Copyright by Ania Nowakowska
Artwork copyright © by Ania Nowakowska

In his book Take This Waltz - A Celebration of Leonard Cohen, (Canada 1994), Jim Devlin shares his recollection of the December 4, 1979, Hammersmith Odeon concert. Song(s) from this concert will be featured on Field Commander Cohen: Tour Of 1979:

"After all these years, I can't remember the chap's exact words, but it was something like: 'Ladies and Gentlemen, we regret that the Leonard Cohen concert will not be starting on time as there still are a few problems with the sound... we hope it will not be too long before the start of the concert and we do apologize for this delay...' The P.A. clicked off.

"Some of us just shrugged, lots made a low, groaning noise (not quite in harmony but it suggested E minor to me), and others continued to pore eagerly through Leonard's new book, Death of a Lady's Man. I'd just bought my copy that night too, and inscribed it immediately - London, December 4, 1979, Hammersmith Odeon.

"After about 20 minutes, a few fans started singing 'Why are we waiting?', taken up good humouredly by quite a few more (perhaps now in G minor) and any tension among the waiting throng was easily dissolved. Everyone found their voice at about 8:30 and united in a great cheer when the doors finally opened and we flooded in for the concert.

"And what a concert! I didn't have a pen or pencil to jot down the songs (my first regret of the evening, though only a slight one); in hindsight, mind you, after the first few songs, I'd probably not have been able to do so as Leonard was slowly and inexorably weaving his magic web of sound throughout the auditorium, wrapping us all in his famous blue raincoat, demanding our silence at the trial of a singer who had to die, begging us to tell him the whereabouts of his gypsy wife... He sang and sang and sang. His voice and guitar and back-up musicians (a young "fusion" band to quote the programme, called Passenger, plus violinist Raffi Hakopian and several others) filled the place with so many of his familiar and best-loved songs in such fresh arrangements they (almost) sounded like new songs; and even those from his most recent album - Recent Songs, of course (which I played over and over again since its release a couple of months earlier) - sounded new and a little unfamiliar. Perhaps it was just the excitement of being at my first Leonard Cohen concert; perhaps it was because it was my very first ever gig at the Hammersmith Odeon; or maybe, and perhaps this is the real reason: it was just... the songs. Sung by their best singer, their composer.

"Leonard was dressed in black; and when singing solo, standing in the spotlight, he delivered his lines with emotion, passion and verve; and in one particular song, 'Memories', with a great sense of humour - complete with 'Sha la la's'; and dancing girls - Jennifer Warnes and Sharon Robinson, his brilliant back-up vocalists, doing a marvellous Ronettes routine! God, it made me laugh; and not only me, for the whole place echoed with cheers and laughter every time he belted out:

Ah but won't you let me see I said won't you let me see
Won't you let me seeeeeeeeeeeeee
Your naked body?
Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh

"Of course we had the real Cohen too; lovely versions of 'Who by Fire', 'Chelsea Hotel #2', 'Field Commander Cohen', and many more. Sometimes a song-title was shouted out from the audience but from where I was sitting I couldn't tell if Leonard obliged - he just kept singing one great song after another.

"I had to leave before the end (obviously my biggest regret of the evening) to catch a midnight train, but I carried away with me my own set of memories which have lasted ever since. This Leonard Cohen concert which for me had promised so much, had, in truth, delivered so much much more."

Copyright 1994 © Jim Devlin
Reprinted with permission

Many thanks to Jim Devlin for allowing us to reprint his wonderful memories of this concert. Thanks also to Judith Braun for her typing efforts.

Personal Recollections:
Leonard Cohen Live
London, December 1979

by Jim Donoghue
University of Limerick, Ireland

In December 1979 I was working in London where I had the wonderful experience of seeing Leonard Cohen live at the Hammersmith Odeon. My recollections are very clear since it was such a beautiful evening with an artist who really cared for his audience and his musicians. However, first you should know that Leonard was very out of fashion during these confused times. The UK music press were victims of the post-punk hiatus and a palatable anti-art tone was everywhere - Leonard with his articulate songs and his focus on craft clashed with the vogue for content free cyniscism.

