I attended the Dixon Studio in Southend last night (27 March 2022) for an intimate concert of the ‘Songs of Leonard Cohen’ performed by Keith James. This was, Keith proudly told us, concert number 518 performing Cohen’s songs. Wow! But it could well have been his first, such was his enthusiasm and passion for the songs he performed.
Keith is a prolific performer and has played over 1,500 gigs in the UK, Ireland, Holland, Spain, Italy and France. However, as a result of lockdown, Keith informed us he had 221 gigs cancelled. We can easily forget the impact lockdown had on musicians and the arts.
Keith opened the show with ‘Anthem’ dedicated to the war in the Ukraine. The line:
There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.
Never seemed more appropriate, especially when the song refers to refugees and the Holy Dove when we’re praying for peace and how a glimmer of light shining through a crack could bring about a lasting negotiated peace. seemed more appropriate when
In-between times, Keith treated us to: Suzanne, Sisters of Mercy, So Long Marianne, Chelsea Hotel No:2, Joan of Arc, First We Take Manhattan, The Night of Santiago, If It Be Your Will, Dance Me To The End Of Love (amongst many others) with meaningful and helpful introductions given to each song played. Keith wowed us with his rich baritone voice complimented by his quite sublime guitar playing.
Keith also played one of his own compositions based on the poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca – long known to have had a significant influence on Cohen’s own writings. Keith also included a rousing version of ‘All Around’ taken from his latest album ‘Can You Imagine?’ recorded during lockdown.
Keith says he has a struggle knowing what songs to leave in his set, and what to leave out, from Cohen’s vast catalogue. I’m glad I didn’t have to make that choice – it seemed a perfect set list to me, though I would have liked to have heard ‘Tower of Song!’
The final song ‘Hallelujah’ turned into a poignant worship experience as the vocal crowd sang along with gusto! Of course, the word ‘Hallelujah’ is a Biblical word which means means ‘Praise the Lord!’ I often wonder if people know what they are singing when they join in?
It was good to catch up with Keith and Jenny afterwards and it is quite amazing that after playing upwards of 1500 gigs, he still recognised Paula and myself and even remembered details of our conversations when he played a sold out House Gig at the Rectory in November 2019.
Keith has agreed to play a House Gig at Billericay Rectory on Friday 21 October 2022 performing the ‘Songs of Cat Stevens’ (at my request). This promises to be another excellent evening to look forward to. Watch this space for more details.
Keith really is a mesmerising performer and well worth trying to catch at a venue near you.