Feb, 7.30pm. Tickets £10 on the door or from www.vitalsynz.co.uk