THIS summer, the legendary Leonard Cohen returns to Australia for his third concert tour in five years.
After two critically acclaimed sellout tours, this is set to be Cohen's most extensive run of performances ever in this part of the world, with the great artist and his stunning nine-piece band spending almost two months travelling across Australia and New Zealand, taking in regional shows in places as far-flung as Cairns, Townsville, Wollongong, Geelong and the Hunter Valley, along with all major cities.
And this will be, in all likelihood, the last time we'll get the chance to see the man many consider to be the greatest songwriter of them all performing on our shores. By the time Cohen arrives here in November, he will have celebrated his 79th - yes, 79th! - birthday.
What makes this all the more remarkable is that the new tour comes on the back of Cohen's latest studio album, the cheekily titled Old Ideas. Released last year, Old Ideas became the most successful album of Cohen's 40-year plus recording career, topping the charts in 11 countries and reaching number two here on our ARIA chart and number three on the US Billboard chart.
Songs from the Old Ideas album will feature heavily on this new tour's setlists, blending seamlessly alongside Cohen's countless timeless classics, including Bird On A Wire, Suzanne, First We Take Manhattan, Sisters Of Mercy, Dance Me To The End Of Love, Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye and, of course, the most famous song of them all, Hallelujah.
Before Cohen re-emerged from his self-imposed retirement back in 2008, having not performed a concert since 1993 (Cohen actually retreated to a Buddhist monastery for the remainder of that decade and became a monk), his music began taking on a life of its own. In particular, Hallelujah, which has now been recorded by more than 300 artists and unexpectedly become a staple of television singing contests.
It was nothing new for other artists to perform Cohen's songs - he actually wrote songs for other singers in the 1960s before, already an internationally renowned poet, he decided to start singing himself fairly late in life at the ripe old age of 32. He was "discovered" by the legendary producer John Hammond, the man behind the careers of such other luminaries as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Aretha Franklin.
"I thought he was enchanting," Hammond once recalled of their first meeting. "Because that's the only word you can use! He was not like anything I've ever heard before . . . a true original. The young man set his own rules."
Decades later, during Cohen's apparent retirement, more and more singers began stepping up to keep his music alive. There are countless tribute albums dedicated to his music and recorded in a variety of languages.
There have also been major concert events irregularly staged in cities across the world, all-star line-ups celebrating the music of Leonard Cohen. In January 2005, the Sydney Opera House's Concert Hall hosted three sold-out nights in the Came So Far From Beauty series of concerts, with Nick Cave headlining an international cast of celebrated singers working strictly from the Cohen songbook. A similar event was staged in Leonard's home town of Montreal, Canada, in mid-2008.
Cohen, who very rarely gives interviews, recently told the New York Times his reasons for coming out of retirement and, what's more, working more intensely than ever.
"I was living a kind of hermit's life, which was not altogether disagreeable, for 10 or 15 years," he explained. "I didn't know whether or not I'd ever go back on the road. And a certain distance had developed between me and my work, although I never stopped working, I never stopped writing.
"And for some financial reasons I was forced to go back on the road to repair the fortunes of my family and myself. And this was a most fortunate happenstance because I was able to connect, for one thing, with living musicians. Suddenly I was dealing with living musicians and then with living audiences and, yes, it did have a great effect. And I think it warmed some part of my heart that had taken on a chill."
Cohen has performed hundreds and hundreds of shows all over the world since his return, receiving universal praise.
Leonard Cohen performs at Bimbadgen Winery on Saturday, November 23. Tickets: ticketmaster.com.au or call 136100.