TS: How did the collaboration between Pauline Scanlon and The Whileaways come about?
NJ: It’s actually a really romantic story! Pauline was asked to put together a very special performance of Leonard Cohen’s songs as a gift from a man to his wife on the occasion of their 25th wedding anniversary. The couple are music promoters in Ireland, but also good friends and huge fans of Leonard Cohen. She rang me immediately, full of excitement about the project and asked if The Whileaways would be involved. We knew straight away that it was going to be something very, very special. As it turned out there were some other festival bookers at that performance and we were invited to do it again.. and again.. and almost immediately we were selling out venues all over Ireland. The reaction has been amazing. It was all born from a really beautiful place and it’s been our honour to share it.
TS: Your performance explores Leonard Cohen’s work and the audience will be familiar with many of the songs. What are the pros and cons of working with material that is so well-known? What can the audience expect?
NJ: Leonard Cohen’s music is so dear to people that it really has to be approached with ultimate respect and sensitivity. Nobody wants to hear a band trying to imitate Leonard Cohen – it has to come from a much deeper place than that. The ingredients have to be right. This eight piece band is a marriage of kindred spirits – singers and musicians who are cut from the same cloth. There are rich vocal harmonies and delicate arrangements. It’s an honest representation of some of the most beautiful songs ever written.
TS: You are all successful artists that perform and release your own original music. What is it about Leonard Cohen’s work in particular that has inspired you to explore, re-imagine and perform his songs?
NJ: To put it simply, his music is profound. Musically, lyrically, there is nothing you would change. It is such a joyful and grounding experience, as musicians, to explore his vast songbook and to get inside these songs. Each one is it’s own master class.
TS: Are there particular songs from the set that mean more to you or that speak to you personally?
NJ: Like a lot of people, each of us have our own very personal relationships with Leonard Cohen’s music. It relates to different people and different times in our lives. I know when Pauline sings Suzanne, she thinks of her late mother, who played the song endlessly in their house growing up, and who wrote its lyrics over and over in her school exams!
TS: We are all incredibly excited to have music and audiences back in the concert hall. How did the lockdown affect you as artists and what are you enjoying most about being back on stage with in-person audiences?
NJ: It’s been hard for sure, but we’re here to tell the tale. Luckily, a lot of us found it to be a creative time. The Whileaways have written and recorded a new album and Pauline has also finished a new album, both for release in the Spring. Being back on stage has been very moving. The first time we presented Bird on the Wire after lockdown, half of the audience and half of the band were in tears! In a good way. It’s OK trying to do your thing online to keep the ship afloat, but it doesn’t compare to sharing a room with people. Nothing can replace that.
TS: If you could meet and perform with any artist – past or present – who would it be and why?
NJ: Leonard Cohen! Though I don’t think I would like to perform with him – I’d prefer to sit and listen.
TS: And finally, what is your go-to album for a perfect Saturday morning?
NJ: Thanks for the Dance
Bird on the Wire: The Songs of Leonard Cohen comes to Turner Sims on Friday 17 September. Your can book your tickets here