Words – written and spoken

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

Interviews – all kinds of them!

Here’s Sylvie being interviewed last week for a Canadian podcast. She talks about Leonard Cohen, writing books, and her life as a musician. http://www.travelsinmusic.com/leonard-cohen/

The BBC has just reposted “The Rock Chick”, the documentary it made on Sylvie while she was still working on her Leonard Cohen book and not long after she started playing ukulele!  http://ow.ly/ynB8302vJZR

And here she is interviewing heavy metal singer-guitarist Lita Ford about her new autobiography, on stage at the Chapel in San Francisco.

Finally, the latest interviews Sylvie has been writing for  MOJO are: a rare interview with Bob Dylan’s and Leonard Cohen’s legendary producer, Bob Johnston (issue #272) and an epic article and interview on another legend, Terry Reid (#273). She also did a very long, heart-to-heart interview with Lars Ulrich of Metallica, which will appear in an upcoming issue of the magazine.


Leonard Cohen gets a Brazilian (edition!)

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

12961282_10154727175504377_2657886490893315596_oA Brazilian Portuguese-language version of I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen – the 19th edition of the acclaimed 2012 biography – will be released next week. Translated by Patrícia Azeredo, I’m Your Man: A Vida De Leonard Cohen is published by Editora BestSeller and costs R$ 79.90

Watch out for interviews with Sylvie in O Globo  and other Brazilian newspapers and magazines in the days to come!

What a summer!

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Whew! Is it sweltering where you are too? It’s turning out to be quite a summer, in so many ways. First, the touring. After her performances in Bogota,  S.America Sylvie did a handful of shows in California then flew to Scandinavia  where she played three concerts in Norway – way up in the north of the country, and also in Oslo (pictured below, where the musicians included American singer-songwriter Luke Elliott and Norwegian poet Havard Rem, who translated Sylvie’s book I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen) – with a few days off to climb a mountain and take a fishing boat out into the Norwegian sea and catch an enormous cod!

Now she’s headed back to S.America again – Chile this time, to play a concert with Chilean musician Matías Cena and be interviewed onstage by Santiago journalist Alfredo Lewin. And after that it’s back to Scandinavia! Three shows in Denmark as part of the Aarhus festival, one of them sharing the stage with Howe Gelb and Giant Sand,  Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and M.Ward. Check the Tour page  for details of these and also some local shows.

Despite all the traveling, Sylvie has kept to her resolution to Tweet her book Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes every day, a dozen or so tweets at a time, with the occasional commentary and picture! At last glance she was four chapters and around 700 tweets into it. Join her on Twitter or if you want the whole book, which  has been updated and is available as an e-book/kindle  after a long time out of print, it’s here:


Sylvie has also been compiling an album, The Rough Guide to Americana: Vol 2.’ The first volume, coincidentally, came out the same year as her Serge Gainsbourg book, in 2001, and featured then-unknown artists, now highly-acclaimed, like The Handsome Family, best-known these days for their theme song to True Detective Season 1. Season 2’s theme tune is a Leonard Cohen song!!

And of course she’s still writing about music. Here’s an essay she wrote on Iggy Pop for Radio Silence magazine and book – part personal story, part critique and the second in her series of heartbreak albums , ‘The Best Part Of Breaking Up’.  Read it here: http://ht.ly/P3Cr6

Encore 2 Oslo

Book news

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

LC bk Taiwan
The latest new translation of I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen has just arrived from Taiwan! Published  by China Times Publishing Co, it’s a paperback edition, 528 pages in length, with 16 pages of photos.

Chick singer – and writer!

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

Cool country music legend Ray Wylie Hubbard – the man behind the outlaw  classic  ‘Up Against The Wall, Redneck Mother’  –  has immortalized Sylvie on his new album. The song ‘Chick Singer Badass Rockin’  on  The Ruffian’s Misfortune namechecks Sylvie alongside  Joan Jett and Chrissie Hynde.  images-1 It also refers to the “dog-eared”  pages of a book –  I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. Hubbard took Sylvie’s biography on tour with him and dog-eared “about 50 or 60 pages”, he wrote in his blog. A hardback copy of  Sylvie’s book also makes a cameo appearance in the video, two minutes in!

