Sylvie reunited with Howe Gelb – the legendary founder and front-man of Giant Sand who produced Sylvie – and bass player Thoger Lund, who played alongside Howe on Sylvie’s album – for two shows in California. The first was in Big Sur at the Henry Miller Library, where Sylvie performed a Leonard Cohen show soon after the release of her book I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen in 2012. The second show was at San Francisco venue The Chapel – here’s a brief review of the show in Bay Bridged.
Sylvie spent the last two weeks back in San Francisco after a short but super-sweet trip to Chile where she performed to 500 people, made a TV appearance and did three radio shows (with Chilean’s best-known DJs Alfredo Lewin and Hernán Rojas) and, on the morning of her long flight home, went into a studio to record a bootleg album with her two Santiago accompanists, Matías Cena and Diego Alorda, with Alejandro ‘Perrosky’ Gomez at the mixing board.
Now she’s off to Scandinavia again – Denmark this time – for the amazing Aarhus Festival. Sylvie has three events, each of them different: she’ll start with a Leonard Cohen-related appearance at Kristian F Møller book shop on August 31st; then on Sept 1st she’ll be onstage interviewing the festival’s keynote speaker, the legendary Jac Holzman. And last but by no means least, she’s playing a concert with Howe Gelb (who produced and played on her album ‘Sylvie’) and Giant Sand, Grant-Lee Phillips Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) and more in what will be a very, very special evening!
Full details of tickets, times and dates are on her tour page.
On a dark street in San Francisco’s Mission District, just a few steps from the fancy restaurants and bars yet light years away, a locked, unmarked door leads across a jigsaw-puzzle floor and up into the Secret Alley. I had never heard of this place until a few days ago when it became the venue for my album launch party. That wasn’t the original plan – there was talk of doing it in a club in Martinez then that fell through, and so did the second place, an old sailors club down by the bay, But sometimes plans have a way of changing for the better, and nothing could have been more perfect than the Secret Alley. I knew that from the moment I walked past the machine by the entrance that promised to stamp the Lords Prayer on any coin you fed it and into a small, magical space. A tiny skateboard ramp had been built into one corner, and in the opposite corner a minature marquee, next to a stage. There was also a tree – and a tree-house – and, in the middle of the room, a wooden swing. And all of this indoors, upstairs, in a room that held maybe 45 or 50 if they didn’t mind sitting up close.
My band that night was Josh Pollock on guitars and a suitcase full of pedals and effects, and Joe Lewis on upright bass and the show was streamed live on Pressuredrop TV. I’ve been told that the show is going to be edited and archived and they’re going to tell me when it’s up. I’ll let you know.
Meanwhile here’s their event page – http://pressuredrop.tv/portfolio/sylvie-simmons/ – and some photos
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.