September 24-25, 2005

by Andrew Darbyshire

Our 13th Leonard Cohen birthday celebration night in Toowoomba was remarkable to contemplate, as we had no idea we would still be doing this 12years later! Because we had had such a successful night for our last event (LC 70th Birthday celebration), we decided to continue with a similar formula this year, in terms of holding the event in the conducive surrounds of ‘Toowoomba Clubhouse’, with profits from the night being shared between ‘Toowoomba Clubhouse’ and the ‘Dancing Bear Café Society’.

Early Sat night at 'Clubhouse'

John Gallagher

Michael Rhoddy

Julian, Terry & Pauline C.

Shirley& Vonnie (daughter & mother)

John & Sandra; Kelsey, Ro & Ken Munro (all from Sydney)

Rosemary, Beata, Margie & Pauline K

Sun lunch at the 'Alpenhof' Restaurant

Whilst we weren’t able to attract the same depth of talent as last year’s wide ranging and far flung performers, we were able to secure the delightfully talented Michael Rhoddy again and, as always, our own consummate local performer, John Gallagher. To support our two main acts (including in a couple of duos), we had several interesting and able performers: Claudia; Kelsey; Beata and (on the Sunday) Noel.

Our opening Saturday afternoon video session was only attended by a small number of people, but was well received by those who made the effort to be there for some of this session. It was at this session that our Sydney friends arrived and I was able to finally meet Kelsey Munro. It was great to finally meet Kelsey, after many years of email communications, as she has organised LC cover gigs in Sydney, by getting together various musicians, bands and singers to perform at the Hopetoun Hotel. It was also at this session that I met Kieran, a young man from Brisbane who was more than happy to spend an afternoon viewing LC docos/films! The programme started with the fascinating documentary around Cohen’s early poetry performances, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Leonard Cohen’. We then viewed the gems contained in the ‘Leonard Cohen: Shorts’ video, as well as the revealing and engrossing movie ‘Bird on a Wire’.

The Toowoomba Clubhouse was our wonderful repeat venue for the Saturday night live music event and again proved to be most suitable, except for being a bit squeezy, in terms of tables and seating constraints. As it so happened, we could probably have done with a couple less table settings. Anyway, we managed despite this limitation. The table settings were complete with candles, flowers and little LC birthday tribute cards. The Clubhouse staff and members provided a filling Mediterranean style three course meal and with the combination of subdued electric and candle lighting, the atmosphere for the evening event was most convivial.

Using last year’s successful formula, the night kicked off with the same selection of great music video clips that included the fabulous “First We Take Manhattan”, “Closing Time”, “Take This Waltz” and “In My Secret Life”. Once again, this really set the tone for the evening, as folk gradually started to arrive. Before too long, everyone was captured by the spirit of this special occasion and (of course) once the “wine was flowing” the place was abuzz! Our first live performer for the evening was John Gallagher who enthusiastically opened with “Is This What You Wanted” and “Chelsea Hotel”. This was quickly followed by John and Beata Stenzell’s duo of “Dance Me to the End of Love” and Kelsey’s “So Long Marianne”. So the night was off to a flying start!

Michael Rhoddy was our next performer and he did a bracket of quite mesmerising songs, including two of my favourites, “Sisters of Mercy” and “Famous Blue Raincoat”. John then returned to the stage to do an extended bracket of songs, including the fabulous “Memories” and his powerful and expressive version of “Diamonds in the Mine”. Michael’s second solo bracket followed, with some more moving renditions, including the awe inspiring and hymn-like “If It Be Your Will”. It was then Claudia Ocean’s turn to perform a solo and she did her own special version of “Bird on a Wire”, before teaming up with Michael for duo performances of “Dance Me to the End of Love” and “Hallelujah”. The night came to a fitting close with John’s final appearance, when he took us out with a bang, in his unique style, with “Everybody Knows” and “First We Take Manhattan”.

As well as the live music, during the Saturday night session, I did a short segment of amusing Cohen quotes from Jim Devlin’s ‘Leonard Cohen In His Own Words’ publication. This seemed go down well and provided a little break from the live music. The lucky door prizes on the night were CDs of “Dear Heather” and “The Essential Leonard Cohen”, with a Cohen devotee neighbour of mine, Vonnie, winning the former! Overall, the night went pretty well, though there were a couple of minor disappointments. There was certainly a bigger crowd at Saturday night's event than last year, but I felt we didn't quite hit the high point we experienced in 2004! (Anyway, it was Leonard’s 70th last year, so it was good that it was our high point thus far!)

As we did last year, the Sunday lunch session was held in the very pleasant (but gradually sun-encroached) outdoor area at the Germanic themed ‘Alpenhof Restaurant’. Whilst numbers were slightly down on what I expected, it was a most pleasant occasion, with our Sydney friends not only enjoying the food and music, but also doing some bird spotting, as there were a number of interesting varieties frequenting the surrounding garden and trees, which were in springtime blossom! As far as performances were concerned, Michael and Claudia entertained us with “Everybody Knows” and “First We Take Manhattan”, with Claudia then revisiting her solo version of “Bird on a Wire”.

Our new performer for this session was Noel Keller (who was not able to attend the previous night) and who did his own subdued and meaningful renditions of “Sisters of Mercy” and “Passing Through”. A small highlight for me in this session, was a mobile phone call from Paul Galvin in NZ - he had hoped to come to our event, but was sadly unable to. This was a lovely gesture and much appreciated. So, our event finished with the usual bittersweet parting of this little Sunday lunch group. However, I was able to conduct a guided driving tour around our scenic Toowoomba escarpment area, for our Sydney visitors, which they clearly enjoyed.

So, in conclusion, our weekend was yet again a very worthwhile experience, though there were some aspects that I will need to change for our next event, to enhance the overall experience. It was also a pity that Richard & Donna (from Newcastle) couldn't make it this year, as Richard has been a staunch supporter of our event over the past few years, as well as furnishing me with lots of Cohen audio-visual goodies! I was also quite dismayed that Ania from Melbourne (who many of our readers would know or know of) and who was well on her way to our event, had to pull out of the trip due to circumstances entirely out of her control. Oh well, there’s always next year and hopefully the year after – and so on!

Finally, I must again convey our special thanks to Toowoomba Clubhouse for allowing us to use their facility and to their members and staff for the mammoth effort they undertook to cater for us on the Saturday night.

Andrew Darbyshire
Toowoomba, Australia

For more info write to Andrew Darbyshire.