Halleluia Leonard!

Few summer festivals have hosted the likes of Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Buena Vista Social Club, Joan Baez, David Bowie, Burt Bacharach, Van Morrison, Ennio Morricone, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Liza Minnelli, Santana and (so sadly never to appear) Amy Winehouse, and all in the space of less than fifteen years!

And what makes so many of these artistes return to play in Lucca’s summer festival? James Taylor and Elton John have already been here three times and 2013 marked Leonard Cohen’s second appearance in just five years. These icons of rock, jazz and folk come to Lucca not because of massive audiences, or large returns but simply because they love Lucca.  James Taylor exclaims “I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t come to live here”, Joan Baez declares “this city makes you fall in love with it” and Elton John’s promoter states “in every part of the world we meet Elton asks me ‘when can we return to Lucca to give a concert?’”

I was turned off pop festivals in my youth because of staggering ticket prices, unfriendly ambiences and bad weather (that was in the UK – the thought of wallowing in mud did not appeal to me). Today, I am become young again, in love with the Summer Festival and most of all, in love with Lucca itself for providing that magic that lures some of our greatest artists back inside its seductive tree-lined walls.

My ticket for Leonard Cohen (the great Canadian-born song-writer-performer, poet and novelist, eighty next year and a great influence on a generation of Italian song-writers, including Fabrizio de André and Claudio Daiano) was bought ages ago. Last night in piazza Napoleone we were treated to a very generous concert of songs from this consummate artist. (As Leonard said at the start “We’ll try to give you everything we’ve got”). It was an evening never to forget for as long as one lives on this earth – inspiring, moving, and transcendental.

I’d first heard about Cohen forty-six years ago while at university and bought his “Suzanne” album then. I listened to this album again recently and, unlike so many of the other albums I’d had from those years, it seemed utterly undated – in fact, enhanced by maturity and comprehended by experience.

The ageless appeal of Leonard Cohen was evident in the wide spread of the audience: while oldies were on the verge of tears at many numbers, little children were dancing merrily near the stage – indeed, some of the fans who were not yet born when “Suzanne” first came out were now grandparents!

Cohen’s deep, gravelly, so-expressive voice was placed in the beautiful setting of Elisa Baiocchi’s piazza, backed by the elegance of the Ducal palace (specially lit up for the occasion) and in an aural setting supplied by instrumentalists and singers of the highest level. I single out Javier Mas, born in Zaragoza, Spain playing the 12-string bandura, Neil Larsen on keyboards and accordion, Rafael Gayol on percussion, Roscoe Beck on bass, the phenomenal Romanian violinist Alexandru Bublitchi, guitarist Bob Metzger, Sharon Robinson, vocalist, and the ethereal harmonies of the Webb sisters (Kent UK, born who have also collaborated with Sting) who, with their own harp and guitar accompaniment, sang those wonderful lyrics:

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will.

There are few singers who can constantly re-generate themselves, when just short of eighty years of age. The energy, the passion the intuition of Leonard Cohen touched all those who were there in Piazza Napoleone last night. After over three hours of performance of some of the greatest songs ever written including those charmed titles like “The sisters of Mercy”, “Suzanne”, “Famous Blue Raincoat”, “Halleluia” ,we came away moved, emotionally resonant, perhaps a little wiser and returned to our little, separate homes finding a way through the muggy streets of a Lucca well past its midnight.


4 thoughts on “Halleluia Leonard!

  1. a truly spectacular and memorable evening, I feel so lucky to have been able to go! I have permanent goosebumps from the wonderful harmonies of The Webb Sisters, beautifully written Francis thank you

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