Cork Jazz Festival: First we take Cork Opera House, then we take Berlin!

And I'll be there for Bird On The Wire - The Songs Of Leonard Cohen, says Ronan Leonard
Cork Jazz Festival: First we take Cork Opera House, then we take Berlin!

Bird On The Wire: All set for Cork Jazz Festival.

“Leonard Cohen has been with me the entire time on my journey as a singer”... Pauline Scanlon, as highly rated as a solo artist as she is a collaborator - having worked with Sharon Shannon, Sinead O’Connor, Andrea Corr, John Spillane and Seamus Begley among many other artists - outlines her connection to the songwriting legend.

“My late mother was a huge fan - a super fan even - to such an extent that she wrote the words of ‘Suzanne’ as her English Leaving Cert exam in a mad rebel phase. So the early Cohen stuff was always in the house as I grew up… Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen and Joe Dolan were the Holy Trinity!

When I was in junior infants at school I was brought around the other classes to sing for them, so even back then it was no big deal to me to be singing for people. When I was about 15, a song-collector and songwriter called Tony Small took me under his wing and gave me my first sort of repertoire, and they included the Leonard Cohen songs’ ‘I Love You In The Morning’, ‘That’s No Way To Say Goodbye’ and ‘Manhattan’ so at that age I was already going through his catalogue, and I’ve always dipped into his material ever since.”

Pauline will be playing an entire concert of his work with ‘Bird On The Wire - The Songs Of Leonard Cohen’.

It wasn’t hatched as a plan to start a band, it’s just musicians who live nearby

“There’s going to be 10 of us at the Cork show, we are all friends primarily, we all live within three miles of each other. It all started when I was asked to put together a concert of Leonard Cohen’s songs for someone’s 25th Wedding Anniversary… and it’s just rolled from there.

“It wasn’t hatched as a plan to start a band, it’s just musicians who live nearby. The Whileaways just live down the road and I’ve known Noriana Kennedy and Nicola Joyce for nearly 20 years, we just know how to sing together instinctively. Noelie McDonnell’s voice suits some of the songs brilliantly too. There’s plenty of great musicians around where we live in Headford (County Kerry); there’s Will Merrigan (Saw Doctors) on bass; Dave Clancy on keyboards, and my husband Eamon (Murray, who plays with Beoga) on drums. It’s evolved from that one night into a collaborative project.”

There is quite a definition for Pauline between what ‘Bird On The Wire’ do versus a traditional ‘cover band show’, as she continued. “There’s a difference between doing the songs of Leonard Cohen and being a Leonard Cohen tribute band, and we are the former. “The songs are spread across three female singers and one male so that puts paid to any idea of being a cover band.

“We have so many avenues to explore too; the slow dreamier stuff like ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ have strings doing gorgeous things and loads of layered harmonies. ‘The Future’ is sort of driven by the band with really interesting bass and drums, and for me ‘Chelsea Hotel’ is a bit of a moment too.”

Pauline finds it interesting that unlike most audience/artist relationships these concerts have listeners who already know the material intimately. “The people who come to our shows already love Leonard Cohen, so it’s us sharing our interpretations. Being big fans they are already ‘beneath the surface’ of his work.

“There’s always a nod to the original arrangements of the songs, we are all huge fans of Leonard Cohen’s albums and love those records, we try to be tasteful with our interpretations, we do different things but we try to at the very least stay true to the energy and magic of the original recordings. The song themselves are great, each one is an internal universe, I can’t stress that enough, like a song ‘A Thousand Kisses Deep’ has a life of its own, regardless of who is singing them.”

There has always been a common perception that Leonard Cohen’s songs are ‘depressing’ or ‘dour’, but Pauline really disagrees with that.

His music is full of humour and mischief, it’s joyous and glorious

“I think Leonard Cohen fans will get this, he seems to be stereotyped with making sedate, boring music but for me, his music is full of humour and mischief, it’s joyous and glorious, that’s what I get from it. Nothing depresses me about his songs. There’s a lot of life, it’s so rich, it’s all there.

For instance, I sing ‘A Bird On The Wire’. The original recording is monotonal enough but there’s a huge range in it, from the very low to the very high. It explodes into life, we don’t think too much about it as if we are ‘custodians’ of the songs, we just love the songs of Leonard Cohen, we love singing in harmony and we really really really love singing the songs of Leonard Cohen together in harmony.

“It’s not about breathing new life into them or anything like that, it’s just inhabiting that world for four and a half minutes of magic melodies and words intertwined, that so few people have created. There are very few people in my opinion to have a catalogue of such rich work. The concert is all about being in a room, sharing those moments, in that world.”

‘Bird on the Wire – The Songs of Leonard Cohen’ appears in Cork Opera House as part of the 2021 Guinness Cork Jazz Festival on Wednesday, October 27. Tickets are €28 (inc booking fee) and available at www.corkoperahouse.ie

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