Thoughts on the eve of a new album

Friday, November 7th, 2014

It was two and a quarter years ago, with the first edition of I’m Your Man The Life of Leonard Cohen about to come out, when I had the crazy dream of going on the road with my book and a ukulele, reading, talking about Leonard and singing his songs. Taking my uke, if I’m to be honest,  was as much a security blanket as anything else. Writers, especially writers of lengthy books, tend to spend more time alone, sitting and staring at the wall, than standing  in front of  a roomful people pretending they’re not shy. So, at least at the outset, until I gradually got comfortable with performing, my ukulele was  something to hide behind. It was also good company. During the year or so I travelled the world researching and interviewing people for the book, I took the uke with me everywhere, from a seedy rental apartment in Montreal to a hut in the monastery on Mt Baldy. Ukes tend to make you friends – a bit like a puppy, but with nothing to clean up!  The tour – well some of you reading this might have come to one of the shows, either  in the US, Canada, UK, Germany, New Zealand or Australia during 2012-2014.

Today I was deleting a bunch of old files from my computer to try and speed it up, and and I came across this one: a video. A friend had suggested that if I was going to tour, I ought to post a Youtube video. I’d never made  one before so I called my friend Christian, an indie record producer, and asked if he knew someone who could shoot it. One of his artists, Annie Girl, had made an album which featured classical musicians as well as her rock band the Flight; I’d loved that album and had made it my Americana album of the month in MOJO. I asked Christian if he could hire the violin player for my video and I said I’d like to shoot at night, maybe two or three Leonard Cohen songs, me and the violin player in my bedroom. I would call the video  Songs from a Bedroom in tribute to Leonard’s second album.

A few days later he turned up mid-afternoon, on the hottest day of the year, with a video maker and a violin player  – the great Matthew Szemela. But he’d also brought with him a viola player, the brilliant Charith Premawardhana, and a shy young woman with an acoustic guitar who it turned out was Annie Girl. It was the first time I’d met any of them. I swiftly printed off two more chord sheets and we piled into my bedroom, closed the black-out curtain and lit candles to make an artificial night.

Annie sat beside me on the bed, Matthew and Charith sat on the floor, all of us sweating pints from the heat. The next door neighbours had thrown open their windows to let in the sun and were playing Mexican music at full-blast, the bass rattling the candlesticks on my bedside table. I love mariachi, but not so much when trying to record a Leonard Cohen song. So Christian, being fluent in Spanish, went next door to try and quieten things down. Apparently he offered them $50 to turn the music off for an hour. (Memo to self: I.O. Christian 50 bucks.)

And this was the first song we recorded: Famous Blue Raincoat. Just one take. Charith’s viola-playing still gives me goosebumps. As to Matthew’s violin – unbelievable! You might notice in the footage tha his violin solo made me cry; I had to lean my head back and try to get the tears to run back inside my head again before coming back in for the final verse.

Annie, who had never heard of Leonard Cohen before that day, went on to love his songs and play many of them with me on the S.F Bay Area leg of the tour.  We often sit around the apartment and jam- her songs as well as mine. I love her songs. She’s playing electric guitar this days and doing a gig at  the Chapel in San Francisco tomorrow ( Saturday) night;  you should check her out.

Anyway here it is, Leonard Cohen’s mother Masha’s favourite song and mine, my first-ever video, which led to a book tour, which in turn  led to me plucking up the courage to go into a studio and record my own songs and release my debut album on Light In The Attic Records, Sylvie.

Record release!!!

