Tom Northcott
Canada 1997

l.  The guests
2.  Dance me to the end of love
3.  I left a woman waiting
4.  Paper thin hotel
5.  True love leaves no traces
6.  If it be your will
7.  Tower of song
8.  I'm your man
9.  Tonight will be fine
10. Hallelujah

Tom Northcott and his band: Daryl Burgess - drums, Norm Fisher - bass,
Robbie Steininger - electric guitar, Michael Creber - piano, organ, synth

Dear Tom,

..and thank you for your gifts, the red wine, the brandy, and especially your CD "Joyful Songs of Leonard Cohen". I am grateful to you for the title and for the understanding behind the title. Thank you for your honest voice, your musical and technical skills, and for this fraternal gesture.

We haven't been drinking much up here since you left, but I think we're going to open that red wine tonight.

Here's to you, Tom.

Mt.Baldy Zen Centre, July 26, 1997. Leonard

Leonard and Tom at the Rinzai Zen Center on Mt. Baldy, July 1997. The photo was taken by Tom's son, Dan Northcott.

Tom's 1971 version of Suzanne

Tom Northcott recorded his version of Cohen's Suzanne already in 1971. The song is still available on The Best Of Tom Northcott compilation cassette. It has been issued by Neptoon Records, 5750 Fraser Street, Vancouver, B.C. V5W 2Z5, Canada.

Part of Tom Northcott's interview

WCMR: Before you came full circle and began to record your vocal interpretations of one of your fellow songwriters, Leonard Cohen, you got quite a bit of airplay with some single releases on both AOR and Canadian Country radio.

NORTHCOTT: I continued to record my own material, songs like The Trouble With Love and Total Emotion and eventually put out a CD, So You Thought You Heard It All in 1992. Some of the singles got quite a bit of airplay on country radio in Canada which is where the folkies were being played then.

WCMR: And then you came up with the idea of recording some cover tunes, like you'd done back in the sixties when you covered Dylan, Donovan, Nilsson and Leonard Cohen. This time there was a real focus to your project.

NORTHCOTT: One of the things that I think is missing in North America is the full embracement of the dark side of western civilization. Leonard Cohen speaks that so well. When I go to Leonard Cohen concerts I come out wondering, "Why is it that he is singing these `black lyrics' and everybody is coming out grinning from ear to ear?" ...This guy sounds like he's slittin' his wrists onstage, and yet everybody is grinning. He speaks to a part of ourselves that is not spoken to that often. I wanted to express that side of my personality as well. Also, by singing somebody else's lyric, I get to forget entirely about my judgments about my own songs.

There's quite a few elements that went into it. Also I had the sense that the world needed to hear Leonard Cohen's songs and to know about his way of feeling, his way of seeing the world. It seemed that I was an interpreter. I do that in mediation. I help people to express themselves. I see myself as Leonard Cohen's faithful interpreter here. And I put my own spin on a few of his words, but I have tried to be absolutely, literally true to his lyric.

WCMR: I'm a big fan of the new album, Tom. I believe you really have penetrated through to the essence of each song, and I've never heard you sing better. Tell us how you went about recording the tracks.

NORTHCOTT: When I recorded the Joyful Songs Of Leonard Cohen album, I used my mediation-personal-development approach to life. I really got out of the way of the musicians, and let them do what they do best, which is play. I phoned drummer Darryl Burgess, who I have tremendous respect for, and I said, "I wanna cut this Leonard Cohen project. It's called Joyful Songs Of Leonard Cohen. I want to take a fresh look at a bunch of his tunes. Who would you like to work with?" Darryl said, "I'd like to work with Robbie Steininger, Norm Fisher and Michael Creber."

WCMR: An awesome band!

NORTHCOTT: Well, there was only a two-day opportunity in a three- month window that everybody could get together to record the bed tracks. I got Blue Wave Studios and I asked Darryl, "which engineer?". He said, "That guy, that... guy!" And I said, "Keith Stein?" And Darryl said, "Yeah!".

I made up very elementary charts for them. I recorded my guitar and vocal and a click track. I would sit down and say, "Okay, this is a tune that I want to do, and this is the tempo that I want." We listened to each `demo' all the way through and I'd say, "If you got any questions, or any ideas, shout 'em out."

I didn't put a single idea in their heads during the whole two days. There was one tune out of the fourteen that we laid down where I thought the tempo was a little quick. I asked them to run it again, but ended up using the first take.

