The day Leonard Cohen shared his box of Maltesers with hitchhiking fan from Northern Ireland

Singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, who has died aged 82. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, who has died aged 82. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Two men from Northern Ireland have shared their memories of acclaimed singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen who passed away at the age of 82.

A former News Letter journalist recalled the time he shared a box of Maltesers with Leonard Cohen in a motorway cafe, while one of his roadies from Larne said the singer treated his crew with “dizzying kindness”.

Columnist and author Geoff Hill met Cohen in Manchester in 1979 when he’d hitchhiked there to see him play in concert.

He recalled: “Back in December 1979, when I’d just finished university and was broke as usual, I was hitching from Belfast to see him in concert in Manchester, where I had friends.”

After arriving in Carlisle at 2.30am Mr Hill walked to a motorway service station, stopping for a sleep in a phone box along the way, before getting a lift to Manchester with a newspaper delivery man.

He said: “I walked the last three miles to my mate’s house, had a snooze in the afternoon, then went to the Cohen concert. Not only was it brilliant, but he did seven encores.

Geoff Hill, who met Leonard Cohen in a motorway cafe in 1979

Geoff Hill, who met Leonard Cohen in a motorway cafe in 1979

“The next morning, I was hitching back up the M6 when I walked into a motorway cafe. And saw Leonard Cohen sitting there eating Maltesers out of the box.

“Thinking that if I didn’t say something to him, I would always regret it, I walked over and said: “Excuse me, are you Leonard Cohen?”

“‘I am indeed,” he said pleasantly.

“‘I don’t want to interrupt you, but I just wanted to say that the concert last night was brilliant, so thank you.”

Leif Bodnarchuk, who roadied for Leonard Cohen

Leif Bodnarchuk, who roadied for Leonard Cohen

“‘Sit down. Have lunch with me. These are my favourite sweets when I’m in England,” he said, handing over the Maltesers box.

“For the next half an hour, he sat and chatted about life, the universe and everything in the most decent, pleasant and charming manner you can imagine.

“Then he gave me a lift up the road, shook my hand and drove on.”

He added: “I’m so sorry to hear about Leonard Cohen’s death. I first heard one of his LPs back in the seventies when I was at Queen’s, and although everyone at the time thought, and was right, that he was a gloomy sod, I was struck by the incredible poetry, power and insight of his lyrics.

“That never changed throughout his life, and he even developed a sense of humour in his later years. He said once that as men get older they go through four phases of attractiveness to women: irresistible, resistible, repulsive and finally cute.”

Leonard Cohen’s last appearance in Northern Ireland was at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast on July 26, 2009. He played 26 songs over two sets and came back for three encores.

One of Cohen’s roadies on the night was Leif Bodnarchuk.

The Canadian born guitar technician and writer, who has also roadied for Ash and The Libertines, grew up in Belfast and Downpatrick before moving to Larne.

Mr Bodnarchuk said: “Leonard Cohen was impossible to distract with celebrity. He kept pop stars and world leaders waiting outside his dressing room until they gave up and left.

“But he made time for us, treating us with dizzying kindness. His generosity with wisdom and compassion made difficult days worthwhile, each challenge serving as a lesson.

“He once told me, while the world spoke of his performances as slick and polished “ me it’s life and death every night.” He didn’t take his life for granted – he shared it with us all. I’ll miss the guy.”