JOYFUL SONGS OF LEONARD COHEN
l. The guests
2. Dance me to the end of love
3. I left a woman waiting
4. Paper thin hotel
5. True love leaves no traces
6. If it be your will
7. Tower of song
8. I'm your man
9. Tonight will be fine
Tom Northcott and his band: Daryl Burgess - drums,
Norm Fisher - bass,
Robbie Steininger - electric guitar,
Michael Creber - piano, organ, synth
..and thank you for your gifts, the red wine, the brandy, and especially your CD
"Joyful Songs of Leonard Cohen". I am grateful to you for the title
and for the understanding behind the title. Thank you for your honest voice,
your musical and technical skills, and for this fraternal gesture.
We haven't been drinking much up here since you left,
but I think we're going to
open that red wine tonight.
Here's to you, Tom.
Mt.Baldy Zen Centre, July 26, 1997. Leonard
Leonard and Tom at the Rinzai Zen Center on Mt. Baldy, July 1997.
The photo was taken by Tom's son, Dan Northcott.
Tom's 1971 version of Suzanne
Tom Northcott recorded his version of Cohen's Suzanne already in 1971. The song is still available on The Best Of Tom Northcott compilation cassette. It has been issued by Neptoon Records, 5750 Fraser Street, Vancouver, B.C. V5W 2Z5, Canada.
Part of Tom Northcott's interview
WCMR: Before you came full circle and began to record your vocal
interpretations of one of your fellow songwriters, Leonard Cohen,
you got quite a bit of airplay with some single releases on both
AOR and Canadian Country radio.
NORTHCOTT: I continued to record my own material, songs like The
Trouble With Love and Total Emotion and eventually put out a CD, So
You Thought You Heard It All in 1992. Some of the singles got quite
a bit of airplay on country radio in Canada which is where the
folkies were being played then.
WCMR: And then you came up with the idea of recording some cover
tunes, like you'd done back in the sixties when you covered Dylan,
Donovan, Nilsson and Leonard Cohen. This time there was a real
focus to your project.
NORTHCOTT: One of the things that I think is missing in North
America is the full embracement of the dark side of western
civilization. Leonard Cohen speaks that so well. When I go to
Leonard Cohen concerts I come out wondering, "Why is it that he is
singing these `black lyrics' and everybody is coming out grinning
from ear to ear?" ...This guy sounds like he's slittin' his wrists
onstage, and yet everybody is grinning. He speaks to a part of
ourselves that is not spoken to that often. I wanted to express
that side of my personality as well. Also, by singing somebody
else's lyric, I get to forget entirely about my judgments about my
There's quite a few elements that went into it. Also I had the
sense that the world needed to hear Leonard Cohen's songs and to
know about his way of feeling, his way of seeing the world. It
seemed that I was an interpreter. I do that in mediation. I help
people to express themselves. I see myself as Leonard Cohen's
faithful interpreter here. And I put my own spin on a few of his
words, but I have tried to be absolutely, literally true to his
WCMR: I'm a big fan of the new album, Tom. I believe you really
have penetrated through to the essence of each song, and I've never
heard you sing better. Tell us how you went about recording the
NORTHCOTT: When I recorded the Joyful Songs Of Leonard Cohen album,
I used my mediation-personal-development approach to life. I really
got out of the way of the musicians, and let them do what they do
best, which is play. I phoned drummer Darryl Burgess, who I have
tremendous respect for, and I said, "I wanna cut this Leonard Cohen
project. It's called Joyful Songs Of Leonard Cohen. I want to take
a fresh look at a bunch of his tunes. Who would you like to work
with?" Darryl said, "I'd like to work with Robbie Steininger, Norm
Fisher and Michael Creber."
WCMR: An awesome band!
NORTHCOTT: Well, there was only a two-day opportunity in a three-
month window that everybody could get together to record the bed
tracks. I got Blue Wave Studios and I asked Darryl, "which
engineer?". He said, "That guy, that... guy!" And I said, "Keith
Stein?" And Darryl said, "Yeah!".
I made up very elementary charts for them. I recorded my guitar and
vocal and a click track. I would sit down and say, "Okay, this is
a tune that I want to do, and this is the tempo that I want." We
listened to each `demo' all the way through and I'd say, "If you
got any questions, or any ideas, shout 'em out."
I didn't put a single idea in their heads during the whole two
days. There was one tune out of the fourteen that we laid down
where I thought the tempo was a little quick. I asked them to run
it again, but ended up using the first take.
