Albert Noonan – The Man Behind The Camera Of Those Great Leonard Cohen Concert Videos

Albert Noonan

Albert Noonan

In fulfillment of my mission to serve and protect those who visit my Heck Of A Guy and LeonardCohenSearch blogs, I’ve screened most1 of the audience-filmed videos of the Leonard Cohen World Tour concerts that have appeared online since the first show in Fredericton in May 2008. One set of these concert videos – those shot by albertnoonan on YouTube – stands out and is clearly special. Each of these videos is sharply focused, smoothly shot, well targeted, complete, and entertaining. For the first time in my experience on YouTube, I found myself trusting a specific, named videographer to produce a high quality contemporary concert video in the same way I’ve previously trusted Hewlett Packard to produce high quality laser printers or Lexus to produce high quality automobiles.
I became interested in who albertnoonan was and how he took those great videos. After realizing that others might also be interested, I contacted Albert with the idea of telling his story and revealing how he manages to turn out those great videos. Happily, he not only agreed to my requests but provided the text for this post.2
I think you’ll find it, as I have, engaging, entertaining, and enlightening.

Marie, Me, And Leonard Cohen

I am an architect by profession and serve as the Managing Director of an architectural practice here in the Irish City of Dublin, my hometown for the past 48 years. I am married to Marie (AKA irishMar) and we have two children; James (14) and Emily (12).

2009 is a special year in our family, marking our twentieth anniversary of a marriage that has, from the beginning, consisted of the three of us: Marie, me, and the one and only Mr Leonard Cohen, who, while perhaps unaware of the role he played, has nonetheless been present in spirit.

True, Leonard hasn’t been much use around the house. He has yet, for example, to bring  the groceries in. On the other hand, he has – in his own way – kept Marie happy, a contribution to our relationship that has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated.

Marie and I both had the pleasure of meeting Leonard in his hotel lobby after the last Dublin Concert, coming together for a moment after admiring him from a distance all those years.

We are excited about celebrating our 20th anniversary in September by attending the Barcelona concert on the 21st of that month, which is, of course, Leonard Cohen’s birthday.

My interest in Leonard Cohen and his music grew gradually. I did not have that “eureka moment” like some fans, who can instantly recall when and where they heard their first Leonard Cohen song.

Marie is, in fact, responsible for my own involvement with Cohen. She is a long-time fan and, consequently, Leonard Cohen’s music has played continuously for many years in our household. Our two kids grew up listening to Leonard Cohen in the car on the way to and from school. “Closing time” was always one of their favorites. It did strike us as as unusual – in a good way – to hear our four year old issue a request from the back of the car: “Mummy, put on Repent [The Future].”

Marie has always had a craving for anything Cohen. She owns all his albums, all his books, some of his original artwork, and is constantly looking for pictures or videos of The Man himself.

The Catastrophe And The Compensatory Concerts

In the Dark Ages before YouTube and satellite TV, finding “moving pictures” of Leonard was an especially difficult task.  Marie and I were ecstatic when I managed to tape “Songs from the life of Leonard Cohen,” a 1988 BBC documentary about Leonard on tour that was broadcast on BBC Television in 1993. This was fantastic, Leonard Cohen was available for Marie’s viewing at the push of a button on our VHS video recorder.

This joy, however, proved short lived. I had the misfortune to accidentally record over and delete the documentary.

This did not go down at all well in our household.

I tried in vain to buy a copy from the BBC , but it was out of circulation.

I was in big trouble.

In hopes of recovering from this disaster, I promised Marie that if Leonard Cohen were ever to perform again that we  would attend that concert, wherever in the world it might take place.

Time passed. All remained quiet until 2008 when the first set of the Cohen’s World Tour concerts was announced, setting off screams of joy in our home, which were  immediately followed by reminders of my promise.

Consequently, we have attended as many of the concerts as time and circumstances would permit.

I have to admit I am not a great fan of much of Cohen’s earlier music. probably because I was never enthusiastic about analyzing lyrics, tending to respond more to the music than the words.

