Keith James Sings The Songs Of Leonard Cohen
Falmouth Poly, Wednesday, April 27
Review by Peter Harlow
"OH NO, not Leonard Cohen. That's music to slash your wrists to." That was the response I got from some people when I said I was off to see this gig. To be honest, that was my gut feeling too, but my girlfriend is a big fan and so off we went.
And here I am, alive and happy, wrists not slashed, and spending some time listening to more Cohen songs online. I have been a bit converted.
Key to that conversion was the engaging Keith James, who had us eating out of his hands at this intimate acoustic gig. After we had all sung along to So Long, Marianne, he said: "We've turned this into our own little folk club." Indeed we had.
It was a sell-out crowd, and it became more atmospheric as the natural light faded and the candles that lit the room cast their gentle shadows. Guitarist Keith. A confident, accomplished performer and an excellent musician, he held us rapt throughout.
The songs were interspersed with stories about Cohen and about Keith's own adventures while touring this show. He explained his thoughts about many of the songs, which was a great boon for a novice like me but which also seemed to intrigue the aficionados in the room. After all, discussing the work of a poet like Leonard Cohen is a major part of his attraction for many.
For the record, my favourite songs on the night were First We Take Manhattan, some of the lyrics to which Keith described as "brutal" and which I felt would make an ideal cover for a heavy rock band brave enough to take it on; and In My Secret Life, which contained the lines "Looked through the paper, Makes you want to cry. Nobody cares if the people, Live or die."
That's certainly a sentiment which, as a journalist, should make you sit and think. And that's what a lot of the music on the night did – it made you think. That's what most of Cohen's songs are, thought-provoking…and when they are played so well, and by a musician with such a deep understanding and respect for the songs as Keith James, it's a cause for celebration not desolation.
I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed last night's gig at The Acorn. It was an evening of beautiful music and sublime words and I was engrossed...didn't even realize I was singing until you mentioned it. It did what all good music should do and transported me to other times/other places....and you sang Sad Lisa ( my favourite).
I particularly loved your setting of Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night...another favourite of mine. As a poet myself I felt inspired. Now I really must make an effort to discover Nick Drake. I believe he influenced my own personal musical heroine, Kate Bush.
I wonder if you know the singer/songwriter Jackie Leven. He also does tremendously powerful settings of poems to music. Anyway, thank you once again for a wonderful evening.
Apologies that we had to whizz off at the end – we brought a couple with us who had to get back (but at least we are spreading the word!). This evening was excellent – you really were on top form! We are really looking forward to the Cat Stevens concerts.
Do look after yourself and keep us posted on how things go.
Love and best wishes – thanks again for a great evening
Tracy and Richard x
I've just carefully read the poems included at the end of your latest circular and wanted to say I thought them profound and genuine, much to do with what could almost be called a sacramental view of experience. Anyway I liked and admire them..
Thank you, we really enjoyed your concert at the Square and Compass, the trip to Dorset to hear 'Always' was well worth it. We have played the album a lot and spent time getting to know it.The lyrics are really interesting and the pictures work so well with it. I was haunted by the words 'The Swallow who dared to touch ground' and then I realised the sub title for my dissertation is 'Daring to be Me'. I must write about that swallow!
I would be glad of any honest feedback on any of the writing, but no problem if time or interest does not call.
I have attached a selection of some of my writing in case you are still interested in reading some. It was difficult to know what to send so I have just put a selection from my writing portfolio for you to dip in if you want to.
Good luck with the Spanish performance of Always
Thanks for a great night Sunday in Plymouth. Hope you enjoyed your break.
Hi Keith, we really enjoyed your gig in Falmouth last night. As a guitarist and fan of John Martyn, it was good to hear altered tunings used so effectively. Delighted you included Spencer - one of my favourites.
We also enjoyed your opening set, a delightful mix of material and a great showcase for your guitar work.
I’ve had a listen to ‘Always’ and really enjoyed it. The fullness of the backing instruments perfectly balances the intricate guitar, your poetic lyrics come across much clearer on the album.
