Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

I am, as some of you may know, a flag-flying, gold-medal technophobe. My friends at MOJO will confirm that when I walked into the office they would hug their computers close to their chests to protect them from my destructive analog energy. And my nine-year-old mobile goes to a special school for un-smart phones. So I suppose it was a bit ambitious to buy a mini i-Pad. So far I’ve managed not to break it (though I did break something digital – my big toe!).
Since I seem to be getting along better with taking photos on its camera than typing words on its little keyboard, may I present, as a tribute to my new device, a mini Phlog.

Starting with a mini video, a few seconds from the gig ‘The Night Before Leonard’ at the Marsh in Berkeley, the day before Leonard Cohen’s show at the Paramount Theatre. That’s Matthew Szemela on violin, Colleen Browne on bass and colour-coordination, and me being pale and mysterious on the uke.
— oops, just as I was feeling confident, my first failure. It won’t upload.

So let’s move straight onto: Sylvie (plus Julie, Perla and Ronee) Goes To Austin!

En route to the airport: We really must address the disturbing issue of suicidal instruments before it’s too late. At the subway station I spotted this tragic recorder just after it threw itself at the live rail.

We must address the disturbing issue of suicidal musical instruments before it’s too late. On the way to the airport I spotted this tragic recorder on the subway just after it threw itself at the live rail.

Here we are in sunny Austin, brilliant sunlight, a perfect day. Greg Ashley and I have arranged to meet up to run through a few Leonard songs together the day before my gig at South Congress Books. Since everywhere in Austin’s mobbed with people during SXSW, we drove down a back street, parked and set off on foot to find an empty sidewalk where we could sit and play, and we spotted this place on the way, which was selling a PA system. One of the songs we did was True Love Leaves No Traces – from ‘Death of A Ladies Man’, the album Leonard Cohen made with Phil Spector. Greg’s band has recorded a cover of the whole album, released in cassette-form, perfect for technophobes.

Jesus Deaf Church, Austin, TX, speakers for sale

And here’s Greg in the bookshop’s parking lot the following day. In the doorway, John Barton, my old friend from Austin who arranged the gig. Thurston Moore was there too, but I forgot to get my i-Pad out for that.

Same parking lot but me this time, with my uke and a free pair of sunglasses promoting something or other, which I’ve fallen unreasonably in love with.

Free sunglasses!

This is the poster for the gig Julie Christensen, Ronee Blakley and I did at Austin Java, a cool cafe on Barton Springs Rd. The acoustics were so sweet and warm – which I credit to them having a huge tree indoors, too big to hug, growing up through the floorboards and out through the roof.

Austin Java

And finally… I Want You, one of the newish US TV pop idol contest shows, has seen sense and become I Want Uke!

I Want Uke

Well, thanks for watching. Next stop: New York City!

New use for PG Tips pyramid teabags, Leonard Cohen and more…

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

My last day in Austin and I’m in Guero’s to meet a friend for beer and pastors when I hear my name called. It’s Rafael Gayol, Leonard Cohen’s drummer. He’s sitting in a booth with Mark Andes, the bass player from Spirit – a band, it happens, that I heard for the first time on the album on which I first heard Leonard Cohen: a cheap sampler that came out in England when I was in my early teens, The Rock Machine Turns You On. That old vinly record, which I’ve still got, has a lot to answer when it comes to my musical education.
Rafael’s from L.A, but I met him for the first time in Austin, on Nov 30th, when (let me linger on this just a moment longer: aaaaaah! Okay now we can continue) I shared the stage with Leonard Cohen’s band. It was Roscoe Beck’s idea, Austin being his hometown, to organise an event at the Cactus Café – an acoustic club attached to the University of Texas – called ‘Leonard Cohen, A Life In Art,’ which would be broadcast and streamed by the excellent university radio station, KUT. He also gave an open invitation to his bandmates, and when they all said yes, it turned into an evening of music and words.
It really was something – this big band on a small stage playing a soft, stately, poignant instrumental version of Seems So Long Ago, Nancy. This was a song, coincidentally, Annie Girl and I were rehearsing just before I left for Austin – but no uke for me tonight. I’d already done my own music and words show at Waterloo Records earlier that evening, accompanied by Texan singer-songwriter Colin Gilmore on guitar, and by Russell Mystick, an Austin musician I’d just met that day on Theremin. But at the Cactus Café there were the Webb Sisters, with harp and guitar, doing Show Me The Place and Coming Back To You, and Sharon Robinson singing Alexandra Leaving so movingly that the whole room got to their feet in a standing ovation. No room for drums onstage, so Rafael came up at the end for the interview part of the show.
Then of course the next day was the band’s first show on the N. American tour with that good-looking guy in the suit and fedora with a liking for three-and-a-half hour shows. And what a show – it began with a dance (Dance Me To The End Of Love), ended with a dance (a cover of the Drifters’ Save The Last Dance for Me) and another 29 songs inbetween. The set list has varied since his show at Wembley in London, but then that differed slightly from the first concerts in Ghent. The second of his two sold-out nights in Austin would also be a touch different – evidence, probably of him feeling more comfortable this time around. He definitely appeared more comfortable playing a guitar, was clearly happy at having a violin player onstage with him, and looked, and sounded, younger than he did on the 2008-10 tour.
In the dressing room after the show, I think I discovered Leonard’s secret. Yes, I now know what this tour is fuelled on! Stacked up in a corner were multiple boxes of P.G Tips teabags- so many they couldn’t be just for the Webb Sisters. Being Leonard, he might just sit under one of the little tea-filled pyramids and meditate. Whatever he does with them, it works.
Well, I found it hard leaving Austin. I’d got into the habit of coming to Austin every year for SXSW – catching bands, seeing friends, maybe doing a panel, even playing a gig or two – and in the process I’d got out the habit of coming any other time of year. Now I didn’t want to go home. But I did bring back some great stories – I know, I should’ve blogged or tweeted them but I was having too good a time living them.
PS. Earler in the week, dragging myself out of bed, I went to the KUT
Radio studios to be on John Aielli’s show. What a character. Even in a city full of characters. I’m now a follower of a Twitter an Austin friend turned me onto called: ShitJohnAielliSays.
“John Aielli tells stories, jokes and things you never thought you needed to know. These are a collection of some of those choices bits of wisdom.”