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014

thumb_325_tmp_2F1406584129656-s1lgcijko7n1att9-fc3b6f2f0bcaf468a745532b0d6364cf_2FLITA122_SylvieSimmons_SylviejpgSylvie has signed a recording contract with Light In The Attic – the renowned US record label that’s released albums by legendary musicians including Jane Birkin, Serge Gainsbourg, Lee Hazlewood, Karen Dalton, Rodriguez, Mercury Rev and  Kris Kristofferson! They will release her debut album  –Sylvie  – on 28th October in the US, UK and Europe. The  album – 11 original songs and one cover song-  was recorded at Wavelab Studio in Tucson, Arizona with Howe Gelb of Giant Sand producing.  Here’s a peek inside at the lyrics booklet.Sylvie cd InsertAnd here’s what some celebrated names are saying about it: “Fragile and fearless, direct and poetic, timeless and absolutely beautiful.”  –Devendra Banhart

“Sweet music just like Sylvie.” – Brian Wilson

“A lovely voice, a unique voice, the kind of voice that people will get into- that they’ll want to get into.” –Bob Johnston (producer of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash)

And here’s a song to listen to.


The silence between two thoughts

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

“Do you want to know what the ambition of our generation is, Wanda? We all want to be Chinese mystics living in thatched huts, but getting laid frequently.” – Leonard Cohen, The Favourite Game, 1963.

11a LC & Roshi copy

Joshu Sasaki Roshi, Leonard Cohen’s Zen teacher and close friend, died Sunday 27th July in Cedars Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles at the age of 107. I went to the LA Zen Center several times to hear him teach – it was a few years ago when he was a mere 103 or so; I’d gone in the hope of talking to him for my book I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. When I spoke to Leonard shortly afterwards, I had to admit that, impressed though I was that the old man was still teaching, I couldn’t make sense of anything he said. Leonard laughed and said no-one could. “He doesn’t give you any astounding truths that we come to expect from spiritual teachers, because he’s a mechanic, he’s not talking about the philosophy of locomotion, he’s talking about repairing the motor. He’s mostly talking to the broken motor.”

Since posting that on my Facebook page two days ago, I’ve been contacted privately by a musician friend whose broken motor Roshi helped fix. And I’ve also been contacted by a major newspaper wanting to talk about the late guru’s sex life. What did Leonard Cohen have to say about it, they asked me, and I could honestly answer: “Nothing.” The last interview I did with Leonard for my book was more than a year before the New York Times broke the story alleging that Roshi had been sexually abusing female students at the monasteries for decades. http://tinyurl.com/bg2rfd7. But, whatever Leonard might have thought about this in private, it’s hard imagining him having anything to say publicly on a man he loved. His 45-year relationship with Roshi was one of the most durable and devoted of Leonard’s life.

They met in 1969 at Leonard’s friend’s Buddhist wedding – same year that Leonard met Suzanne Elrod, the future mother of his children, at a Scientology class. It seems ironic when not long before Leonard had told his friend that he was suspicious of holy men. He said he knew how they did it: their schtick, the showmanship, how they managed to draw people to them, because to a degree he could do it himself. One question I wish I’d thought to ask Leonard was when and how the cynicism in that line at the start of the blog that he gave to his alter-ego Breavman in The Favourite Game began to change.

I did try to interview Roshi for I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen. I had spoken to two of Leonard’s rabbis and I wanted to talk to his Zen teacher for his insights into the man he made a monk. I went to the Mount Baldy monastery and stayed in a hut on the hill – but Roshi was away, teaching at another of his monasteries. Towards the end of writing the book I attended a series of talks Roshi gave at the Zen Center in L.A. – he looked so frail it seemed like a possibility that he wouldn’t make it through the teisho. Afterwards one of the head monks told me that Roshi did not give interviews, but he offered to pass on a letter. So I sent one with a list of questions. There was a great deal I wanted to know, like why he decided Leonard ought to be ordained (it was idea, not Leonard’s) and what the significance was of renaming him Jikan, meaning “Ordinary Silence: was it more than just a Buddhist joke? Or what it was like when the two of them were on the road together or in the monastery, the intimacy and the distance of such a relationship as this. Or his reaction when, after five and a half years Leonard told him he was leaving. Or what they talked about when Leonard came back to visit after spending months in India with a new guru, Ramesh; did they compare and contrast the different teachings? I was advised to narrow it down to one question. So I settled on the “more sad” question [see below]. Sadly he didn’t answer.