“Ten New songs “ is the album that appealed to me most until the recent tour produced the “Live in London” soundtrack, which I love – musically, lyrically and technically. This is music I can chill-out to and can listen to all day.

Because I am spending so much time “in His company” these days, I am now becoming more involved in the lyrics and, as a result, I am getting more and more out of them as the World Tour progresses.

The YouTube Evolution Of albertnoonan

I stumbled into taking concert videos. I have no formal video training and have used my video camera only for family holidays and events.

My first attempt to record a Cohen performance was during the first of his 2008 concerts on The Royal Hospital grounds in Kilmainham in Dublin. We were 16 rows back and to the left of the stage. The videos were shot on a little Canon digital still camera. In the days following the concerts Marie was trawling through YouTube looking for selections to remind her of the event. When we reviewed what was available, we formed the opinion that the video that I had taken was worthy of uploading.

I figured out how to sign up with YouTube and to upload my efforts. At that time, I harbored no plans to make this an ongoing project. New to the process and anticipating only sporadic use of my new YouTube account, I created my YouTube user name from my real  name rather than an exotic nom-de-plume or “IrishAl,” the nickname I later adopted at LeonardCohenForum.

Leonard Cohen – The Future (Dublin – 2008)

“The Future” from the first Dublin concert is the first video I ever uploaded, so it is special to me. It not bad and the sound is ok, and it wasn’t even shot on a video camera! It is also worth noting that it is the best version of Leonard doing some “white man dancing” that I have seen in all my concerts to date.

When I look back on those initial videos, I can see that I have come a long way. The turning point came just after the London O2 concert when Marie, no doubt to assure that she would never again lack for “moving pictures” of Leonard, encouraged me to buy a miniature digital video camera.

sonycamera

Armed with my new Sony TG3e3 [see graphic above], we headed to the Helsinki show where, from seats in the second row (thanks to Jarkko), I managed to capture some reasonably good videos.

Leonard Cohen – In My Secret Life (Helsinki – 2008)

This was my first outing with a video camera and I didn’t know the concert content that well so I was in “uncharted waters.” I can see some of the mistakes I made, but it was the first time I got a sense of what could be achieved at a concert with this camera.

I got a great buzz out of taking these and was delighted that so many people found them interesting.

I was hooked!

How To Take Concert Videos From The Audience

Filming a live concert from the audience is no simple matter, especially since one never knows exactly what to expect. Surprising moments take place on stage in even the most tightly scripted shows, and the actions and responses of the audiences (which may vary significantly from concert to concert) are even more unpredictable activities.

Simple fatigue is always  potential problem. Leonard’s songs typically last 6-7 minutes, long enough to cause cramps in my arms as I attempt to keep the camera steady throughout the performance.

Big Heads, curly hair, swaying arms, and people standing up or talking nearby are common and recurrent obstacles confronting the videographer. I have had otherwise solid tapings thwarted in this manner. My shooting of “Hallelujah” during the first Dublin concert this July, for example, was ruined when most of the second row stood up to allow security to assist an “overzealous” fan from the auditorium. Happily, my efforts to record the same song during the fourth Dublin concert (the one in which Leonard refers to “this great city of Dublin,” making capturing that moment especially important to me) was more successful.

I do think my videos are getting better with time. On consideration, I think this improvement stems from two major changes.

First, thanks to the pre-sales, we have been able to obtain good seats, generally within the first 10 rows. This is a big help as holding the camera steady when you are on full zoom is a bit of a nightmare. Also, our seats have varied from side to side in the venues and this has given a different perspective to each concert.

Second, as I have attended more concerts, I have become more familiar with the set lists and the typical setting, lighting, and choreography of each song. Knowing what usually happens next (for example, where Leonard is going to move or who is going to play solo) is a tremendous help, allowing me to position the camera to cover the area where it is needed. This adds interest and makes the video more enjoyable to watch. Because we are all jaded by slick TV and movie production, a static view of the stage soon gets boring, even when that view displays Leonard Cohen.

Part of the Charm of a YouTube video is that it is taken from the perspective of the audience. It is an aide-de-memoire which can take one back in time to the concert one attended or it can convey a sense of what the concert was like for those who could not attend. The constant adjustment of the camera viewpoint and the sounds and glimpses of the audience similarly play their part in creating this experience .

