The official news is that, after the usual spate of rumors, broken deadlines, and inexplicable variations in recordings, the CD/DVD set, the BluRay disc,1 and the two-LP set of Leonard Cohen’s performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival will be released on October 20, 2009.
There are some subtle differences between Leonard Cohen at the Isle of Wight Festival and the concerts of the 2009 Leonard Cohen World Tour.
Leonard Cohen And The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival
The 1970 Isle of Wight Festival attracted 30-40 bands and an audience of 600,000 to 700,000 to an island with a population of less than 100,000 for five days of almost continuous music.
Among the performers were Kris Kristofferson, The Moody Blues, Donovan, Joan Baez, Jethro Tull, Melanie, Sly & The Family Stone, John Sebastian, Chicago, and Joni Mitchell.
Also on the bill were some lesser known names, such as David Bromberg, Kathy Smith, and – I kid you not – The Groundhogs.
The point is that it was an eclectic group of performers with varying levels of talents. On August 29, for example, Joni Mitchell was followed by Tiny Tim, who, in turn, yielded the stage to Miles Davis.
The penultimate act of the festival was a not so dapper but nonetheless stylish Leonard Cohen, backed by his band The Army, who played the set before the grand finale by Richie Havens, the designated star of the festival, who broke into “Here Comes the Sun” as the sun rose on the Isle of Wight.
This rendering of “Suzanne” at the Isle of Wight provides a sense of the scene.
Leonard Cohen – Suzanne (live at Isle of Wight, 1970)
The Eyewitness Report – John Etherington
Even more striking, however, is the report from John Etherington at LeonardCohenFiles, providing the perspective of a 19 year old in the audience. I’ve excerpted a couple of paragraphs, but the full post is worthwhile, entertaining reading.
However, they [friends who had originally convinced Etherington to attend the festival with them] were not committed enough, and backed out at the last moment. Undaunted, I bought a ticket just before the event (you could do that, then) and went alone – a kid of 19, who had just grown his hair to a reasonable length. I arrived mid-morning Saturday, and made my way as close to the front as I could – central, and just behind the press enclosure (about 30 yards from the stage). I edged into a small pitch of ground next to three other people (a French couple and an American guy). As a benevolent gesture, I shared my food with them, and we all got on well, and stuck together for the rest of the festival. The weather remained fine throughout the weekend. It was possible to just get high on the music and the atmosphere. even though I must have had a few puffs on a joint if someone passed one around. Come to think of it, there was probably enough of it wafting around to make you feel high, anyway!
One great thing about this festival was that all of the acts appeared at the time of day that their music felt most appropriate…i.e John Sebastian came on at the height of the good-day sunshine, and Donovan played his set on a lazy afternoon as bubbles wafted through the air and children played. Time seemed to stand quite still. The big-name rock bands (Moody Blues, Emerson Lake and Palmer and the Who) all came on late in the evening or after nightfall, and used the stage lighting to maximum effect. Things being so great then, you just had to pick the people you were least interested in, as an opportunity to go to the loo or buy some food. Hence, I missed most of the sets by Ten Years After, Miles Davis and Kris Kristofferson (apologies to Jim Devlin!). Jeff Dexter played some great music between the acts. The tracks I remember most clearly were the instrumental “Amazing Grace” (which got played repeatedly), The Radha Krishna Temple’s “Hare Krishna”, the Beatle’s “Across the Universe”, and Cat Steven’s “Katmandu”. I only slept for an hour on two the first night and as I woke, I couldn’t remember where I was. I thought I was in a large dome with twinkling lights above me. I could hear an angels voice (“we must be in heaven, man!”). As it turned out, the lights were morning stars, and the angel was Melanie singing “Mr. Tambourine Man”.
Again, that full post can be found at LeonardCohenFiles.
