Everything is Broken

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Hi! Sylvie here. The words of that Bob Dylan song have been running through my head nonstop since I last posted on this page in March. I had gone to Tucson, Arizona, with twelve new songs to record with Howe Gelb, but on the night of  my first day in the studio I had a nasty accident, breaking a whole lot of bones. Since those bones included my arm and wrist – as well as some nerves in my hand – I haven’t been able to play ever since.  Slowly but surely I’m getting better and champing at the bit to get back into action. I did a speaking engagement in Pennsylvania last week and managed to sing two songs, and  I sang backup at my friend Colin Gilmore and Adam Traum’s show in San Francisco. On Monday  7th August I’ll be singing at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco, with the great Bart Davenport backing me. Hopefully I’ll be ready to  go back and finish that album by the end of the year. And talking of bones. here’s a very fine dog to snuggle up to.

Dog love

Digital taping

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon and I’m just back from taking my broken toe for a walk. Big toe, right foot, a week ago exactly, on my last day in Austin, TX but you all know the first rule of SXSW. What happens in SXSW stays in SXSW. Oddly, I broke the same toe exactly ten years ago, in London. That time it was on the way to interview Buffy Sainte-Marie, and tripped in my brand new scarlet Doc Martens and snapped my toe. Pro that I am, I jumped in a cab and hopped into her hotel room not a minute late; sweetheart that she is, she unlaced my boot, rushed off to fill her ice bucket, put my foot in it and would have probably made a splint out of the bedpost if I’d let her. Turns out that all they can do for a broken toe is tape it up, tell you not to play (English) football or let anyone step on it for six weeks, and not to take it personally when everyone falls about laughing and says you walk like a duck.

digital taping

digital taping

So far I’ve followed their advice. But now I’m faced with a wardrobe dilemma. This evening I have to be at Walnut Creek’s Authors under the Stars Gala – it’s a benefit for their library system, where people pay a couple of hundred dollars apiece to sit with me or the participating author of their choice (see list below – and hooray, my table’s sold out!) – and I’m expected to dress for the occasion. Hmm. So it looks like it’ll have to be a little black dress and… Uggs.
But let’s time travel back to the day when all my digits were fully-functional and high heels an option: South by Southwest. I had a brilliant time. There was the usual insane scrum of people, of course (an aerial view of 6th St on Friday night would definitely have been a contender for the Bosch painting lookalike award) and long lines outside a lot of the cool shows, but one of the great things is that you keep running into people on the street that you know and like and don’t expect to see. Like my friend Phil from London, who’d popped over at the last minute on an assignment for Q. Or Thurston Moore, who just happened to drop by South Congress Books – where I was doing a reading and playing some Leonard Cohen songs with Greg Ashley – to buy something. I don’t think I’ve spoken to him at any length since my Serge Gainsbourg book.
But the big highlight of the week for me was my panel ‘Leonard Cohen and his Women’, with three of my favourite such women, Julie Christensen, Perla Batalla and Ronee Blakley. We ended up going overtime, and closed with a few spontaneous songs. To sit next to Ronee while she sang Hank Williams, acapella (Leonard Cohen loves Hank) and Julie and Perla as they duetted on Anthem – and then have them sing backing vocals to me and my uke on Famous Blue Raincoat (and thank you Colin Gilmore for being my uke roadie) is so many kinds of wonderful. If and when SXSW posts their video, I’ll pass it on.

SXSW: ‘Leonard Cohen and his Women’


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.”

Leonard and the Theremin, a soon-to-be consummated love story

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Tuesday at 5pm, at Waterloo Records in Austin, history will be made. Yes!!! I’ve found me a Theremin player!! So come see the first (and quite possibly last) ever stage performance of Sisters of Mercy featuring a uke-playing biographer, a guitar-playing Texan singer-songwriter and (mmm, just let me relish this a moment longer… Blame it on old horror movies and the Beach Boys’ beloved Good Vibrations but the very thought makes me tingly) a Theremin solo!

Hoping there’ll be people with smartphones. Once Leonard sees the YouTubes you know he’s going to want to make at least one addition to his band.

Well I heard that Leonard and the band are already in Austin. The Webb Sisters gave the game away when they tweeted from Whole Foods (Austin has the Magic Kingdom of Whole Foods; the place is so big and flash it ought to have theme rides – Pirates of the Polenta and the like – and staff dressed in themed animal costumes (organic, grass-fed). The Webbs – and Roscoe Beck, Sharon Robinson, and a bunch of other band members – are going to be on a panel with me at 7.30pm on Tuesday, all about Leonard and his life in art. This is definitely going to be recorded and videoed, by KUT, the university radio station.

I was on another panel Saturday night, as part of the Texas Book Festival. My fellow panelists were David Menconi, the author of a book on Ryan Adams’ Whiskeytown years, and Ken Caillat, who wrote a book on Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours”, an album he engineered. I’d met David in Nashville a few weeks back so it was good to share a stage. Except it wasn’t a stage, it was metal chairs out in the back yard of a bar under a full moon.

It was 40degrees F, not far off freezing point. Still, there was a pretty big crowd, around 75 people – I figured they’d come for the earlier panel on sex and drugs and didn’t so much stick around for the rock n roll part but were frozen to their seats and unable to escape. Still, when a man came up and offered the loan of his jacket, I knew there must be some Leonard Cohen fans in the crowd. That and a couple of shots of whisky set me to rights.