Leonard answered some of them though, in various interviews. And since I promised on Facebook that I would find a few more things that Leonard said about Roshi, here they are.


SS: Roshi gave you a new name?

LC: Roshi has given me a few names. When I was ordained as a zen monk, Roshi gave me the name Jikan.

SS: Is that the one that’s been variously translated as Silent One and Solitary Cliff?

LC: No, the other one was ‘Solitary Cliff’. But you know, Roshi doesn’t speak English very well so you don’t really know what he means by the names he gives you and he prefers it that way because he doesn’t want people to indulge themselves in the poetic quality of these traditional monks’ names.

SS: That’s cruel – I’d want to throw myself into the deep end of their poetic qualities.

LC: Yes, that’s the trouble. I have asked him what Jikan meant many times, at the appropriate moment over a drink, and he says ‘Normal silence’ or ‘Ordinary Silence’ or ‘The silence between two thoughts’.

SS: Dangerously poetic.

LC: Yes.

SS: So you became Ordinary Silence after Solitary Cliff?)

LC: I was Solitary Cliff for a while. You can just call me Cliff!


SS: You’ve quoted Roshi as saying “The older we get, the lonelier we become and the deeper the love we need”. Is he referring to impersonal, benign love or person-to-person love?

LC: I think that he was referring to the personal love.

SS: What are your feelings right now on personal love. Is that still an important aspect of your life or has that changed?

LC: It’s the most important. I don’t know if it ever changes. I think one becomes more circumspect as one gets older about everything – I mean you become more foolish and more wise at the same time as you get older. But I don’t think anyone masters the heart. No-one gets a handle on it. And Roshi’s often described himself as an old, love-sick monk.


SS : Did you discuss the teachings of Ramesh with Roshi when you returned from India?

LC: No, no. Roshi doesn’t discuss. He doesn’t discuss his own teaching. Roshi is direct transmission. It’s the owner’s manual. He’s not interested in perspective or talking. You either get it or you don’t. His teisho, the things you listen to, the best way to absorb them is from the point of view of the meditater – he’s really talking on the in breath and the out breath through the whole teisho. He’s speaking to the meditative condition, so if you hear him from the outside it’s kind of gibberish and it’s kind of repetitive and it’s very hard to penetrate. He doesn’t give you any astounding truths that we come to expect from spiritual teachers, because he’s a mechanic, he’s not talking about the philosophy of locomotion, he’s talking about repairing the motor. He’s mostly talking to the broken motor.

SS: Now you mention it, I remember that repetition, that sense of rambling. I blamed it on me zoning out or him being a very, very old man.

LC: But if you’re sitting in the right position and you’re breathing, then it’s like you’re in a hole and he’s saying: ‘Here’s a little indentation; put your right foot there, and you’ll see that little twig, and pull up there, and try to put your foot in that other little spot where the rock is sticking out, now take the left hand and put it up there.’ That’s what he’s saying.


LC: I don’t know if I told you this story. I was in the recording studio with Roshi. We’d been travelling to Trappist monasteries – at that time there was a rapprochement between Catholicism and Zen under the tutelage of Thomas Merton, who was a Trappist monk who wrote beautiful books – and I would go with Roshi and he would lead these weeks of meditation at various monasteries. We happened to be in New York at the time and I was recording parts of Various Positions and Roshi came to the studio – he was already an old man at the time We were drinking this Chinese liqueur called ng ka pay and he was nodding off most of the time and I was doing vocals.

