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How Leonard Cohen surprised Pink Floyd's David Gilmour

There’s no doubt that Leonard Cohen had a huge influence on the music world. Despite being a late bloomer in pop music, he only decided to pursue it as his main occupation at the age of 33. As a singer, Cohen carved out a pathway to legendary status with a slew of songs that not only charmed its listeners but enthralled people as his poetry had. One such audience member left agog at his talent was David Gilmour.

Gilmour, himself a noted lyricist, was utterly captivated by his power as a musician. Like everyone else, for the Pink Floyd guitarist, it was Cohen’s lyrical nuances that dazzled him most greatly. He wasn’t the only member of the band beguiled by Cohen’s dry wit, incandescent imagery and vivid storytelling; Roger Waters was also a fan, once famously labelling both him and Bob Dylan as leading lights for demonstrating what was possible within the realms of popular music.

It’s a funny assumption to make that, before Dylan and Cohen, artists were just throwing any old words into their songs and hoping for the best but, it’s not far from the truth. Even The Beatles would lean heavily on the two folk artists’ ways, choosing to use their personal expressions on their new songs. It was something Dylan had told John Lennon to focus on in the mid-1960s, a conversation that would stoke the Beatle’s creative fires and produce some of his finest work. For Gilmour, however, Cohen is now so much more.

During the simply awful year that was 2020, one good thing arose from the depths of music, a newfound love of ‘the cover’. Without studio time to make new music and with no gigs to promote them, artists instead turned towards covering classic tracks to make music and maintain their position in the collective consciousness. With a new book on the cards for Gilmour’s wife, Polly Samson, the Pink Floyd guitarist lent a hand to the promotion and picked up his guitar for some scintillating covers. Featured in Samson’s book A Theater of Dreamers, Cohen was a natural choice.

Titled the ‘Von Trapped’ family recordings, Gilmour was joined by his pack for special performances of some of his favourite Cohen songs, including ‘So Long, Marianne’ and ‘Bird on a Wire’, both of which rank high as some of the former poet’s best. Gilmour approaches the covers, which you can watch below, with the delicacy of a true fan. Clearly not willing to stampede over the original songs, he is gentle and kind with each performance. However, there may be another reason for his extra care.

Speaking with Rolling Stone, Gilmour revealed that he is now not only a fan of Cohen’s lyrics and songwriting but his guitar playing too. It may have been the reason for the extra attention he paid to the covers as he tells the publication: “One thing I did learn is how bloody good he is as a guitar player.

“You tend to think of singer-songwriters as people who are just using the guitar accompaniment to carry the words that they’re doing,” the guitarist continued, “but Leonard was an absolutely brilliantly accomplished guitar player in fingerstyle things that I just cannot do. And of course, he’s about the best lyricist that I know of.” When you consider the source, it’s some seriously high praise.

Gilmour has a pretty impressive list of favourite guitar players, and we can now safely assume that Leonard Cohen should be included on that list. Below, watch Gilmour perform ‘Bird on a Wire’ and ‘So Long, Marianne’ and pay tribute to one of his favourite musicians of all time.

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