September 25-26, 2004

by Andrew Darbyshire

Our 12th Leonard Cohen birthday celebration night in Toowoomba was always destined to be a great one, as this was to celebrate Leonard’s 70th birthday! It’s funny to reflect on the fact that it was in anticipation of Leonard turning 60 years of age that we kicked off these events in the first place. Perhaps more so than any of the preceding events, this one seemed to be more of a challenge to organise because of our opportunity to have interstate performers (from South Australia & New South Wales) as our special guests this time. Commensurate with this was a lot of email communication with these performers and a certain amount of personal anxiety on my part (not to let them down)! Their forwarded CDs convinced me that it would be worth the effort! It was also necessary for us to choose a new venue and we fairly quickly settled on the lovely old ‘heritage listed’ Taylor Memorial Institute Hall occupied by the Toowoomba Clubhouse organisation (that I have close ties with). This organisation provides personal support for people in the community who experience mental health problems, including assisting their rehabilitation back into working life.

Emma Stacker & Tim Malfroy

John Gallagher

Jeffrey Witt (Alpenhof)

Michael Rhoddy

Baden, Sam & Wade

Jan, Karen & Martin

Pam, Jeffrey, Narelle, Sandy & John

Pauline, Sandy & Helen

Donna & Richard

Our opening Saturday afternoon video session was, as is often the case, characterised by only a small number of people, with a certain amount of coming and going throughout. However, those who attended seemed to be absorbed by whatever video they viewed. We started with one of my favourites, the BBC’s ‘Songs From The Life Of Leonard Cohen’, then watched the brief but engrossing ‘LC: Shorts’ video. To wrap up the afternoon program for those few who were left, the culminating session saw us riveted by the two separate Stina interviews of Leonard (1998 & 2001). Another interesting experience for me during this session was to meet a local LC fan who had ironically (but fortuitously) found out about our event through a friend in Canada! He also proudly showed me a very special bound collector’s edition of some of LC’s poetry (the details of which now escape me).

The Toowoomba Clubhouse was a wonderful setting for our special Saturday night event, with not only the usual artistic and creative trappings that dignify this gracious old building in its normal life, but to top this off, additional aesthetic touches for each of the ten table settings throughout the hall. Each had its tablecloth decorated with nasturtiums, a candle, wineglasses with red serviettes and the special card I designed as a tribute for Leonard’s 70th birthday! The card had a collage of black and white photos from Leonard’s Hydra days on the outside, with his 70th birthday photo and a special birthday message on the inside. The Clubhouse staff and members catered for the three course sit-down meal producing an exotic array of tasty Middle Eastern delicacies for the occasion. With the combination of subdued and candle lit lighting, the atmosphere for the evening event was quite sensational, with many folk commenting on how fantastic the Clubhouse building was as a venue!

The night kicked off with the selection of great music video clips that included the fabulous “First We Take Manhattan”, “Closing Time”, “Take This Waltz” and “In My Secret Life”. As previous experiences had demonstrated, this really set the tone for the evening, as folk gradually started to arrive. It wasn’t long before everyone was in high spirits and enjoying the food and wine. Our first live performers for the evening were Tim Malfroy and Emma Stacker a couple of cool young musicians from outside of Sydney in NSW. Tim played his special hand-made guitar and had a wonderfully captivating voice, whilst Emma played the viola and banjo, along with doing some vocal harmonies. They played a set of Cohen classics including wonderfully moving versions of “Seems So Long Ago Nancy” and “The Gypsy’s Wife” and the great up-tempo “Tonight Will Be Fine” (with Emma on the banjo). Their engrossing performance finished all too soon.

Our second performer was Jeffrey Witt whom had travelled for two and a half days from South Australia to be with us! Jeffrey is a seasoned musician who strutted his stuff with great guitar playing competence and style. However, what was even more significant was that Jeffrey had penned his own special tribute to Leonard (“The Poet of Rock n Roll”) and performed it a couple of times on the night! It was a special privilege for us to have him do this premier performance of his tribute song at our Toowoomba event. Jeffrey’s performance included a range of Cohen songs from “Teachers” on LC’s first album to “In My Secret Life” on his latest album (at that point in time). All of Jeffrey’s songs were performed with that sense of respect for the original songs and feelings engendered by Cohen through them.

Our next performer for the night was John Gallagher, our local guy, who did one of his best performances to date on the acoustic guitar and with his inimitable strong vocal style! John has an extensive repertoire of Cohen songs and is the only performer I can recall who, by performing it, thinks that “Jazz Police” deserves better than the mild disdain (or perhaps indifference) it sometimes attracts! Later in the night John pounced on his electric guitar and really got the place humming with some wild and interesting arrangements of some classic Cohen songs! John’s version of “Memories” was powerfully rendered and is one that is not to be missed. As a mainstay “live performer” of our event over the years, John deserves only the highest of accolades and I believe our event would not be the same without him.

Our final performer for the night was Michael Rhoddy, who– I’m sure most people would agree – was our surprise package for the night (and someone we quite fortuitously discovered, only late in the piece, was interested in performing). Michael, who played his acoustic guitar whilst sitting bare foot on a low stool, astounded us with his simply beautiful and mesmerising renditions of Cohen’s songs! The audience was spellbound and I can truly say Michael’s performance was one I could have listened to all night - until I collapsed into exhausted sleep! Michael is only too aware of the transformative power of music and voice (as he is a ‘Sonic Alchemy’ teacher) and I’m sure his performance touched a deep chord in all our beings.

As well as the live music, during the Saturday night session, I did a short segment of poetry readings from Leonard’s ‘Stranger Music’ publication. Anyway, apart from a bit of a shortfall in numbers attending on the night, the whole Saturday live performance night turned out to be a great success. It had a good mixture of performers and styles, a great venue with an intimate and friendly atmosphere, and the always-essential ingredient, a spirit of joyous celebration! The lucky door prizes, ‘The Essential Leonard Cohen’ & ‘Dear Heather’ (on promise), were won by one of our local guests and one of our interstate travellers, respectively.

The Sunday lunch session was held in the very pleasant outdoor area at the Alpenhof Restaurant (with its Germanic theme). The numbers whilst only moderate, did not dampen the enthusiasm of those present for enjoying a laid-back lunch and some low-key acoustic performances on the warm spring day that eventuated. Jeffrey Witt captivated our attention with a number of songs, including a repeat of his “The Poet of Rock n Roll” tribute to Leonard. John Gallagher also delighted us with a further selection of Leonard’s songs. As the icing on the cake, Helen Holmes repeated her tribute poem written for Leonard on the occasion of his 64th birthday, but as poignant now as it was when she wrote it!

Our weekend finished with the bittersweet parting of our little Sunday lunch group. It was especially sad to have to farewell Jeffrey - and his partner Pam - who had “Come So Far For Beauty” (South Australia) and “left so much behind” (for us to remember them by). So our weekend was a wonderful experience overall: as some folk have suggested the Saturday night event was probably the best one we have had yet, in terms of both the range and standard of performers, as well as the obvious suitability of the Toowoomba Clubhouse as a venue. In conclusion, our special thanks go to Toowoomba Clubhouse for allowing us to use their facility and to their volunteers and staff for the mammoth effort they undertook to cater for us on the Saturday night.

Andrew Darbyshire

For more info write to Andrew Darbyshire.