Review: Leonard Cohen Appreciation Evening @ Art of Tea
A church hall on a Saturday night felt the right setting for what was the second evening of this year’s musical tribute to the late, unrivalled Leonard Cohen. The night before a similar event took place over the road, at Didsbury’s quaint café and occasional music venue, Art of Tea. People gathered on plastic chairs around fold-out tables, on a cold night in a community space.
The atmosphere (and the good people of Art of Tea operating the bar to provide refreshments and mince pies) and a few drinks gave all the warmth necessary, though. This was a community of people – performers and crowd – who share the feeling of Cohen’s music being something truly special.
This year saw the third annual event, to commemorate Cohen’s passing (the inaugural event was a few months after he died in 2016) and ran over two nights, such was the demand and popularity. Organised by Papillon Promotions, who facilitate many fantastic music nights (and day events too) in and around Manchester. The success, of the original idea, built on by last year’s nights led to it becoming an annual affair. This night looked sure to be a memorable one. Space was limited, but, in the spirit of togetherness that music has a unique ability to create, people invited strangers to join their table and soon nobody was a stranger. The music began just after 8pm, to the thrill of a keen audience.
Matt, who runs Papillon Promotions opened the night by welcoming and thanking everyone. He also announced that towards the back is a collection being ran for donations to Hope for Children Charity, that the night was put on in aid of, instead of an entrance fee. It really was an environment of giving, in more ways than one. Homage to the poetic brilliance and poignancy of a true legend, accommodating others and helping an important charity to be able help those in need. The standard was set by the first act and it all went from there. Gracious applause brought the first few songs to a close.
A few acts in and things only got more magical. The spells cast were the gifted and effortlessly entertaining singers and musicians, who were having as much fun as those who’d come to see them. This was a night put on and made possible by music lovers, for music lovers. Nothing could stop what was playing out, an example of the power that passion, enthusiasm and commitment brings. A real treat for all present. One or two technical hitches did try to stem the flow of merriment. That didn’t happen though. Absolute consummate professionalism meant that if necessary that performer would play without the sound system to amplify their guitar. Other musicians jumped up to help, offering their instruments and the wonderful Raffaello Porto (the evening’s appointed sound manager) got things back on track, which gave everyone another reason to cheer. And so, the show went on . . .
The structure of the night was governed by the sheer number of musicians queueing up to get a spot. It meant there was no time for a break. Nobody minded though. The sheer quality and range of performers was far too entertaining to think about stopping the flow. Other than people nipping to the loo or topping up their glass at the bar nobody really moved. With a massive back catalogue to choose from, hearing individual spins on absolute golden songs was as interesting as it was powerful. Each artist managed to express their love for Leonard Cohen and his often, mystifying sound. There were other collaborative efforts too.
The Stroke Society choir performed for the crowd, complete with their own guitarist. Though it’s impossible to single out any one performance as standout (the night certainly wasn’t a competition – it was a gathering of like minds), this group effort brought Cohen’s music to life in a different way. The energy of around 20 people or more belting out the same song totally filled the room. Though they knew it, they chose not to sing Cohen’s most famous song, Hallelujah. That was still to come. Matt also chose to collaborate with other artists, including the angel-voiced Catkin Gilligan and Hannah AC, who stunned the crowd to silence. This micro-collaboration was representative of theme on the night, with the audience (which also comprised those who’d either been on or were yet to go on) playing the role of unofficial backing singers too. Those who weren’t there to entertain on the night also played a crucial role. Melissa Finch gave her time to collect donations for Hope for Children.
As the evening was almost over, around 11pm, the final hymn of a song was sung and performed as Matt invited all who’d played to take to the stage again and offer one final tribute, a crescendo to a rousing success of a night and a touching celebration to a much-missed maestro. The performers huddled together. As a unit, Sam Rabin, Tony Harper, Hilary Troop, Harry Stafford, Kiki Trijber, Colin Cuningham, Hannah AC, Catkin Gilligan, Vincent O’Brien, Mathew Gray, Cal Rush Williams formed their own makeshift choir, led by matt who played the anthem of a song on guitar. All that ability and vocal range made for a rendition of Hallelujah that saw many in the audience stand for. A real ceremony of an affair. The vocals were shared out by individuals and for the chorus all joined in on the chorus. A mix of genders, ages and styles. The result was nothing short of sublime and shows just what happens when put together talented, dedicated musicians and massive fans of an artist. No wonder it had to have two nights given over for it.
On hand to capture the events was Colin Cunningham, who as well as being a gifted guitarist, performer and singer/songwriter also provides photography (with much experience and a portfolio of work available upon request) for gigs. As Sycamore Film and Photography, he is available to hire for shooting videos too. The services of many of the other performers are also available for hire, as well as some of their work being available to purchase. Details of their upcoming gigs can be found via their Social Media pages (Facebook) (MCR Live! hope to be attending some soon). Also, to be found via Facebook are the many up and coming nights that Papillon Promotions organise, including Bruce Springsteen – An Appreciation II (another annual event in the growing calendar), on Saturday December 15th 2018. Starts at 8pm and will take place in St James and Emanuel, Didsbury –once more in association with The Art of Tea (that it’s over the road from). This night will also serve to raise funds for the Hope for Children Charity.