The Press Release From Columbia Legacy
2009: LEONARD COHEN’S STELLAR COMEBACK YEAR CAPPED BY DVD DEBUT OF 1970 CONCERT PERFORMANCE
LEONARD COHEN LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970
TWO-DISC DVD+CD PACKAGE COUPLES
FESTIVAL DOCUMENTARY FILM BY MURRAY LERNER
WITH AUDIO RECORDING BY TEO MACERO
Live versions of classic songs from first two Leonard Cohen LPs: “So Long, Marianne,” “The Stranger Song,” “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Good¬bye,” “Suzanne,” “Bird On The Wire,” “You Know Who I Am,” “The Partisan,”
and more, plus poetry and stories to calm the 600,000 at Isle Of Wight
DVD documentary adds 2009 interviews with fellow festival performers Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Bob Johnston, and Kris Kristofferson
Available at both physical and digital retail outlets starting Oct. 20, 2009, through Columbia/Legacy – also available in double-LP and Blu-ray configurations – releases coincide with latest dates on Cohen’s first full-scale U.S. tour in 15 years, Oct. 17th through Nov.13th
“‘All those people had been sitting out there in the rain, after they’d set fire to Hendrix’s stage,’ Bob Johnston recalls, ‘and nobody had slept for days. And then Leonard came out and he started out singing ‘Like… a … bird’ – singing it so slowly that everybody in that audience was exactly with him. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard. And that’s what saved that show and saved the festival.’”
– Bob Johnston, as told to Sylvie Simmons, from the liner notes to LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970
Nearly 40 summers ago on August 31, 1970, 35-year-old Leonard Cohen was awakened at 2 a.m. from a nap in his trailer and brought onstage to perform with his band at the third annual Isle Of Wight music festival. The audience of 600,000 was in a fiery and frenzied mood, after turning the festival into a political arena, trampling the fences, setting fire to structures and equipment – and stoked by the most incendiary performance of Jimi Hendrix’s career, less than three weeks before his death.
As Cohen followed Hendrix’s set, onlookers (and fellow festival headliners) Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Judy Collins and others stood sidestage in awe as the Canadian folksinger-songwriter-poet-novelist quietly tamed the crowd. Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Murray Lerner, whose footage of the 1970 festival did not begin to see release until 1995, was able to capture Cohen’s performance. Likewise, Columbia Records staff A&R producer Teo Macero, who was ostensibly there to record Miles Davis’ set, did a brilliant job of supervising Cohen’s live recording as well.
LEONARD COHEN LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970 is a fascinating and timely portrait of the artist as a young man, just three years into his recording career (though he was already a published poet and novel¬ist for 15 years). As he mesmerizes the Isle Of Wight audience, Cohen intersperses a baker’s dozen songs with tales both real and apocryphal, as well as a handful of his poems. In pristine condition after nearly four decades in the archive, the video and audio programs will be available together as a deluxe two-disc DVD+CD package at all physical and digital retail outlets starting October 20th through Columbia/Legacy, a division of SONY MUSIC ENTER¬TAIN-MENT. A double-LP vinyl set will be released on the same date.
LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970 will also be available on Blu-ray, exclusively through Amazon.com [in US]
The CD (and double-LP) of LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970 represent the 77-minute concert set as performed by Cohen and his backup band: Bob Johnston (Cohen’s Nashville-based Columbia A&R staff producer), and Nashville musicians Charlie Daniels (electric bass, fiddle), Ron Cornelius (lead guitar), and Elkin ‘Bubba’ Fowler (bass, banjo). They were joined by backup singers Corlynn Hanney, Susan Musmanno, and Donna Washburn. During the course of their European tour – which Cohen only agreed to undertake if Johnston (producer of Cohen’s most recent LP, Songs From A Room) would manage him and organize the band – the group began to call themselves The Army, owing to the battles they were subjected to by audiences on the road.
The DVD (and Blu-ray) of LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970 is a masterwork by Murray Lerner, known for his work on Festival!, his Oscar-nominated 1969 documentary of the Newport Folk Festivals. His work on that film spurred the Isle Of Wight promoters to bring him aboard and document their festival – whose violence turned it into the last of the three original Isle Of Wight festivals of 1968, 1969, and 1970. (Bob Dylan put the festival on the map when he performed there in 1968, his first public performance since recovering from his fabled motorcycle crash of 1966.)