Steve & Vanessa
Really enjoyed seeing you at Wells Next the Sea . Loved your interpretation of the songs and musical arrangements.
We were on holiday from Nottingham for the week.
Thank you for a lovely evening.
I've spent a lot of time exploring Nick's catalogue with my guitar and occasionally playing his songs at open mic nights. It was an honour to spend an evening listening to someone else who has obviously done the same.
I was born twenty years too late to have been alive for any of his career but I can't imagine a better way to cherish Nick's legacy than your show at Blue Sky last night.
Last evening I had the pleasure of hearing Keith James for the first time it was a truly magical and blessed experience and wonderful to be in the presence of Nick Drakes music and spirit
Sarah Louise Vickers
Just a note to say how much we enjoyed your show last night at The Comfy Bookshop, Coventry. You played Nick's songs beautifully. Particular favourites of ours were Parasite, Black Eyed Dog (Which was stunning) and Place to Be. I was hoping you'd play Road too but I was too shy to ask! We hope your stay in rugged Coventry was a pleasant one. On that note, you probably already know that Beverley Martyn was from here and I'm sure you also know too that Nick played Coventry on his fateful student union and social clubs tour that you referred to. He played an Apprentice Christmas Ball at the Alvis Factory Ballroom in 1969 apparently. Long gone but it was where the B&Q now stands. As Nick played they cleared away the tables for the dancing... so the story goes. So sad.
We were at the Lunar Festival in Tanworth in Arden last weekend. They had Nicks actual copy of Bryter Layter playing on his parents record player. It was a special very late evening event and ticketed. We didn't go but we were camping very close to the secret location and the Bryter Layter drifted through the woodland to us. I think the experience was maybe more magical (it helps me get over missing out on a special ticket anyway).
All the very best for now.
Martin Bird and Kate Shaw. (Both born the month Pink Moon was released)
Dear Keith James,
A long time friend of mine Graham Marshal, a nuclear engineer and a fine craftsman in glass and lead and other arti-facts arranged that I could her your perform t the Subscription Rooms in Stroud on the 14th of this month of May.
I had not heard of Nick Drake, so it was a pleasure to hear. I sat and listened to your portrayal of the poetry of Lorca, Leonard Cohen and Dylan Thomas. All of them words that have become part of my own lyrical life. I have referred to Lorca in a poem I wrote many years back.
It was Graham who introduced you too me because of my close association with Dylan Thomas. I sang and spoke in poetic language with whilst drinking together with the Irish playwright, poet and IRA activist Brendan Behan and others in a Camden pub just a week or so before Dylan left for New York, never to return.
I wrote of this in a prose article published in a one of the alternative magazines of the early 1960’s GLOBAL TAPESTRY. The article, Drinking with Writers and Poets, is included in my (self-published) book of poetry and prose LIFELINES. A collection of poetry and prose that has been published and broadcast over a number of years.
I attach information about my book as well as some photographs where I play the roles of Mr. Pritchard and Lord Cutglass in a 1971 production of UNDER MILKWOOD. From where I received high praise for my version of Lord Cutglass in the London Theatre press.
My book LIFELINES has been supported and taken into the SAISON POETRY LIBRARY and ARCHIVES at The Royal Festival Hall. I am in good harmony with the director and I would like to propose to them that they get in touch with you. They have a bust of Dylan Thomas in their main performance area.
Another poet, writer, film maker and playwright who was a very close friend of mine was B S Johnson.
Have you read any of his work? He was a poet and writer forgotten, but is now becoming a rising star in the world of British literature of the 20th century.
I was very moved by your performance and would be interested if you would like to come and perform in the Netherlands.
Bill Holdsworth MSc
thanks for tonight, really enjoyed it, and my new gig buddies did too! :)
See you in November!
Good evening Keith
Liz and I thoroughly enjoyed 'Time Let Me Play' at the Rondo Theatre, Bath after we were unable to make your concert at the Norwegian Church, Cardiff Bay. So glad that we managed to get your last CD on the night. Wonderful!
Looking forward to catching another of your concerts soon.