I believe my more successful videos are those in which the viewer forgets that he or she is  looking at a recording displayed on a small screen and instead becomes absorbed by Cohen’s music and the performance. To achieve this, I strive for slow, fluid camera movements and very slow zoom at appropriate times in the song.

Good close-ups are particularly important because the final product is going to be viewed on a small window of a computer screen.

So, that’s my advice for producing high quality concert videos: use a good camera, obtain good seats, learn as much as you can about the songs and the performance in advance, and take it easy …don’t panic or get overly excited.

Most importantly enjoy the concert – that’s why you are there in the first place.

Future albertnoonan Videos Of Leonard Cohen Concerts

I have three more concerts to look forward to and hopefully I can capture some magic moments from these for others to enjoy. Alas, only one of them will be in the US on the final leg of the tour. Which one ?…. you’ll just have to wait and see!

fedoradivider

Questions And Answers About Shooting Concert Videos

The following queries cover video issues in which I was interested. Albert has agreed to also answer questions from viewers about shooting concert videos. (Questions for Albert can be left in Comments.)

________________

DrHGuy: Have ushers or security personnel hassled you about filming and, if so, how did you handle it?

albertnoonan: No I have never been hassled over filming.  The MEN arena in Manchester and The Royal Albert Hall were the most vigilant, but mostly in relation to people who walk up the aisle to get close to the stage to take photos. The Security personnel can become distractions in themselves if they are too aggressive in preventing photos and this can take from the performance. It’s a case of getting the balance right.

DrHGuy: Have other audience members complained about your filming and, if so, how did you handle it?

albertnoonan: No, nobody has ever mentioned my filming. I keep the camera in front of my chest and below my chin generally so it would not be blocking the view of anybody sitting behind me more than i was myself.  I would be very conscious of this and having been blocked myself a few times by inconsiderate fans. I always try a respect those behind.

DrHGuy: Do you always shoot from your seat or do you use the aisle or both?

albertnoonan: Always from my seat. I have never been in the aisle. Sometimes at the end of a concert, if the crowd storms the stage, then I have to stand up along with everyone else. This is harder on your arms as you have to hold the camera higher and anything can happen as the fans get overexcited.

DrHGuy: I’ve seen your videos blocked for an instance by big heads but within 2-3 seconds you recover the shot on the performance? Is there a technique for accomplishing this?

albertnoonan: There is no magic technique for this. You have to make a quick judgment about where to move your hand or the camera angle. A small change in camera position can make a big difference especially if you have zoomed in close. If Leonard is blocked then focus on the Webb sisters, as this usually provides some interest in the absence of the man himself.

fedoradivider

Albert Noonan Selects A Few Of His Favorite Videos

Leonard Cohen – Who By Fire (Dublin – 2009)

This is acoustically and visually stunning. It holds your interest from the beginning with a burst of vivid red lighting to accompany a marvelous Javier Mas Solo and ends with one of my favorite riffs from Rosco Beck on the stand-up bass.

Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah (Dublin – July 23, 2009)

This is just such a powerful performance in my home town that I will remember for a long time.

Leonard Cohen – Chelsea Hotel #2 (Beacon Theatre, NYC – 2009)

I loved the NYC concert. It was very intimate compared to some of the big arenas. I thought that “Democracy” was going to be the special song of the night. I enjoyed it, but it was not as poignant and moving to me as his delivery of the Chelsea Hotel #2.