These concerts were to back up Recent Songs which had been released a couple of months before. They had a very low profile advertising campaign, indeed I only found out about them since I lived a couple of blocks from the theatre. At first when the neon went up the concert was headlined as "Leonard Cohen in Concert, Support Act - Passager." This was changed to "Leonard Cohen in Concert - No Support starts 8 pm sharp!"

The evening began punctually with the band arriving on stage. First impressions were - this is a whole orchestra! - nine members-seven players, two singers. I'd seen Leonard three times before but only with a four or five piece. The whole stage was required to contain them and their equipment. After a band tune up, Leonard walked on in a black suit and a white T-shirt, guitar in hand - "Good evening friends". He plugged into the amp and "Like a bird..." we were off on a concert that was to last three and a half hours. Throughout the evening as a musician would take a solo, e.g., Mitch on "Bird On The Wire", Leonard would turn to them and listen in appreciation, especially so with Raffi and John. The sound was unmistakedly Leonard with the voice in resonant form but underpinning it was this almost middle eastern motif of violin/oud/mandolin. Technically sound quality was exceptional, every word clear, every note a crystal - Leonard's own guitar was often to the front and a rare delight - okay, it's the only chop he has but nobody else can play it!

I don't remember all the songs but after checking a review from the time I see "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye" was followed by "Who By Fire" (very similar to the Cohen Live version). A couple of Recent Songs were next - "The Gypsy Wife" and "The Guests" - both featured Raffi and John to great effect. "Passing Thru" with the extra verse about Billy Holiday was sung by what seemed like the whole theatre, around 3000 people, then an almost baroque version of "One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong", Leonard singing with real passion on the "Come into the storm" chorus. Then "Field Commander Cohen" - buoyant and more strident than the album version. "So Long, Marianne" closed the first half - again where I was, eight rows back, everyone was singing along.

After the break Leonard returned on his own for two acoustic numbers, one being "Chelsea Hotel" ("a weightless eulogy for a great singer"). I think there was an extra verse about "like Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald", very poignant, absolute silence during the song. Huge applause. Then Leonard started "The Stranger Song". At the start of the second verse he stopped and grinned - he had forgotten the lines! "Slippery character the stranger." Laughter from the audience. He collected his thoughts and started again - this time absolutely perfect really showing off the Cohen guitar sound and golden voice. A standing ovation. Leonard was quite touched by the audience's encouragement. He thanked all of us "for your interest in my work, for letting me live the life of the heart and not believing the shit they write about me." The audience went wild - here was our man!

The band rejoined with a delicious version of "Famous Blue Raincoat" which was delivered with a flute solo by Paul Ostermayer. "The Smokey Life" followed with superb contrast in voices between Jennifer and Leonard, then two upbeat, more rock-based songs - "There Is A War" and the Specteresque "Memories", with an animated Leonard sans guitar and soulful sax from Paul. "I Tried To Leave You" ("Another song from the marraige bed") and "Why Don't You Try" ("There are those you marry, those you love and those you are stuck with" - lots of knowing laughs) were followed by "Suzanne" - exquisite in being underplayed ("The first of my so called important songs"), "The Window" and "Sisters Of Mercy" coming next.

Leonard finished as I started with "Bird" but we all knew it was not over. EIGHT encores were played. I don't remember all of the songs (and I have forgotten others I am sure) but I remember roses being thrown on the stage. Leonard said he would play till they pull the plugs out. After about 30 minutes the management told him they were going to do that! He smiled at us all, thanked us, the musicians and crew by name plus the suppliers of the instruments and equipment, told us he hoped to meet us all again "further down the road". A third rendition of "Bird On The Wire" finished the glorious occassion. The lady who I took turned to me and said "I'll have to buy his records now" - to this day she still does. We should all look forward to the release of this record - it will be something special. Bravo Leonard and thank you.

Copyright 2001 © Jim Donoghue
Reprinted with permission

And bravo to Jim Donoghue for sharing his precious memories and making this great concert real for us.

Continue on to Page II of The Tour   

Return to the Home Page   Read the liner notes written by Leonard for the new album.   Learn which band members will solo on the new album.
A list of songs featured on the new live album.   Study the notebook pages where Leonard began Field Commander Cohen.   Prepare to be dazzled by this photographic tour from the lens of Hazel Field.   Read what the press has to say about the new live album.   Harry Rasky filmed his documentary during the 1979 tour.  Now Rasky has a new book about his experience.