David and Liz
I did enjoy you're show, best guitar playing I had ever seen, including many months in Spain. Bob.
Maybe I'm showing my lack of musical education, but if there isn't already a word to describe the setting of poems to music there should be, and you should be listed in Wikipedia as a master of the art!
Have a good trip and a great Easter,
Thank you from Denbigh - an interesting enlightening evening - I will come along to the evening of Dylan Thomas's poetry in songs later this year.
here is the link to the version of 'If it be your will' by Antony - worth a listen. www.last.fm/music/Antony/_/If+It+Be+Your+Will
regards - Tony
Good afternoon Keith
Just a quick email to say how much Liz and I enjoyed your setting of music to the poetry of Dylan Thomas.
I can only recall music to Dylan Thomas by one other artist and that was Sian James who set 'Evening Prayer' to Troyte's chant.
As ever, a wonderful evening and we look forward to your next visit to Cardiff.
David and Liz James
Many thanks for an exceptional night in Bridport on Sunday. Beautiful interpretations of brilliant songs - loved your own stuff as well, so hope you do make it back this way with the Dylan Thomas tour.
We are the couple that you kindly gave an extra cd to at the Acorn in Penzance last Friday.
We are currently sipping dry white wine and listening to your mix tape, which is great.
It was a fantastic concert on Friday night and having seen you 4 or 5 times now we always look forward to your visits to Cornwall, even though it has been a long wait recently.
So sorry to hear about your health problems. We were both really shocked by what you told us. I guess that we kind of assume that you are pretty much immortal and will continue to turn up in Cornwall every now and again playing your beautiful music for ever. Hopefully you are fully recovered and restored to good health.
We think that what you do is really special and magical. There is no-one else that we are aware of doing this sort of thing. Your interpretation of Lorca is wonderful and we listen to Lorca and Poet in New York a huge amount. It is great that you are dealing with some of the greatest poetry from the 20th century in this way.
Anyway, before this all gets to sound too pretentious, we just wanted to say how much we enjoy your music and how special it is to us.
We are really looking forward to the Dylan Thomas tour. When you are down in November if you fancy a drink or a bite to eat after the concert we would be happy to treat you, although we appreciate that you will probably have lots of other people to catch up with, so we won’t be in the least offended if that is the case…but we would also hate to think that you were at a lose end.
Do take care of yourself and keep producing music and words of such beauty and emotion. It is truly special.
Thanks so much
Tracy and Richard
I could not believe your performances of his songs.. amazing and completely intoxicating!! Most of the time I had to close my eyes with tears over my face. Your version of Famous Blue Raincoat was so passionate; more than a person should have to bare! Best of luck for your tour in 2014.
~God bless, Sophie x
Any chance you will be playing in Norfolk or Suffolk sometime?
That was quite extraordinary! I did not know what to expect, but your personal interpretations are not only exquisite but somehow more than!
Cheers, Rog. Caffe Vista, Tenby
Really enjoyed your fabulous voice in Windsor.
Thank you for the Hull Adelphi was sound. Like to catch a smoke with ya sometime your a clever and learned bloke. you remember me i was there early with me dad.
Happy christmas fella
Fantastic! Amazing guitar playing. I enjoyed your Lorca poems, you had the audience in your hand.
Greg and Susan. See you next time.
‘I just love your playing dude’
Keith James @BlackBoxBelfast was a lovely gig. #nickdrake
Great night @BlackBoxBelfast! Nick drake tribute by Keith James!! Thanks @PaulStafford12!n #fruittree #3hours
Lovely Gig @BlackBoxBelfast Keith James Songs of Nick Drake is an affectionate tribute , poignant and heartfelt . #pinkmoon #nickdrake
Hi Keith, on behalf of the twins (Paul and David,) and myself [the one on sticks.] I would just like to say "Thank you for another fantastic evening at Solihull on Friday last 18th May." We enjoyed every moment of the evening. Looking forward to next year if you visit Solihull again.
