Guitar tech to the stars prepares to keep Leonard Cohen in tune
When Leonard Cohen plays Belfast’s Odyssey Arena on July 26, the legendary crooner’s instruments will be under the watchful eye of Leif Bodnarchuk – a punk-loving Irish Canadian who keeps the stars in tune.
Leif (pronounced ‘Leaf’) has been the 'Hallelujah' singer’s unlikely guitar technician since April 2008, and wasn’t nervous about meeting the famous miserablist. ‘I gave myself no reason to be,’ he says. ‘The Leonard I know is a kind, generous and humble guy I can have a laugh with in the toilets – not that we meet there intentionally!’
Montreal-born, Downpatrick-raised and now based in Larne, Bodnarchuk’s sense of humour survives from the days when he churned out songs like Pissed Forever and Let’s Pretend We’re Gay as a musician in his own right.
His former bands – Griswold, Hangover, Chopper and Confusion – never got further than the odd Hot Press interview and Ash support slot, but Bodnarchuk went on to spend 13 years as Tim Wheeler’s guitar tech, meeting everyone from Bono to George Lucas along the way. He also made guest appearances on Ash’s 1977 and Live at the Wireless albums and has platinum and gold awards from the BPI to prove it.
‘I grew up on the road with those guys,’ Bodnarchuk recalls. ‘I did almost every gig with them from June 1995 to September 1999. Even when I moved to Canada for a few years, they still had me back for more – if the tour was long enough to justify flying me over an ocean. From day one, I kind of acted like I was in the band, but that’s changed. They are the band – I’m a man in black. But lots of Ash fans know who I am and they consider me part of the package.’
Bodnarchuk had already formed Confusion with bassist Kes Carew and future Oppenheimer drummer Shaun Robinson before Ash arrived on the Downpatrick scene. ‘I used to dream of being a rock star,’ he admits, ‘so I started a band. Musicians – as we’d like to have been known – naturally gravitate to one another.’
Later, when Ash had signed to Infectious Records, they remembered the green-haired muso from back home. ‘I got the job doing tech stuff for them because I was a guitarist who could insert plug ‘A’ into receptacle ‘B’ and not electrocute myself – although that has happened several times!’
Between Ash tours, Bodnarchuk spread his wings with Sigur Rós, the Libertines, the Kooks and the Wannadies. He also recalls an ill-fated European run with the Wildhearts: ‘Their bassist, Danny McCormack, gave me a mild kicking after we traded some passive-aggressive insults. Sometimes egos and personalities clash.’
As for Pete Doherty, ‘He had very little respect for his craft or the people around him. It was the Libertines’ first US tour, and Doherty didn’t want to play Boston or Philly. He was having way too much fun in New York – doing God knows what – while the drum tech and I waited in the van. It made me want to wring his neck.’
But it’s his work with Leonard Cohen’s guitarist, Bob Metzger, that has elevated Leif into the upper strata of roadies. Surprisingly, securing a place on Cohen’s 46-man crew was relatively painless. ‘There was no traditional interview process,’ Bodnarchuk shrugs. ‘A CV, a few emails and a phone call were all it took. I met everyone in person after I got the job.’
On the road, Bodnarchuk’s day begins around 7.45am: ‘I get up, eat, unload the truck, build some risers, lay some carpet, tune guitars, check the audio lines with the PA department, sit around during soundcheck, eat dinner, get changed into my ‘nice’ clothes and tune it all again. Then, during the show, I tune intermittently while putting out instruments and taking them offstage again. After the last song, I pack everything away in a timely, orderly fashion, get showered and get on the bus around 12.30am.’
Bodnarchuk – whose dream boss would be Madonna: ‘I wanted to play keyboards for her when I was 12, but I’d settle for handing her a guitar’ – now strives to stay fit and healthy on the long stretches away from home.
‘Last year, I was out for 96 days in a row on one occasion. I try to eat well, I’ve quit smoking and I don’t drink as much. The spiritual side is also very important for me now. I’m one of those annoying born-again Buddhists.’ Post-tour, he unwinds with ‘pear cider, Battlestar Galactica, popcorn and sex – in that order!’
But does he ever dream of stepping out from the shadows and strapping on a guitar again? ‘I love writing and playing music but it has never paid the rent,’ Bodnarchuk comments. ‘I wanted to be a rock star, but never badly enough to live in poverty. Also, many musicians have difficulty accepting the hard daily truths of their lives. I don’t want to burden anyone with my demons.’
Leonard Cohen performs at the Odyssey Arena, Belfast, on July 26. Click here to book tickets.