I took the tracks back to my home which had very good acoustics and
where I had set up portable recording gear and took about a month
to do the acoustic guitars and vocals. And then I brought in Tom
Keenlyside to put on some flute and sax. Farmer's Daughter came in
to do harmony vocals. Shari Ulrich put a great violin part on one
track. Rocko and Gord from One Horse Blue came in and sang. And
Joani Bye, Kirsten Nash and Linda Kidder came for a separate
session. I always went for first or second impressions, to keep
things fresh. If the heart isn't in it, it's like a beautiful car
with no engine. I worked hard to keep spirits up, and didn't grind
on anyone. I wanted to create a feeling of joyfulness on all of the
WCMR: Having come full circle, back to doing covers of a fellow
songwriter, you seem to have put even more joy and total
abandonment into the cuts.
NORTHCOTT: I feel comfortable singing other people's songs, because
if they have written it, then I don't feel like I'm subject to
criticism for what they wrote. I can adopt what they wrote, and
interpret it, and put myself into it, but I'm not exposed and
vulnerable to having somebody know what I thought or felt. A lot of
my artistic dilemma has been that I felt unsafe saying who I was,
or exposing myself. I cringe at hearing some of the old songs, like
Cry Tomorrow. I was so pathetically sentimental... I mean, grow up,
get a life...
WCMR: That was a teenage composition, Tom. We all loved it when it
was on the radio, back then.
NORTHCOTT: So, I find it easier to do covers, because I simply
adopt somebody else's language. I don't feel as exposed.
WCMR: This time around, you haven't been singing several other
songwriters, you've found a focus. And you chose an artist who
isn't really known for his "joyfulness". Yet, you have given us
tracks which were transcendental interpretations of Leonard Cohen.
NORTHCOTT: I chose twenty songs, to record fifteen and to put the
ten best on a CD. The criterion was, is there something either
joyful or transcendental about the song, some transformative or
cathartic element to it.
So, a song like I Left A Woman Waiting starts out with a failed
romance and then a rediscovery when the lovers meet, later on, with
some understanding and honesty about what happened between them,
then animal attraction and they end up in bed, again, and that sort
of troubled, tortured, passionate ...thing, transmutes to being "as
free as running water".
That's the freedom, the ascendance-transcendence that I was looking
for, if the song wasn't already a "joyful song" on its own. True
Love Leaves No Traces to me is a purely joyful song that includes
the depth of unconscious in "As the mist leaves no trace on the
dark green hill" and "children come and go", but "True love leaves
no traces, if you and I are one." So, there's one that's purely
The Guests "One by one the guests arrive", that's the whole pageant
of life, birth, ecstasy, passion, suffering. You go through that
song and then, "One by one the guests are cast beyond the garden
wall", what a gorgeous image for death or moving on to the next
level or incarnation or whatever it is. But, really, "No one knows
where the night is going" and "No one knows why the wine is
flowing" - but the wine is flowing. That's the beauty of that
song, that's what is joyful about that song for me, is that we
don't need to know, because "the wine flows", and "the night goes."
And Dance Me To The End Of Love has the young lovers moving like
they do in Babylon, show me how you like it, baby, let's do it!
WCMR: The production on your rendition of Dance Me To The End Of
Love comes very close to the transcendent ecstasy of the Lenny
Waronker-Leon Russell production of Sunny Goodge Street, and your
vocal is equally inspired.
WCMR: I think that when people finally get their hands on this CD,
they are going to be truly surprised at what ten songs made the
final cut. You take a brooding song like Paper Thin Hotel and by
the end of your version there is a tremendous release in the
singer's realization that he is no longer jealous.
NORTHCOTT: He's free.
WCMR: Before this release point, his mind has been following her
into her hotel room liaisons with her lovers, and he has self-inflicted
all these wounds upon himself...
NORTHCOTT: Yes, and he's trying to control love, but what he has
learned is that "love is out of my control". And there is a
tremendous relief learning that he cannot control love, that love
is a grace, love is something that he may do but that he cannot
WCMR: If I were writing a critical review of your album and I wrote
that Tom Northcott has found the emotional centre of each of these
ten songs... would I be on the right track? I'm guessing, here, but
it occurred to me that you might not have known the songs so
completely when you began to record them, but by the time you put
your final vocal down, you did, truly, know them.
NORTHCOTT: Yes. I think that finding the emotional centre has
several stages. First, I find my emotional centre in each song. So
that I know what each of those songs means to me, and I express it!
Then the next level is that I care, beyond any words I can say, to
try to represent Leonard Cohen's emotional centre as much as I can.
I'm a servant to each song in that way. The third is that I care
about the emotional centre of the listener. Although I'm not trying
to persuade or manipulate anybody, I'm trying to be as real as I
can be, because I know that what comes from the heart goes to the
heart. So, I try to move from my heart through Leonard Cohen's
heart to the listener's heart.
Click here for more information on the play
Joyful Songs of Leonard Cohen and The New Step
at the Arts Club Revue Theatre Granville Island in Vancouver!
My thanks to Tom Northcott and Valleri Murphy