SS: What did Roshi think of the recording?

LC: The next morning when we were having breakfast I asked him what he thought – this was the time when people were saying they should give away razor blades with Leonard Cohen albums because it’s ‘music to slit your wrists by’ and that I was ‘depressing a generation’. And he said, ‘More sad’.

And that was it.  Roshi didn’t tell him what he meant by “more sad”, Leonard said, and Leonard didn’t ask. When I said I guess I would have to ask Roshi, he smiled and wished me luck. As to whether he did as his teacher instructed, Leonard said, “Not ‘more sad’, but I thought, ‘you’ve got to go deeper.’ ”



On the road again!

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Leonard Cohen will turn 80 years old on  September 21st. He plans to celebrate by releasing a brand-new studio album (and buying that pack of cigarettes he’s been promising himself these past two years!)! and his fans are planning to celebrate him with all manner of events. So Sylvie’s going back on the road with her book and her uke to join them. Her upcoming appearances include Oslo; Helsinki; Dublin; Winchester, England; Reno, Nevavada and Cartagena, Colombia. We’ll post details as we get them on the  Tour page.

SS & LC, pic by LC on imac copy



more news…

European editions of Leonard Cohen book


Translation has begun on a Czech-language version of I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, to be published by Galen. No details on its release date yet but we’ll keep you posted.

The Finnish version of the book, published by Sammakko, looks close to being finished – hopefully in time for Leonard’s 80th birthday in September, when Sylvie will be performing in Helsinki.

Editions that are currently being translated are Greek, Slovenian and Turkish.

The European editions currently available are UK British; German (I’m Your Man: Das Leben des Leonard Cohen, hardback and paperback by BTB/ Random House); Spanish (Soy Tu Hombre: La Vida de Leonard Cohen, RHM); Italian (I’m Your Man: Vita di Leonard Cohen, Caissa Italia); Dutch (I’m Your Man: Vita di Leonard Cohen; Nijgh & Van Ditmar), Polish (Leonard Cohen: Jestem Twoim Mezczyzna, Marginesy); Danish (I’m Your Man: En Biografi om Leonard Cohen, Glydendal) and Norwegian (I’m Your Man: Leonard Cohens Liv, Cappelen Damm).book photo

Return of the Phlog

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

I met someone in Liverpool and I think it’s love. 
Actually I’ve had a thing for him since I was a little girl – there he was on TV, the bad boy, who all the good boys in the playground would imitate, running around with toilet plungers yelling, “Exterminate!” I ran into him by chance at the BBC Merseyside studios, where I’d gone to do a show with esteemed Liverpool DJ Spencer Leigh, and grabbed it just as it was being wheeled off into a cupboard. Now here I am back in San Francisco on a foggy morning, listening to some krautrock records I picked up at Amoeba, daydreaming about my dalek bumping up the 40 stairs to my flat and singing along.

I was in England for most of June and early July. Since I’d been in Canada, promoting the Canadian ‘I’m Your Man’ when the UK edition came out, when I heard the UK was releasing the paperback edition in June I grabbed my uke and got on a plane.

What a trip. It started in Chiswick, London – wisteria, church bells, evening sun gilding the river as a crew of rowers glide by, an old pub with summer ale, a fox daring behind a tombstone at dusk – then made a swift diversion to Berlin and back again, taking in London’s East End and West End, Bloomsbury, Liverpool, Kentish Town, Pimlico, Chalk Farm, Marylebone, Wembley, plus Hertfordshire, Brighton, Leigh on Sea and Liverpool. Too busy living it to stop and take notes, but I do have some photos, enough for a phlog, so here they are, along with the memories they prompt.

Writer and translator at the Literaturhaus, Berlin

Here I am on the left, trading stories with Kirsten Borchardt, translator of the German edition of my book – the first time we met but it felt like old friends.

