Tower of Song project is a match made in Cohen

Alan Owens

Reporter:

Alan Owens

Tower of Song: The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra with Hilary Bow and Liam O Maonlai performing The Cohen Project, which comes to the Lime Tree Theatre this Friday night. Pictures: Jim Berkeley
AS collaborations go, this is an odd sounding one. Enigmatic musician and former Hothouse Flowers frontman Liam Ó Maonlaí teams up with vaudevillian Limerick band The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra to sing Leonard Cohen songs as Gaeilge.

AS collaborations go, this is an odd sounding one. Enigmatic musician and former Hothouse Flowers frontman Liam Ó Maonlaí teams up with vaudevillian Limerick band The Brad Pitt Light Orchestra to sing Leonard Cohen songs as Gaeilge.

But, what sounds like a strange prospect has received plaudits both for its linguistical and musical achievements.

The key, David Blake of the BPLO explains is that Cohen’s songs contain “such a strong lyric and wry humour that it gives you a lot of licence in your arrangement, you don’t have to be overly precious”.

“It is that kind of a show, when you hear something like this, you are not sure if it will work,” laughs David of the project, which emanated from the Irish language literature festival in Dublin.

The musicians were commissioned, as were poets to translate the selected works, which in the past have included Bob Dylan and Edith Piaf. This year it was the choice of Cohen that brought the Brad Pitts into collaboration with Ó Maonlaí.

“We were kind of put together with Liam, we had never worked together or anything like that before,” says David.

“It started pretty much as you would imagine, with a good idea, and thankfully came into fruition very nicely. Also, we are all major Leonard Cohen fans.”

The result is Tower Of Song: The Cohen Project - or Túr Na nAmhrán: Tionscadal Cohen to give its full title - has been in development for over 12 months, touring Ireland since September to much renown and fittingly comes to the Lime Tree this Friday and Glor in Ennis on Saturday.

The BPLO and Cork’s Hilary Bow, a regular Ó Maonlaí collaborator, combine with the musician to perform Irish versions of Cohen’s songs - from Suzanne to Hallelujah to First We Take Manhattan - set to screen projections of the lyrics, created by Margaret Lonergan.

“I really do think the Irish works with the songs,” says Ó Maonlaí.

“Someone said the work is more like transfiguration then translation. As poets, Liam O Muirhille and Gabriel Rosenstock carry the meaning from Cohen’s mind through their own minds to the stage. The melodies carry the irish beautifully. Something great is happening on many levels,” he adds.

“It still blows my mind when I stop to think. We have a language that still carries with it an unbroken spirit. People again and again remark about knowing the Cohen songs, hearing them in this language that is theirs’ and seeing those words written while their hearts are being held by music,” continues Liam.

Dave Blake picks up the point: “From the point of view of the lyrics, we were lucky enough that the translations we got really scanned very well and it was just a case of getting comfortable, familiar and singing them until they were second nature.

“As well as that, they weren’t overly literal, a lot of them lend themselves and are a poetic take where Leonard would have some funny lines. There are enough delicate moments in the show that you don’t have to be solemn, there is plenty of room for humour and levity within it.”

There is a magical feeling about this project, which the musicians all agree is palpable and appears to be quite intoxicating.

“Something happens here every night. It is great to be a part of it and to be in the midst of it. This is good stuff, a meeting of many strands,” adds Liam.

Tower Of Song: The Cohen Project, takes place in the Lime Tree Theatre this Friday night at 8pm. To book tickets, see the Lime Tree website.