Live review: Songs of the Poets @ Floral Pavilion Blue Lounge 16/06/17
Live review: Dylan and Cohen – Songs of the Poets
Featuring Calli Hughes
Date: Friday 16th June 2017
Venue: Floral Pavilion, Blue Lounge
Reviewer: Denis Parkinson
Songs of the Poets celebrated two of the most revered songwriters and musicians within popular music, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. This Hand in Hand Theatre Production at the atmospheric Blue Lounge at the Floral Pavilion, featured a nine piece band of local musicians led by charismatic singer Calli Hughes. This was a night made special by expert musicianship, respect for musical history and a clear love of the source material.
The evening consisted of two distinct sections. The first half of the concert featured the songs of Leonard Cohen. There is a challenge to singing other people’s songs and arguably that challenge is increased when the original artist is as iconic and distinctive as Leonard Cohen. Calli’s delivery of the material was pitch perfect; both in the high standard of vocal delivery and the emotional engagement with the songs. We can take poetry for granted within lyrics and hearing these songs countless times in the past can make us blasé about just how meaningful they are. To hear them again with such a different interpretation from the original had me listening afresh. Familiar songs such as Hallelujah, Joan of Arc and Suzanne sounded fresh and vibrant. Alternatives to the originals that made me listen closely again and reminded me just how deep these songs are.
The performance was supplemented with projected images that included lyrics and photographs of Cohen; made even more poignant by his recent passing. Alongside these, interesting anecdotes from Calli gave each song context. Stories about the history of the songs added depth but there were also more personal stories as well. An example was So Long Marianne. Calli’s personal memory of the song showed her connection to the material. This approach engaged the audience very well indeed.
The second part of the show featured the songs of Bob Dylan. These songs have been covered extensively by many artists, in many styles, for many years. Dylan himself is known for constantly rearranging his back catalogue to extract new and interesting approaches to his work. His choice as the second ‘poet’ of the evening was particularly relevant following the debate around literature and music that was generated by his Nobel Prize in literature award for 2016. I was interested to see which songs would be included and how they’d be performed.
Songs were again accompanied by anecdotes and projections. These really added to the impact of the performance in a substantial way. Songs were presented from relatively early in his career and performed with expertise and feeling. The band adapted well to different approaches and moods ranging from fully acoustic numbers to a full band approach. Mr. Tambourine Man, Blowing in the Wind and Simple Twist of Fate were outstanding. An unexpected choice was Masters of War which sadly, as one of Dylan’s most powerful anti-war songs, is still strongly relevant today. There was a marked contrast here between the obvious happiness of the musicians to be playing and the haunting meaning of the lyrics. For me it emphasised the seriousness of the song. Knocking on Heaven’s Door closed this section and was stunning. The full-house audience offered a standing ovation.
Calli gave an outstanding vocal performance throughout, supported by an expert group of musicians. Of particular note were the contributions of Kate O’Brien on violin and the legendary Brian ‘Saxophone’ Jones doing what he does best, but everyone had a vital role to play. As the evening drew to a close Bird on the Wire by Leonard Cohen was an inspired choice of encore as the room was fully conscious of the loss of Cohen last year. This served as tribute, celebration and fitting end to a most enjoyable evening. There was music, poetry and respect in this celebration of two giants of modern music.
Denis Parkinson is a singer songwriter based in Liverpool. He performed at Liverpool Acoustic Festival 2016 and Threshold Festival 2016. He performed at the Liverpool Acoustic Kazimier Garden afternoon as part of LIMF 2015 and played at the Lantern Theatre, Liverpool, for We Shall Overcome 2015. He was a finalist in the Liverpool Acoustic Songwriting Challenge 2014 and 2015. He plays regularly in and around Liverpool and has a longstanding enthusiasm for music of all kinds. In 2015 he released an album titled "Liverpool Skyline". In real life he works as a lecturer at University of Liverpool.