The first night of the UK tour was at Rough Trade East on Brick Lane. That’s Mat Snow, my good friend and former MOJO editor, in the dapper black and pink, asking the questions, and what looked like a roomful of rock writer luminaries and friends in the audience, including Neil Spencer, Charles Shaar Murray, Peter Silverton, Mark Ellen, Will Birch, Daryl Easlea Gavin Martin, Lloyd Bradley. I had to take a deep breath before I had the nerve to pick up my uke and sing. Afterwards it was off to the pub – at least for those of us who managed to get past the bouncers and friskers at the door. Blimey, Brick Lane – the shabby East End neighbourhood where I used to go to the market with my dad as a kid – has changed.

The Horse Hospital, London.

Ah, the Horse Hospital. My favourite arts venue back when I lived in London – the entrance a cobblestoned slope designed for rolling down the carcasses of the poor horses who met their end – this was one of my favourite nights of the tour. My super UK publisher, Dan Franklin, introduced the show, which began with rare Leonard Cohen film footage. Followed by some great performances by my special musical guests Pete Molinari and Katy Carr.

Pete Molinari

Katy Carr

Early the next morning, bleary-eyed and on a train to Liverpool. I arrived at the bookshop to see a board outside advertising the day’s event. It wasn’t mine. Er, okay, onto plan B – which turned out to be an intimate, guerilla gig upstairs in the religious section, sitting, chatting and playing to a small but very sweet group of people. And the day kept getting better – Spencer Leigh took me to a different bookshop where I found a copy of ‘Death of a Lady’s Man’. And then I met that Dalek…

Yet another bookshop, this one in London at Waterstones in Covent Garden. It felt good to arrive and see a huge pile of my books awaiting my signature and – even better – an open bottle of wine!

Next up: Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, a place I admit I’d never heard of, but which a pal, John Etherington, told me was where Julie Felix lived. Julie, an American folk singer who moved to London in the early 60s, met Leonard Cohen in Greece and invited him on her UK TV show. A few days before my event, Julie had celebrated her 75th birthday onstage with special guests including John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. I asked her if she would be my special guest and graciously she agreed. We played some of Leonard’s songs, alone and together, and then she surprised me with a song I’d never heard before, which she’d written about Marianne Ihlen, Leonard’s former lover, and their break-up.

A night off at last, and what a night: Leonard Cohen at the 02 – “the other side of intimacy”, as he once described it; my description of the place wouldn’t be anywhere near so kind but there’s nothing wrong with positive thinking – plus it is the place where he recorded a rather brilliant CD/DVD.  At this show he warned the people in the top rows about leaning too far forward (and warned the rest of us about looking at ourselves in magnifying mirrors, a piece of wisdom I should have followed this morning; not the best way to start a day to learn that just because you have wrinkles doesn’t mean you still can’t get a pimple on your nose.). Anyway, back to Leonard’s show. Despite the ugliness and vastness of the space, there were times during the concert (his recitation of ‘Alexandra Leaving’ was one of them) when the silence and stillness in the room and the focus and attention of all the people in it was unearthly, like time really did stop.

As for me, my next show was in a cool, music-themed boutique hotel on a square of Regency houses in Brighton.

It was a cold afternoon, one of those grey-on-dirty grey English skies just made for depressives and a brutal wind blowing in off the sea. But I love Brighton, the pebble beach, the once-beautiful old pier decaying in the water. So like a good Brit I bought some fish and chips,  doused them in salt and vinegar and took them down to the waterfront to eat. As I opened the polystyrene box, the wind reached in and tried to scoop up the battered fish. I held it down in the middle with the little wooden fork and both ends curled up, like one of those little plastic fortune-telling fish you used to lay on your palm and see which way they folded. As I was trying to remember the meaning of this particular configuration, half the fish flew up in the air and into the mouths of a gang of brawling seagulls. I did what any self-respecting Brit would do: gave them the rest and headed for a nearby pub.
The Hotel Pelirocco was a perfect venue – cool decor, cooler crowd. The author Lee Hill interviewed me (and gave me a copy of his fine book on Terry Southern, which I devoured on my transatlantic flight) and for the music I was accompanied by Andy Small on guitar and Jules Lawrence on flute, harmonica and (love it!) a musical saw.