  1. My conservative guess is that I’ve seen at least 90% of the accessible videos of the performances from the World Tour. []
  2. I have edited the copy, primarily to correct typos and adjust the language to conform to standard American English usage, formatted the copy to suit the blog display, added headings, and included information and a graphic of the camera. []
  3. An extensive review of this camera can be found at Endgadget []

4 responses to “Albert Noonan – The Man Behind The Camera Of Those Great Leonard Cohen Concert Videos

  1. Excellent Albert, I discovered Leonard only a few years ago in Canada. Thanks to Dan and the CBC programme ‘Saskatchewan Weekend’ playing ‘Closing Time.’ I am forever indebted to you and Dan for bringing Leonard Cohen to my world. I doubt that I will ever have the sublime experience of seeing Leonard in concert, thus my undying gratitude for your videos…

  2. Thanks for the fine presentation of this fascinating and invaluable item from Albert Noonan.

  3. Thank you Mr. Heck for this interesting post! And many, many thanks to Sir Albert for the wonderful videos he has shared from this amazing summer tour of Leonard Cohen and his band of merry men and women. I recently took it upon myself at the forum to arbitrarily award Albert Noonan an honorary knighthood in recognition of his wonderful videos that he has shared. In spite of being a rank amateur with regard to cameras, I have dipped my toe into the world of taking video at concerts and I know how difficult it can be and I especially appreciate the “how to” section above. Unfortunately I have been the victim of the video police a number of times and that is unpleasant – but the cat mentality in me has shone through and I have gone right back at it at the first opportunity! I took video at the Philadelphia concert but from the balcony and had to deal with a balcony rail. My arms were literally aching and shaking at times – beyond cramping – and my videos reflect this – a “whole lot of shaking going on. ” Nevertheless, I still can go back and look at my videos and experience again the uniqueness of “my” concert. Many times I read where people say that taking video would detract from their enjoyment of the concert. That has not been the case for me – it has actually been an added level of enjoyment, and that includes the fun of rushing home to see what you have on your camera and if there is something good you can share with others. And you some video to remember your concert.

    Every day I am looking on YouTube to see what new gems have appeared from Leonard’s travels throughout Europe. One thing that I would like to mention – it is important to identify the basics in your description of the video on YouTube- the artist (Leonard Cohen), the name of the song, and the date and the location of the performance (venue). Anything beyond that in the description is an added bonus. But sometimes people omit the very basic information and it is a shame for a number of reasons but first and foremost – the video may not show up in a search – and will be lost in space – or if it does show up, the identification of where it is from is missing. Also, putting “clues” in the tags is a good idea – along with the basics. For example – if one particular musician is featured in the performance, add their name in the “tags” so if someone is searching for – say “Javier Mas” – there is a good chance that the video will show up in a search. Vimeo is also a great place to upload video and a lot of people put their videos on both YouTube and Vimeo.

    As Albert points out, every performance is different – and there is no way to predict what little changes will occur on the stage from night to night. Besides the “professional” performance, there are always all kinds of interesting things happening in that little world up on that stage! Sir Albert’s videos have been a wonderful gift to Leonard Cohen fans – and fans to be. And as Naomi says above, there are people who have not had the good fortune to attend one of these concerts, and Albert’s videos are the next best thing. But it is not just the quality of his video – it is obvious that the man behind the camera has an understanding and love and appreciation of what is going on up on the stage and he shares that with us.

    I was going to ask on the forum if Sr. Albert had any plans of attending the added concerts in the USA and that is answered above. I wish he were attending them all – so I could watch his videos! Okay – I am going to guess that he does “know the way” and he will be attending the San Jose concert – since it is the last show in this amazing tour. But – Sir Albert – if, in fact, it is the concert at Madison Square Gardens that you will be attending, then please come to the concert in Philadelphia the night before. I will be there – maybe with my camera – but I am no Albert Noonan. Ha! And I would love to have some great video to remember from “my” show.

    Thanks!

    p.s. I’m laughing here. – terrific capture of that “white man dancing” in “The Future” above.

    • Thanks, HeckofaGuy, for eliciting a great post from Al Noonan. Al is amazing, I have been searching Youtube for his videos as the tour has gone on, hoping that he has been at more concerts. I was thrilled to discover that he was at the Beacon, which I was lucky enough to be at, and disappointed to find that he wasn’t at Radio City: I checked Youtube for weeks afterwards in the vain hope that something from him showed up. I can’t believe that he films without a tripod: he must have arms of steel or something.
      Thanks, Al, again, for your amazing videos, and now that they’re collected here I’m going to sit down and watch them again. Please say you’ll be in New York in October!!
      Sue7 on the Forum