Best wishes. Paul
Hello Keith, We really enjoyed your acoustic set in the Unicorn, Abingdon on April 5th. Hope your return journey was more pleasant. If you are back in the area we have a supply of red wine!! Cheers
Enquiry: Hi Keith,
I used to often see you at wine bars in the early 80's and had a collection of your albums. Unfortunately, I lost them all during a very messy divorce 20 years ago and, I guess out of nostalgia more than anything, was wondering if any of those old recordings were still available as CDs or MP3's?
Glad to see that you are still doing well.
Dear Mr. James,
Sorry to trouble you but are you "and I believe you are" the same keith James that played small gigs In Farnham Surrey. Places such as:
Sevens Wine bar and the seven stars possibly?
I used to work in the Local Record Shop "Venus Records" back in the late 70's early 80's.
I think you wee hoping for a record deal and possibly had a release?
What happened to your old albums?
I have move to Lincolnshire near Barton Upon Humber.
I have just viewed the Ropery Hall listing and noted you are playing.
I have briefly viewed your website and noted some pictures from the West End Centre Aldershot.
If I'm free when you are playing I might possibly come along.
Good to see you are still doing touring.
If you have time to reply that would be good.
Thanks for your time.
Kind Regards & Thanks,
Enquiry: Wanted to thank you for the WONDERFUL concert you gave at Folkestone last Friday. Yes the conditions were bad, freezing, and the audience was small, but select. I thought your performance was BRILLIANT.
Thank you. Keep at it!
Following up on your excellent performance at the Stables, all of which as ever was brilliant (except that I didn’t like Suzanne – it is one of my very favourite Cohen songs and I am quite “precious” about it!).
Anyway, I spoke to you afterwards about k.d. lang’s “Hymns of the 49th Parallel” and in particular “The Valley”. Please find attached a copy of that track. I am following that up with another e-mail attaching a clip from an interview on Radio 4, where k.d. explains the meaning behind the song, in which I thought you might be interested.
I hope you enjoy it and maybe we’ll see it in your repertoire one day.
Looking forward to your coming to the Stables again – with your Canadian Songbook tour – you’ll have to work on Alison….
Enquiry: Just to say how much i enjoyed your concert this week at the Maltings, Farnham! intimate setting, cafe theatre style, great lighting and superb music. i will remember your Bird on the Wire for a long time to come. Good luck in the future.
I have seen you do the Leonard Cohen gig in Greenwich, which I found very inspiring. It was great. Last year, or possibly the year before.
Do you have a postal address that I can send a video to? Oddly enough, I have made dance works to both Leonard Cohen songs and Nick Drake songs. and I have a video of the Nick Drake one (which I used 'Magic' for) that you might find interesting (or might hate of course). If you let me know a postal address I could post you a CD.
Best wishes. Sarah
I felt the need to write to say how much Sonya and I enjoyed your music and your performance at the Astor Theatre Deal last Friday. We are both ardent Cohen fans, having seen the great man perform no fewer than 9 times, the last three occasions during his most recent tour at the O2, but totally bought into your very beautiful & personal interpretation of his work and in doing so making it your own, absolutely wonderful. The intimacy of the Astor lent itself well, I think, to creating an evening that felt like 'old friends' enjoying an evening of each others company, a truly intimate experience. Not only could I enjoy your singing, your anecdotes and indeed dry, wry humour, but as we were sitting right in front of you I became mesmerised by your fluent guitar playing, just amazing. I spend a great deal of time in my car travelling around the country and since Friday I think I have listened to the album that we bought that night no fewer than 5 times and will do again tomorrow and my long journey from Bath back to London. The CD sits in my cars multistack, in great company, as three of the other CD's currently in the machine are from the great man himself. We both look forward to joining you again, when the opportunity presents itself. Steve & Sonya
Just to say how much i enjoyed your concert this week at the Maltings, Farnham! intimate setting, cafe theatre style, great lighting and superb music. i will remember your Bird on the Wire with louise for a long time to come. Good luck to you both in the future. Anne Macpherson
Many thanks to you both for a wonderful evening at The Blue Walnut Cafe,Torquay.Great venue and atmosphere .Thoroughly enjoyed your sensitive performance of the songs of the best singer / songwriters of all times.Your voices are beautiful. All the best for the tour. Hope to catch you in Cardiff. Sheila and Alan Jones