Lerner’s Isle of Wight footage went unfunded for decades until 1995, when the multi-artist Message To Love (with its brief snippet of Cohen singing “Suzanne”) was finally issued on video. Since then, Lerner’s documentary-style Isle of Wight videos on the 1970 performances by Miles Davis, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix have inspired a new generation of music fans. In 1980, Lerner’s From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern In China won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Adding further historic provenance to LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970 is a newly commissioned 2,000-word liner notes essay written by veteran British rock journalist and BBC commentator Sylvie Simmons. Author of well-received biographies on Neil Young (Reflections In Broken Glass, 2003), Serge Gainsbourg and others, Simmons previously wrote liner notes for the 2003 Sony International compilation MOJO Presents An Introduction To Leonard Cohen.
“Before he sang,” Simmons writes, “Cohen talked to the hundreds of thousands of people he couldn’t see. He told them – sedately – a story that sounded like a parable and a bedtime story, that worked like hypnotism and at the same time tested the temper¬a-ture of the crowd. He described how his father would take him to the circus as a child. Leonard didn’t much like circuses, but he enjoyed the part where a man would stand up and ask everyone to light a match so they could locate each other in the darkness. ‘Can I ask each of you to light a match,’ Leonard asked the audience, ‘so I can see where you all are?’”
All but three of the songs on LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970 originated on Cohen’s first two LPs, his debut Songs Of Leonard Cohen from 1967 (“So Long, Marianne,” “One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong,” “The Stranger Song,” “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Good¬bye,” “Suzanne”); and Songs From A Room from 1969 (“Bird On The Wire,” “You Know Who I Am,” “Tonight Will Be Fine,” “The Partisan,” “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy”). The three other songs – “Diamonds In The Mine,” “Sing Another Song Boys,” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” – were destined for Cohen’s third album, 1971’s Songs of Love and Hate (which actually reprised the Isle of Wight live version of “Sing Another Song Boys”).
The October 20th release of LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970 coincides with the next leg of Cohen’s first full-scale U.S. tour in 15 years, opening October 17th at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida (Fort Lauderdale), ending November 13th at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California. (Please see complete itinerary below.)
Cohen made history earlier this year when – in between critically acclaimed concerts in Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand – he played New York’s Beacon Theatre in February, followed by California’s Coachella Festival in April. These were his first U.S. performances since 1994, the year that he commenced a five-year retreat at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center atop a mountain in the San Gabriel Forest.
Cohen returned to recording and touring in 1999, when he released the studio album Ten New Songs in 2001. The live album Field Commander Cohen came in 2001 (culled from British tour dates back in 1979); and the studio album Dear Heather in 2004. 2006 marked the release of Blue Alert, the debut album by Anjani Thomas, a protégé of Cohen since the ’80s, produced by Cohen, with all songs co-written by Cohen and Anjani. On March 10, 2008, Leonard Cohen was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame at the 23rd annual dinner ceremony. In March 2009, Cohen released Live In London as a DVD and as a separate double-CD package, a 5-star album recorded at the O2 Arena in 2008.
Along the way, Leonard Cohen became the first Canadian-born artist ‘inducted’ into Legacy Recordings’ prestigious Essential series – when The Essential Leonard Cohen was issued in 2002. The 31-song compilation was personally chosen by the artist, with selections that ranged from Songs Of Leonard Cohen through 2001’s Ten New Songs. In May 2007, Columbia/Legacy issued expanded editions of Songs Of Leonard Cohen, Songs From A Room, and Songs Of Love and Hate, each with multiple tracks of previously unreleased bonus material.
All of the tracks on LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970 were written by Leonard Cohen except the highly-charged “The Partisan,” originally a French song of World War II heroism and resistance. The English translation was penned by Tin Pan Alley song¬smith Hy Zaret, of “Unchained Melody” and “One Meatball” renown. Joan Baez had been singing “The Partisan” for years, and at Isle of Wight Cohen dedicated the song to her “and the work she is doing.” (Baez finally got around to recording “The Partisan” on her 1972 album, Come From the Shadows, whose title came from a line in the song.)