I took the tracks back to my home which had very good acoustics and where I had set up portable recording gear and took about a month to do the acoustic guitars and vocals. And then I brought in Tom Keenlyside to put on some flute and sax. Farmer's Daughter came in to do harmony vocals. Shari Ulrich put a great violin part on one track. Rocko and Gord from One Horse Blue came in and sang. And Joani Bye, Kirsten Nash and Linda Kidder came for a separate session. I always went for first or second impressions, to keep things fresh. If the heart isn't in it, it's like a beautiful car with no engine. I worked hard to keep spirits up, and didn't grind on anyone. I wanted to create a feeling of joyfulness on all of the tracks.

WCMR: Having come full circle, back to doing covers of a fellow songwriter, you seem to have put even more joy and total abandonment into the cuts.

NORTHCOTT: I feel comfortable singing other people's songs, because if they have written it, then I don't feel like I'm subject to criticism for what they wrote. I can adopt what they wrote, and interpret it, and put myself into it, but I'm not exposed and vulnerable to having somebody know what I thought or felt. A lot of my artistic dilemma has been that I felt unsafe saying who I was, or exposing myself. I cringe at hearing some of the old songs, like Cry Tomorrow. I was so pathetically sentimental... I mean, grow up, get a life...

WCMR: That was a teenage composition, Tom. We all loved it when it was on the radio, back then.

NORTHCOTT: So, I find it easier to do covers, because I simply adopt somebody else's language. I don't feel as exposed.

WCMR: This time around, you haven't been singing several other songwriters, you've found a focus. And you chose an artist who isn't really known for his "joyfulness". Yet, you have given us tracks which were transcendental interpretations of Leonard Cohen.

NORTHCOTT: I chose twenty songs, to record fifteen and to put the ten best on a CD. The criterion was, is there something either joyful or transcendental about the song, some transformative or cathartic element to it.

So, a song like I Left A Woman Waiting starts out with a failed romance and then a rediscovery when the lovers meet, later on, with some understanding and honesty about what happened between them, then animal attraction and they end up in bed, again, and that sort of troubled, tortured, passionate ...thing, transmutes to being "as free as running water".

That's the freedom, the ascendance-transcendence that I was looking for, if the song wasn't already a "joyful song" on its own. True Love Leaves No Traces to me is a purely joyful song that includes the depth of unconscious in "As the mist leaves no trace on the dark green hill" and "children come and go", but "True love leaves no traces, if you and I are one." So, there's one that's purely joyful.

The Guests "One by one the guests arrive", that's the whole pageant of life, birth, ecstasy, passion, suffering. You go through that song and then, "One by one the guests are cast beyond the garden wall", what a gorgeous image for death or moving on to the next level or incarnation or whatever it is. But, really, "No one knows where the night is going" and "No one knows why the wine is flowing" - but the wine is flowing. That's the beauty of that song, that's what is joyful about that song for me, is that we don't need to know, because "the wine flows", and "the night goes."

And Dance Me To The End Of Love has the young lovers moving like they do in Babylon, show me how you like it, baby, let's do it!

WCMR: The production on your rendition of Dance Me To The End Of Love comes very close to the transcendent ecstasy of the Lenny Waronker-Leon Russell production of Sunny Goodge Street, and your vocal is equally inspired.


WCMR: I think that when people finally get their hands on this CD, they are going to be truly surprised at what ten songs made the final cut. You take a brooding song like Paper Thin Hotel and by the end of your version there is a tremendous release in the singer's realization that he is no longer jealous.

NORTHCOTT: He's free.

WCMR: Before this release point, his mind has been following her into her hotel room liaisons with her lovers, and he has self-inflicted all these wounds upon himself...

NORTHCOTT: Yes, and he's trying to control love, but what he has learned is that "love is out of my control". And there is a tremendous relief learning that he cannot control love, that love is a grace, love is something that he may do but that he cannot control.

WCMR: If I were writing a critical review of your album and I wrote that Tom Northcott has found the emotional centre of each of these ten songs... would I be on the right track? I'm guessing, here, but it occurred to me that you might not have known the songs so completely when you began to record them, but by the time you put your final vocal down, you did, truly, know them.

NORTHCOTT: Yes. I think that finding the emotional centre has several stages. First, I find my emotional centre in each song. So that I know what each of those songs means to me, and I express it! Then the next level is that I care, beyond any words I can say, to try to represent Leonard Cohen's emotional centre as much as I can. I'm a servant to each song in that way. The third is that I care about the emotional centre of the listener. Although I'm not trying to persuade or manipulate anybody, I'm trying to be as real as I can be, because I know that what comes from the heart goes to the heart. So, I try to move from my heart through Leonard Cohen's heart to the listener's heart.

Click here for more information on the play
Joyful Songs of Leonard Cohen and The New Step
at the Arts Club Revue Theatre Granville Island in Vancouver!

My thanks to Tom Northcott and Valleri Murphy