I saw Mr James at the Bury Met Saturday last, 18th June. Remarkably similar to Scott’s review. As Scott says his introduction to the songs were interesting though sometimes an opinion was voiced as fact. It was obvious, though, that Keith has a profound love of Leonard’s songs. Keith is an extremely accomplished guitarist, though with a few songs I felt his arrangements added layers of complexity rather than the ‘stripped-back’ versions promised. His voice is a little bland, could do with more “edge”. Having said that, the songs were all well done and, in some cases, verging on the splendid. Particularly, I enjoyed the joint rendition (with Louise) of Chelsea Hotel. We too, had the instruments of percussion. I managed to avoid them all, even though I was sat in the front row (old habits die hard!). Keith provides a tribute (in the broadest sense) to Leonard’s songs; but is by no means a “tribute band” in the manner of The Clone Roses or Dread Zeppelin. Keith did give an interesting take on many of the songs and, overall, it proved to be an enjoyable evening. Certainly worth seeing. Ciarán
Went to see Keith James at Buxton last night. This was my second time. Actually, because I knew what to expect in terms of his interpretations of the songs, it was even more enjoyable. I could sit back and immerse myself into the songs without constantly having the originals echoing in my head. Observing his guitar work from the third row was also a delight. The interesting thing to share here is that the concerts continue next year - Keith mentioned another 40 dates for next spring. There are some already appearing on his site. BTW no instruments of percussion for the audience for So Long Marianne. They've stopped doing that but still invite the audience to sing along with the chorus ... and we did Well worth seeing. Pete
I was at the Brixton concert tonight but forgot to leave my email. That was the most beautiful concert I have ever been to! Beautiful voices and guitar playing, thank you.
Hi Keith, tremendous concert again in Hay on Friday night. I’m new to Leonard Cohen but of those songs I have heard, I prefer your interpretation. Just one question, who makes the big dreadnought guitar you used with a beautiful sound?
Many thanks, Julian Reeves
Just wanted to say a 'BIG' Thank you for the wonderful evenings entertainment I had at Stamford last night. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was so impressed with the Music,Poems,Funny Bits,everything in fact! You are both so talented.Certainly an evening I will treasure. Hope to catch you again when your back round this way. Good Luck with the rest of the tour,take care
Best wishes, Sue x
p.s Loved your Shirt !!!!!!!!
Thoroughly enjoyed concert at Stamford tonight. MANY thanks to you and Louise. Massively impressed with your musical skills. Very moved by the last number by the way and totally impressed with your own song.
Just a note to say how much I enjoyed last night at Norden Farm. Like many of the geriatrics there, I've been a follower of the Sainted Cohen since the late 60s. Re other artist’s interpretation of Cohen, my all time favourite is a Jenifer Warnes LP circa 1979. Also I agree with you on Famous Blue Raincoat, definitely the best. Cheers
I went to see Keith James last Tuesday 17th May in Liverpool. The gig was in a small modern cinema and arts centre and was actually in a cinema with Keith stood in front of the stage and about 100 comfy seats. The gig was not sold out but Keith said a lot of his shows have been. I was on the front row not that it really mattered where one sat. For the most part Keith sang on his own but on half a dozen songs his "friend" Louise joined him on vocals and actually this enhanced the sound as it sweetened Keith's voice which otherwise was not quite "velvety" to be confused with Leonards. Louise sang a great solo but I have forgotten what song. Keith sang several of his own songs most of which were based on or contained the words of the Spanish Poet Federico Garcia Lorca who is a great inspiration of Leonard Cohen and whom Leonard's daughter is named after. I enjoyed Keith's own songs. Keith also sang great Neil young and Joni Mitchel covers. Regarding Keith singing Leonard's songs is concerned I would say it was in no way a copycat tribute act or impersonation of Leonard but a respectful interpretation of the master. Keith's versions of Leonard's songs were excellent but they were versions and I would suggest about 75% a copy. Keith introduced Suzanne as being his own interpretation but even that was quite recognisable as to the original. Would I recommend the show? Yes. Firstly it was a very nice evening’s entertainment and secondly it was very relevant to being a Leonard Cohen fan. Keith introduced every song with some of his thoughts and this enhanced the show in a way that could often be annoying and a waste of time.