Joan Baez – whose performance preceded Hendrix at Isle of Wight – is among the quartet of fellow festival performers who bear witness to Lerner in 2009, along with Judy Collins, Bob Johnston, and Kris Kristofferson. Their interviews add to the historic impact of LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970.
“It was a brilliant performance,” Simmons writes, “and Lerner’s cameras captured Cohen’s commanding presence, hypnotist’s charm, and an intimacy that would seem unfeasible in such a vast, inhospitable space.” As Johnston sums up, “It was magical, from the first moment to the last. I’ve never seen anything like it. He was just remarkable.”
DVD + CD:
LEONARD COHEN LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970
(Columbia/Legacy 88697 57067 2)
Disc One: DVD – Chapters: 1. Intro: Diamonds In The Mine • 2. Famous Blue Raincoat • 3. “It’s A Large Nation” • 4. Bird On The Wire • 5. One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong • 6. The Stranger Song • 7. Tonight Will Be Fine • 8. “They’ve Surrounded The Island” • 9. Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye • 10. Sing Another Song Boys • 11. Judy Collins Introduces Suzanne • 12. Suzanne • 13. Joan Baez On The Isle Of Wight • 14. The Partisan • 15. Seems So Long Ago, Nancy • 16. Credits: So Long, Marianne • Bonus Interviews: Bob Johnston • Judy Collins • Joan Baez • Kris Kristofferson.
Disc Two: CD – Selections: 1. Introduction • 2. Bird On The Wire • 3. Intro to So Long, Marianne • 4. So Long, Marianne • 5. Intro: “Let’s renew ourselves now…” • 6. You Know Who I Am • 7. Intro to Poems • 8. Lady Midnight • 9. They Locked Up A Man (poem)/A Person Who Eats Meat/Intro • 10. One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong • 11. The Stranger Song • 12. Tonight Will Be Fine • 13. Hey, That’s No Way To Say Good¬bye • 14. Diamonds In The Mine • 15. Suzanne • 16. Sing Another Song, Boys • 17. The Partisan • 18. Famous Blue Raincoat • 19. Seems So Long Ago, Nancy.
LEONARD COHEN LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970
(Columbia/Legacy 88697 588299 1)
Chapters: 1. Intro: Diamonds In The Mine • 2. Famous Blue Raincoat • 3. “It’s A Large Nation” • 4. Bird On The Wire • 5. One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong • 6. The Stranger Song • 7. Tonight Will Be Fine • 8. “They’ve Surrounded The Island” • 9. Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye • 10. Sing Another Song Boys • 11. Judy Collins Introduces Suzanne • 12. Suzanne • 13. Joan Baez On The Isle Of Wight • 14. The Partisan • 15. Seems So Long Ago, Nancy • 16. Credits: So Long, Marianne • Bonus Interviews: Bob Johnston • Judy Collins • Joan Baez • Kris Kristofferson.
LEONARD COHEN LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT 1970
(Columbia/Legacy 88697 57067 2)
LP One: Selections – Side one: 1. Introduction • 2. Bird On The Wire • 3. Intro to So Long, Marianne • 4. So Long, Marianne • 5. Intro: “Let’s renew ourselves now…” • 6. You Know Who I Am • Side two: 1 Intro to Poems • 2 Lady Midnight • 3 They Locked Up A Man (poem)/A Person Who Eats Meat/Intro • 4 One Of Us Cannot Be Wrong • 5 The Stranger Song.
LP Two: Selections – Side one: 1. Tonight Will Be Fine • 2. Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye • 3. Diamonds In The Mine • 4. Suzanne • Side two: 1 Sing Another Song, Boys • 2 The Partisan • 3 Famous Blue Raincoat • 4 Seems So Long Ago, Nancy.
Credit Due Department:
I was alerted to the release date and the press release by a post by jarkko at LeonardCohenFiles. Photos are from The Archive: A History of UK Rock Festivals. The photo showing the massive crowd was taken by Jaap van der Galiën and the photo of Leonard Cohen singing was taken by Col Underhill.
- In US the BluRay will be available at Amazon.com only. In other parts of the world it will be sold by all record/DVD sellers. [↩]