This picture below was a few days later in London, at the Harrow & Wembley Progressive Synagogue. My good friend Victoria Zackheim had told me about rabbi Frank Dabba Smith, who was as delightful as she’d described him. We met for a quick supper – an M&S takeaway eaten on a bench outside the British Library, where he’d been studying away all afternoon – then  took the train to one of the far reaches of N.W London  where we met up with what seemed to b e the love of the rabbi’s life: an old, red and white Citroen 2CV. Installing me in the backseat and his mechanic (very sensibly) in the front, the little French tin can on wheels hurtled over speed bumps and squealed around corners before coming to an abrupt halt outside the synagogue. Which provided a welcome dose of adrenalin for answer ing all the great questions from the audience, and to play a song or three.

The last of my London gig was at the 12 Bar, a cool little club at the end of Denmark St in Soho – Tin Pan Alley – which was also one of my regular haunts back in the day. My old friend Chris Carr corralled a huge cast of musicians and put the gig together with Andy at the 12 Bar when I protested that my organisational and artist-herding skills had been worn out. Some of the musicians I’d heard of and even written about -Jason McNiff for example – and others I was hearing for the first time.

Here’s as many of them as we could round up at the end for a picture.

Everyone on the bill performed a Leonard Cohen song and a song of their own. Since it was my show I could break the rules and I ended up doing three Cohen songs – two at the start, one at the end (the hefty ‘Master Song’) accompanied by a great singer-guitar player I’d met for the first time that night: Brian Lopez. He’d just come from rehearsing with K.T Tunstall and, back home in Tucson, AZ, it turns out he plays with my good friend Howe Gelb in Giant Giant Sand – as did John Paul Jones! Small world. I’ll post a video of us on my Sounds page soon.
I didn’t do any of my own songs at the 12 Bar, but I did on this radio show with Bonanza & Son just before the gig.


A much-needed couple of days off were  spent visiting some favourite museums and art galleries but mostly just wandering around. I’d forgotten, since leaving London, how many unexpected things you just happen upon: in one afternoon a choir singing in the echoey corridors of the National Portrait Gallery; a stage full of disco dancers in Trafalgar Square; an orchestra rehearsing Mozart in a church; a man on the bus describing in loud detail, to his girlfriend, what he vomited up that morning. Though I was trapped beside him, it being rush hour, joy filled my heart at the realisation that he was not my boyfriend. The evenings were spent with friends. One night I went to Kasabian, who were playing the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – an enormous, soulless, new open-air venue in Stratford, the ground covered with a crumpled astroturf carpet which itself was covered with pint-sized paper cups, bottles and regurgitated food. You couldn’t find a place to hear music in that was more different than the small, lovely and full of character as the lovely old 12 Bar. Fine band, ugly place.

But, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, it was beauty I’d come so far for. I got it at my last show of the tour, in a small Methodist church in Essex. Thanks to my writer friends Daryl Easlea and Will Birch, a spot was found for me and my uke at the Leigh-on-Sea folk festival.

The weather had been grim for almost my whole stay in England, but all at once the grey gave way to blue skies and baking sun. The little seaside town exploded in colour and smiles. There were long, long lines at the pub, wilting Morris dancers,  little kids mud-wrestling in the swamp- beach left behind when the tide went out. It was full inside the church, a great little gathering, and local guitar player Steven Hastings accompanied me as I sang some Leonard Cohen songs.

And from there it was on the train, back to London, to catch Van der Graaf Generator’s show at the Barbican.  What a day. And what a way to end the UK I’m Your Paperback tour.