A good friend and escort to LC concerts has just stumbled across an ad for Keith James and we were in two minds whether to go but having read all your comments, we must give it a go.
A great evening at The Kitchen Garden Cafe last night. Laura and I represented the forum but met other Cohen fans (Hi Rob!) and others who weren't fans but inquisitive. Keith acknowledged that there were a few 'die-hards' amongst the audience and then asked, innocently, for the name for a collection of Cohen fans. Some wit shouted 'a gloom of Cohen fans' as for the performance- it was most enjoyable. I didn't know quite what to expect and was apprehensive about what one man (and Louise accompanying for some songs) would do with a whole evening of Cohen compositions ( with 3 exceptions) but I can definitely say that it worked. His dexterity on his varying guitars was a pleasure to watch and to listen to. His arrangements retained the essence of each song whilst providing sufficient diversity to offer a refreshing listening experience. His voice soothed, soared and sometimes deepened from song to song. ..and there was audience participation with 'So Long Marianne' - even with audience members on varying forms of percussion. That's the only song we were allowed to accompany although I did hear Laura quietly singing along with 'Famous Blue Raincoat'
Keith also slipped in one of his own songs. I bought one of his other CDs to explore more. What I like about it that he hasn't added more musicians to the studio recording (except for double bass). I got caught out with a Harvey Andrews album when I went one of his concerts and really enjoyed one man and guitar so bought his latest CD and it had a wealth of musicians on which actually spoilt the songs - but that's another story!
The Kitchen Garden Cafe is a great venue - very intimate and atmospheric. It is a cafe and a gardening shop in the day time but some evenings it transforms into this wonderful music venue. Keith has appeared before and he will be returning.
I wonder if you'll notice, the exquisite way he says, "yes" in FBR.
I agree, a fine evening of (mostly) Leonard's songs. There was an audible intake of breath when Keith James suggested that "not everything Cohen has recorded is absolutely brilliant".
As I was leaving I had a chat with a group of twenty year olds who were very knowledgeable about all things Cohen, the future may not be entirely murder.
An enjoyable night it was in Cardiff, meeting with Rob and Ann to see Keith James. We thought the highlights were his excellent covers of Famous Blue Raincoat (which he called the best song ever written), and Chelsea Hotel. He had a singer accompanying him, Louise, and she did a fine solo version of Bird on the Wire. As well as a number of LC songs, we heard a couple of poems from Let us Compare Mythologies put to music, plus some Lorca, and I give him a gold star for Woodstock from his recent Great Canadian Songbook tour. He mentioned that there had been a lot of interest in his current tour because of Leonard's popularity, and that there are even some obsessed people around, who would die rather than miss anything LC had ever done. Whoever does he mean? An evening well worth catching if you can!
Dear Keith and Louise
A brief note just to say that Cathy and I had a terrific evening at your concert last night. We both enjoyed it enormously.
Sorry I didn’t leap up to be your Percussion Monitor but if I pick up anything that is connected with the making of music it explodes on contact in order to protect the general public from the noises that I am likely to make. The only safe involvement I can have with music is to listen.
Warmest Regards, Jim
John Cairney commented on a post you were tagged in. "absolutely fantastic night."
Enjoyed your set and our chat last night in the square and compass. Here are some links to Djavan. Hope you like!
Dear Keith and Louise, Thank you both for the most wonderful Concert that you performed last night. I was not expecting to enjoy it so much but all doubts vanished when I met you both.
I have posted an item on the Leonard Cohen Forum which you might like to read.
I hope to see you in Solihull in June.
Have a Great Tour. My very best wishes to both of you. Rob Sheen
Lovely show tonight at The Blues Bar! Thanks for coming to Harrogate.
Dennis Gerald Blair